[dropcap size=small]T[/dropcap]wenty-one years ago, a six-foot blonde Norwegian named Else hailed a taxi in Toronto and arrived in Montreal 5 hours later, ready to open a bar on a restaurant license. Else’s was born, and things have been good since. But this year, on November 1, a diminutive Venezuelan-Italian brunette from New Zealand walked through the doors of Else’s ready to completely revamp this favourite neighbourhood hang-out. And the results are splendid.
Else’s needs no introductions. Though the six-foot blonde that founded it is sadly no longer with us, the legacy she established is still going strong. Under the watchful eye of Else’s son Eliott Smith and partner Claude Pires, whose father was the one to initially sell Else the space, this little restaurant/ bar at the corner of Roy and de Bullion continues to draw crowds with its extensive drink list and cozy atmosphere.
“She had it right,” says Pires, “so why do it wrong?”
But in recent years, the tables have gotten a little worn down, and the menu just a tad stale. A change was needed, and Pires had just the person in mind for the job.
Marielvi Falvino whips around Else’s tiny kitchen with controlled energy, her movements precise. Though she is intently focused on the dish at hand, any distractions are met with a joke and a smile, and never annoyance.
“We want to maintain Else’s culture,” she explains of her plans for the place, which include made-from-scratch pork tacos, the exile of the deep-fryer and the introduction of mini quinoa burgers. House-made sausages and breads will remain. “This is a place that everyone knows, and that’s really uplifting.”
Falvino comes to Else’s after a respectable career in professional kitchens. Most recently, she has been a sous-chef at Pintxo restuarant since coming to Montreal in September 2008. With 12 years in professional kitchens, a quiet determination, a taste for spice and an exceptional attention to detail, Falvino has garnered fans and made friends throughout the city’s restaurant scene. She has been coming down the street to Else’s to make the chili for years.
And now, her turn has come to run their kitchen.
“The menu is gourmet comfort food, but more nutritious. Not pretentious food, just food that people who come here would want to eat,” she said.
Falvino speaks rapid-fire English with a New Zealandian lilt, unusual around these parts. Tales of her Venezuelan-Italian family inevitably enter the conversation. Falvino is happy to reminisce about her grandfather’s restaurant with its signature meatballs, where she has been cooking since she was little.
It is clear that the watchful eyes of many ancestors guide her in the kitchen.
“My nona passed away four years ago, and she was also a huge influence. They are my best friends,” she says wistfully of her grandparents. Though her parents remain in New Zealand, it is clear that Falvino is not ready to let go of her family; for the last six months, her grandfather has been living with her. “He actually cooks for me every day,” she laughs.
“This is a place that everyone knows, and that’s really uplifting.”
Falvino’s Italian and Latino family influence are evident in her food. The dishes are extremely flavourful, and there is more than a hint of spice in everything she cooks. For her shrimp tacos, Falvino tucks colourful, plump shrimp alongside slow-roasted bell peppers and onions, and tops everything with tangy pickled onions. The mini quinoa burgers are juicy and generous, topped with a tart green relish and served with zippy, cilantro-spiked coleslaw. The plantain chips are crispy and crunchy on the outside, but with a soft, gooey center. Her pork tacos have also been flying off the shelf — in her first week on the job, Falvino has gone through 80 kilograms of pork.
“There’s lots of promise here. We do everything with love,” she concludes, flashing me an honest smile before going back to her stove.
Trying to revamp the menu of this iconic restaurant is no easy task, but from what we’ve seen of the new food at Else’s, Falvino is certainly the right woman for the job.