Paloma is a Niçoise restaurant with Italian touches in the same way that chef-owner Armand Forcherio is, having been born in Nice to Italian parents.
The name of this Montreal restaurant is borrowed from a beach in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a town adjacent to where Forcherio was born. This is particularly important given that Armand’s business partner is his daughter Rosalie Forcherio. She manages the front of house and has spent time as a sommelier at le Filet, Montreal Plaza and the legendary Saturne in Paris.
Walking along the industrial-feeling stretch of St-Laurent, I kept thinking that this was a bad location for this restaurant. Paloma is charming, tasteful and well-appointed. These are all characteristics in stark contrast to its highway-adjacent location. However, walking through the doors of Paloma, you almost immediately forget the outside world.
The room is airy and sunlight pours in through the front window. A soft glow is cast on the pale wooden tabletops. Bistro chairs are painted grey in the hue of a rocky Mediterranean beach. Aside from the royal blue bar, at which there are three seats, there’s nothing flashy, nothing statement-making. It’s just a comfortable and calm room that draws its colours from sea, sky, stone and sand. It’s all very natural-feeling.
I’m greeted by my server, smartly dressed in his waiter’s vest, who escorts me to my seat at the bar. Also on the floor this afternoon is Rosalie Forcherio who works the room calmly and purposefully. Her pressed white blouse and apron recall a certain sophistication that is becoming rarer and rarer in the restaurant industry. Paloma balances an air of old-world restaurant sensibility (which certainly comes from Armand) and modern elegance. It works very well. One feels like they’re simultaneously seated in the seaside home of an old friend and in the very capable hands of restaurant professionals.
Wine and dine
Both the wine list and menu are short and sweet. Rosalie’s choices for wine, despite being a touch limited, are focused and deliberate. The list is centred around natural producers who work in a timeless and elegant style, meaning that no one is likely to be throwing around the words funky or weird in regards to the wine. Prominent producers like De Fermo, Hervé Villemade and Alberto Carretti of Podere Pradarolo feature. This demonstrates to me that even on a constrained budget, Rosalie puts together a serious wine list. If you’re looking for something a bit more “haute-gamme,” one simply needs to ask for the reserve familiale, a secret secondary wine list with a special selection of bottles for the most discerning of palates.
The menu is divided into four main categories: apéro, entrées, plats and dessert. Each section is home to a small but poignant set of options. There’s tapenade, or charcuterie (care of Aliments Viens) for l’apéro, tripe or pasta as an entrée and a few choices of fish, meat and seafood as a main.
I chose squash mezzalune to begin, followed by the fish of the day, billed as poisson mystère on the menu. I left the choice of wine in the very capable hands of Rosalie. For my first course, she poured a macerated cattarato from the infamous Sicilian producer Barraco. “It’s perfect with the squash filling,” I’m assured as my glass is filled with the copper-hued wine. The mezzalune, which translates to half-moons, arrive in a small bowl. I counted six to eight dollar-sized mezzalune in a buttery sauce, topped with a chiffonade of fresh sage.
The pairing is excellent. The pasta is well-prepared with well-balanced flavours, if a little underwhelming. Gently frying the sage instead of simply garnishing with fresh leaves would have added textural contrast and mellowed the flavour, which overpowered the subtle squash filling.
That day, the poisson mystère was a poached red snapper served with stewed tomatoes, capers, Niçoise olives and basil. It was a knock-out. The dish looked fairly quotidian, and the flavours are obvious. This is the kind of dish that due to its simplicity can be boring so easily. This was not the case. The fish was perfectly cooked, tender and flaky without a hint of dryness. The sweetness of the tomatoes was so gracefully balanced by the nutty deep flavour of Niçoise olives and the vibrant pop of a salty, briny caper.
This is Niçoise food — it’s joyful and rustic in the most Mediterranean of ways. One can imagine oneself on a terrasse overlooking the Ligurian sea, with this very dish in front of them. If they’re as lucky as I, it’s accompanied by a delicious glass of Pecorino D’Aburzzo from Ausonia. The wine’s delicate floral notes, gentle acidity and golden colour recalls the Machaon — the butterfly after which the cuvée is named.
One let-down, however, was dessert. Le gâteau de Ouistiti turned out not to be a regionally specific cake but a popular French children’s book. In Le Gâteau de Ouistiti, a monkey attempts to impress his chef father by baking a cake. It’s cute, and in a setting where the father (a life-long chef) partners with his daughter to open a restaurant, the symbolism is not lost. But the cake was mediocre at best. Essentially the dish was a short layer cake of chocolate and hazelnut ganaches supported by layers of dacquoise cake. The ganaches were quite good, but the cake was too dry.
A mentor of mine once said, “A good evening at a restaurant should feel like being at a really great dinner party.” In some ways, I believe that to be true. Restauration is meant to be nourishing, but also entertaining. At its best it’s simultaneously restorative and transformative. It’s enjoying a memorable experience, one that could only be had in that place, at that time.
Paloma is all those things. Despite what I would say are a few imperfections, it’s among the better restaurant experiences I’ve had in recent memory. And as the winter’s icy grip takes hold of our city, it’s nice to spend some time in Nice. ■
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