La Spada: Roman Italian classics in St-Henri

When a popular food photographer (and enthusiast) and the chef-owner behind an institution like Bistro Amerigo join forces, one can only hope for the best. And the best is exactly what La Spada, a new Italian restaurant with a chic, eclectic decor on Notre-Dame West in Saint-Henri, has in store for us.

Before becoming a culinary photographer, Scott Usheroff (aka Craving Curator) worked for a few years as a line cook. He then branched out to work in the tech industry for a few years, but his passion for cooking never left him. Now working as a full time food photographer, he felt the timing was right. “I’ve always felt at home in restaurants. It was inevitable that I would eventually open one,” he confides.

When Scott met Chef Steve Marcone through partners, he immediately knew he had found the right person to help him bring his dream to life. While Steve is in charge of the kitchen, Scott brings his photographer’s eye and creative vision to the menu, especially when it comes to plating. Naturally, the photos at the top of this page are his.

Italian Montrealer

Even though he’s spent most of his life in Montreal, Steve Marcone remains deeply rooted in Italy. “I feel more like an Italian in Montreal than an Italian Montrealer,” jokes the chef. His father is from Montecassino, near Rome, and he himself lived in the “boot” for a few years in his early twenties. His passion for Italian cuisine, which he inherited from his father, led him to open The Italian Pantry on Monkland Avenue, then Bistro Amerigo, now a neighbourhood favourite in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. With La Spada, Steve wanted to offer a higher-end cuisine with a “shabby chic” decor, while remaining as accessible as possible. “Amerigo is a neighbourhood place, more family-oriented. La Spada is a place where you can take your girlfriend out,” he goes on.

Plush blue velvet banquettes, marble statues, white tablecloths, and rococo chandeliers; imagine the famous Carbone restaurant in New York, decorated by a street art and street photography enthusiast, and you’ll get the idea. The restaurant’s walls are covered with found images, family memories, black-and-white photos captured by Scott during his trips to Italy, and portraits of soccer players and Italian celebrities (there’s a topless photo of Sophia Loren somewhere; we’ll let you find it). A large canvas by Montreal artist LeBicar, created especially for the restaurant, overlooks the dining room, flanked by a more discreet Dan Climan. Joel Malkin, another Montreal artist exiled in Toronto, designed the restaurant’s emblem: a serpent coiled around a sword (“spada” in Italian). The original also hangs on one of the walls.

Near the entrance, in the small section Steve calls the “purgatory,” you can sit at the bar or at a small marble-top table with a negroni for aperitivo, or while you’re waiting for your table. At the back, near the second bar and the kitchens, is the “Chef’s Table”, where a few privileged guests can be treated to a custom experience curated by the Chef and his team.

Roman Italian Classics

On the menu, you’ll find the great classics of Roman gastronomy: ragu alla romana, cacio e pepe, carbonara and linguini alle vongole (white wine and clams), eggplant parmigiana, Caesar salad, sautéed rapini, etc. For appetizers (or sfizi), you’ll find delicious polpette and supple supplì (oblong rice and cheese fritters, a cross between arancini and mozzarella sticks).

“Most of the recipes come from Steve. Some are mine and Thara’s (Scott’s wife) recipes that we wanted to see at the restaurant,” says Scott. Chicken Paillard, a breaded chicken cutlet with arugula, tomato and burrata on top, is one of those, and it’s easy to see why they wanted it on the menu.

We particularly loved the Tortellini in Brodo, small ricotta-stuffed pasta served in a broth, poured table-side. The Ravioli Francese, served in whole sheets in a sage brown butter with butternut squash puree and amaretti crumble, also deserve praise. The Vitello Saltimbucco (literally “veal jump in the mouth”), a generous veal chop on the bone wrapped in prosciutto and topped with sage butter, is already a crowd favourite. Fish and seafood options, such as squid ink linguini with lobster and seafood, breaded cod, and whole pan-seared sea bass, are also on the menu. For dessert, you can’t miss the decadent tiramisu, a particularly indulgent and delicious recipe that Steve and Scott spent a lot of time poring over.

In the front of house, maître d’ Liam Painchaud (formerly of Monkland Tavern and Nolan) and his team to treat you with care. Sommelier Jon Cicerone (aka Brommelier, from Tavern on the Square), a good friend of Scott’s, created the wine list with Steve, who imports small cuvées from Rome, Puglia, and Etna regions through his agency Grappoli Wines. The wine list will feature bottles for all occasions and budgets. “It’s accessible for everyone, but we have bottles for people who want to spend a little more,” says Scott. In addition to the classics, the bar will offer some signature cocktails, including a mouth-watering Peperoncini Martini, and selection of aperitivo, limoncello, and grappa.

In short, La Spada doesn’t reinvent the wheel—but why bother when the classics are so delicious?


Photography by Scott Usheroff

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