When I visited Montreal for the first time as a teenager with my parents in the mid-nineties, we stayed at the then Château Royal on Crescent Street, the one with the famous Leonard Cohen mural, now simply called Le 1420 Crescent.
In those days our Montreal was confined to the Sainte-Catherine Street shopping area, so we naturally gravitated towards Crescent's commercial restaurants for sustenance: Thursday's, Hard Rock Café and – subject of today's review – Wienstein & Gavino's, the longstanding Italian restaurant which has outlived its contemporaries.
As I expanded my radius over the years and discovered better ristorantes and pizzerias, my stops at this generic, big-box restaurant would become less frequent. That said, an occasional revisit is warranted from time to time; as such I returned to my stomping grounds on this Sunday night to celebrate my daughter's birthday with my family and in-laws.
tagged: SUNDAY NIGHT
One of the largest restaurants in the city core, W&G is more reminiscent of a strip-mall/suburb eatery. Stretching across a ground floor, bar area, mezzanine and upper flour, every table was occupied in the cavernous interior. Although typically a draw for large family gatherings and kids, tonight the crowd mostly consisted of middle-aged couples and packs of university-age youngsters.
Historically a restaurant you would only go to because it's there, it's roomy and you didn't know any better, Gavino's went through both a brand and kitchen reinvention in 2013. The logo was modernized and the tacky "pasta factory" descriptive was dropped from its name. Later on, an attempt was made to keep up with the times by introducing gluten-free options (reviewed here).
More importantly, renowned chef Giuseppe Sacchetti – now running his own pizza operation – was momentarily brought in to breathe some life and refinement into the otherwise-generic Italian fare. The investment had paid off: new menu items added a touch of sophistication and old classics were polished. Alas, it seems old habits die hard; mediocrity and the status quo have been reinstated.
Spongy arancini with no crisp, rubbery calamari rings, tough chicken parmigiana… and to top things off: an overly-saucy, sugary and cheesy pizza. Two seafood pasta dishes were well executed, but the highlight of the night goes to three soft, jumbo meatballs drenched in tomato sauce and parmigiano shavings.
Despite the busy dinner service from start to finish, our young waitress managed to remain on top of things. The kitchen also kept up with the pace, dishing out our orders in timely fashion seemingly unphased by the incessant delivery orders received.
What really stood out to me and got me thinking afterward was how pleasant and genuinely caring our waitress was in spite of her youth; which stood in sharp contrast to an incompetent, could-not-be-bothered type just the night before at a happening, talk-of-the-town sort of restaurant. We can call Gavino's commercial and kitschy all we want; these folks know how to train their staff.
As harsh as the critique above may sound, Gavino's is in fact a dependable option which will always attract diners. The menu is affordable and chock-full of crowd pleasers while the output is consistent if flawed. Simply put; there is much better out there.
If this long-lived institution felt like it was on the right path towards legitimacy during the last decade, its return to its bad habits has re-earned it my nickname of "Canada's Olive Garden".
tagged: PLAN B.
Price per person: $38
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.