It would seem Gatineau restaurants in the downtown core are as subject to the challenge of busy noons and quiet evenings as are those on the Ottawa side. The newish Molto (formerly Euro Bistro, same owner, new chef) is packed with the office crowd at lunch, but miserably empty at both my dinners.
I suppose we’ll blame location for the lack of customers – Promenade du Portage was a very quiet stretch on a couple of mid-week evenings. It surely can’t be the food that’s keeping them away. Molto’s kitchen (led by Michael Houle) is impressive.
The Molto look is stripped down modern, in tones of grey, black, white and red, with splashes of patterned wallpaper for contrast. White linen tables are cosily spaced over polished wood floors. A tall, chocolate brown bench runs the length of a wall. A pine bar seats ten; a sidewalk patio about twenty.
They’ve created some intimate dining nooks, using half walls, and behind the bar and on the other side of Molto’s take-out sandwich and deli bar, is a nearly completed brick-walled wine bar. It feels quite tucked away and cosy, romantically candle-lit at night. We love the music they play at Molto. We appreciate the feminine touches in the ladies’ room, the wall of whimsical black and white postcards.
Another draw is the great selection of beer on tap, and the international wine list, which is fairly priced and offers decent choice by the glass, in both three and five ounce pours.
Little touches from the kitchen make a difference too. Water comes flavoured with cucumber slices. Bread is from Art-is-in-Bakery. Vinegars and oils provided for dipping taste of a superior quality.
Then there’s the cooking. Once you’ve glossed over the banal, crowd-pleaser apps (Check: calamari, fried zucchini, bruschetta, Caesar salad, Greek salad) and overlook the fact I can’t comment on the thin crust pizzas (the oven was bust on my last visit) the balance of Michael Houle’s short menu revealed carefully made, tasty food.
A bit early for gazpacho, but this one was a winner, well-balanced, very fresh, with just the right degree of garlic, smoothed with a dollop of crÃ¨me fraiche. Houle’s gnocchi is light, soft and pillowy, bathed in a marinara sauce with plenty of basil.
Mussels are fresh and perfectly steamed, but are served in the sort of small bottomed, wide brimmed soup bowl that’s all wrong – it doesn’t allow the meat the benefit of the winey broth to keep them warm and moist. Mussels come with delicious frites.
There is a decent steak, served with a melting knob of blue cheese butter, a mushroom jus, and more of those good fries. A rainbow trout is spice rubbed, grilled, smeared with gremolata and served on a rich risotto with spinach and roasted fennel.
On fabulous fennel seed bread, a lunch sandwich satisfies, stuffed with goat cheese, pesto, roasted red pepper and mushrooms. Yum. You can have it with fries, soup, or green salad (about $12) or for an extra $2, pair it with a broccoli salad/bean salad/potato salad or farfalle pasta. Clever that.
For dessert, a chocolate ricotta cheesecake with a mild, milky chocolate flavour, but a solid texture, and a warm apple crumble that was responsible for duelling spoons.
Molto is making some good moves.