2836 West 4th Ave.
$130 for dinner for two with wine, tax and tip
Cuisine: French bistro
When the weather turns cold and dreary, no cuisine shakes the dampness from the bones better than French country cooking.
Although plenty of local bistros do an excellent job of executing the classics, none offer soul food as rich and hearty as West Vancouver's La Régalade. And now that the Rayé family has opened another restaurant – Café Régalade in Kitsilano – we don't have to cross the bridge to scarf it.
Operated by Steeve Rayé (son of Alain, a two-time Michelin star-winner and proprietor of the West Van flagship), this casual sibling restaurant offers a similar carte of simple stews and slow-braised cheap cuts, all swaddled in the holy trinity of wine, cream and butter.
You may remember Rayé Jr. from La Régalade Côté Mer, a short-lived yet sorely missed seafood offshoot buried deep in the curvy foothills of Marine Drive's Eagle Harbour.
"The family wasn't getting along so well," the younger Rayé says by phone, explaining why he closed the restaurant six months after it opened to widespread critical acclaim in 2006. Two years later, he moved to the Philippines to help start up a La Régalade in Manila, a restaurant (still running) that is owned by one of his father's diehard fans. Now, after a few more twists and turns, he has resurfaced triumphantly.
Café Régalade launched last year as a pastry shop to showcase the sweet skills Mr. Rayé had honed as a student of the famed Olivier Bajard in southern France and at Joël Robuchon's L'Atelier in London. Alas, the bakery concept didn't float. After a two-month hiatus, it reopened in March as a licensed bistro with clichéd café curtains, belle époque poster art and a whimsical pig-themed décor.
It has apparently been smooth sailing with long waiting lists ever since. As the saying goes: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Mr. Rayé wisely offers many of his father's unadulterated recipes for beef bourguignon, chicken fricassée with citrus confit, pork terrine and succulent steak tartare. But as in West Van, so many tempting seasonal specials leap off the chalkboard that it's almost impossible to stay focused on the regular menu.
Next week, the special board will include a traditional Alsatian choucroute garnie piled high with sausages, pork belly, smoked chops and sauerkraut. This week, there was rabbit, pan-seared, slowly braised and served in a chunky, garlicky mushroom sauce. Oh, and a massive bowl of plump mussels doused in a velvety bath of whipping cream and white wine.
On top of all that, Café Régalade offers a regular plat du jour – roast Cornish game hen on Wednesday, cassoulet on Thursday, and on Sundays, a fall-apart tender leg of lamb braised for seven hours in tangy tomato sauce with salty pork skin and sweet diced carrots, accompanied by a juicy side of white beans.
Then there is the decadent display of desserts – including an incredibly sweet, softly poached milk-and-egg-white meringue floating in a sticky pool of caramel sauce – for which the younger Mr. Rayé became famous at La Régalade.
The two restaurants are not exactly the same. Here, the food is served on plain white plates – not the bubbling, crusted, enameled cast-iron cocottes that add such a delightful je ne sais quoi to the dining experience in West Van. The Kitsilano room is a bit colder, the ambience less jovial, the tables spaced tighter. And the service, well, it's a good thing we can shrug off empty water glasses and the need to pour our own wine with as much Gallic nonchalance as we're given.
But Café Régalade does have its perks. The prices here are slightly lower, with most mains ringing in for less than $20. The appetizers include wonderfully fishy sardine rillettes (why don't more restaurants serve this oily delicacy?), piped into creamy florets and cutely tucked under the tear-away tab of a shiny sardine can.
Unlike the other, this restaurant is open for breakfast – mammoth, gluttonously satiating, hungry-man breakfasts with eggs and ham and chorizo sausages shovelled into heavy cast-iron skillets on big wooden platters with a small (perfectly dressed) salad and wedged potatoes so incorrigibly rich they must be fried in duck fat.
Last week's breakfast specials included poached eggs in a veal stock and brandy cream sauce that was swamped with chanterelles and prosciutto. Croque monsieur? Oh, my god. The thickly sliced toast was so saturated with butter and slathered in béchamel we could almost hear our arteries gasping.
I honestly don't understand how a restaurant this wantonly voluptuous and unapologetically fattening can thrive in health-conscious, yoga-toned, Lululemon-loving Kitsilano. But I guess the rain pours down dark and miserable on every side of the bridge.