It was a dark, stormy, endorphin-deprived night. We pulled over to the side of the road ― after all, driving under the influence of hunger could lead to serious legal infractions. With the help of our smartphones, we were directed to an extensive list of Bring Your Own Wine restaurants in the downtown area.
Chez Ennio on Fort and de Maisonneuve was the only restaurant we hadn’t heard of, so my partner-in-dine called to secure a reservation. After several minutes of “Oh yes, we are starving…trust me…yes. I like pasta. Veal too. Anything,” he turned to me and said, “Oh my God, I just made a new best friend.”
After crawling down a few icy steps, Ennio himself greeted us with Montreal-style kisses on both cheeks and firm handshakes. Once we wiped the frost off our glasses, we were able to soak it all in – that we were, indeed, intruding into what seemed to be this man’s very own living room whose perimeter had been sprinkled with trinkets and artifacts from his childhood.
As he helped us towards a quiet table in the back, the discussion veered towards his actual residence a couple of blocks up the street. The meat (no pun intended) of our exchange ventured towards his life growing up in 1940s Tuscany, his amicable relationship with luscious tomatoes, perfectly-shredded pecorino and parmesan, and his ancestral recipes that transcended dozens of generations to seep into the kitchen of this delicate Italian eatery.
After taking way too long sifting through all the pastas, fish and meats and this and thats on the menu – we were famished at this point – the boss himself rested a most colourful garden of lemon-doused vegetables and a bowl of bean soup before us. We found ourselves asking out loud, “Is this real life?” They had both been made fresh merely minutes before, with the mozzarella melting on the soup’s exterior bearing an eerie resemblance to a Montreal winter roof.
Before we were even finished round one of our appetizers, Ennio brought us another helping. Mouths ajar, we couldn’t tell if this gift was a by-product of our tipsy, sweet wine-induced imaginative stupor, or our waiter’s undeniable hospitality. The latter was, of course, true, leaving us ready for the entree with an even sweeter taste on our palates than any wine could ever deliver.
My heap of homemade spinach ravioli came with no scarcity of chunky tomato sauce. Sizzling hot and with faint enough notes of cinnamon and nut to keep me intrigued, I told myself to eat slowly and save the rest for tomorrow so as to relive the salivary glory. Taking baby bites was, as it turns out, not necessary – even after I was too full to even fathom the idea of eating one more bite, I had lunch for the next day and the day after.
My picky dinner mate even scarfed down his entire plate of sautéed zucchini, veal parmesan and other root vegetables — dishes he would otherwise avoid like the highway during a torrential blizzard. We could hear Ennio hammering away at the veal in the kitchen steps away, like a real paysan, so as to soften it to its desirable consistency — one that he expresses by clenching the tips of all his fingers together and bringing them to his lips to kiss. “Mwah!” he said.
Chez Ennio is not a place to come to talk business. Its dim lighting sets just the right ambiance for a little spoon feeding and footsie canoodling under the table. For a $33 table d’hote consisting of all the trimmings, dozens of authentic Italian dishes between $15 and $20, and V.I.P. service to boot, you really feel like you’re ripping Ennio off once he brings the VISA machine around.
Chez Ennio is located at 1978 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.