Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Veneto Tapa Lounge

Address: 1450 Douglas st.
Phone: (250) 383-7310
Website: venetodining.com
Price: $17-20 for a tapas trio
Notes: fancy food & drinks perfect for a classy date night or a special occasion

Veneto has three sections - a lobby/private dining area, the bar area, and a restaurant in the back. The atmosphere is very hotel restaurant. It took us a while to figure out what it was about it that really felt that way, but the closest we could come up with is that the back part of the restaurant (ie not the bar area) is void of windows, which contributes to understanding you're inside of a much larger building. There is also a whole lot of mid-century-modernesque walnut, from the tables to the pillars and the booths, which fits with a bit of a fancier hotelier experience vs a restaurant which may have a more casual interior.

Veneto is fairly well known in Victoria for their cocktail list, which is full of approachable standards as well as slightly geekier/hardcore cocktails with plenty of play on the back bar for upgrades and fancy drinks. If you are indecisive, opt for the $10 'spin the wheel' cocktail which involves picking your spirit and flavour profile for a surprise drink at the whims of your bartender. It reminded me of the Mahoney at Floyds, but without the flip for double/nothing (and a lot classier).

The food menu is primarily tapas combos grouped by type of food. They look like excellent options if you had a few people to split the meal with, but for two people sharing more than two combos would be deadly, both price and food-wise! However, there are a selection of mains and single appetizers available as well. The dishes all come nicely presented and with plenty of nice flavours to compliment your cocktails.

December 9, 2012

Sunomono Cocktail
Sunomono Cocktail
I am a sucker for sour things, so when I saw this on the menu I was intrigued! Inspired by the japanese salad, this cocktail definitely provided that vinegary feel. For people who enjoy kombucha, this cocktail is probably no big deal, but for those who are anti-sour it definitely is a bit brave! I have to say, I loved the glass adornment, and the cocktail was a nice compliment to my seafood tapas trio!

Seafood tapas trio 1/3 - tuna in a wonton crisp
Seafood tapas trio part 1
The first part of the tapa trio was some tuna in a wonton wrapper with toasted sesame pea sprouts and a thai chili creme fraiche. All those things sound pretty fancy pants, but together it really worked. The tuna and the creme fraiche were clean tasting, with a hint of smoky-green from the pea sprouts and crispy umami from the deep-fried wonton. The fusion of the ingredients came together far better than I was anticipating - I would order this one on its own again, if I could.

Seafood tapas trio 2/3 - shrimp cocktail with watermelon arugula salada
Seafood tapas trio part 2
The second part was a shrimp 'cocktail' which meant a few lemon-wasabi aoli topped shrimp on a bit of arugula with diced watermelon and a balsamic salad dressing. The shrimp were cooked perfectly, and quite tasty, but I ened up eating them separately from the salad (logistics of chatting plus removing shrimp tales and then recombining it with the salad was too much for my tired brain) which meant the salad was a little ho-hum. I think if I'd stopped to think about it, and removed the tail and then taken a bite of it all together I would have enjoyed it more. 

Seafood tapas trio 3/3 - lobster macaroni & cheese
Seafood tapas trio part 3
This was a pretty rich part of the meal, although delicious. The four cheese added extra richness, and then adding in the lobster pieces really made it stand out as decadent! It was also nice to have something a little easier to share on the plate, so that the few of us who had ordered food could swap out each of our pastas even if the other dishes in the seafood trio were less easy to share.

Overall, I think the seafood trio was quite tasty, but as a dinner replacement all on its own it was a little on the small side, but I also couldn't justify ordering anything more since the cost of the trio ($19) was the limit of my food budget for the evening. I feel like if there was a little less emphasis on the 'fancy' of the meal and a little more on value I probably would have liked it better, but I also think they are trying to be a 'destination' restaurant for fancy nights out, and this fits the bill for that part of the market.  

The Satchmo
The Satchmo
As a finisher for the evening I opted for a whisky-based cocktail, the Satchmo. I was curious to see how the whisky-smoky stood up against the cinnamon-apple bitters. The drink actually ended up being much less 'hardcore' than I imagined; it was quite smooth, a little sweet and not nearly as smoky as I was anticipating. It seemed like from the texture there might have been some egg white mixed in, but I forgot to snap a picture of the menu for reference, and it isn't on their online menu so don't quote me on that one...

