A pun announces my blistered, tangy, taleggio-covered slice of mushroom pizza – it’s called Monsieur Fun-guy, get it? Add in the abstract art and jewel-toned upholstery and this Saint-Henri gem feels like it belongs to an Italian textile magnate with a sense of humour. With its smart natural-wine list and unfussy dishes, Elena also puts an elegant new spin on the neighbourhood pizza and pasta joint.
Nora Gray partners chef Emma Cardarelli and wine director Ryan Gray have stretched out in this sprawling space with a yellow-accented serpentine bar that makes everyone look glamorous, and a custom-built hardwood-burning oven that does the same for the pies. Suppli al telefono – crispy deep-fried rice croquettes stuffed with mozzarella – come blanketed in grated Parmesan and resting on a concentrated, umami-filled tomato sauce. “The whole city goes crazy for these,” our server informs us of a plate of tender B.C. spot prawns, surrounded by crunchy grilled cucumber and thin rings of pepperoncini under a veil of house-cured lardo. A drizzle of subtly spicy chili oil adds a touch of warmth.
Later, our server comes by with the best wine of the night, a tannic, floral-nosed orange Ageno malvasia bianca from the legendary Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa, who made orange the new red in natural-wine circles. Not only is she a friend of the restaurant and its namesake, he confides, “she’s coming next week from Italy for a wine dinner.” Oh, to have been in the room when Elena visited Elena.