Cost: $ 127, 53 (tax and tip included)
Chef Hats : 4
Welcome to the 9th Edition of the 2016 Happening Gourmand Festival that takes place in Historic Old Montreal from January 7th to February 7th, 2016. This is a great opportunity for all foodies to try any one of the several restaurants owned by the Antonopoulos Family. Every year at this time and for the next month you can sample at reduced prices three course meals at any of the eight restaurants participating in the event, starting from $ 22-$39. The restaurants participating in the event are Bevo, Vieux Port Steakhouse, Modavie, KYO, Suite 701 Mechant Boeuf, Taverne Gaspar and Verses located in the ever so popular boutique Hotel Nelligan.
This year I headed out early and attended the festival during the first week. I needed to get out of the winter blues and get out there and enjoy life a little. So I decided to try Verses as always it has been on my repertoire of Montreal restaurants to try for years. This week a few of my friends are celebrating their birthdays so it was appropriate to celebrate these special occasions with a convivial meal. We were all feeling down and out these days and we wanted something special and going out to celebrate in style in and haute cuisine restaurant was the right way to start the year. I have to say that Verses is the best and swankier out of them all. Beautifully decorated, its romantic atmosphere is accented with soft candlelight, large mirrors and beveled glass cases that play against and reflect the grey stone exposed walls. To further set the mood, the seating arrangements with it large circular matching burnt sienna banquettes and chairs, dark wood floors, crisp fine white tablecloths and quietness leave you with a warm feeling inside . On this cold January evening we sat facing the street front of Old Montreal people watching and leaving us with the impression we were in Old Style Europe.
But what cemented our good mood, especially mine was the hospitality we were shown upon entering the lobby of the hotel. I have an aversion to old Montreal as the parking situation is horrendous. Having parked in a permit zone and afraid of being ticketed, the young man at the valet with a minimal explanation was able to find my car on the side street and parked it for me inside their parking garage for a fee of $ 13.00; a small price to pay for comfort. The front desk staff was more than accommodating and friendly and our waiter Christopher likewise. His stories broke the ice in a situation that may have been intimidating to some. But he made us feel as if we were in his dining room and home; he made some great menu and wine suggestions and gave us ample explanations. We started by ordering a bottle of sparkling water at $ 7.00 and three glasses of wine.
The wine highlighted for the evening and appearing on The Happening Gourmand Festival menus is from Vina Carmen, Carmenere Reserva 2014- & 2015 from Chili. We took a white Chardonnay Reserve 2015 and two Reds 2014 for $ 9.00 each. Both light and young, the flavors were like a Beaujolais Nouveau at the onset but as it aired the flavors got bolder, it went well with meat and the strong flavors of the mushrooms. The chardonnay complimented the entrees of fish and The Swordfish as well.
In the kitchen at the helm is Executive chef Sylvain Levaillant whose start and speciality is in desserts, not diminishing from his other talents, as all sampled at Verses this evening was creatively innovative with different flavors and textures exploding on your palate. But the desserts were intoxicating and a must here. It would be a shame to miss them.
We chose the $29.00 menu and started with the Tuna Carpaccio and Instant soup. It sounds simple but it was an array of complex flavors. The Instant soup was so called that but was not your generic instant soup. It came served in a mason jar flipped upside down on a plate. It consisted of root vegetables and juice of beets. It burgundy color spilling over into the soup plate as the waiter gently lifted it from the base; a majestic show of ingenuity like a circus trick to entice you with the starters. The Tuna Carpaccio was as magnificent with its explosion of flavors and textures. Each morsel could be eaten separately and then combined together get the full effect of the different flavors. Atop tuna was a rectangular shaped lime mousse and strategically placed sweet croutons that melded a sweet and sour taste. Little dabs of basil jelly pesto and a nutty praline mixture. The dish was decadent.
For our main we had, Braised Swordfish with a French marinade topped with greens and braised baby squash.
The fish was tender and not overcooked; the marinade was wine based and delicious. Not much on the platter in terms of food, but nicely presented and very appetizing. I would have preferred a little more in terms of sides.
My picture does not do it justice and its time a get a better camera. The cell phone is not cutting it these days.
For my main meal I ordered the mushroom gnocchi with parmesan cheese and basil. I was craving potato gnocchi all week and this dish satisfied my craving and more. The mix of mushrooms was just perfect with the soft pockets of gnocchi. The brown cream sauce just decadent. It came sprinkled with chopped basil and cheese.
My friend ordered the Star anise beef blade with smoked potato puree. A little disappointed with the dish as the star anise flavor was lacking and not strong enough. I sampled her dish and thought the meat tender. I liked the flavor and thought too much star anise would be overpowering. The flavors were gentle and I preferred it like this.
But we don’t all have the same likes and taste buds.
The desserts were all light and special in their own way. We started with the Ile Flottante, hidden raspberry flavors in a pool of exotic fruit and their sweet juice. It came served deconstructed, with meringue and ice cream quenelles. This was flavorful but the quantity of liquid was too much.
The second dessert was a Feuillète de Marron, a Puff pastry stuffed with Apple compote, whipped cream and a demi glace ice cream. The puff pastry had a distinct chestnut flavor, topped with chocolate cookie and cream and sprinkles of raspberries. I liked this the most as it was a full dessert and very creamy and filling.
The last dessert sampled was a deconstructed Pistachio iced parfait, with strawberry espuma, rhubarb sorbet.
The pistachio came in a form of a spiral that sat atop the plat like a tower, holding it in place was a scoop of ice cream and strawberry. It looked simple, but he flavours were there, the strawberry espuma I could have done without. It did not do much for the plate.
All in all the meal was complete and well rounded. We were pleased and surprised with the innovative presentations and style of the entrees and the different flavors that were incorporated into them that gave the meal that extra edge. They may have been some lack of flavors in the beef blade dish, but we were basically not disappointed. The desserts were also not lacking in flavor and presentation.
The price is very affordable for the quality of a tasting menu and a sampler meal at a high end restaurant such as Verses. Although the choices may be limited, we got a sampler of what Verses has got to offer and this is the point of the Happening Gourmand festival. A trip back to try their regular menu is in order. The service and hospitality alone sets it apart. Sometimes, that is just what is needed to create a mood and bring up the spirit of a special person on a day that celebrates their inception.