Diva#1’s family loves a good dinner out, not the traditional Greek family, they prefer getting a holiday catered as opposed to cooking everything themselves or going out to dinner. One of the cousins was celebrating his birthday so we made a reservation at Da Emma’s for 6 people on a Saturday night. Being the villagers that Diva #1 accuses her family of being, we arrived at Da Emma’s with nine people. Somehow we accumulated some more relatives. Diva #1 was sure that we would all be told to f-off since the restaurant was packed, and Da Emma’s isn’t the sort of restaurant where you show up with three extra people and expect room. We climbed down the steps of what was once a women’s prison, and entered the restaurant that looked like an old upscale tavern in Rome.
Diva#1 was mortified, and it didn’t help that out of the nine people everyone was fighting with someone. Uncle was mad at the birthday boy for always being late, Senior Diva was annoyed with Diva#1 for hanging up on her, Diva#1 and P’tit Frère were fighting over his lady friend, Aunty was doing her best to be pleasant and deal with all the varied psychotic personalities, the added 3 relatives had gotten lost on their way due to crazy Montreal construction detours and were also sullen, etc. We walked into Da Emma’s like a pack of wolves looking for a fight. It would have been difficult for any restaurant to impress us that night; we were a bitter and angry group, looking for an excuse to start yelling. Thank god Da Emma’s is run by Italians, who, like Greeks, understand ethnic drama.
Da Emma’s has been open for 20 plus years and is owned by Lorenzo Aureli and the famous Emma Risa, affectionately called Mama Emma. Both from Rome, this restaurant has been wowing Montrealers for years. We walked in, looking unstable, and Hamadi, who has worked at Da Emma’s for years arranged for us to have a table that would now sit 9 people. My Uncle loves Da Emma’s, and thankfully Hamadi, who has served him quite often, was working that night and arranged everything. By the time we sat down, our bad moods were down to frigid but not unstable, but only alcohol could fix this group. Before our waiter had a chance to start translating the Italian menu, we requested cocktails, NOW! So we ordered a mix of dirty gin martinis, cosmopolitans, scotch, vodka martinis, gin & tonics, etc… Diva#1 asked if he could leave the bottle of gin on the table, he laughed but she wasn’t joking.
As we chugged our cocktails (classy), we began going over the menu. Appetizers included the usual Italian delights from the traditional caprese salad, to mozzarella di bufala cheese, to eggplant parmesan, burrata, etc. As we decided what to order we received Da Emma’s famous complimentary bruschetta. The baguette was crispy but dripping in Italian extra virgin olive oil, the tomatoes are always at room temperature with simply the perfect amount of seasoning and garlic. No matter how many times Diva #1 has had the bruschetta, she always wants an extra slice and she hopes that some carb conscious fool at her table chooses to forsake this amazing delicacy.
Uncle ordered the prosciutto with cantaloupe for the table. The thinly sliced prosciutto was draped over the cantaloupe. The prosciutto was perfectly salty and melted in your mouth, it was coupled well with beautiful melon that was not in season but tasted as if it were picked from Chef Emma’s backyard in Rome. Da Emma is more than Italian cuisine, they advertise themselves as Roman cuisine, and customers always return for more.
In a traditional Italian fashion we decided to order primo e secondo. We all started with a pasta dish for our first dish and then ordered a meat dish as our second dish. There were many options for pastas, but the risotto with porcini mushrooms sounded the most interesting. On a previous visit, Uncle and Aunty had fallen in love with the fettuccini with mixed mushrooms. It wasn’t on the menu that night but Hamadi asked Chef Emma if making a batch for the entire table would be a problem. She graciously obliged and we had no regrets. First of all it is important to note that the pasta was yellow, this denotes that the pasta was fresh and homemade. Do not expect dried pasta that has been sitting on the shelves for months from Da Emma. For a primi plate, the dish was generous, the fettuccini perfectly al dente and the mushrooms were a dream. This was an olive oil based pasta dish with no thick sauce; you truly got to appreciate the simplicity of the ingredients and the freshness of the fettuccini. Topped with some freshly ground black pepper, it was perfection.
Diva #1 wanted more pasta, it was just too good, but she had her eye on the rabbit cacciatore. Uncle, one of the cousins and Diva #1 all ordered the rabbit and we unanimously exclaimed how delighted we were by our choice. Cacciatore means that the meat was prepared hunter style with tomatoes, wine, herbs, onions, etc. The rabbit was topped with rosemary sprigs, the rabbit meat simply fell off the bones and the sauce was drinkable. By the time our waiter returned to ask us how we liked it, it was already eaten and only the bones remained.
