Montreal's Italian restaurants normally fit into three molds: pizzeria, family-style and upscale ristorante. More recently, a small wave of osterias – casual establishments pushing small dishes and wine, popular in Italy – has made its way mostly thanks to two duos of restaurateurs.
The first of those, Stefano Faita and Michele Forgione, need no introduction thanks to their TV shows, restaurants and product line. The second duet composed of Ryan Gray and Emma Cardarelli may not be as famous but earn as many accolades for their collection of restaurants and their recent cookbook.
After blessing Montreal with Nora Gray and Elena (reviewed here and here, respectively), they added Gia to the list in December of 2021. Continuing their tradition of naming their establishments after important women in their lives, their latest is an homage to Tuscan winemaker Giovanna Tiezzi.
As with its predecessors, it also made Canada's 100 Best restaurant list, in addition to enRoute's best new restaurants of 2022 – the longlist, not as a finalist. Needless to say; a reservation here was a must for dinner on a recent Friday night.
tagged: BETTER RESERVE
Oddly situated behind a Saint-Henri industrial/commercial building and a Home Depot, Gia cannot rely on foot traffic to attract patrons. Clearly that is not required; no chair or barstool was empty inside the converted garage. What is lost in visibility is gained in parking, however; what other restaurant in the city can afford this much free space?
The elongated, L-shaped interior boasts neutral tones with white bricks and subway tiles on one side opposite wood panels on the other. Accents are sparse and mostly consist of wine bottles standing on counters and shelves in addition to random appearances of Gia's mascot, a mutant giraffe of sorts.
The crowd leans young and multicultural, with dates occupying most of the tables around my wife's and mine. And while the vibe is abuzz and loud-ish, it does not require one to yell to converse – a common and irritating phenomenon elsewhere.
tagged: DATE NIGHT
Marketed as "vin & grill", the Gray/Cardarelli venture pushes a menu centered around grilled proteins and vegetables paired up with their usual heavily-curated wine list. The grilling kitchen is attached to the side of the restaurant, which explains why you don't smell any fumes from inside.
The food leans towards central Italy with an emphasis on local ingredients. The razor-focused menu starts with arrosticini – skewered and grilled cuts of pork, beef, lamb and duck – and raw shellfish. Following those are a handful of each of antipasti, primi and secondi along with a few sides.
Portions are small-ish and prices follow along; the goal being to enjoy a light meal with an abundance of wine, alla osteria. Speaking of vino, the selection is all-natural and mostly Italian with some exceptions.
We immediately got a taste of Gia's grilling capability with these succulent lamb skewers. They were devoured ‘til the end, fat and all!
A heap of breaded and fried cheese and zucchini fingers sat on a thick tomato sauce. The least successful dish of the night but still a lotta fun!
Eggplant slices were grilled to perfection with a charred skin and melt-in-your-mouth velvety interior. Topped with parsley and a raw-milk cheese, whoever claims they hate eggplant clearly never had this one!
Al dente pasta worms were whisked in a tasty gravy/ragu with cheese, mushrooms and tender soft morsels of rabbit meat. The bowl had an excess of oil in its bottom, but this was one hell of a dish!
The jiggliest mound of cooked cream you will ever see was drizzled with a coulis and sat next to slices of candied peach. A treat of a dessert; low on sugar with a tart taste.
For their latest project, the renowned restaurateurs enlisted the help of existing staff from Elena and made them partners. The move clearly paid off; service here is experienced, hospitable and totally on top of things.
Upon checking in with the maître d', we were told we had mistakenly reserved for the following Friday – oops! Not to fret; even with a fully-booked service, we were accommodated after a short wait once a table was deemed a no-show. Following that, our dinner was handled with great care, from expert wine recommendations to timely pacing.
Added to all the praise I already threw at Gia is the price point. I cannot recall the last time I paid under $200 for a date at a restaurant belonging in the upper echelon. Prices here hark back to pre-inflation days when starters hovered around $15 and mains around $25.
Although obviously a for-profit enterprise, Gia feels less like a business than a love letter to food and wine. Clearly the Ryan and Emma duo can do no wrong with yet another winner on their hands.
Gia may be hidden from plain sight, but it is far from being an unknown secret.
Price per person: $43.67
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.