I recently tried one of Montreal’s newest restaurants, Taverne Gaspar, which opened in the Old Port last Tuesday. It’s the newest creation of the Antonopoulos family, who also have several other Old Montreal establishments to their name, such as Méchant Boeuf and Hotel Nelligan. So they’re not exactly newbies on that picturesque Old Montreal block.
The atmosphere was lively, a little on the loud side, with fun retro 90s music playing the night I was there. Stone walls lend a cavernous and cozy chic, and the bar and its bottles are very attractive. It was darkly lit, a nice setting for a date. I was charmed the minute we walked in.
There’s a short wine list, a one-pager that’s perhaps not the most inventive selection. The bottle prices are very accessible, however, which I appreciated. But I think their focus is more on bourbon and cocktails than wine. The food is upscale gastro-pub style; it reminded me of Dominion Square Tavern.
We settled on an Italian Pinot Noir (or Pinot Nero, as it’s called in Italian) made by Feudi di Romans from the Isonzo del Friuli region in the northeast of Italy. It was zippy, light, and juicy, with lots of fruit, including cherry, raspberry, and cranberry, as well as a hint of mocha and licorice. Kenneth was tempted to call it “New World” Pinot in style, but I didn’t think it was that simple. It certainly didn’t resemble a Burgundy Pinot, as it was too juicy and lacking more complex aromas of wet leaves or forest floor. But it also didn’t have the cooked, jammy, extracted flavour of some Californian Pinot. I haven’t tried very much Pinot Noir from Italy yet, but what I have tried has fallen into this style: somewhere between the “Old” and “New” World, a style of its own. As the night went on, it developed richer notes of vanilla and tobacco, while still being fresh and juicy. It lacked the finesse or focus of flavour necessary to make it a truly great Pinot Noir, but it drank very nicely.
When our appetizers came, I fell in love with the beet and goat cheese salad. It was the perfect combination of sweet and savory, with delicious caramelized notes and crunchy nuts for texture. It also brought out a caramel note in the wine. Unfortunately my main course, roasted salmon on a bed of lentils, left me lukewarm: it was missing something. Their menu heavily favours meat dishes, so I assume that’s their specialty, not the fish. We were too full for dessert.
The service was timely and friendly. All in all, Taverne Gaspar was a very pleasant experience and a welcome Friday night out. I’d go back just for that salad.