Verveine [review by Mark Aaron] closed 2006/07

1097 Queen St. E.,

416-405-9906.

Hours: Monday to Saturday at 6:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. for Dinner. Brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Verveine is now closed , as of summer 2008, it is now known as FARE.

Located in Leslieville on Queen east 2 blocks east of Pape, almost hidden in between many retro cheesy furniture stores and squeezed in between some mom and pop convenience stores and near a Smoked Salmon specialty store, Verveine does not stand out as being a restaurant that is “in your face”. We decided to go there for brunch because we have heard so many good things about this place. Inside the place looks very chi chi poo poo and we knew it was a French bistro/restaurant, but we wanted to try out their brunch.

Wendy and I arrived at 12:45pm. When we entered the restaurant, we were frustrated because 1) we were late and Joel and Walter were waiting for us, and 2) the place was jam packed with people. Verveine only accepts reservations for dinner, not brunch, unless you are more than 8 people. Even so, they may not accept brunch reservations. I was hungry and I had to run 30 kilometres that day so I had to make sure that I ate early enough. Joel and Walter were already sitting on the lovely fluffy mint green Victorian couch right by the entrance of the restaurant. There were many tables in the front and about 4 nice booths and 4 tables at the back of the restaurant. I hoped we would get a booth since they’re more comfortable.

Restaurant tables are spaced apart appropriately, except in the middle where the three small “2 person” tables are slightly squashed. Verveine seems to be a place divided into 3 zones: 5 tables in the front zone of the restaurant, 1 large booth right at the entrance zone (6 people), 3 “2 person” tables in the middle zone, 4 booths at the back of the restaurant with 4 tables at the back adjacent to the bar. When we were seated, we lucked out by being able to sit at a booth at the back of the restaurant.

I ordered the fruity flapjacks with Chantilly cream (vanilla whipped cream) and maple syrup. Pancakes (3) were thick and not too heavy or greasy. I was definitely full and the price was a little high ($9) but well worth it. Service was prompt and exceptional. Staff are more than friendly and knowledgeable and attentive. Wendy had the same item but she added a big thick sausage ($3). She commented that it is great to add extra to your meal. Joel and Walter both ordered the croissant with 2 poached eggs, creamed spinach, and hollandaise sauce. The dish came with salad or herbed home fries. Joel chose a side order of green salad and Walter chose a side order of homemade spicy potatoes (they ended up sharing the salad and herbed home fries). In addition, Joel ordered a side order of smoke salmon for an additional $3.

Popular brunch items include truffled scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on baby spinach with a buttermilk biscuit – $11, a basket of baked goods with fruit preserves – $4.95, “The Big A”- a choice of 2 meats (steak, sausage, peameal bacon), 3 eggs, saut�ed onions and peppers, and green salad – $15, “Toad in the Hole”- two eggs in hollowed out corn break with mild salsa and guacamole- $9, omelette of the moment with green salad and bagel – $9 (egg white omelettes- $10), a decadent French Toast dish (French Toast with caramelized bananas and chocolate with peanut butter whipped cream- $9, fresh fruit compote with oat cakes and honey yogourt- $7.50, Green Plate Special � Canadian AAA steak with scrambled or poached eggs, herbed home fries, a buttermilk biscuit, tomato pepper relish and natural juice -$12, poached eggs on croissant with hollandaise sauce, salad or herbed home fries -Blackstone with pancetta and tomato -$10.50, or Florentine with saut�ed spinach – $9.50, the brunch burrito with sausage, peppers, cheese, scrambled eggs, with mixed bean salad, sour cream, and spicy sauce- $10, a “samwich”- grilled chicken breast, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, Chipotle mayonnaise, on a Panini roll with herbed home fries and salad – $9.50, crab cakes with wilted spinach, herbed home fries and caper mayonnaise – $11. You can add any items to any of the meals like Farmer’s sausage – $3, herbed home fries – $1.50, tomatoes, $1.50, and cornbread – $2, grilled peameal bacon – $2.50, buttermilk biscuits – $1.50, or bagel/croissant – $1.25

Dinner appetizers are creative and fuse North American dishes inspired with flavours from India. Some dishes include a Romaine salad (Romaine lettuce with creamy roasted garlic dressing, pine nuts, and asiago tuile – $8), a home-made Samosa with pear, pea, and smoked duck, in a honey-mustard dipping sauce- $12, a Thai wrap- a folded chive crepe with glass noodle salad with a sweet and sour dipping sauce- $8, Italian Chef Salad- $9, Hummus and Feta Dumplings in a Gazpacho Dipping Sauce – $10, Crab and Corn “Panna Cotta” with Foccacia and a small green salad – $12, an asparagus and cherry tomato salad with parmesan and sherry dressing- $9, and Pappadum-crusted Tiger Shrimp with lemon raita and mango chutney- $13 Some dinner items include Duck Breast with basmati rice, rapini, in a mahogany glaze – $22, Baked Tilapia Filet with beet risotto, wilted spinach, in an herbed dressing- $18, a three-cheese baked macaroni with broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers – $15, roasted chicken breast with crab claws, with asparagus, in a pommery b�arnaise sauce – $21, rabbit in a red wine sauce with mushrooms, herbs, and pearl onions, and roasted vegetables- $19, vegetarian polenta lasagne in a mushroom and b�chamel sauce – $16, pan-seared halibut with green beans, cherry tomatoes, and caper butter sauce- $20, and a 10 ounce serving of grilled ribeye with roasted vegetable, spinach, and radish salad with corn relish- $25. Although the prices for entrees are not cheap, they are not a rip-off from hell like at Cafe Sassafraz.

Verveine’s decor is sleek, simplistic, and minimalism is the key to its design. Wall and fabric covering are pale green with a minimalist design of no art of knickknacks. Imagine Pottery Barn without the fluff or curves. There are some nice fabric wall hangings that add some warmth to the place and there are 2 large mirrors that give the impression of depth and space since the restaurant is not that big. I do think that the simple design adds a clean, sleek, polished look to the place, but, unlike Hello Toast, Verveine is not charming and does not have “character”. I do like the calm, non-clutter of the pale green walls and pale green fabric on the chairs and white linen tablecloths. All I thought was “clean and crisp in design.” There is a lovely Victorian couch right at the entrance of the restaurant for patrons to sit while they wait for their table or booth. While waiting, I never sat on the couch but Joel, Walter, and Wendy commented that the lumpy couch should be replaced, seeing that they know they have a lumpy couch and often people will have to wait for a table for brunch.

Verveine’s cosy and friendly ambiance does have a touch of pretentiousness but it’s no over the top like other brunch places. Our experience was made even more enjoyable by the calm background soundtrack from the movies “Amelie” and “The Piano”. During the latter part of our meal, we heard Norah Jones so Verveine knows how to set a mood. The look and feel of this place is definitely “cool, chic, and laid back.” Portion sizes are decent and prices are a little high, but quality and service and flexibility in terms of veggie options are impressive. Wendy, Joel, and Walter especially liked how at the bottom of the menu, you have the option to add things to your meal for a slight price increase. Egg white omelettes are only $1 extra.

Accepts every card. Warm, friendly, and attentive service. Accepts dinner reservations but not brunch reservations. Brunch can be very busy. Expect a 15-20 minute wait.

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