The pair responsible for the now-defunct but still fondly remembered Mile End restaurant Lili Co are at it again. Except this time, David Pellizzari (chef) and Catherine Draws (front of house and wine) have made it farther west, to Saint-Henri, with the upcoming opening of their new Italian restaurant, BarBara, slated for January 25.
“It’s going to mainly be classic Italian, but then again, it’s David, and he puts a little twist on everything he does,” Draws says. To illustrate, she points to his take on tortiglioni ragu, a pasta resembling rigatoni in shape (as per tradition), but served with a lamb ragu spiced with North African flavours — perhaps a nod to Pellizzari’s former gig at Petite Patrie’s Darna Bistroquet. “In that way, he isn’t totally by the book, but then when it comes to his pasta-making, he is,” she says.
Those acquainted with Pellizzari’s cooking at Lili Co will have already had a taste of his primo pasta skills, and they’ll also recognize the playful approach brought to BarBara’s menu of veggie dishes, which include braised carrots draped in mascarpone, pesto and sunflowers seeds, and leeks dressed in a popcorn sauce, hazelnut butter, and almonds. However, the only thing that’s being brought wholesale to the Notre-Dame West locale is his zeppole. (“They’re these small donuts that are just so good, and they are Italian, so we thought, why not?” Draws says.)
Open daily from 8 in the morning to 11 at night (for takeout until 7:30 p.m. and delivery only after that, as per Quebec government regulations), BarBara’s offering is meant to be all-purpose and all-encompassing. There are the above-noted pasta and veggie dishes, but the lineup also includes focaccia sandwiches (think Mortadella and caponata, or grilled vegetables), coffee, more sweets, and groceries on what they are calling the “dispensa” (Italian for “pantry”) side of the establishment.
Here, locals will be able to pick up ready-to-cook pastas, charcuterie, jarred sauces and antipasti, bottles of wine, coffee grains in bulk (from café Paquebot supplier ZAB), and some sourdough loaves (ciabatta, and a semolina and fennel option to start), courtesy of nearby small-batch bakery Miette. “We decided to add the bread to our offer because a lot of our neighbours were asking us whether we’d have any. It’s something the neighbourhood seemed to need,” Draws says.
The same goes for the dispensa more generally. While the Notre-Dame strip where BarBara has settled is well-supplied on the restaurant front — Arthurs, Pizzeria Adamo, Tacos Frida, and Le Tequila Bar are all nearby — there aren’t enough little shops around where people can buy food staples, Draws says. “Mainly, we didn’t want to just arrive here with a concept that the neighbourhood didn’t want or need.”
On the ownership side, Flore-Anne Ducharme and Nicolas Urli, who co-own HÀ and Nhậu bar, Jean-François Gervais (Piazza Sociale), and the Lucky Belly Group (Red Tiger) join the couple. In fact, it was Urli who initially picked out the space, which some may recall was intended to house a Vietnamese brasserie called Dinh Dinh, a collaboration between the HÀ owners and the folks at Tran Cantine. But then the pandemic struck, and the project fell through; Urli was left shouldering a space and no project to fill it.
It was on a casual phone call with Draws, an old friend of Urli’s, that the idea for the Lili Co couple to take over the space was born. “Nic has a really good eye because that space was just perfect. And we liked that we’d be able to work on it really slowly given the circumstances right now. When else would we be able to build a restaurant like that?”
As for the design of the space, it’s a collaboration between Gervais and the Gauley Brothers, known for their work on 212, Fugazzi, and Foiegwa. Preview photos posted to the restaurant’s Instagram account show a palette of dusty greys and beiges interspersed with art deco glass light fixtures, a pair of imposing columns, and a large, almost statuesque table at the centre, which together subtly impart a time-worn veneer. Of the design approach, Draws says, “We wanted a place that feels like it has been there for decades.”
Fast-forward to another time in the future, when diners are once more allowed to linger indoors, without social distancing measures in place, and BarBara will be able to accommodate 60 people, as a wine bar. “We really hope that people will be able to one day gather around that big table in the middle, sitting closely side by side, sharing food and a not-too-expensive bottle of wine. That’s the idea.”
BarBara will open daily at 4450 Notre-Dame West from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., for takeout and delivery.