Vons Steakhouse & Oyster Bar – Edmonton, Alberta

Vons Steakhouse & Oyster Bar
10309 81 Ave
780.439.0041‎
Von's Steakhouse & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

A classic in the city, Vons is a dark, old school steakhouse located one block south of Edmonton’s hip and trendy Whyte Ave. With my previous attempt to visit foiled (here), the impending expiry date on my Von’s gift card required me to put a rush on getting back. Which brings me to last night, and a reservation for three on good old Valentines Day.

Arriving at 4:30 for the first seating off the evening, I met up with The Captain and BP who shared in my general discontent for all those cheesy expensive romantic meals. Plus, I had that gift card 😉 It’s been a few years since I stepped into the building, and like before, I was taken aback by the size. You just don’t realize how big this restaurant is from the outside. We were the first customers in, and were promptly taken to a seat in the very back next to the washroom !?! Why? Adding to this, the bathroom hallway is connect to the bar. So not only were people walking by us constantly, but the noise from the bar (including a frequent and loud blender) was a constant reminder of our crappy seating throughout the meal.

Our server, who for whatever reason, tended to two others tables (both of which arrived after us) didn’t introduce herself for a good 15 minutes. Not thinking much of it at the time, I ordered a glass of Luigi Bosca Malbec, BP ordered a Raspberry Bellini and The Captain finished things off with a glass of Talisker. Pondering where our menu’s were, we were informed that Von’s was only offering a fixed 3 course meal on this night. Huh? I realize you are offering a Valentines Day option, but at no time in the reservation process was this brought up. Seriously, if you are forcing people to select this, you better tell them. Argh! Another 20 minutes or so before our server came back, and we were more than ready to order. With three options for each course, and three of us, we went for one of each.

Bison Carpaccio

White Wine Poached Prawns and Scallops

Mushroom Consomme

The bison carpaccio was great, with a heavy pepper flavour. However, none of us had any luck picking out the bison tones. The bread seemed basic and was clearly not toasted (how is this a crostini?), while the tomatoes added a level of sweetness. The scallops and shrimp were OK, but that’s about it. Nothing memorable here. The mushroom consomme with lobster and pasta was decent. A few token thumb-tack sized pieces of lobster meant we all got a piece, but it didn’t offer enough presence to be included it in the name. We also received a basket of average bread, and a lightly seasoned butter (cloves?).

Here’s where the service and timing gets worse. I’m all for pace in a meal, but the consistency around us was unbelievable. Remember we were the first customers in the restaurant, yet a handful of tables were already on to their mains. In fact, in the 25-30 minute wait between our appetizers and main course, we noticed the table next to us (which was a 5 o’clock seating) received their mains at the same time as ours. Very interesting.

Blue Cheese Crusted Beef Tenderloin

Blue Cheese Crusted Beef Tenderloin

Raspberry and Brie Stuffed Chicken

The Captain went with the chicken option. He mentioned the fig reduction was a new flavour for him and as such, made the dish quite good. For some reason, the raspberry and brie stuffing lacked any presence in the chicken while the mash potatoes were deemed better here than what arrived with the shrimp and scallop opener. The beef tenderloin was not cooked to the requested stage, appearing quite raw in the interior. Fine for someone like me who likes bloody meat, but unfortunately this was BP’s dish and didn’t go over as well. The potatoes were layered with caramelized onions and stuffed with raisins. Inventive in theory, average in practice. The vegetables on all three dishes were done perfectly, except for the cauliflower which we all felt needed more time in the steam bath.

Shitake Crusted Alaskan Black Cod

Shitake Crusted Alaskan Black Cod

Now my dish. With chicken and beef out of the way, I went with the black cod. Arriving on a massive bed of lentils, the cod was cooked perfectly but tasted like flattop. I don’t know if this makes sense, but it tasted like over buttered diner food. The lentils were tough and under cooked and literally swimming in cream. There was so much cream, I almost felt like I need to throw in some cereal to soak it up. The Captain’s comment, “it could have used about half a cup less”, while BP suggested I chop up my fish and treat the meal like soup. Either way, I wasn’t finishing this.

As someone who normally just brushes off poor meals when asked, I couldn’t help being truthful when the server inquired. Saying I wasn’t happy with the meal, she mentioned she would bring over the general manager; something I said was unnecessary. Before you know it though, a booming voice (in a quiet room) asked, “So, you didn’t like your meal?” At this point, I felt like I had a spotlight on me in front of a packed restaurant. I tried to quietly explain why I didn’t finish the meal, but there was no chance with this man, who’s booming voice was made worse as he was standing above me, looking down. Eventually, the meal was waived from the bill; something I didn’t suggest, ask for, or offer. I just needed to pass on my genuine thoughts.

