The menu intrigues you enough to cross the threshold and in an instant, the noisy tourist clatter that is summer on Wharf Street yields to a darkened but welcoming lounge, beckoning you to you linger for a drink or perhaps several. Beyond, an impressive staircase set against an original stone wall leads to tables offering glimpses of the harbour through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Featuring contemporary, locally sourced cuisine, Veritas is the latest restaurant to take up residence in one of the city's oldest and reputably haunted buildings, at 1218 Wharf St.
My cousin and I arrived shortly after they opened and were seated by a charming young woman. Our server arrived moments later with menus and the welcome offer of a drink chosen from a competitive selection -- including a thankfully not overwhelming cocktail list and eight wines by the glass.
An insert we found in one of our menus offered a selection of charcuterie, cheeses and other things to nibble on, so we added mixed olives, smoked hazelnuts and pork rillettes for a mere $10 while we pondered dinner choices.
Julianne was torturing herself with some cleansing diet, meaning there were a number of things she wasn't eating, including shellfish, dairy, starches and refined sugars. We deliberately visited early to avoid the busy period, knowing we were likely going to ask the kitchen to alter dishes.
The appetizer list is tempting with options including fresh oysters, steamed mussels and crab cakes. But it is also oddly limiting. Specifically, if you don't eat shellfish -- and many people don't for any number of reasons -- you are limited to salad.
My Caesar was a wedge of romaine placed on a smear of something, drizzled with a lemony dressing with the right amount of garlic and garnished with a spiral of pancetta. Attractive presentation perhaps, but there can be problems with treating salad this way.
First, if there is no indication on the menu that it will arrive this way, as was the case here, this presents a problem for people who dislike or cannot manage cutting up their own food. Second, when the acid and oil in a Caesar salad have had the opportunity to do their work on crisp lettuce the ultimate product is better, and I think even the deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida would agree.
Julianne's salad was simply boring -- a few leaves stacked on top of each other, a couple of slices of tomatoes and a sprinkling of nuts, served as requested with lemon and olive oil. But instead, the nicely grilled half a lemon that accompanied my salad, she got a couple of thin slices, which look nice on the edge of a glass, but don't lend themselves to squeezing. Neither of us thought this salad would have been significantly better with the vinaigrette it usually comes with.
EntrÃ©e selection moves beyond the ocean to include local chicken breast with house-made fettucine, flax-seed ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and rack of lamb with red potatoes and roasted vegetables. I had a superb hickory smoked pork loin chop, served with apple spaetzle and bacon jus, but Julianne's meal again fell far below expectations.
Choosing halibut, which normally comes with preserved lemon risotto, she requested additional vegetables in place of the rice. This turned out to be just a few asparagus spears tossed with spinach the dish usually comes with, and though she had specified no butter, there was no attempt to season her vegetables or effort made with presentation.
In short, our evening was a mixed success. Service was pleasant but we didn't feel the skill level matched the tone of the room, with incorrect drinks, weak menu knowledge, reaching in front of us when there was no need, used dishes from previous courses left on the table, no refill on coffee and the like. However, this can be resolved with training.
As Julianne noted, it was as though once he heard we weren't having dessert, the declining interest disappeared entirely.
The truth about Veritas is that there are plenty of reasons to visit and I think it could easily be worthy of another star and a half. Portions and prices are good, my entrÃ©e was above average and specials include a $15 burger with a beer available in the lounge, or a three-course menu with options such as seafood chowder, steak Bearnaise with frites and dessert for $33.
With a little revision, this spot could be a contender.