If there is a word, in any language, to describe the sensation of being surprised by being surprised, I don’t know what it is. But this is exactly what I experienced at Vignette when I slipped in to join a staff tasting just a few days before they softly opened for dinner service on February 15th…
Maybe it was because I had recently come to know the space at 2650 Main Street as Vignette’s daytime alter ego, Novella Coffee Bar. Or maybe it was because I arrived at the tasting without much warning, and therefore without any real expectations. I can’t say for certain. But when plates for the new winebar/dinner program started flowing out of the kitchen, I was legitimately caught off guard by how impressed I was. And then I felt silly.
I mean, c’mon! We’re talking about a menu developed by chef de cuisine Ashley Kurtz (Bar Susu, St. Lawrence) and Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson (Michelin-Star-winning Published) – that the food would be interesting, innovative and tasty is a foregone conclusion. I just hadn’t connected the dots that day. I’m still feeling pleased by that, though, because it allowed me to leave that visit feeling inspired and excited more deeply, probably, than if I had asked too many questions in advance.
It would be an asshole move for me to rob anyone else of that pleasure. So, if you dig the idea of discovery and experience without knowing all of the details in advance, please stop reading now. Just go to Vignette and dive in. I recommend it.
On the other hand, if you enjoy a little tease before the full experience, then carry on! What follows is a photo-forward recounting of dishes I sampled from the ten-course tasting menu (whilst also eavesdropping on tasting notes being shared with staff) …
1 // The tasting kicked off on solid footing with two bite-sized snacks: Maui ribs and a crustless open-faced sandwich with a flavour profile that was a dead ringer for a ‘McChicken’ (it is, in fact, referred to as ‘McChicken’ on the menu).
2 // Second course, a bowl of broken sour cream with celery root and scallops arrives, joined by a ceramic vessel of warm broth poured table side.
3 // Thirdly, a plate of beets and beef tartare finished with black sesame was flavourful but not too heavy.
4// A brief interlude via fresh-from-the-oven soda bread with whipped seaweed butter.
5 // Yuba (whole milk skin) over tender pieces of squash sitting in a rich, yellow caraway-scented broth. The making of the milk skin is labour intensive, and, as I understand it, only one person is assigned to yuba duty for hours at a time in the kitchen at Vignette. To whomever, that person is: your technique is fantastic. This dish was a standout for me.
6 // A beautifully presented serving of Sole Veronique. The perfectly cooked fish comes centred on a bed of fennel choucroute, surrounded by herbed tapioca, and accompanied by three juicy, peeled grapes.
7 // The last savoury course: Picanha (a specific cut of meat popular in Portuguese and Brazilian barbecue) accompanied by boulangère potato and French onion jus. (At this point, if I were eating entire portions of each dish, I would be absolutely full.)
Dessert is mercifully light but requires three spots on the menu:
8 // An endive tartine, served warm with slightly crispy edges and topped with the perfect amount of caramelized buttermilk ice cream. Though the tart appears to be a traditional pastry base, there is no pastry – just endive. The depth and sweetness of this morsel was balanced and gratifying without being over the top.
9 // Delicate house-made cottage cheese with a subtle beet and rosehip jus and a sprinkle of crunchy puffed grains was a nice, light treat that I appreciated as dessert (but also feel like I could get away with eating for breakfast – and actually have thought about on several mornings since).
10 // Like a small prize after the meal: a square of sea buckthorn pate de fruit along with an elderflower marshmallow, perched on a twig.
These are still early days for Vignette, so minor adjustments to the menu are entirely possible. However, the pictures and descriptions above and below should give you a sense of what to expect when ordering the prix fixe menu ($95 per person).
Not confident that you can manage the full ten courses? Vignette also offers a playful (and decadent) à la carte menu: think Ketchup chips with Boursin cheese; Döner kebab with labneh; Tajarin cacio e pepe with crispy yeast and Mimolette cheese; and a comforting spot of Welsh rarebit. (Full menu here.)
Whether dining prix fixe or à la carte, guests can choose beverages from a curated list of small-batch wines, cider, beer, vermouths and cocktails.
Vignette is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 5-11pm. Walk-ins for à la carte dining are welcome at any time, but there are a limited number of reservations available for the tasting menu. Get sorted here.
Scout reported on the opening of Vignette back in January:
A coffee bar and breakfast joint by day, Novella was always intended to transform into a wine bar with a dinner program by night – it just took a minute for the pieces to come together.
That the next chapter in the Boxset Collective suite (Published/Susu/Novella) has finally launched.
From Vignette’s announcement earlier this year:
“By sunset, Mount Pleasant’s Novella turns into Vignette – part restaurant, part wine lounge – taking inspiration from its literary definition which refers to an impression or glimpse into something special and we hope guests will do just that. Vignette will be a place where guests can create their own brief, yet memorable, moments of enjoyment by ordering a la carte, snacking on a heady array of dishes, or indulging in chef de cuisine Ashley Kurtz’s multi-course tasting menu with beverage pairings. Expect to see French-influenced, locally sourced creations and global flavours.”