Montreal is a culinary delight for any palate to enjoy. And this year, the city hosted its first edition of Restaurant Week, named Taste MTL, from November 1st to 11th. Like other major cities, Montreal Restaurant week featured countless top restaurant destinations at fixed prices for select menus. Every restaurant has menus at either 19$, 29$ or 39$, and most restaurants included a choice amongst appetizers, main meals and desserts. Go to http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/tastemtl/index-en.php for a list of participating restaurants, their prices and menus, and to make online reservations.
Make your reservations early! Many restaurants were fully booked on Thursdays when the Divas were making their reservations…and we HAD to go on a Thurday. The Divas opted to try out Verses, located in the same 19th century building as the Nelligan Hotel in the heart of Old Montreal. We were greeted by a very gracious hostess who gave us the choice of sitting at a booth or a window table. Big fans of people watching, we chose the window seat. By Diva standards, the restaurant was too quiet. The music was very low and other conversations could easily be heard; perhaps we showed up on a slow night. The Divas do not like whispering. The exposed brick walls, large wine showcase across from the bar, and the relaxed atmosphere are all perfect elements for a business meeting. The Divas like a bit of bustle and drama on our Thursday nights but this is not the sort of place that you misbehave. Before ordering, we were served two tasty fried goat cheese and citrus balls, served on an elongated white plate with a monogrammed napkin. Delicious little amuse bouche and a nice touch. We ordered one of our favourites, a 2009 Torres Gran Coronas red wine; we were happy to see this delicious Spanish wine on their impressive wine list.
Since it was Montreal Restaurant week, we went for the set menu at 39$/per person, although their regular menu warrants a possible return trip due to their interesting plates; such as roasted lavender duck, braised rabbit cannelloni, their foie gras tasting menu, etc. Although we stuck to the Taste Montreal menu, our waiter did manage to sell us on the Chef’s Soup of the day. All of the dishes on Verses’ Montreal Restaurant Week menu are also available on their usual dinner menu, so they are not specialty table d’hôte dishes. While waiting for our meal to begin, we dug into the bread and butter. The bread was small ciabatta rolls, both white and brown, but they were a little dry, regardless of how much butter was slathered on.
The Chef’s soup was a cauliflower soup with smoked tomatoes and parmesan. Though it wasn’t the warmest of soups, it was definitely tasty. It was pureed as opposed to being a cream-based soup, and the smoked tomatoes added a nice touch of acidity, and their smokey flavour and the parmesan really came through. It was a delicious soup and it could only have been improved upon if it were warmer.
The two appetizers on the set menu were a smoked bison tartare and a gourmet salad with foie gras; the Divas ordered both! The bison tartare has to be one of the best tartares the Divas have had and we eat plenty of raw meat. The smoky flavour really came through and while bison is generally a lean meat, the meat was supple and blended with an onion compote that was not overpowering. Often times it is difficult to distinguish between beef tartare and bison tartare, this bison meat was clearly not beef. It was served with mixed root vegetable chips, which is a nice change to the usual plain cracker and the unique flavour of each chip complimented the tartare.
The gourmet salad with foie gras was lovely. The crisp greens, which included celery leaves, were tossed in a creamy honey vinaigrette. The foie gras torchon was perfection and served alongside the salad. The foie gras was thinly sliced, and there were slices of red beets scattered on the plate with candied pecans and a purée drizzled with truffle oil. The menu described apples in this dish but the Divas did not taste any, though that did not diminish this dish.
The two main dishes offered by Verses for Montreal restaurant week included truffle-crusted beef tenderloin, and a surf and turf plate. The truffle-crusted beef filet was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the only way to eat meat, according to Diva standards. This was served with both Anna potatoes and a mix of seasonal vegetables drizzled in a Madeira sauce. The sauce was spectacular and definitely dunk-worthy, and the vegetables were tender and fresh-tasting. The carrots were flavourful, the asparagus rich and the meat was tender and its portion large. The potatoes were thinly sliced, and stacked and cut as if from a pie. They too were perfectly cooked but the sauce is what truly came true, the Divas love French food and their fancy sauces!
According to the Montreal Restaurant Week website, originally the surf and turf dish was supposed to be a mix of monkfish and sweet breads. When we arrived at Verses, the sweet breads were changed to duck confit. The surf and turf dish was not something that the Divas would normally order, we are picky with our fish, but this dish sounded interesting. This dish consisted of duck confit rolled with monkfish. When we first read the dish’s description we expected the fish and duck to be side by side, not rolled together. The monkfish was very meaty and flaky, and the fish was not overpowering, nor overcooked. Restaurants tend to overcook their fish; therefore the Divas often avoid fish to elude a disappointing meal. Unfortunately, the dish lacked enough duck confit to taste anything other than the monkfish. That being said, perhaps duck confit was not a good pairing with this fish because the taste did not come through. Nonetheless the fish was delicious. The seasonal vegetables and the wild mushroom au jus were wonderful additions to this plate, especially paired with the parsnip purée that had hints of truffle oil.
Although we were full, dessert was soon on its way. The first dessert was fried Quebec apples with butterscotch. These were absolutely delicious and tasted like a deep fried apple pie. The crust was crispy but not too thick and the apples were not too sweet, and had a bite too them. We were surprised that we could easily taste the apples through the fried crust, and that the dessert was not greasy. Perhaps these apple fritters were coated in cereal before they were fried? The crust was unexplainably phenomenal. Thankfully the butterscotch sauce was not overly sweet but it did not stand out either.
The second dessert was a small variety of mini bite-size pastries served on a painter’s palate. Out of the four on the plate, the mint chocolate macaron and the raspberry mousse topped with coulis stood out. The brownie was nothing special unless you are impressed because it was served with some gold leaf on top, and the plain cake with pistachio crème didn’t really do anything for us. Either way these were fun mini pastries and a nice end to a rich meal.
All in all, the food was splendid and we would have rated it as such; however, the atmosphere was not something that the Divas can promote. It was very quiet, we spent most of the meal whispering, and in general the atmosphere was not Diva-esque; actually, it made us sleepy. Their regular menu did have some dishes that caught our eye, but if we go back we can only hope that the place is livelier and not so sedate. Some may say that such an atmosphere is great for a date…but not any date that the Divas have been on, those tend to be rowdier. The food was lovely but this is not the sort of place for a night on the town.
Our Rating: As Expected
Tagged: Bison Tartare, Brunch, Chef Clément Rodarie, Cocktails, Dégustation, Duck, Foie Gras Tasting Menu, French, Hotel Nelligan, Local Meat, Lounge, Montreal, Old Montreal, Quebec Produce, Restaurant Week, Saint-Paul, Seared Foie Gras, St-Louis de Gonzague, Taste Montreal, Taste Mtl, Verses, Wines