Next up was, what the waitress called, the post main palette cleanser. Thinking it would be something refreshing, we were presented with chocolate cups of heavy, chili infused mousse. WTF. First, I don’t know how mousse is a palette cleaner as it coats the mouth and throat, and second, infusing the chocolate with so much chili it burns does what? The only thing we could think was that the chili was supposed to burn your mouth clean. Fail.

At this point, and remember dessert hadn’t arrived yet, two hours had elapsed and we were emotionally drained. So when the dessert course was being prepared, I inquired if we could just get the desserts to go. With this not being a problem, we were soon on the way out of what had become a terrible evening. We decided to tackle the desserts together, and arrived at The Captains for a sampling. The chocolate cake was good (can chocolate cake be bad), with the ganache being just a bit too sweet for an everyday dessert. We all pictured that the tart would be individually sized, so we were surprised to see a slice. Tasting like custard and short bread, with nothing from the strawberry or white chocolate, it was average at best.

After leaving I didn’t know what to think. The drive home was full of my own contemplation combined with compiling the thoughts of my fellow dinners. Going into the night, none of us would consider Von’s as an option, be it everyday or special occasion, and this night did nothing to change that. The service was embarrassing, inconsistent, and distant. Maybe my hope for sliding into a plate of oysters (they have oyster bar in the name for Pete’s sake), which was culled by the forced upon menu, added to the disappointment. Or, maybe the below average food, in an above average establishment, was the problem. Either way, I don’t know what the final straw was on this night, but not being able to put my finger on any one thing is actually the biggest problem of all.

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15 thoughts on “Vons Steakhouse & Oyster Bar – Edmonton, Alberta

  1. Peter, actually there is something worse: paying for it! >_<

    Chris, I agree with Peter's thoughts about your post. You expressed your thoughts of the food as it was provided. No cover-up no trying to embellish things. Actually, visually the food looks good but, then again, looks can be deceiving… 😦

    • “Peter, actually there is something worse: paying for it! >_<"

      Agreed! And thanks Kim. The food follows that old saying – Good from far, far from good.

  2. Sorry to hear you had such a draining experience. Your dialogue with the manager sounded just plain uncomfortable – combining that with the lackluster food, I wouldn’t blame you if you never set foot in the restaurant again.

    • I have a feeling it will be a long time, if ever, before I venture back Sharon. I look at the cost and food at Accent, and can’t fathom why I would bother with Vons when so many better options are near by.

  3. Wow, this place still exists! I must have been there a decade ago and can still recall the dark dreary mood of the place when I had a meal there with a group of friends.

  4. On another thought, save your pennies Chris.
    Once you hit Vegas, you will have plenty of choices for steak!

    Delmonico’s, Cut, Morton’s just to mention a few….

  5. Pingback: Billingsgate and Oysters! « eating is the hard part

  6. Von’s was brought up in conversation just the other day, and I wondered if it was any good, so it was suggested I read your review! I must say.. I think I almost blushed of embarrassment myself when I read about the loud manager… how terribly awkward… 😦

    • I suggest to all people who read reviews to remember that they are only a snap shot of an experience had by one or two people usually at most. Also remember that in a lot of cases this is a writer trying to get him or herself published. When a restaurant like Vons has been around for 22 years in a very competitive market they surely must have done something right in all those years. A general rule of thumb is as follows. In a high volume restaurant we will upset, make a mistake or not hit the mark about 3 % of the time. That means that 3 out of 100 meals will not be correct or timing will be off or it won’t be what the guest expected and so on. There are so many variables. When a restaurant opens its doors and does all the planning, training and genuinely wants to ensure that the guests coming in enjoy each others company the food and the atmosphere along with the service it is important to remember that what one person likes another may not. I would also ask a reviewer to ensure they are aware of the quality of products used before judging price. In a lot of cases steak houses such as Vons, Ruths Chris, Ricks Grill and so on require higher priced employees, higher rents, higher cost of products due to the high quality being sold and the list goes on. That is all part of price picture. Don’t just think because you can buy a Ribeye at Safeway for $10 that you should pay that in a premium concept. We work hard on a day to day basis taking as much input from our guests both good and bad as to what the best direction is to take the business and daily remember that without you there would be no restaurant. We just ask that you take the time to understand the entire picture before you start writing negative comments. Cheers.

  7. Restaurant Guy, or should I say, Ron.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. From a quick search and look at the Contact information it would definitely seem as if you are attached to Von’s Steakhouse. If that is not the case, please feel free to correct me.

    I suggest to all people who read reviews to remember that they are only a snap shot of an experience had by one or two people usually at most.

    Using the statement above, I would assume it’s fair to say that the highly prized Accolades section of your website would then be the same, and that only occasionally your restaurant is so outstanding?

    Also remember that in a lot of cases this is a writer trying to get him or herself published.

