If exceedingly popular Saint-Henri pizza spot Elena's enduring buzz (and Griffintown pasta destination Nora Gray's even longer-standing success) are any indication, newcomer Gia from the same owners is unlikely to disappoint.
The hot new restaurant, an homage to the art of Italian grilling, is now open in Saint-Henri, settling into an annexe of the old RCA, a heritage building erected in 1908 to produce records and gramophones.
Two years in the making, the restaurant and wine bar swung open its doors yesterday (December 8), able to accommodate about 55 diners, with 35 seated in a cozy dining room and the remainder gathered around a bar section it's calling "wine island" — a no-reservation zone where patrons can linger over a drink and some antipasti. Come spring, the team will erect a mega terrasse in Gia's sprawling outdoor space, already home to one of its most crucial features: an arrosticini grill.
Skewers of piping hot, charcoal-grilled meat typical of the Abruzzo region in Italy (east of Rome), arrosticini are central to the new get-up. To start, Gia will offer them traditional lamb, plus beef, pork, and Brussels sprout varieties, sold by the unit but piled on platters for family-style dining. (There's a second charcoal grill outside, where copious amounts of veggies, seafood, and larger morsels of meat can get their char.)
"We really liked this idea of a grill restaurant in the same spirit of the dinners you might have in Italy, with a group of friends, maybe at a winemaker's house — these big sit-down dinners that are very communal and festive, warm and welcoming," co-owner Ryan Gray tells Eater. (On the ownership side, he's joined by chef Janice Tiefenbach, Ellen Eamon, Julio Mendy, sommelier Lawrence Fiset, Emma Cardarelli, and Marley Sniatowsky — all of the Elena clan.)
Gray is talking from experience, having enjoyed many Italian nights of this style with family, friends, and colleagues — some of the most memorable alongside winemaker Giovanna Tiezzi Borsa (of Tuscany's Pacina winery), after whom the restaurant is named. "She's like our Italian mom," Gray says.
Though Gia is conceptually geared toward the Italian grill, diners can also expect seafood and veggies prepared otherwise, though always with a Central Italian bent, and some pasta — a no-brainer from a kitchen steered by Tiefenbach, Gray says. (She's joined by chef de cuisine Willow Cardinal and pastry chef Michelle Marek). A classic Tuscan dish, pici all'anatra, which sees hand-rolled strands of pasta entangled in a duck ragu, is one example.
For wine, Gray says to expect a list that's all-natural, predominantly Italian, and brimming with lots of old-school character. "We want to go for wines with a little more depth and motion, wines that are a little more serious, and not shy away from things that are higher in alcohol content," he says. "The experience and the emotion that you can get from that kind of wine will almost always trump the fleeting pleasure of drinking a 10-degree natty, glou-glou one."
Beyond the food, the drink, and the team is the space itself, which Gray describes as a "4,000-square-foot cinder block," now enlivened with the addition of earthy terracotta surfaces, tiling whose colour seems lifted from an Italian olive grove, and glazed granite counters — all meant to conjure Gia's geographic muse. "We wanted it to feel Italian inside without also losing the fact that we're in an old heritage industrial space."
The size of the space and its location in somewhat of a no man's land (a non-residential pocket sandwiched between Autoroute 720, Saint-Henri's Home Depot, and the RCA) were selling points for the team, who see openings for growth and unencumbered entertaining — beginning with a big New Year's Eve bash — built in.
"Like with Elena, this is a building where there's a lot of room to evolve and change and add over time, and really just keeping making the experience for guests as interesting as possible," Gray says. (When Elena opened on Notre-Dame in 2018, it was a stylish 65-seater. A couple of months later, casual basement counter Club Social P.S., accessible from the back alley or "Pizza Parc," joined the fold.)
For Gia, the first change will be an added daytime offering; it'll begin serving morning coffee and mid-day meals in January.
Gia is open at 1025 Lenoir, Wednesday to Saturday, from 5 to 11 p.m., until Christmas. Hours are subject to change after that. Check their Instagram for updates.