They say a good man is hard to find. And so far, The Divas have not been able to find a man who could handle us, except of course, for our dear majestic Sensei.
Valentine’s Day was fast approaching and once again, The Divas were planning another anti V-day dinner, which is now officially our tradition. We’re not much for the commercial holiday, but hey, it is another excuse to go out. We wanted a romantic restaurant – candle light, white tablecloth, romantic. The type of place couples descend upon on Valentine’s Day, clamouring for a reservation to impress and hopefully be rewarded for at the end of the night. We wanted a classy place that we could eat and drink too much,get rowdy, and of course, show the couples how to party!
The Divas made reservations at Nora Gray. We were joined by Vegan Vixen, her friend who was not her date (we verified first), Sensei (who came late because of a work problem) and Mr. Old Fashioned (Sensei’s bestie). Before anything, wine was a must. The wine menu was heavy on French and Italian names and we asked our waitress for a recommendation. We had already started drinking at Diva #1’s apartment so we were a little worse for wear. Before the appetizers arrived, our waitress brought us a basket of bread and poured the green olive oil from the Abrruzzo region in a plate; we were impressed.
We’ve stated our opinion on salad numerous times, but no one ever listens to us, so two salads were ordered as appetizers. The first was a mixed green salad with plenty of Pecorino shavings and pistachios, which were a nice surprise. The mixed greens and bitter radicchio went well with the pears that added a touch of sweetness.
The wedge salad was the better of the two. It was vinegary but was offset by the saltiness of the anchovies which was mellowed by the soft boiled egg with its soft yolk center. This was a salad of multiple dimensions and flavours. A little bit of crunch and salt came from the fried guanciale, which pleasantly surprised us. Although we were disappointed that our friends were ordering salad, the Boston lettuce was the perfect unobtrusive vehicle to carry the salad’s flavours.
Vegan Vixen chose the mushroom and ricotta tart, and in her words, anything with wild mushrooms has to be good. And this appetizer was. Served on a ricotta tart, the mushrooms were plentiful, the ricotta tart was flaky, the Scarmorza cheese was excellent and not something you see on many menus, and the little bit of parmesan on top brought it all together.
The Divas split two dishes, the first was the sweetbreads with fried cauliflower. The little nuggets of innards and cauliflower were fried perfectly and drizzled with honey, making it sweet enough to forget you were eating glands or “animale fritti” as the menu put it. The addition of the fried cauliflower added a little nuttiness and a contrasting texture.
The deer heart was excellent. Cooked perfectly and topped with mushrooms, the meat was tender and the juices soaked into the bread base, but without making it soggy. The pesto/salsa complimented the game meat well but it could have had more of a kick since it was supposed to be “piccante.”
Our Sensei was still at work, which didn’t make his usual crabby mood any better. While Vegan Vixen went outside for a cigarette break with her friend, who was smoking, but had quit smoking for 32 days…the Divas formulated a plan to make their Sensei happy again. We would simply find him a woman (or 2) and prove that we were worthy wingwomen! Vegan Vixen’s friend was Indian, and our Sensei’s motto is: “I like my liquor white and my women brown”… so we started questioning Vegan Vixen’s friends on potential options for our dearest Sensei.
There were two sections of main dishes on the menu, the primi and secondi. Vegan Vixen ordered the risotto. We’ve had risotto dishes that had arrived swimming in liquid, this completely ruins the dish. This, however, was perfect. The pasta was cooked al dente and the caramelized endive on top was the furthest thing from being bitter. The risotto was delicious. The almond cheese added a nutty creaminess and we were completely wowed. Sometimes we love that she is a vegetarian because we end up trying dishes that we would have never ordered and we end up pleasantly surprised. Not that we condone her deplorable vegan behavior.
Neither Diva is crazy about pork chops and if we try it on a menu it’s because we took a bite from someone’s plate. Such was the case when Mr. Old Fashioned ordered the pork chop. A generous serving, it was moist and cooked just right, sitting in a pool of its own juices with plenty of braised, tender cabbage. Nora Gray impressed us; we loved this Italian fusion that experimented with different ingredients and changed your conception of things like endives and pork chops.
Vegan Vixen’s Indian matchmaker ordered the striped bass and it was great. Flaky and meaty, it was served in a tomato-based sauce that did not add too much acidity with the halved green olives that simply put each bite over the top. We forgot how much we love Palermo style until we taste it again. Although we did our best to find a mate for our Sensei, our Indian matchmaker had enough issues finding his own delightful brown woman, and didn’t want to share the spoils with our Sensei. That’s fair so we started to go through a list of his relatives since we assumed that he wouldn’t be looking to wife anyone from that pool. Good luck Sensei, we cannot wait to give a speech at your brown / Italian wedding!