    To say that I’m trying to get published would do a major disservice to the food blogging community. As many others, just like me, use their hard earned dollars on a daily basis to relate stories and pictures without any monetary or consumable reward.

    When a restaurant like Vons has been around for 22 years in a very competitive market they surely must have done something right in all those years. A general rule of thumb is as follows. In a high volume restaurant we will upset, make a mistake or not hit the mark about 3 % of the time. That means that 3 out of 100 meals will not be correct or timing will be off or it won’t be what the guest expected and so on. There are so many variables. When a restaurant opens its doors and does all the planning, training and genuinely wants to ensure that the guests coming in enjoy each others company the food and the atmosphere along with the service it is important to remember that what one person likes another may not.

    If you could provide a metric for your percentage points, it would provide some back up to your 3% rule. There really is no way for the public nor this blogs audience to appreciate your values without assuming you are just trying to pull a fast one. After all, maybe it’s just 3%, 87% of the time.

    I would also ask a reviewer to ensure they are aware of the quality of products used before judging price. In a lot of cases steak houses such as Vons, Ruths Chris, Ricks Grill and so on require higher priced employees, higher rents, higher cost of products due to the high quality being sold and the list goes on. That is all part of price picture. Don’t just think because you can buy a Ribeye at Safeway for $10 that you should pay that in a premium concept.

    The food argument, like the above claim that I’m trying to have my work published, adds to the overall disappointment and once again, I believe you are selling both the food community, and the growing number of passionate diners, short. With a huge focus on local, organic, and conscious decisions (from Jamie Oliver to the local Farmer’s Market), I know a growing number of diners who are not only aware of where restaurants buy their meat and produce, but will actually ask if it’s not on the menu.

    We work hard on a day to day basis taking as much input from our guests both good and bad as to what the best direction is to take the business and daily remember that without you there would be no restaurant. We just ask that you take the time to understand the entire picture before you start writing negative comments. Cheers.

    I don’t claim that any visit, or experience that I relate here is anything more. In fact, I’m more than open with anyone in understanding each individual diner has different preferences. Some may like oysters for example, and some may not. Some like miso, some may not. Maybe the service is off one night, maybe the food. The idea that it’s one thing would be grand, but during this dining experience, the disappointment wasn’t in one area, rather multiple.

    I’m glad you were able to take the time, even if it was under the guise of a pseudo name. It does not however change the fact that the above meal was disappointing on many levels, and has made a return visit highly unlikely. I only hope that other diners are not spoken to by such obviously over the top, and embarrassing management like what occurred on my visit, and that the food is worth the price.

  8. I just found your site through the Edmonton Journal Eat My Words blog and let me say… I could have written this review! A few years ago my husband and I were looking for a steakhouse to go for our anniversary. A coworker suggested Von’s and we thought we would give it a try! The restaurant was quite empty, we were ignored at the hostess desk for quite a while, then seated and handed menus with no introduction whatsoever. A few minutes later a very well dressed older couple were seated a few tables away. They were probably in their 50’s. We are in our late 20’s (now 30 and over) and were dressed suitably. They got prime service. We watched as they were seated, directed where the washrooms were, and had their drink orders taken. After about 10 or 15 minutes my husband was ready to leave and then finally a waitress came to take our order. Let me tell you, when we go out to eat, we go out to EAT! We shared a few appies, added the ridiculously priced crab to our steak, paid a lot for that meal, and were continually disappointed at the rubbery crab, mediocre prime rib, and lacklustre service. I will never step foot in that restaurant again and I tell everyone I hear ponder whether they should go that they should skip it and go wait in line at the Keg or go to Ric’s Grill. I have had better service at Denny’s. I am glad to read it wasn’t just us!

  9. My wife is friends with some Von’s regulars, so we occasionally get dragged there. After almost every meal there I say to myself “never again” (or at least *hope* to myself, as we keep getting talked into returning for birthdays, etc.). I always leave the restaurant feeling sad and broke, having eaten lackluster, expensive food — usually some kind of over salted beef with cold yorkshire pudding (why do I always have to get the bad three percent meals?). And the “two for one” prime rib night is a joke: it’s two for one for the smallest sized prime rib, and if you want two of a larger size you have to pay a price differential for the “free” one.

  10. Just wanted to remark about the “higher cost of employees” statement above.
    The wait staff makes minimum wage here, just the same as any other restaurant!!
    Yet other restaurants provide much better service!
    I ate here last Tuesday with my husband and also had indifferent service in the dining room, but I think the server, while pleasant, was overwhelmed. And with the set up, I am sure I would have been as well. I work at a different restaurant on Whyte Ave, so I can see how the stuffiness of that particular place plus low wage could breed a feeling of anomie among the waiters, but it definitely doesn’t bode well for the customer’s dining experience. As a waitress I felt for them though!

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