291 Water St.
About 10 years ago, I heard CTV newsman and former Canada AM co-host Dan Matheson challenge Valerie Pringles description of St. Johns as a beautiful city.
His grudging response: Well, maybe in a rugged sort of way.
It was obvious that St. Johns was not one of his favourite cities. Valerie looked offended.
Matheson got my goat for showing his disdain for my hometown on a national television show. I could care less about his private opinions. I thought about him when I was dining at The Vault on its opening night. The restaurant gave a tour de force opening performance.
If Matheson was referring to a paucity of amenities like fine restaurants (I know hes into gourmet dining), I now have news for him. Always remarkable St. Johns has become even more impressive in the past few years. Think of the airport renovation, The Rooms, our hotels, entertainment, art galleries and, of course, our restaurants.
With the opening of The Vault in the
old Bank of Nova Scotia building, St. Johns now has another restaurant that can be favourably compared with fine dining rooms anywhere in the world. The Vaults owners and managers have done everything right. Nothing has been left to chance.
First, theres the look of the place. Its modern, fresh and sophisticated. Chef consultant Victor Zidarov designed The Vault. Hes managed to cleverly create a theme around the banking history of the space. The old Bank of Nova Scotia vault has been turned into a climate-controlled wine cellar and menus are bound to look like ledger books. The long, dramatic bar with jutting raspberry coloured canopy ceiling suggests a bank counter where Hugo Boss-attired servers deal out drinks instead of banknotes.
Being in the basement of the building, The Vault is a windowless restaurant but Zidorov, an accomplished artist, has done much with halogen and fluorescent lighting, flat-screen televisions and colour to compensate. Along one plum-coloured wall he has created window-shaped lighted alcoves containing his own brightly coloured seascapes. Other walls are made from light- coloured stone with mounted sculptures of hammered metal. Seating is businesslike in appearance but sleek in design dark leather-bound chairs with straight lines, and comfortable banquettes upholstered in bankers black leather.
The television screens only show Fashion Television. The effect is of live action murals featuring beautiful couture-clad women and men eye candy for diners. Its a nice twist on banking screens where customers might be treated to stock quotes or a readout of the latest business news.
In keeping with the attend to every detail approach, The Vaults restrooms feature expensive, artfully designed fixtures. French imported Belle de Provence olive and rosemary soap and hand cream are placed for washing and moisturizing, as well as folded linen towels for hand drying.
Newsflash! The Vault is the first St. Johns restaurant to employ a certified sommelier. Andrew Facey, who has worked at many of Torontos finest restaurants, recently passed the difficult sommelier exams. He will not only manage the restaurants growing wine cellar and help patrons with wine choices, Facey will also overall manage the restaurant itself. On the night I observed him, he was in full control of the room, to the point of refolding diners linen napkins while they visited the restroom.
Service at The Vault is nonpareil. I lament the disparity in restaurant service between St. Johns and several other municipalities in the province. I recently visited a few restaurants in rural areas and the service was poor. The Vault represents the pinnacle of restaurant service, a standard to which many other St. Johns restaurants should aspire. At least three or four of their servers have worked at some top restos in Ottawa and Toronto. Wisely, they have been asked by The Vaults management to assist other staff in areas of service where those staff members might require further education. Bravo.
Now, to Chef Grigor Bersinskis and Pastry Chef Stoyan Ivanovs glorious food. Guest and I began with a tuna appetizer and lobster appetizer, respectively. The sushi-grade napoleon featured melt-in-your-mouth, mildly flavoured raw tuna. It was layered amongst waffle potato crisps, haricots verts and tomato gelee, and flavoured with truffle vinaigrette.
Mine was an outstanding portion of butter-poached lobster claw meat surrounded by an avocado and cherry tomato salad. The salad was flavoured with a tangy, spiced orange vinaigrette containing slivers of lemon and orange. A smattering of shaved black truffle added a special earthiness. Both appetizers were a great beginning.
Guests entrée was a dish many Newfoundlanders and I have often made, so we know when its done well. The Vaults braised caribou was perfect. The dish, served in a bright red bowl, consisted of cubes of caribou meat in a beautifully developed, deep flavoured sauce. This was served with a side bowl of perfectly shaped baby-sized potatoes in a cream sauce. The combination made for a perfect cold night dish for locals or a taste of honest Newfoundland cuisine for tourists.
The Vaults menu presents trio themed entrees that provide a selection of different textures and tastes.
Its a novel idea and one I found to be very satisfying. In the case of my butter-poached veal tenderloin, I was presented with three pieces (a trio) of tenderloin, each cooked to a different level of doneness and each flavoured differently. It was a superb effort. One piece was medium well and flavoured with a lemon caper sauce, the next medium rare in veal jus and white balsamic and shallot vinaigrette. The third tenderloin was medium with a tomato concassee. For someone like me who enjoys a variety of textures and flavours, it was an ideal choice.
We finished the remainder of the bottle of 2001 Napa Valley merlot from Markham Vineyards suggested by Andrew Facey and pondered the dessert selections. The Vault makes a variety of fresh fruit sorbets, granitees and ice creams on a daily basis. Some are incorporated into delectable desserts like the ones we chose.
Guest had the margarita sorbet with Grand Marnier-infused fruit. This presented as a plate layered with fresh citrus laced with Grand Marnier, on top of which sat a large dollop of zesty lime-flavoured sorbet. An arch of tangy air-dried citrus slices decorated the top. It was a simple but refreshing dessert, the perfect closer to a sufficient meal.
I chose a dessert which, as far as Im concerned, should be patented. It was a napoleon style or layered presentation. On the bottom was a thin, chocolate Rice Krispie rectangle base. On top of that was a vanilla-bean flavoured ice cream underneath a thin, crispy shortbread rectangle. Then came another topping of ice cream a quenelle of coffee flavoured heaven stuck with a decorative wafer of dark chocolate flecked with gold leaf. How in Gods name can I describe the taste to you? Imagine the taste of the best dessert youve ever had and then multiply it by 10.
The Vault, my friends, offers much more than a night out. It is nothing less than an extraordinary experience.
Our meal for two at The Vault including a $62 bottle of wine and gratuity cost $251.33.
The noise level at The Vault was moderate. Please call with regard to wheelchair accessibility.
Areas for Improvement:
For only the second time in three years of reviewing, it is my pleasure to award a restaurant a perfect 10.
The Vault gets 10 out of 10 points.
7 points = satisfactory, 7.5 points = good, 8 points = very good, 9 points = excellent, 10 points = perfection
Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist
with enRoute magazine. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.
From start to finish ...
The Vault scores a perfect 10
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