Friday, January 27, 2012

Stickier and sweeter than a Venus Fly... - Vieux-Port Steakhouse

So January is Happening Gourmand month, where a couple of fancy-pants restaurants in the Old Port offer a special table d'hôte menu for $23 or $27 (depending on the restaurant). My friend really wanted take advantage of these deals, so I agreed to accompany her to at least one of these restaurants before the event ended. After leafing through the menus, we decided to hit up Vieux-Port Steakhouse.

Warning for disappointing cameraphone pics because I forgot to bring my camera. Again.

Now, it was only until I was walking into the rustically charming establishment that I remembered that I had actually been to this restaurant before, back when I was a young and gastronomically-ignorant grasshopper. From what I recalled, the food was okay. Then again, I was too busy crying over the $50-shaped hole in my wallet at the time to pay much heed to the taste. And gastronomically-ignorant. So how did Vieux-Port Steakhouse rate a second time around?

Accessibility - Grade: B
The Vieux-Port Steakhouse is located on St-Paul street, which is the main restauranting street in the Old Port. Despite it's opportunistic location, it's still a good 5-10 minute walk from Champs-de-Mars metro.

Service - Grade: B+
The service was professional and courteous, with all the classiness expected of an Old Port restaurant. But while the service was professional, it was also impersonal. There was no extra warmth or sincerity from our waiter, and the only time he tried to make small talk, it felt stilted and insincere. Still, purely in terms of efficiency and courtesy, the service was pretty good.

Ambiance Notes
The ambiance of the restaurant is also particularly noteworthy. It has a classy yet rustic appeal to it, with its stone walls and wooden tables. The restaurant also overlooks a nice part of the Old Port, where the architecture of the buildings are reminiscent of those from France. If you're paying for anything at all at this restaurant, it's the ambiance.

Food - Grade: C+
Aha. Aha. Ha. Can you say disappointment? I think we fell into a tourist trap, despite not even being tourists.

Escargots à l'ail gratinés

Let's start with the escargots à l'ail gratinés, which is French for garlic snails with melted cheese. I thought this plate was pretty generic. Snails drenched in garlic butter and then covered in cheese. It had no personality - no special something - and tasted like the garlic snails at any other run-of-the-mill restaurant.

Cream of chicken and vegetable soup
My friend ordered the soup of the day, which was a cream of chicken and vegetable. I thought the soup was okay; it was suitably creamy and had a bolder flavour from the chicken than regular cream soups. My friend was less than impressed, saying that it was bland and boring.

Contre-filet de boeuf, coupe Manhattan

When they brought out my Manhattan steak (contre-filet), I immediately felt sorry for it. First of all, the contents were pretty meagre. I had seen a picture of the Contre-filet in an ad on the metro, and I felt strangely misled; the steak was only a bit bigger than one of my friend's filet mignons. I was ready to let the portion issue slide - since most upper-class restaurants do serve small-portioned entrées - if it weren't for haphazard presentation. I mean, usually fancy restaurants spruce their plates up to look artistic enough that you'll forgive the stingy portions. The plate at Vieux-Port Steakhouse looked like something out of a microwaveable dinner, as my friend so kindly pointed out.

On the plus side, the steak was cooked to a perfect medium on the inside. It was pink and tender, but didn't bleed at all. On the downside, I found the meat bland. To be honest, I haven't had that many fancy steak meals (being a poor student and all), so I don't know what makes a good cut of steak or how the taste of one steak differs from another. All I knew was that this particular steak didn't taste much like anything other than beef and char. I think they might have over-seared my steak, since the outside was tough to chew and the charcoal taste was a bit strong.

The mashed potatoes tasted very ordinary. It was just mashed up potatoes with garlic butter and sour cream. The grilled vegetables were unimpressive and overcooked; the zucchini basically imploded as soon as my knife touched it.

Médaillons de filet mignons enrobés de bacon
My friend ordered the filet mignon, which I found much more tender than my steak. She also said that the burnt taste overpowered any seasoning they added to the meat, and the bacon strips tasted only of fat and char. I also noted that her filet mignon had a peculiar sour taste that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Also, she ordered it rare, but one came out medium-well-done and the other came out medium-rare.

Crème brûlée

The crème brûlée was probably the highlight of the meal. The brown sugar was perfectly caramelized so that it shattered satisfyingly under my spoon, and formed little slivers of hard candy. The custard was smooth, creamy and incredibly rich. The portions were pretty generous too.

Also, I liked the bread. And the butter pot.

The quality of the food was likely downplayed due to Happening Gourmand. I saw lady from a neighbouring table order a lobster and it was huuuuge and looked amazing. Due to the large amount of people ordering from the Happening Gourmand menu, I think a lot of the foods were precooked and cooked in batches, which was why everything came out so quickly and with so little care. Still, for a classy and reputed restaurant like Vieux-Port Steakhouse, seeing such sloppiness was very disappointing.

Price - $$$$
Because of Happening Gourmand, our meal was $23 before tax and tip. However, if you were to order from the regular menu, items could go easily for $30 or $40. Like I said, last time I came here, I spend a good $50. So, to the poor students, I say: STAAAAY AWAAAAY!

Final Grade: C+
Business people will appreciate the class of the restaurant while tourists will be impressed by the unique ambiance. As a poor student, I didn't appreciate the prices and as a foodie, I wasn't particularly impressed by the food. Final verdict? The quality of the food doesn't match the classy ambiance, and it definitely doesn't match the prices charged.

Vieux-Port Steakhouse
(514) 866-3175
39 Rue St-Paul East, Montreal
Vieux-Port Steakhouse on Urbanspoon


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