Today I got to visit one of Vancouver’s most acclaimed restaurants with a group of food bloggers. It’s one thing to enjoy good food with friends, it’s a whole other experience when you do so with others as enthusiastic about food as you are. Eating together, discussing what you are having, while engaging in conversations about other foods. This experience elevated my eating, and I got to learn a thing or two on food trends from those who keep on its pulse.
I have been meaning to check this restaurant out, not only because they have been crowned Vancouver’s best restaurant of 2018, and because their reservations require a month or so advance notice, but also because they serve French Canadian cuisine. My partner is French Canadian, and I have just been to Quebec, thus giving me some knowledge and context to compare what we would be eating to what I have recently enjoyed on my trip.
Walking up to it, the exterior looks like a cinema’s entrance perched up on its corner. It had a black and white 50’s feel: black bars and white curtains. The casual yet refined feel transitioned to the bar within with a timeless appeal.
Inside, the interior has taken on a more homey-cottage approach. Royal blue paint and rustic browns decorated with nostalgia. Oil paintings of scenery and fruit, dried flowers kept erect in pitchers, copper pans hung and floral curtains strung. It was cozy and felt lived-in, a sensation that ran parallel to the food they served: comforting and simple in its refined elegance.
We started with some cocktails. An “Old Fashion” and the “Vieux carre”, a cognac based drink.
As for food, we ordered a handful and shared everything between four. Our meal started with the traditional bread, served with a traditional Quebecois condiment. “Croton” with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In Quebec cuisine, cretons is a forcemeat-style pork spread containing onions and spices. Due to its fatty texture and taste, it resembles French rillettes. This was by far a lot more bolder and spicier than the version I had in Quebec. And when paired with the house-made spicy mustard mayo it was a very bold combination as zesty as the bread was nutty with whole grains.
I was most excited about the “Oreilles de crisse”. I only just discovered this French Canadian version of pork rinds, which I fried up for the first time myself, a mere two months ago. Fried pork rinds with maple syrup and spices. These were a hit with the table and definitely the one you have to order when you visit. You can’t stop with just one. Each curl had the ideal amount of seasoning, the perfect blend of salty and sweet, gently coating a light as air styrofoam crunchy-like crisp. With each bite down, you saw juices oozing out, juices you would lick off your hand with no shame. To quote one of my guests, “they were aggressively seasoned, but in a good way”.
The “Steak tartare, chèvre noire, and pomme gaufrette”. Beef tartare, chèvre noire cheese, and potato chips. The raw beef was acidic with a bold vinegar tang, half the table found the truffle flavour in it too bold, I just wish I got to taste the truffles. I liked the shredded cheese for a different layer of flavour and how the freshness of the greens balanced it all out. The chip was the perfect base to scoop the tartare up with, like dip. It offered a heartier satisfaction along with its crunch, and enjoyable to chew texture. It also gave you more flavour, for those who like things punchier.
The “Quenelle de poison, crevettes and sauce nantua”. Fish quenelle, side strip shrimp and lobster sauce. The table joked that this was like a fancy French fish ball (similar to Chinese style fish balls that you get in hotpot), and one of the most expensive we all have ever had. But being well versed in chewy seafood and meat balls, I can confidently say that this one was a lot more refined. It was almost light and fluffy with its softer texture, like it was whipped into a cream then steamed solid. Although well flavoured with the creamy lobster sauce, I wanted more of the flaky pastry to eat it with. Something to round off the plate and add more crunch. To quote one of my table mates, “this should be rich, but it doesn’t eat that way”.
“La terrine du jour”. The house made terrine of the day was a chicken and duck meat terrine with pistachios. A “terrine”, in French cuisine is a pâté made in a pottery container. It was a delicious meat spread, but I wished it was served with cracker or we had saved some of the bread before to eat it with. Instead it is offered with a un-proportionately large ceramic jar of cornichons, which we weren’t shy to eat as much as we could out of. “Cornichons” is a cucumber that has been pickled in a brine or vinegar. Its pickling helped to refresh bites and lighten up the rich meat paste.
The “Ratatouille and flan au cheddar avonlea”. The Ratatouille with avonlea chedda custard was ordered in order to give us some vegetables in our meal. It offered a great amount of freshness, and made for great in between plate bites, helpful in lightening up the lot. And with the delicious cheese custard on top, this dish ate like a full fledged entree.
Cote de porc, fromage oka and sauce charcuterie. When looking for a hearty entree, the pork chop with oka cheese, and butcher sauce is the one to get. This was one of the most juiciest pork chops I have ever had. Each slightly fatty morsel was well complimented by the buttery potatoes and the rich gravy that it floated on. A well balanced entree that would have you enjoying each bite from first to last, and not regretting the price that you paid for it.
We tried the “Steak St. Lawrence” as well. It was a grilled hanger steak, served with bone marrow, sauce aux poivres, and frites. The steak was pretty standard, it had a tenderness that paired well with the saucy mushrooms. But it was the fries that had you coming back to the plate for more.
“Tourtiere de Ville au cerf”. Meat pies are a stable in French Canadian cuisine. I have tried a handful, fresh and frozen, courtesy of my partner. So it was nice to try this very elegant and dressed up version here. The venison made the serving very dark, plenty of rich flavours with the heavy use of all spice. It was best enjoyed with the pickled beets and the cornichons on the side, to help brightened up the plate. Without it the meat pie was fairly briny, not overly salty, but it did have me drinking plenty of water in between mouthfuls, out of thirst.
One of the specials of the day was the “Crispy veal sweet breads” prepared in a wine and truffle sauce, topped with an onion ring and served with chanterelles. It was an easy to eat dish, despite many who would be queasy from learning that this is a plate featuring thymas glands. Overall the flavours assembled were sweet and bright with the refreshing corn and crispy onion ring taking centre stage for me, and the paste-like sweet breads ending each bite with its distinct flavour. The dish had a comforting warmth to it, great as a side along with some protein and rice.
For dessert we got the “Riz au lait facon l’ami jean”. It was a serving of rice pudding and salted caramel, enough for the table (or 3-4 individuals). This one definitely grew on me. At first I didn’t like the texture of it. The grains of individual rice were noticeable, but the crunchy pecans and cinnamon sugar cookies helped to mask it and give the dessert some cohesion. I found myself continuing to go back for scoops and scoops, until by last bite became too sweet.
I was more excited about the “Taste au sucre”. Sugar pie is one of my partner’s favourite desserts, meaning I am fairly familiar with it and even know how to prepare it for myself. I liked it plenty with the pool of vanilla cream helping to balance out the sugar, and how buttery the crust was. However, my partner was less impressed with his leftover serving, After a quick spin in the microwave to warm it up, he declared the pie too watery.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
It was a delicious meal, different yet familiar. All the flavours above were a stark comparison to their counterparts, that I had from Thetford Mines (a small town Quebec), and the traditional French Canadian cuisine I had a mere month ago. The workmanship here and the quality of ingredients used had me validating the in price we had to pay. A great place for a dressy and delicious meal. And a restaurant I suggest you bring anyone visiting Vancouver too. Definitely a must not miss opportunity, as Vancouver’s best restaurant of 2018. Don’t deny your cravings.