8868 boulevard Langelier, Saint-Leonard | Tel. 514-324-3700
his is one of those places you really hope you’re going to like. You know the place: colourful characters standing by the bar, drinking beer, sipping lattes, conversing in a loud jovial manner; a table of fashion conscious women sitting on the terrace taking advantage of an unusually hot October night; and the sparse tables, adorned with families eagerly eating, watching the Montreal Canadians about to surprise everyone by beating Buffalo.
The restaurant is packed. Behind the front section of the bar, a young man feverishly makes espressos and cappuccinos, while at the end of the bar, a small kitchen is visible to all the seated patrons, and I watch two young bewildered looking lads making salads and cooking meat. Which brings us to the food, but wait; where’s the waiter. I make eye contact with one and before I know it he appears right next to me smiling fretfully. I ask him what’s good here to which he replies “everything, but our ‘sangwitches’ are the best.”
Ciociaro’s doesn’t offer much in its choice of food, but casual resto bars such as these don’t need to. What’s important in a place like this is to produce something outstanding. It may only be one stand-out item – like the smoked meat at Schwartz’s, or the subs at Café Milano.
Ciociaro’s has the potential, but currently falls short. The small pizza ($4.00) has a thick bready crust which resembles a pizza fritta and is topped with sliced tomato and bocconcini cheese that has seen better days. I was later informed that the pizza was not made in the restaurant – “we just heat it up.” They would be better off without it.
Same could be said about the Arancini ($4.00), fried balls of risotto coated with egg, flour, and breadcrumbs, with a stuffing in the centre. They are usually filled with mozzarella, but it can also be meat or tomato sauce. This version’s crust lacks in orange colour and surface crunch, probably from sitting too long in a refrigerated plastic box in a display counter.
The risotto tastes bland and is way too white, which makes me wonder if they use any chicken stock at all, or just use plain water when cooking it. Again “we just heat it up” and again, they would be better off without it.
The main course: chicken pesto pressed panini ($9.50), but how does it taste? Fantastic. The chicken is finely chopped and married with onion, red pepper, and other tasty spices, and comes with fries or salad. My other dining companion had a steak sub ($8.00) on ciabatta bread, heated so that the bread becomes crusty but still soft in the centre. It has good flavour with tomato, cheese and marinated eggplants, but in my opinion could have benefited from more caramelized onions.
Also very good was the Italian sausage sub ($8.00); the sausage is split open and cooked to perfection, complemented with eggplant, lettuce, tomato, cheese and onion. The lettuce was dressed with a vinaigrette which rounded out the flavour nicely.
Which brings us to my sandwich choice, a veal parmiggiano sub; it looks harmless enough and when I took my first bite, I still thought “not bad.” Second bite, and I realize something is wrong. Third bite, no, could it be? I licked the red sauce and then I realized the evil within. The sauce was ready-made, prepared, jarred, ragu, Presto, Catelli.
Let me put this into perspective: giving an Italian ready-made tomato sauce is like giving a French cheese maker Cheese-Whiz on melba toast. Where’s the love? There is nothing tedious or complicated in making a proper tomato sauce. Olive oil, garlic, and real tomatoes – canned whole plum tomatoes or the puréed pasata tomatoes would do just fine. And this is made worse given that everyone who works in this restaurant is Italian. Even sliced tomatoes broiled under the cheese would have been better.
Feeling irritated, I stand up to get a better view of the kitchen, which reveals nothing, so I venture to the back room. Passing both bathrooms, the door to the stockroom is open. My suspicions prove true: the villain is Catelli. I spot a case of twelve jars and am just about to pick one of them up, when all of a sudden I hear a voice asking if I need help – “just looking for the bathroom,” I quickly respond, feeling a little jumpy from my James Bondesque undercover work. The young waiter shows me the bathroom door.
I figured an espresso would help with the healing process, and it did. It has the required ever-so-slightly acidic, bittersweet initial taste, followed by a pleasantly strong coffee flavour. Our waiter suggests we try a Xangos, which he claims is a dolce that is almost exclusive to Ciociaro’s. Think of a cannoli that looks like a spring roll. The softened, sugar coated crust is filled with cream cheese with a stream of caramel that lines the centre. It is warm, and I must admit, it is very delicious. Who knows, a few more of these Xangos and I might forget about the Catelli incident. Not a chance. – Reviewed by Reader Sandro (Oct/07).