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.
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.
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.
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.