My dad has the misfortune of having a birthday just a few days earlier than Father’s Day, so often he misses out on having two separate celebrations as it’s easier to combine the two. I guess it’s similar to those who were born really close to Christmas, except in my dad’s case, at least he still gets Christmas as a standalone so he’s got an advantage there.
This year just happened to be the big 6-0 for my dad, the start of a new decade. Back in the day, in the Motherland, when the life expectancy was much shorter than modern times, 60 was a big, celebrated milestone, akin to the 80th birthday nowadays. Once someone reached 60, that was a true accomplishment, as it meant that there were only a few good years of life left after this. They spared no cost for the party – they gathered up as many people as possible (family, friends, the butcher, the dry cleaner) and put together a spectacular party with the best food and tons of free-flowing alcohol (probably soju).
It was not a big surprise that my dad had a fairly nonchalant attitude about turning 60 and preferred to keep things fairly low key. I’m thinking he’ll easily blow past this decade and possibly his 70′s, so there’s still plenty of time to have THE party. On my dad’s actual birthday, Mark was out of town for business, so I took an apple cheesecake over to my parents and we had a quiet, casual dinner. The more official celebration would happen on Father’s Day at Vero Bistro Moderne, a bistro featuring “modern interpretations of Italian & French cuisine”.
The interior is definitely bistro-like; modern, minimalist, with bold accents of red to contrast the mostly dark motif. Since it was a special occasion, my dad started with a fruity cocktail (the name of which I didn’t note, sorry), while Mark got a Kronenbourg.
One of our starters was the D.O.P Prosciutto & Sweet Melon Salad (baby arugula, lemon vinaigrette, olives, reggiano shavings), beautifully presented and looking mighty inviting. Splitting this amongst the four of us was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to get portions of each ingredient. The salty, thinly shaved prosciutto went perfectly with the sweet melon (naturally, as they’re a classic combo), while the lightly dressed, fresh bitter arugula was a welcome component to balance out the prosciutto’s richness. This was harmony in a bowl; simple, fresh ingredients done right to let them shine.
Our second starter was the Calamari & Baby Artichoke Frito (kaffir lime & yuzu aioli), which is easily some of the best fried calamari I’ve ever had… and I’ve had a TON of fried calamari (it’s one of my belly’s most favourite things in the world). How can you go wrong with perfectly seasoned, super crispy pieces of tender calamari, dressed in a light and refreshing aioli? If there weren’t others at the table, I would’ve easily eaten this whole thing by myself. Don’t judge; I have enough social skills to know that those kinds of impulses are not always to be acted upon, but I have made a mental note that I must go back and have some more of this calamari. If you’re a fried calamari fan, GO HAVE THIS BECAUSE YUM.
For her main, my mom opted for Vero’s Signature Hand Rolled Noodles “Bolognese” (12 hours slow cooked berkshire pork ragu, aged pecorino). The hand rolled noodles were the true start of this dish. They were thick, they were springy, and they had a wonderful chewy texture that held up well in the rich, tomato-y pork ragu.
My dad chose the Venetian Seafood Stew (mussels, clams, prawns, fresh halibut, squid, white wine, saffron broth), as he’s a sucker for anything seafood and soup. All of the seafood was fresh and substantial; hard to describe, but it’s not like those seafood stews where you get wimpy little clams, a couple of mussels, and one prawn. Oh no – this was chock full of seafood goodies, bathed in an aromatic and well-seasoned broth.
Mark decided to get one of the specials of the night, a Pork Chop with Chanterelle Mushrooms. The pork chop was perfectly cooked, moist, and so incredibly tender; I was so impressed that they cooked a really thick chop to that tenderness. Mark really loved the sauce with the chanterelle mushrooms.
I chose the Caramelized Sea Scallops (sweet pea risotto, blood orange reduction, bacon jam), which was almost too pretty to eat. Four large, perfectly seared scallops rested atop a creamy risotto. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the blood orange reduction – even with its sweetness – worked in the dish. I think it was an interesting counterpart to the salty, savoury bacon jam (mmmm… bacon jam… you can never go wrong with bacon jam). Although it looks little, the portion size of this dish was very generous.
In the middle of our mains, we received a very pleasant surprise in the form of complementary meatballs from the chef. Woohoo, meatballs! I don’t know if these are on the regular menu, but if they’re not, they really should be. Hands down, best meatballs ever. Seriously! I loved how rustic and free-form they were, and oh my… the most tender meatballs. Literally, they melted in my mouth. I can never get my meatballs this tender and that’s probably why I’m not a chef. Besides the ultra-heavenly texture, they were seasoned very well and had a lovely herbaceous aroma. These were amazeballs. Literally. Amazeballs.
Even though we were all quite stuffed, no special occasion is complete without a couple of desserts. First up is a passion fruit and hazelnut creme brulee, a flavour combination I would’ve never put together but actually worked surprisingly well. The creme brulee itself was a tad on the sweet side, but it had a lovely smooth, creamy texture and that satisfyingly glass-shattery burnt sugar top.
Next we got the Affogato, as my dad has always been a fan of having a scoop of vanilla ice cream in his coffee. Fresh brewed espresso was poured over a scoop of vanilla gelato at the table while we oohed and aahed. You really can’t go wrong with this – it’s coffee and ice cream. It’s a match made in heaven.
I must add that every time a dish came to the table, we were all thoroughly impressed at the impeccable plating and presentation; each dish was met with a chorus of “ooooh!” and “wow!” all around. Not only was the food great to look at it, it tasted wonderful and each dish was delicious in its own right. You can tell that the chef takes great pride and puts a ton of love into her food; we certainly saw and felt it throughout the evening. Our server was truly wonderful as well, giving us impeccable service and taking great care of us all evening.
So it wasn’t the blockbuster, all-out 60th birthday celebration of yesteryear, but I’d say that it was pretty close. Vero Bistro Moderne has just got itself four new fans and we’ll definitely be going back for more.
Vero Bistro Moderne
209 10 St NW
Calgary, AB T2N1V5
Phone: (403) 283-8988