Whenever a small bird is on the menu, Diva #2 gets giddy, therefore the roasted spicy quails jumped off the menu. Two to a serving, they sat on savoury chick pea cakes which absorbed the sauce, julienned hot peppers and as Vegan Vixen pointed out, Moroccan oil cured olives that added just enough salt to round out each bite. This was an exquisite dish, and had a Middle Eastern flair that we weren’t expecting. And we were not shy about using our hands to make sure that we ate all the succulent meat off the tiny legs….classy? Anti V-Day is not about class!
The pasta dishes could be ordered as half or full portions. When our waitress read one of the pasta specials for the night, two key words were said that set off alarms for The Divas: carbonara and buratta. The homemade pappardelle was served carbonara style with a generous amount of shaved black truffles and burrata. The pasta was cooked perfectly, the generous truffles added depth and the burrata added creaminess. It could not get any better! It is hands down the best carbonara that the Divas had ever had. Simply divine.
Our Sensei finally arrived and by the look on his face we knew it was time to order our third bottle of red. At this point Diva #1 was getting more than tipsy, yelling loudly, arms waving, the true ethnic had come out. And by the alarmed look on Diva #2’s face, she knew that she was going too far.
Sensei ordered the octopus appetizer, served with cabbage and blood orange. Though it was seared, it was chewier than we liked, perhaps this would have been corrected if it had been grilled. Overall the flavour and taste was good, but the texture was off. The blood orange was a nice addition, this was a combination we had never tried before, but it was not Nora Gray’s best.
We tried to cheer up our Sensei by telling him our plans to find him a lover or wife, but he was quick to point out that we had merely done the opposite in the past. Last year we had seen him at an Opening Event with a lady and we had asked him, loudly and rudely, if he was trying to sleep with her because we wanted to help. Unfortunately she heard us, and he was doing his best to bed her, since then he has not let us live down that moment of indiscretion. FYI he never slept with her…poor Sensei. While we couldn’t outwardly deny his claim we were also quick to point out that just last week, while drunk, he had invited a girl to dinner, but didn’t remember until she confirmed a week later. So he can’t blame us for all his women problems! Although sometimes we wonder if we are his women problems.
The desserts were good but didn’t blow us away and maybe we were too full from our meal to really appreciate them. We had the dark chocolate mousse semifreddo topped with meringue. The chocolate flavour was rich but the semifreddo was tough to get into. The Divas were intrigued and amused when our waitress told us there was a dessert made with pomelo. After all, we had taken one as a parting gift when we went to a benefit at the Renoir. The fruit was served with a smooth sabayon that was broiled on top, and almond nougat. All together, it was an interesting combination but nothing spectacular. Our third dessert was the grilled figs with mascarpone. We love figs so this was our favourite, and by grilling the figs it brought out the sweetness of the fruit. And the mascarpone ice cream melted on top and created a pool on the bottom of the plate.
We were the last to leave and our plan was to end the night at Flyjin but that never happened. Diva #2 left the table for one minute and when she returned, she found Diva #1 with her head on the table, taking a mini nap, something our Sensei is famous for! She should know not to leave Diva #1 unattended.
There is a good reason why Nora Gray grabs so much attention and is able to hold it. The service was great, the atmosphere is fun and owners Ryan Gray, who commands the bar and Chef Emma Cardarelli, both formally of Liverpool House, cooks like a seasoned pro. In the end, a good man may be hard to find but you won’t have any trouble finding a great meal at Nora Gray!
Our Rating: Splendid
Tagged: 1391 Rue Saint-Jacques, Boston Wedge, Burrata, Carbonara, Chocolate Mousse Semifreddo, Cocktails, Deer Heart, Emma Cardarelli, Grilled Figs, H3C 4J4, Hare Ragu, Lamb Neck, Late Night, Little Burgundy, Montreal, Montreal Restaurant, Nora Gray, Nora Gray Griffintown, Nora Gray Montreal, Nora Gray Rue Saint-Jacques, Octopus, Pappardelle Carbonara, Pomelo and Sabayon, Pork Chop, Quail, Reservations Needed, Restaurant, Ricotta Tart, Risotto, Romantic, Ryan Gray, Saint-Jacques, Semifreddo, Splendid, Sud-Ouest, Sweetbreads, Wild Mushrooms, Wild Striped Bass, wine