Outremont restaurant le Petit Italien reaches back to its halcyon days

The new menu at this old neighbourhood go-to appears to be a work in progress.

I wonder at times if I’m a Montrealer. What makes a local a local? It’s been 13 love-hate years in this city now — is that long enough? If asked on the street for directions, I know the way; if asked for restaurant and bar recommendations, I know just the spot; if asked about any manner of politics or infrastructure, I too foam at the mouth. In a way, being a Montrealer means being here long enough to have a solid opinion on Montreal.

Then again, maybe this is too inclusive of an attitude. I don’t known how much Montreal has transformed since the turn of the millennium. Not intimately knowing what it once was may, to some, not give me a complete carte blanche to form an opinion, but I always aim to learn, take things as they are and otherwise feign ignorance. So maybe I’m wrong about le Petit Italien.

I’ve read this was a stalwart ristorante in its heyday two decades ago on the more preserved, residential side of Bernard. It was a friendly gathering place for many to tilt a wine glass and gorge on pasta but having closed and changed hands over the last several years, it had nearly faded from memory, save those who either worked its first floor or churned the starched waters of its kitchen.

Pappardelle, wild mushroom, di bufala, gremolata, arugula

Earlier this year, thanks to its former owner Alain Starosta and Pablo Rojas (Provisions 1268) who worked its pots and pans — along with Evan Gubersky of P1268 and sommelier Christian Bisson — news broke that it was now back on the wagon with a design and menu reminiscent of its former glory. Huzzah, right? But I never knew LPI in its halcyon days, so to me, those olden days don’t matter. What does matter is now.


The now provides a slightly less-than-formal eatery of tile, glass and wood with French café patioware. The walls are lined with jars of red sauce more for decoration than consumption, underlit and giving off the cozy glow of a hearth. It’s by no means staunchly Italian in its presentation, avoiding gaudy kitsch like fake marble busts or velour curtains. The proof, rather, is in the pasta.

Service here also does away with many of the formalities found in old restaurants, though that might have been pushing it too far. While I’m all for the restaurants engendering more comfort for themselves than what’s now seen as largely burdensome traditions — and that goes for all manner of required dress codes, exacted tableware or staff hierarchies, to name a few — an establishment that’s going to be more laissez-faire about how it conducts itself can also give itself too much slack: none of the dishes of the day were explained to the table, the server would forget us half the time due to unknown preoccupations, and when wine was ordered, full glasses were (to no fault of Bisson, but geez, what a waste of an otherwise well-structured wine list) simply put down on the table without prior tasting. On that front, my table of eager and happy arrivals ended up feeling as doldrum as a punch card, something to be passed in and out. I wasn’t expecting special treatment, never am, but some thought and care was sorely lacking here.

Beef carpaccio with radish, capers, green shoots and pecorino

So it came down to the food, and having known Rojas’s past work at both Provisions and its butcher shop, I’ll admit it was hard to have measured expectations. But when it comes to Italian, it’s either well-balanced and wholesome or poorly done and barely passable.

LPI, I found, is a bit of both. The meal would vacillate between one end of enjoyment to the other. We ordered a dish of asparagus spears ($15) with croutons, egg yolk sauce, dabs of goat cheese and pickled onion that has since been removed from the menu, and probably with good cause, as the concept felt plucked from a night of misguided scrolling through a Google image search for ideas. On the other hand, a carpaccio ($16) of paper thin beef coated in radish, capers, green shoots and pecorino with a smooth mushroom mayo and a crackling dusting of bread crumbs was addictively good. And in between, a salad of fennel and citrus ($15) cut with onion and chive and doused in cheese hit a basic mark, but lost points in how its herbs were tossed instead of garnished; flavours here were buried and fighting over one another for recognition.

Tagliatelle puttanesca

The same experience was had with the pasta dishes. Not having had the fresh stuff in quite some time, the table opted to share a plate of tagliatelle puttanesca ($21) and pappardelle with wild mushroom, di bufala, gremolata (a chopped herb paste) and arugula ($22). The first was meant to give off pungency in every respect in how it combines garlic, anchovy, olives and capers, and while its pasta was certainly well cooked, its sauce wasn’t — the whole plate simply tasted of olives without any balancing of its promised ingredients. On the other hand, the pappardelle’s fungus was juicy but firm, its cheese soft but springy, and each taste was coated in herbose and tangy notes. It seems now LPI has since taken the puttanesca off the menu as well, so maybe things are going through more rigorous testing in the kitchen.

Knowing now that these changes have been gradually made to the menu, I’d like to imagine that LPI is starting to either hit a stride in crafting its dishes or is simply testing them more before putting them out. As for the service, I wish them all the best there, as I think more than enough time had passed for them to refine it. Those hands need to have more pity on the mouths they feed.

I suppose, given LPI’s history, it just goes to show the value of good memories of a place: You want to go back and relive it. Maybe, with a bit more time, I’ll want to, but not any time soon. 

Le Petit Italien
1265 Bernard