Café Gentile Westmount – When it comes to writing about Café Gentile, I don’t know where to begin. I have so many wonderful things to say that I am worried that I will run out of superlatives to give the exceptional food at this restaurant its due. At the end of the meal, I decided that this was going to be my new favourite restaurant, and where I would plan to enjoy many dinners.
First, a little history about the origins of Cafe Gentile and the ambitious and talented family which owns it. The Gentile family immigrated to Canada from Sicily in 1954. Ignazio, the father, and his younger son Anthony opened the original Cafe Gentile in Parc extension. It is recognized as an important cultural element in the history of Montreal, since it demonstrates how talent and honest hard work is how many newly-arrived families made a well-deserved place for themselves in this city. It is at this location that the family-run business, offering authentic Sicilian dishes based on grandmother Teresa’s recipes, became well-known and appreciated by Montrealers. It is still running today, and is worth a visit, not only for its excellent food and coffee, but because of its authentic retro-quirky vibe.
Anna-Maria, Paolo and Anthony Gentile have taken the reigns of this family-run business, and although the Westmount location opened only a year ago, it is has already been successfully adopted by the neighbourhood.
It was just the two of us, my daughter (and photographer) Elena and I, and we arrived at around 6:30 in the evening. Although there is an ample terrasse, we chose to sit inside because the lighting is usually better for photo taking, and also because we get to see the restaurant team at work.
The decor at Café Gentile is tasteful, contemporary and current. There is leather-upholstered seating along the wall, which allows for comfortable tête-à-têtes, marble tabletops and discreet lighting, as well as a clean-cut design vibe which makes for a space that doesn’t take over, and rightfully puts the spotlight on the food. The restaurant was almost full while we were there, and yet we were able to have a conversation without yelling at each other, and this is not often the case in many venues.
Our host and the manager for the evening was Guiseppe. He shared his knowledge of the origin and composition of the menu items, which are mostly recipes which belonged to the family grandmother, Teresa. I can now say, after having eating here, the world would be a happier place if we all had a Nonna Teresa cooking meals for us. Each dish seems to have been given the necessary time and care of preparation, as if it were made for beloved grandchildren.
Guiseppe started us off with a homemade olive oil starter. The olive oil, which can also be purchased to take home, is produced at and imported from the family-owned farm in Sicily. It is more than difficult to find this level of quality olive oil in Montreal. It had a first-press opacity and was not too bitter.
Guiseppe helped us make our choices for starters. He suggested we try the House Made Ricotta ($13), served with honey, fig, orange zest and grilled crostini and the Eggplant Parmigiana ($14). The ricotta was delicately flavoured, both rich and light, and the orange zest gave it a slightly fruity taste that played well against the rugged crostini. The eggplant parmigiana was a perfect starter. The phenomenal house made tomato sauce gave us an idea of the quality of the food preparation, and the thinly sliced eggplant dish, perfectly seasoned and baked, made us aware that the chef had both high standards and ability.
We ordered two of the many salads on offer: the Roasted Beet Salad ($14), with candy cane beets, oranges, baby spinach, goat cheese and a pistachio crumble, and the Gentile Ceasar ($13). You can easily order either of these generously proportioned salads to share for two or three people. Both were standouts in their own way. The roasted beet salad had a winning combination of earthy spinach and sweet orange, and the cheese and nuts made it all the tastier. The Ceasar was a refreshing change from the typical restaurant offering, and if you are going to choose one salad, take this one. Crunchy romaine hearts were covered with the authentic Ceasar dressing, and unforgettably wonderful.
Our Primi dishes were the Homemade Gnocchi ($19) with fresh tomato, melted mozzarella and basil, and the Homemade Cavatelli ($22), with broccoli rabe, sausage and parmesan. My daughter and I lost our hearts to the gnocchi. Elena described it best when she said: “This dish is like the ideal mother: comforting and giving, feeding your stomach and your soul, while hugging you”. I could not agree more, and I think that world peace could be achieved if everyone was allowed regular servings of this gnocchi. It just makes you feel whole again. Now you see what I mean about the difficulty of giving the food at this restaurant its full due. I hope I am getting across to you the urgency with which you just have to go there and eat.
The cavatelli was yet another deceptively simple dish, in the sense that although there were only a few ingredients, their perfect balance and combination allowed the dish to shine. I wish we could have tried more of the Primi dishes, but there is (sadly) a limit to how much my daughter and I can eat, and the portions at Café Gentile will not let you go home hungry. We thought it best to try one of the Secondi, and opted for the Chicken Parmigiana ($24). A hefty portion of chicken, topped with smoked Caciovallo served with a side of Sexy Fries. I have to admit that I finally understood the attraction to this dish, since the many versions I had tasted in the past came out too soggy and too blah. This chicken had a crispy coating and a tender centre and the smoked cheese was a better choice than a less flavourful mozzarella. The ingredients were well-balanced and the end result was worthy of the many “oohs” and “ahhs” at our table of two. Throughout our meal at Cafe Gentile, my daughter and I felt like we were finally getting to know how beautiful Italian food can be. The Sexy Fries are worth mentioning, served with grated parmesan, rosemary, basil and green shallot oil, and I dare you to resist them. Although the Dolci all seemed irresistibly delicious, we had to make a single choice, after having tried so many savoury dishes. Guiseppe suggested the housemade gelato, served with an equally housemade biscotti ($7). The gelato was not too sweet and flavourful, and we managed to find the appetite for a spoon fight. The biscotti was crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside and yet another perfect housemade item.
Lastly, I ordered a latte, since it came highly recommended by my editor. I remember the frothy concoction of beauty that a latte was in Italy, and I was delighted that it was the same one served here.
One of the online comments about Cafe Gentile is the quality of the service. This was apparent to me during our evening there. The staff is efficient, present and attentive. Cold water (sparkly or flat, your choice) will always be replaced before you run out, and it will not take you long to catch someone’s eye, should you be in need of anything.
In fact, all of the elements in place at Cafe Gentile, be it the staff, the service, the food or the decor, they all seem to be following a clear vision: to provide guests with an seemingly effortless, steady and high quality meal in all its aspects.
4126 Rue Ste-Catherine Westmount, Quebec H3Z 1P4
Opening hours are:
Monday to Wednesday from 7am to 10pm
Thursday and Friday from 7am to 11pm
Saturday from 8am to 11pm
Closed on Sundays
(Please check online for Parc Avenue location and hours)