705A CB Highway
Ph. (709) 834-3339
I suspected our server was also the owner of Vio’s Bistro. Restaurant owners tend to be garrulous with a proprietary manner. I asked about the name, Vio’s, and she told us it stood for Violetta. “Like the opera, La Traviata!” she said with gusto. Later she told us that she is Violetta – “like the opera.”
The Orange Store building in Kelligrews, NL – Vio’s Bistro shares space in the building – was not a venue where I thought anybody would be talking to me about Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (The Fallen Woman). Violetta Valéry, a courtesan, is the principal character in the opera. Unfortunately, after winning, losing and winning again the man of her dreams, Alfredo, she succumbs to tuberculosis and that’s the end of poor Violetta. “Gran Dio! Morir si giovine” and all that.
Given the opera reference and her accent, I thought Vio’s Violetta might be from Italy. She’s Chilean, a “Chile pepper,” she says. It may not be a hotbed for opera, but I understand they appreciate opera in Chile. In fact, Chile has produced some fine opera singers. Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, a native of Chile, is internationally famous for her Ciocio-san in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.
Coast to coast
Violetta has lived in Canada for 40 years, most of them on the other coast, BC. She came to Newfoundland with a friend a few years ago and liked the place so much – mainly the people – she decided to split her time between CBS and Vancouver. Before Vio’s she was a partner in Bayside Bistro of Upper Gullies. If you were a patron of Bayside and visit Vio’s, you may do a doubletake. The décor is the same. Same colours, tables and pictures. It’s like someone followed a recipe called, Bistro à
la Paris, to the letter and Vio’s was the result.
Forty years in Canada has not eliminated Violetta’s Latin accent. Her mother is from Majorca, her father was from Chile. Mom is an excellent cook, as is daughter. Violetta comes from cultures with deeply rich culinary traditions. So, why no Chilean or Spanish dishes on Vio’s menu? I was more than a little surprised, and to be honest, disappointed.
I asked Violetta why Vio’s is running the centre lane, why she doesn’t serve Chilean and Spanish food. She said, “I did, but it didn’t work. You can’t serve it here. People don’t like to venture outside of their cod tongues. You have to cater to the locals. I cannot come and put a paella or a hot spicy dish before them.” Well holy crow. Really? In St. John’s we’re up to the eyeballs in sushi restaurants. I can’t think of anything more outside the comfort zone of Newfoundlanders than sushi, unless it’s … eyeballs.
Are the palates of CBS residents that unadventurous? They must be giving their palates a workout in St. John’s restaurants all the time. Come to think of it, CBS now has a good, apparently successful Pakistani restaurant, so there must be some interest in international cuisine: the ingredients, the herbs and spices. I think Vio’s needs to rethink its menu and challenge the status quo. To be fair, Violetta, told me she would consider doing Spanish or Chilean, from time to time, if enough people were prepared to reserve an evening for it. Great! I’m ready for empanadas. How about you?
We were lunch guests and bound by Vio’s prosaic lunch menu – Vio’s dinner choices are more elaborate. The liquid of a successful vegetable soup must have the strong flavours of a properly made broth, and seasonings that marry well with vegetables. Vio’s was such a soup. In addition to carrot, turnip and potato it had tomato, a good choice because of its umami flavour. Spouse was reminded of anise on the first sip. I tasted something like celery seasoning. No one taste dominated the soup. It contained a balanced blend of many flavours.
Vio’s fresh mussels were “steamed in a garlic and white wine butter sauce,” a simple, sound preparation. The mussels had the clean taste of the Atlantic Ocean, but, although several were of average size, many were unsatisfyingly small. Harvested too soon perhaps. Restaurateurs serving mussels should purchase ones that are plump and approaching the size of a Brazil nut, not a jellybean. If better quality mussels aren’t available, then take them off the menu until better ones are available.
Squid rings coated in a mixture of cornstarch and flour, and fried until crispy, can be good eating. It’s important that the ring is wide enough not to be subsumed by the cooked coating. Then it’s fair to ask if the squid ring was only present for the sake of giving the flour and cornstarch an O shape. Many of the rings tasted by spouse did contain ample amounts of calamari, however, most of the rings I tasted contained a scrawny amount of squid flesh, puffed up by the flour coating.
It was delicious
Spouse requested a house salad – sans dairy – of fresh, quality greens, dried cranberries, cherry tomatoes and tinned mandarin orange slices. Dabs of goat cheese are included, unless you have a dairy allergy. A sweet raspberry dressing was served on the side. The multicoloured salad looked like something from a Health Canada poster. I had no doubt about its nutritional value, but, as part of a restaurant meal, there was something even more important, taste. It was delicious.
Vio’s cod tacos and French fries were faultless. Two flour tortillas came filled with lightly battered deep fried cod, a lettuce salad with tomato, pineapple and cheese, and house made jalapeño aioli. I had a napkin near, in case any contents spilled. Some did but I managed to keep things under control. The French fries were a textbook example of perfect fries, uniformly cut, and deep fried until just the right colour and temperature were achieved.
Vio’s Bistro is a very good restaurant. Violetta opened her bistro in April after fans encouraged her to get back into food service. Much of what she serves is what Vio’s regulars know and like. That’s important; but when you have expertise in an international cuisine not yet represented locally, I think many local restaurant goers would welcome the opportunity to be able to visit a restaurant for lunch or dinner and order that cuisine.
* Good * * Very good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
Price Lunch for two with coffee, tax and tip costs approximately $60.
Service Welcoming and professional.
Atmosphere Appealing, with old fashioned charm and cosy.
Sound level Low to moderate.
Open Wednesday: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday: 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday: Closed.
Reservations Recommended for dinner. Walk-in for lunch.
Credit cards All major.
Parking Available on building’s parking lot.
Beverages Vio’s stocks spirits, beer and a modest selection of approachable wines.
Best bets Soup, fish tacos and fries.
Gluten free options Please ask your server for details.
Wheelchair access No.