No. 44: Elena
5090 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal
The boundary of just how far west a Montrealer can venture and still find a good meal keeps moving dramatically outward. Still, no restaurateurs have ever planted the flag of quality quite so deep in the western culinary wilderness as Ryan Gray, Emma Cardarelli and Marley Sniatowsky did in early 2018 for this new pizza and pasta emporium, with a coffee and takeout shop tacked on around the back.
If this sounds like the makings of a neighbourhood joint, note that Cardarelli and Gray are also partners in Nora Gray. Elena, too, is a destination. The reason why starts with its design, which is airy, bright and welcoming. The curved marble bar is set with blue velvet stools; the dining room adds orange velvet banquettes and a mauve back wall, set against the wide wooden whitewashed planks of the original floor (a floor with a history—for decades, the site housed one of Montreal’s most notorious strip clubs).
But it’s the food and wine that draw people in from across the city, again and again. First, there is the wood-oven pizza, for which the dough is made from flour (mostly all-purpose, some whole wheat, and a touch of spelt) grown and milled in Quebec, then naturally leavened for 48 hours. It has the best qualities of real VPN-approved Neapolitan pizza, but none of its common flaws (no excessively doughy ring, no soft centre, no tip sag).
From Margherita to Mr. Fun-Guy (mushrooms, celeriac and taleggio) the pizza is exceptional. Antipasti and salads hit all the right notes, and the pastas—like lobster- and scallop-filled cappelletti dressed in emulsified butter and basil—are exquisite. Rabbit, chicken and a daily fish are also cooked in the wood-burning oven. Lastly, note that Elena is named for the celebrated natural winemaker Elena Pantaleoni (La Stoppa), a good friend of the house, and that Gray is one of Montreal’s most informed and passionately articulate promoters of natural wines. So the wine list is a feast all its own.
Photos by: Dominique Lafond