A lot of my Italian friends would scream bloody murder at the mere mention of this chain of Italian-style bistros. Especially Laura. But I am quite fond of Pacini. And for some reason, I have a history of girlfriends who also liked Pacini very much, which makes for cheap romantic dates. That’s right.
For sure, it is not top-of-the-line Italian cuisine, but it is not fast food either. The cuisine is simple, the prices are very reasonable, and the atmosphere very friendly. Their wine selection is not great, but I’ve seen worse.
Pacini launched a new menu last fall, inspired by the work being done at the Pacini culinary academy (located at Bassano Del Grappa, near Venice), with a marketing strategy driven by italo-quebecker singer Mario Calliari. You can even buy his CDs there, apparently, although he must be very popular because last time I asked about it at the Gatineau location, they were out.
The first thing you will notice at any Pacini location, and there are 24 accross Quebec, is their famous all-you-can-eat Bread Bar, which is included with most main courses. It is so famous they have trademarked the french expression, “Bar à Pain”.
The Bread Bar consists of a very large grill, so that as many consumers as possible can grill at the same time a nice fresh piece of bread.
It has been the cornerstone of Pacini’s success. In 2003, Pacini struck an agreement with La Prairie-based baker Gadoua, to revamp and uniformize the quality of the bread they were serving. They created a new brand of Italian bread, Gustazzi.
Made with olive oil, they come in seven varieties, although most Pacini locations carry only a few, Sesame Seed, Multigrain and “de Ménage” being the most popular.
On top of the quality bread, you have the option of choosing from four different types of margarine. Garlic, pesto, tomato-basil and regular. The key for a nice grilling pattern is to be patient but quick. You need to baste both sides of the bread with your favorite flavor. You grill your piece of bread for about 40 seconds, then you turn it 90 degrees to have those nice grilling marks. You then wait about a minute, not too long because you don’t want the margarine on top to melt – and then you flip your piece of bread and repeat. And then you enjoy.
The Bread Bar is also available for breakfast and brunch, although the flavoured margarine are replaced with jams. They used to have peanut butter, but apparently it is now a killing maching, so no more open jars.
Tonight, I opted for a classic pasta dish: the penne primavera. Pacini’s version is made with asparagus, cherry tomatoes, red onions and peppers, sautéed in olive oil, topped with Napoletana sauce and some basil pesto Genovese.
I of course added a healty serving of grated parmesan and fresh black pepper. The penne weren’t cooked perfectly, but it was still alright. The vegetables were nice and crispy, the tomatoes firm and juicy. Restaurants in general can over cook vegetables, especially in pasta dishes, and there is nothing worse than a mushy veggie concoction. Might as well drink V8. The touch of pesto gave this dish the freshness it needed and did balance the sauce quite well.
Melissa on the other side of the table, hesitated a bit. She usually goes for the Spaghetti Bolognese – Pacini’s version apparently taste a lot like Mother’s Pizza’s version. But today, she felt cheesy. So she went for the Spaghetti Robusto – spaghetti with bolognese sauce, topped with a meatball, an italian sausage and capicollo, au gratin.
Now, they don’t go soft on cheese, let me tell you that. They use mozzarella, which is the cheese to use for such a dish. There might be a bit too much, but shall we really complain about too much gooey, stringy, chewy warm cheese covered with Bolognese sauce? Now, I like my Bolognese a little more meaty, but still, this is pretty decent. And the Robusto is giving you plenty of meat to get by.
For two people, with a litre of their House Red, we got out of there with a little over $60.