Everyone wants to eat at Nonna’s house. But if you can’t, take a trip to the corner of Dante and St. Dominique in Little Italy and you’ll find restaurant Inferno. This restaurant offers its patrons the traditional ingredients and dishes you expect from Nonna’s for a Sunday lunch, but the end result is a twist on the familiar.
Walking in to Inferno, the Divas were greeted by exposed beams, large windows, empty bottles and glasses adorning the wooden shelves, and a small “damigiana” in the corner sitting on a butcher block. Oddly, the restaurant was playing 1970s tunes, which were fun, but did not truly encompass the restaurant’s atmosphere. The Divas would like it if Inferno changed that….please take note.
Our meal started with a basket of bread and butter. Why they served butter instead of olive oil in an Italian restaurant, we’re still wondering. But we took matters into our own hands and asked for some extra virgin olive oil and we are glad that we did. They added a touch of sea salt to their high caliber olive oil, which made all the difference. The bread was delicious too, crusty and soft in the middle. We quickly devoured the bread and the waiter graciously brought us more. We also ordered a delicious 2007 Italian Macchion del Lupo red wine and were soon merrily drinking away. Bellatrix was impressed by Inferno’s wine list, especially the good prices of the older wines.
The divas are far from boring and so are our menu selections. That’s why when we see something out of the ordinary on a menu, we have to order it; it’s our duty! Case in point, we ordered “la trippa della Nonna.” What is it exactly? Well, simply put, it’s tripe, which is the stomach lining of the animal. And yes, we enjoyed it! The Divas are of Mediterranean descent and are not squeamish about innards. Served in a tomato based sauce, this dish did not have the overbearing scent of most tripe dishes, nor the over chewy texture. The portion was massive, served in a wide bowl, and after eating and eating, it looked like we barely touched it. Even Bellatrix, who tends to wrinkle her nose at innards, was impressed when she tried it. Tripe is not for the faint of heart but Inferno has created a dish that even the squeamish can enjoy. Nonna would be proud.
Our next appetizer was the octopus carpaccio, garnished with greens and peppers. It was sliced paper thin with a hint of sea salt and was light and delicious! On its own, octopus carpaccio is very mild but this dish was seasoned well with sea salt and herbs, and drizzled lightly in olive oil. Although it cannot compare with octopus carpaccio in Greece, Diva #1 was nonetheless pleased with Montreal’s take on one of her favourite Mediterranean dishes.
Our third appetizer was the artichokes au gratin. Two large artichokes, clearly fresh and not the canned variety, were served in a creamy béchamel type sauce. Often times, artichokes are undercooked because they must be stewed, baked, or fried for a long time, but this dish was perfection. The individual leaves were crisp but not under cooked, and the center seemed to have a bread and parmesan stuffing of sorts. Artichoke dishes are common at Italian restaurants but this was a unique take on a traditional dish. When we were done the artichokes, we licked the exquisite sauce off of the cast iron pan it was served in.
We were full after the appetizers, which is rarely the case with the Divas, but that didn’t stop us from ordering our mains. Thankfully Inferno respected the Italian mantra of large portions of home cooked delights.
Diva #1 ordered the rabbit cannelloni. The waiter told us the dough was made in-house and you could taste the freshness. It was a good portion for a rich dish, and the sauce, which was made of rabbit juice and morel mushrooms, did not overpower the dish. Had the sauce been a heavy cream based sauce, or an over spiced tomato sauce, the rabbit would not have stood out. The rabbit pieces were not overly ground, and the sauce was simple, therefore, the dish’s flavour came through.
Bellatrix ordered the calamari and shrimp garlic and olive oil linguine with kale, which, before tasting, we thought would be boring. How many times have you had aglio e olio at an Italian restaurant? Too many for the Divas to count. We were first surprised at how much seafood was on the plate! It was cooked al dente, there was plenty of grilled calamari, the shrimp was large and well-cooked, and there was a hint of mint which added to the light garlic sauce.
Now Bellatrix is a good Italian girl, and Italians need to have chili peppers soaking in oil to adorn their pizza and pastas. We asked for some hot peppers (dried or in oil) and were given a bowl of what the waiter told us was their in-house homemade hot sauce. It was thick, creamy and fiery! We were soon begging our waiter to bottle the rest and sell it to us. It was hot but bursting with flavour and we were soon putting it on everything.
Lastly, Diva #2 chose the Cornish hen. She loves eating little birds. As a child she had a budgie…that one day went missing. The Cornish hen came with caramelized parsnips, sautéed kale (kale seems to be climbing the popularity charts), creamy mashed potatoes and a foie gras sauce. Unfortunately, the sauce was lacking in foie gras but the bird was so tender that a knife was not necessary; it simply fell off the bone. The divas also had no qualms about picking up the tiny drumsticks and eating right off the bone. The stuffing was just spilling out of the hen, and each bite of stuffing was taken with creamy mashed potatoes that had the Divas yearning for more. The menu listed pistachios in the stuffing but they did not stand out, though the dish lacked both foie gras and pistachios, it did not diminish our enjoyment.
After all that, there was still a little room for dessert. But maybe we should have skipped this since we were disappointed with our choices. They were not particularly Italian, nor reminiscent of an Italian bakery.
We opted for the pudding Disoccupato, which we were told by our waiter was similar to Quebec’s pudding chômeur, a Diva favourite. According to our waiter, this was a new addition to Inferno’s menu, but one that the restaurant could do without. The actual cake was bland and missing maple or caramel; a certain sweetness was lacking. The apple compote was average and the cake component was plain. We were just expecting so much more after such a phenomenal meal.
Our second dessert was the nougat glacé. It was served with crème fraiche and strawberries. The nougat had a nice amaretto and deep chocolate taste. It was tasty but again, it didn’t wow us. Inferno needs to spruce up their dessert menu; the Divas recommend the restaurant, but skip dessert!
Our waiter brought us complimentary shots of limoncello and grappa, they were delicious but intensely strong, and the Divas had already drunk too much. As they say, everything in moderation, even for us! All in all, it was a splendid evening with only a few kinks.
Our Rating: Splendid
Tagged: aglio olio, Artichokes, Canelloni, Carpaccio, Cornish hen, Cuisine du Marché, Dante, Homemade, Inferno, Italian, Kale, Little Italy, Montreal, Nonna, Octopus, Pasta, Rabbit, Saint Édouard, St. Dominique, Traditional, Tripe, wine