Restaurant row in Gatineau is home to La Squadra, which seems to be always filled with happy eaters at lunch and dinner.
“It looks like a TV-show restaurant,” my friend says. And it’s true — from its high ceilings and big windows to nicely placed tables and twenty-somethings having fun while doing some serious eating, it seems like a scene from a Netflix series.
Caesar salad and fried calamari are good barometers of an Italian kitchen, and chef Guiseppe Bastone delivers. The Caesar is garlicky and lemony with a hint of anchovy, the romaine crisp, the pancetta authentic, and the croutons started life as part of a loaf of bread. Generous leaves of shaved Parmesan top it off. Calamari are lightly breaded and served with a side of sriracha mayo. If this is the modern touch the menu mentions, I’m all for it.
Complementary homemade focaccia is nice and chewy, rich with olive oil, sea salt, and oregano. Fresh tarragon adds a sweet anise touch to the olives that also come to the table unbidden at dinner.
Crispy arancini are delightfully gooey, with mozzarella oozing onto the deep-fried risotto coating at first bite. A generous hockey-puck-sized serving of salmon tartare, seasoned with capers, dried tomatoes, and fennel, is garnished with pea shoots and served with toasted gently oiled wafers.
For dinner, we order cod, which has been tenderly baked in a jacket of prosciutto. And the accompanying bath of lemony butter makes you forget that fish is supposed to be healthy. Spaghettini carbonara delivers the comfort-food hit. Its toothsome morsels of pork flank and sauce of butter, white wine, egg, and cream are near perfection.
From the traditional veal dishes, we choose the Marsala. The veal slices are thin and tender and covered with a rich demiglace, which is boozy with slightly sweet Marsala and covered with a lovely side of browned mushrooms and green onions. A bird’s nest of al dente angel hair pasta on the side, simply dressed with a little olive oil and sprinkled with parsley, is the perfect way to lap up the sauce.
All desserts are homemade. A trio of cannoli are stuffed with creamy ricotta laced with orange peel and chocolate chips and dusted with pistachio. At dinner, one tiramisu is enough for three spoons. More custard than sponge cake, it’s a wonderful classic.
The service is attentive and knowledgeable about the wine list, which offers a solid range of wines and prices.
Open for dinner every day and lunch Monday to Friday
Appetizers $11–$18, mains $18–$40
114 Rue Montcalm