February 27, 2012
Disclaimer: I was still getting over the Cold of DOOM which left my sense of taste a little impaired, so I relied more on confirmation of my taste from my partner-in-food-and-life than I typically do.

The Rialto
The Rialto cocktail was the first to strike my fancy on the menu. Victoria gin (hello my favourite friend!) lemon, silk road lapsang souchong tea (smokey!) chocolate bitters and (er, more than a) hint of lychee. In retrospect, I totally don't remember reading that it was Victoria gin, and couldn't have guessed that from the layers of tastes (Especially with a broken sense of smell!). The initial taste was pretty sweet - lots of the lychee stood out, but as I paired it with food, especially savoury food, the smokiness from the tea really stood out with a scotch-like profile.

Crab Cake
We were selecting from the Dine Around menu this evening, but several of the selections of the first course and the desserts are also found on their regular menu, including the crab cake that my P.I.F.A.L. started the evening raving about. I was even persuaded to try a taste of the edamame puree underneath and I have to say that it would be worth the screaming migraine to eat that. The review from across the table was that it was at the top of the list of crab cakes ever consumed because of its noted lack of fillers.

Goat cheese dip
My warmed goat cheese dip came in a smokey, garlicy tomato in a chunky ragu kind of style. The huge chunks of roasted garlic were exactly what the doctor ordered to set my sinuses straight! It was served with crustinis on the side for dipping, although it was a little bit awkward to eat it was an excellent example of a cheese dish that didn't end up feeling like you had eaten a huge melty lump of cheese by the end. It would have been even better as a sharing dish, but my P.I.F.A.L. has this ridiculous, persistent aversion to goat cheese.

Pork Chop
My P.I.F.A.L.'s pork chopped arrived much more massive than was expected! It was cooked to perfection with an incredible-tasting glaze on top that I wish I had tasted more of so I could attempt to replicate it. Sadly this picture does not display all its glory - a combination of lazy photography and terrible lighting. Pah!

My short rib was probably the weakest part of the meal and admittedly a poor choice when I already had low taste going on. I was hoping it would be spicier given that it was meant to be chili somehow but I didn't detect any spice at all. Still, the texture was good and the accompanying vegetables and polenta were very nice indeed.

Apple Tart
A simple dessert, but the pastry was nice and crispy and the apples were nicely spiced. My P.I.F.A.L. appreciated the non-dairy options on the dessert menu (I got the scoop of ice cream from the top - it was okay but I think I have been spoiled by Cold Comfort).

Pumpkin Upsidedown Cake
I am such a sucker for pumpkin and I was rewarded with an incredibly soft, fluffy dessert with crispy pumpkin 'pepitas' on the bottom (er, top). The pumpkin spices were delicate, but when combined with caramel sauce it was the perfect level of sweetness.

Spin the Wheel
Finally, I opted for their 'spin the wheel' cocktail, where for $10 you can name your spirit and your flavour profile and have a custom drink from behind the bar. I opted for Gin & Bitter which we decided sounded really emotive and would make a great name for a cocktail blog. The result was exactly what I was craving. Gin with sweet vermouth plus a hint of Cynar (if I recall correctly) garnished with orange peel. Perfectly gin & bitter!

December 9, 2012
The service definitely wasn't as polished as the last time I was here. It wasn't particularly bad, but the natural flow of things didn't feel as seamless as it did the time before, and when you're visiting somewhere as swish and pricey as Veneto I kind of anticipate pristine service.  For example, while it was a slower Sunday evening somehow that turned into an an excuse for the service being slower, and the table conversation was interrupted to ask for more food or drink requests. Both of these were kind of unnecessary, since it was a pretty casual evening of drinks and chatting amongst friends and didn't have a deadline. It would have been nicer to leave the excuses off, but also been more casual about interjecting for food or drink orders, but that's really just finesse, not a deal breaker.

February 27, 2012
Our server was absolutely delivering five star service! Possibly more gold stars added on for her completely non-pretentious attitude - in fact she started off the evening declaring my striped socks mad her evening and then launched in to a detailed and delectable-sounding description of our choices for the evening. There was never a moment where we felt rushed, and she was always available if we had questions about anything on the menu. I think overall it topped any of the service I have had so far while writing this blog.