Aunty ordered the scaloppini Marsala. The veal was tenderized, thinly cut and topped with a Marsala sauce. The dish was simple, no mushrooms or other adornments topped the veal. Marsala sauce has its name because it is made with Marsala wine, and a great amount of wine was in this potent sauce. Not a big fan of veal sallopini alla Marsala, Diva #1 was nonetheless impressed with Da Emma’s version of the dish. It was simple good Italian cooking, like all of Chef Emma’s dishes. Aunty enjoyed it immensely.
Senior Diva was craving a steak, she loves red meat and as the waiter went through the Italian menu, she knew that she wanted a nice cut of meat. Senior Diva, as always, was not paying attention when the waiter told her the ounces of each cut of meat. She was intrigued by the pepe verde steak and decided to order it. The piece of meat was so large that she took a lot of it home as a leftover. The green pepper sauce was creamy and wonderful; Diva #1 kept dipping her potatoes into this flavourful sauce. The black pepper kernels were potent and the creaminess of the sauce velvety. The meat was completely covered and Senior Divas’ plate was soon passed around for her hungry relatives to try the steak, and more importantly, to dip bread into the sauce.
Along with all of these meat plates came the option of having vegetables as a side dish. Some of us ordered the potatoes, others the delicious zucchini and eggplant. The vegetables were grilled and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and the potatoes were exceptionally delicious for dipping into everyone’s sauces. Other main dishes to return for include the tripe, carpaccio, octopus, tuna, and other delicious meat and fish dishes, each served with delectable sauces.
My Aunty always says that her son, one of Diva #1’s cousins and the birthday boy, “will never get married.” So when our primo pasta dish arrived and he ordered more pasta for a secondo, she simply sighed. Unfortunately, once we tried his tortellini with a gorgonzola sauce, we all quickly regretted not ordering it as well. The gorgonzola sauce was decadent and you clearly tasted the gorgonzola, it was not an over abundance of cream but a rich gorgonzola cheese sauce. The tortellini was homemade, which you saw with each misshaped and chunky little pocket of pleasure and the generous portion was delightful. Never has Diva #1 tried a better gorgonzola sauce.
Upon a recommendation from our waiter Hamadi, P’tit Frère ordered the gnocchi al ragu but substituted the ragu for the gorgonzola sauce. Another fool ordering pasta as both his primo e secondo, whatever will we do with these boys? Though the tortellini was better with the gorgonzola sauce, the potato gnocchi was perfection, cooked well and not too heavy. Diva #1 would have been curious to try the gnocchi with its intended ragu sauce. Sometimes certain pastas taste better with certain sauces than others. Though the gnocchi with the gorgonzola sauce was delicious, it did not compare to the tortellini al gorgonzola.
Tiramisu arrived for the table, a must at Italian restaurants and we sang Happy Birthday to the birthday boy who at this point had eaten way too much pasta. Though Diva#1 is not a fan of tiramisu, once again Da Emma’s impressed her with their simple bowl of tiramisu. It looked like a glass bowl filled with dessert that you would find in your nonna’s fridge. The coffee taste was prevalent, the lady fingers were not soggy and the mascarpone was perfection. The cocoa powder dusted on top was generous and coupled with a cappuccino and a Grand Marnier digestif, well it was the perfect end to a fantastic meal.
Senior Diva decided to order one of Da Emma’s gelato. She made no mistake ordering the pistachio ice cream. This was one of the best pistachio ice creams that we have ever tried, chunks of pistachios were in this creamy gelato, and Uncle soon stole her bowl for himself. Diva #1 would never have ordered this dessert on her own, and she was certainly glad that Senior Diva decided to get it. One of the nice things about going to dinner in large groups is that you get to try things that you may not have ever ordered, and often times, you are pleasantly surprised.
As always, Da Emma met all expectations, Diva#1 even go to go to the kitchen (thanks Uncle) and meet the famous Chef Emma to take a picture with her. Hopefully, one day, her picture will be up on the famous wall of celebrities at Da Emma’s as part of the Divas, but for now, she is happy just having it on her Facebook!
Tagged: Agnoletti, Always on Thursdays, Bruschetta, Bufala, Burrata, Carpaccio, Chalkboard Menu, Chicken, Cocktails, Da Emma, de la Commune, Eggplant Parmesan, Emma Risa, Fish, Gelato, Gnocchi, Gorgonzola, Italian, Lorenzo Aureli, Marsala, Medaglione, Montreal, Octopus, Old Montreal, Old Port, Pasta, Porcini, Prosciutto, Rabbit, Reservations Needed, Risotto, Roman, Scaloppini, Steak, Tiramisu, Tortellini, Tripe, Tuna, Veal, wine