Fig.1 Italian flag throwers
Our three levels of government, as well as the Congres National des Italo-Canadiens, have graced us with yet another Semaine Italienne de Montreal; this, the 15th edition, was once again held in Little Italy. And while I greatly commend all of the organizers for supporting and promoting Italian culture within all of the Montreal communities, I do take issue with the way in which the event was organized, or lack thereof, by the merchants of St-Laurent Boulevard in Little Italy, who failed once again to demonstrate any zeal, dedication and passion evident in other Italian festivals in cities such as Boston and New York. What will it take for the St-Laurent Street Association to organize themselves in such a way as to provide the public with as much diversity as possible?
For example, where's all the street food? Most of the restaurants have placed patio tables well into the street in the hopes that the passer-by's will sit and be served, but missing are the smells and visuals associated with food prepared and served right before your eyes. Now I'm well aware of the fact that the restaurant owners on St-Laurent do not want street food sold for fear that it would take away from the sit down crowd, but I for one don't believe that some freshly sliced prociutto or fresh olives served in a paper cone will stop people from having supper.
Street food is older than Rome itself and is as much a part of Italy as the leaning tower. The taste of simple, pure street food works on so many levels; from the aroma of the food to the visual pleasure derived from food prepared just for you as everyone looks on--and by the adventure which ensues when you walk with your food; sightseeing is so much more appealing when you have a sausage panini in your mouth.
The merchants of St. Laurent--as well as all of the Montreal Italians living in and around the city-- need to find that Italian pride which comes out every four years for the World Cup. Every restaurant on St-Laurent Boulevard, from St-Zotique to Jean-Talon, should setup on the street and serve something different from the restaurant next to them to ensure proper variety and representation of the Country they are there to honour. And when I say all, I mean all of the restaurants and pastry shops should be opened and displaying--no exceptions. While I saw sausage paninis already prepared and sitting in an aluminum tin for sale (don't they know how many more people they'd attract if they grilled that sausage on the spot, the smell of freshly sauteed onions and peppers that would accompany the sausage is enough to drive a person crazy.) And what about the paninis with cold cuts sitting behind a display case? The mortadella had already begun to change colors and the lettuce had wilted. Don't they know that by slicing the cured meats in front of the costumer-like they do in Italy- it not only provides the much needed show the hungry buyer needs but also makes the sandwich taste so much better. Sadly missing from the event was Italy's favorite food; none of the restaurants had a pasta stand on the sidewalk.
The restaurant owners will tell you that if the pedestrians eat too much while strolling up and down the street, they won't have a sit down meal in their establishments. Yes, this will happen, some people will consume too many street eats, but, what I believe will also happen by having more street food, (as well as more activities for the kids) is a surge in attendance. It might not happen the first year but as people catch on it would become an event not to be missed, such as the Feast of Saint Anthony's in Boston's North End.
Fig. 2 Porchetta at San Lorenzo
Now that I've got all of that out of my system, let's talk about the good and fun aspects of the Semaine Italienne de Montreal. Many of the restaurants did a great job creating that terrase feel by placing tables well out into the street. I also saw a beautiful whole porchetta being spit-roasted over some hot coals out on the sidewalk at the new swank San Lorenzo eatery. My wife liked the shoes on display outside the Rubino store and my son liked all of the soccer apparel on sale outside Evangilista Sport, and I quite enjoyed seeing all of the scooters and Fiat 500's, as well as the small kiosk by the Opera de Montreal, some of the costumes used by the opera company were on display.
Fig.3 Pizza Margerita from Pomodoro
As for supper, some friends had recommended I try the pizza at Pomodoro. My quest for great pizza has brought me to Napoli, Rome, New York and Boston. Montreal had always left me a bit disappointed in the pizza department. The pizza at Pomodoro, however, did not disappoint. It was a beautifully cooked thin crust pizza which wasn't overloaded with toppings allowing you to taste everything on the pie equally. The crust was well stretched and cooked until the outer part developed that signature blackened texture, which I believe adds more flavour to the pizza. The only change I would make is to the mozzarella, which on my all dressed, was slightly rubbery. A "fior di latte" fresh mozzarella would have, in my opinion, improved it. The pizza with porcini mushrooms was a definite winner. The taste of the wild fungi worked well with the firm but supple crust and hand squeezed whole plum tomatoes. The crunchy fried calamari were also very good.
Fig.4 All dressed pizza
After a great meal we finished the night off as they do in Rome; by taking a "passeggio" while eating a gelato. Looking at all of the people, I couldn't help but once again wonder what this "festa" could become if all Italians cared a bit more.
Pomodoro. 6834 St-Laurent Boulevard
514 667-3867 http://www.ristorantepomodoro.com/