8 out of 10
After a bit of disappointment at Le Samuel de Champlain, I decided to take one more kick at the Montreal Highlights Festival proverbial can. Everything should be sold out by now…but it’s not. When I called for a reservation for Happy Hour at Italian restaurant Sapori Pronto I figured I’d get a quick “Non, c’est complet”, all booked up. Instead, I was asked if my party would be staying for dinner afterward…As the dinner menu was a $75 5 Italian course, 3 glasses of Portuguese wine and 1 liqueur (I assume port) affair, I opted for the $25 Italian “snacks” and 3 glasses of Portuguese wine Happy Hour. At least partly based on common sense. Mostly out of nostalgia.
Happy Hour in Italy is an experience. Bars and lounges throw open their unpretentious doors to anyone looking for a 7 euro drink to be accompanied by what’s supposed to be a snack, but in some places more than constitutes a meal of bar-type food. This is not North American nachos and wings. This is polenta, bruschetta, tapenade, thin-crust pizza, rice salads, pasta salads, prosciutto, melon, foccacia, and sometimes pastries. It’s more of a buffet. So I was really interested to see how upscale Sapori Pronto would present Italian snacks. I assumed they would have a bar or lounge area in the restaurant where all the Happy Hour guests would sample the wines and snacks together – a kind of party atmosphere.
I suppose there’s a reason this is Montreal and not Italy. I suppose there’s also a reason this is a restaurant and not a bar. The atmosphere is old-school Italian. For the music, think an Italian version of Star Académie or Canadian Idol if it was made in the 60’s. The place was empty and we were seated at a table…alone. No bar. You certainly can’t set up a buffet for three people.
Naive, I know.
Not that the food or wine was disappointing. Our waiter was from Venice, and as he poured the first glass of a fairly sweet white Portuguese wine, he admitted he knew nothing about it. From a server at a good restaurant, this was a bit shocking…I’m quite sure he would never have admitted it to someone who looked like they could possibly know anything about wine (aka not me). Like the older gentlemen with nice watches who walked in an hour later. About Italian wines, however, he was an expert. He did come from the Veneto after all, and he was more than accommodating in telling me the Italian origins of the olive oil and balsamic.
After the white, a dry rosé. Again, it didn’t seem particularly important to know anything about it. Just to know that it went well with the incredibly thin-crust spicy tomato-sauced pizza. The Italian snacks were very well executed, and were certainly a step up from even most Italian bars. The half pizza-circle of tomato was complemented by a second half of spinach pizza with cream and the tiniest dusting of parmesan. The pizza was for the table to share, but the next course of appetizers (hurray!) was presented on large individual plate: Mozzarella di bufala on giant slices of tomato, grilled zucchini, two kinds of salumi (I believe soppressa and prosciutto with melon), olive tapenade on crostini, and two potato croquettes.
It’s really hard to avoid cheese in an Italian meal. I was bound to get sick. At least the cheese wasn’t abused. It served its purpose and no more, to avoid masking other flavours. The pizza and the croquettes both had parmesan (though I was not warned about the croquettes…), and the mozzarella…well, I was given the zucchini as a replacement. The zucchini was heavily salted (I loved it…), grilled to perfection, and doused in olive oil, along with the otherwise bland, though meaty, field tomatoes. The fresh black pepper did spice it up a little. The kalamata olive tapenade was not too salty because it was diluted with so much calming olive oil, but the soppressa stole the show. The prosciutto was nothing special (though the melon was sweet and rich) ,and not worth more than a first bite, but the spicy flavour of the soppressa was absolutely perfect with the final red Portuguese wine offered (It came from Douro, the wine, but all the wines at the festival seem to come from Douro…so I’m afraid I’m of no help to anyone who would like to try this beautiful red). I very rarely eat pork, but this was worth it.
Oh, a note on Italian bread. It’s not crusty baguette like France, and thus is not what you generally get in Montreal. It was a treat to have soft, creamy, fresh-from-the-oven small loaves brought to accompany the oil and balsamic. One of the meal highlights was our lovely Venician waiter pouring oil into little rectangular dishes for each guest, and topping them with artistic drops of balsamic vinegar. Kind of like if the server at a sushi restaurant lovingly poured each guests’ soy sauce for them…but the wasabi unfortunately wouldn’t be able to turn the result into an abstract work of Italian art.
This was certainly enough to have as a meal. For a grand total of $32 per person, three glasses of wine and a very authentic spread of Italian delicacies, this experience certainly would entice me to return the restaurant another time with a larger budget for what I’m sure would be an incredible evening of Italian gourmet from Chef Peppino Perri.
Price: $25 for 3 glasses of wine, pizza and antipasti
Expect to Pay: $32
Hours of Operation: Mon to Thurs: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m, Fri & Sat: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m, closed Sun
Payment: Amex, Debit Card, Diners Club, Mastercard, Visa, Cash