Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Le gasp! Tavern food! - Taverne Gaspar

It's the month of January, and you know what that means... Happening Gourmand is back! For those of you unfamiliar with Happening Gourmand, it's when several select restaurants in the Old Port offer an exclusive table d'hôte menu - including appetizer, entrée and dessert - for either $23 or $27, depending on the restaurant. It's a perfect opportunity for people who can't often indulge, like us poor students, to splurge a little and eat fancy. Taverne Gaspar, to my knowledge, has been one of the more popular choices on the list since last year, and this year, I finally got to go and check it out.

So, every January, foodies from all over Montreal brave the cold and journey to Old Port in order to have a little taste of the supposed good life, and every time, I ask myself why the heck I put myself through the torture as I trudge through the ice and snow in the old port. Then I remember that I write a blog, and though it may not be the most read blog, I still have some readers counting on me to bring the happenings of Montreal eateries. At least, I hope. In any case, I was happy to find that Taverne Gaspar was worth freezing my face off for, and definitely deserves its reputation for being one of the better Happening Gourmand restaurants. 

Accessibility - Grade: B-
To be fair, Taverne Gaspar isn't that far from Place d'Armes metro. Maybe a ten minute walk? But when the weather is -20 out, it might as well be located on the other side of the world. It's also very discreet and hidden, with no big signs. You also have to enter from another door, called the Auberges du Vieux Ports, or something, and go through a lobby.

Service - Grade: B
The service was fair. Everyone was polite and courteous, but there was no extra small talk, or anything that made them outstanding in this area. The ambiance was pretty average for a restaurant in the old port, and their drinks were pretty damn expensive for their size. 

Food - Grade: B

The food was pretty good. Not an eye-opening experience of any sort, but definitely solid. Taverne Gaspar also offers more choices in their table d'hôte than the other restaurants do, which was a nice plus.

Warm tomato tart
I started with the warm tomato tart, which was a flaky pastry tart with slices of dried tomato on top, and covered with arugula and goat cheese. The tart itself is actually very small, approximately the size of a tea biscuit, and very flat. Taste-wise, it was good. The tart itself was crisp and buttery, and the tomatoes and arugula added a touch of juicy tanginess. The goat cheese was probably the highlight of the tart, bringing it all together with its creaminess. Overall, not bad, but again, very small.

French Onion Soup with Bone Marrow
My friends ordered the bone marrow french onion soup - which is definitely more bang for your buck, if you like french onion soup - and they loved it. It also happens to be the dish that Taverne Gaspar is more known for, I think. The only bone marrow you get are the little lumps on the crouton that you see on top of the soup. It's pretty good, as far as bone marrow goes. Soft, buttery and a little bit greasy, but not bad.

I'm not a huge fan of french onion soup, which is why I didn't order it, but I have to admit, this is one of the better ones I've tasted. The major problems I have with them is that they're either too salty, or there's too much bread in them, but neither of those were the case here. Gaspar is quite generous with the cheese gratine on top, and the soup was mild-tasting, with a sweet aftertaste. There was also a good bread-to-soup ratio so that you aren't left with very soggy bread instead of soup with chunks of bread inside. If you like french onion soup, I definitely recommend picking this appetizer.

Braised lamb shank
My friends ordered the braised lamb shank, which is a pretty hefty chunk of lamb braised in rosemary and other spices, served with a side of steamed vegetables. I tried a small piece, and I wasn't too fond of it. The gamey lamb taste was a bit strong, despite the rosemary, which I feel hadn't really sunk into the meat. The meat was also a little bland, as I find is the case with a lot of braised lambs.

BBQ Ribs
I got the BBQ ribs, which I particularly enjoyed! The portions were quite generous, and bbq sauce was the perfect balance of sweet and salty, and even had a little bite of spice to it. It was also cooked to a savoury, succulent perfection: not too charred and not too soft. I also enjoyed the fries, which were thin and crispy towards the end, and soft in the middle. The plate came with a yummy garlic-spicy-mayo dipping sauce for the fries, and a small bowl of ordinary coleslaw.

Pouding chômeur
This was apparently what my friend was looking forward to all evening. She is absolutely obsessed with pouding chômeur, for reasons that I can't begin to comprehend. For those of you unfamiliar with this Quebec-style dessert, it's essentially cake batter that has been drenched and smothered in maple syrup (or caramel) and then baked. The only way I can describe this dessert is: cloyingly sweet. This particular pudding wasn't really special as far as pauper's puddings go, but hey, if you have an enormous sweet tooth and don't mind eating things that might trigger diabetes on the third bite, then more power to you, I say!

Lava cake
My friend and I had the lava cake. Again pretty average, with a soft, cakey outer shell and a gooey, chocolatey inside. However, depending on your luck, you might get one that's slightly overdone, like my friend did, which just ends up tasting like a very moist chocolate cake. To be fair, I've baked these, and it's really hard to get them to that perfect consistency. But I guess restaurants should have a better idea about these things than I do...

Price - $$$
Since we went during Happening Gourmand, the three-course costed us $23, which ended up being around $26.50 after tax. With tip, that still comes up to around $30 for a meal, which, for a student, is still a pretty hefty sum. And if the regular menu is even more expensive than this, then yeah, this tavern is probably quite pricey.

Final Grade: B
So far, including this one, I've tried three restaurants on the Happening Gourmand list, and I have to say, Taverne Gaspar has been my favourite out of the three. Despite being pricey, given the options, you do feel like you're getting your money's worth here, and the quality of the food is better than what I've seen at other places. So if you are planning on partaking in Happening Gourmand and don't know which restaurant you want to try, I recommend giving Taverne Gaspar a look-see. In the meantime...

Me, while walking through the old port in winter

Keep warm, folks.

Taverne Gaspar
89 Rue de la Commune East 

(514) 392-1649


Taverne Gaspar on Urbanspoon


  1. Pretty disappointed by Suite 701 :/ What were the other places you tried?

    1. Aww, that sucks about Suite 701. I heard the food was decent, but overpriced, and the service is pretty bad.

      I've also tried Mechant Boeuf, which is just average, and the Vieux-Port Steakhouse, which wasn't worth it.

    2. I disliked Mechant Boeuf (cold burgers, cold food, barely any service) and Vieux-Port was standard steakhouse fare (okay, but the menu isn't really interesting). The food at Suite 701 was just really mediocre; portions were on the small side, not a lot of flavour and weirdness in general. Not really worth the hype.

      As the years go by, I find Happening to get less and less interesting :/ But I dropped by Gaspar earlier tonight and was glad at least the food was better compared to Suite's.

    3. I agree. I think maybe they tone done the quality/quantity of the meal for Happening Gourmand or something, because I can't imagine paying for more for some of the stuff than I already had.

      I'm glad you found Gaspar okay, at least. :)