The critic for the Montreal Gazette revisits Pastaga this week to see if the busiest chef in the city still helms one of the best restaurants in the city. To the relief of Martin Juneau, partner Louis-Philippe Breton, and fans of the Little Italy restaurant, the answer is yes. Despite Juneau's hectic schedule—which includes television gigs, wine bar/boutique Cul-Sec, the Monsieur Crémeux dairy bar and truck, Pub Sir Joseph, wine agency Ward & associés, and a consultant chef stint at the MTL Cuisine group's Commerce in Old Montreal—Pastaga still deserves three stars (on four), writes Lesley Chesterman.
The critic first gave Pastaga three stars in 2012 (and later called it one of the restaurants of the year) and her reverence for the restaurant's natural wine focus and simple, elegant plates holds. "For dinner we began with three plates: burrata and mushroom focaccia, a cucumber gazpacho, and marinated salmon. The focaccia is quite something, a sort of long slice of toast topped with plush burrata cheese, pickled onions, orange supremes, marinated mushrooms and bits of smoked tuna belly. What a great lineup of flavours — salty, fishy, acidic, woodsy, lactic — mixed in with all those diverse textures. Gorgeous." The gazpacho and salmon both score, and while a flavourless monkfish falters, mains impress too. A rock cornish game hen is relatively straightforward "but the combination of sharp technique and fine ingredients elevates something simple like this from good to great."
Many a restaurant has been done in by Chesterman's sharp eye for desserts but not Pastaga. Desserts are the restaurant's forte: the critic is won over by "little rhubarb and strawberry turnovers served with a quenelle of buttermilk ice cream" and "a phyllo based cake filled with passion fruit curd, cashews and caramelized banana." To top it all off, Juneau himself puts in an appearance. But clearly, whether the chef is in the kitchen or not, Pastaga is in good hands. "Hallucinant," concludes Chesterman.