Le Gavroche – Review 2 (Christmas Eve Dinner)

Restaurant: Le Gavroche
Cuisine: French/Contemporary/European/West Coast
Last visited: December 24, 2010
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End/Downtown)
Address: 1616 Alberni Street
Price Range: $50+

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4 (moved up .5 since last visit)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Since 1979
  • Fine dining European/French cuisine
  • Authentic French menu
  • Contemporary French menu
  • Local ingredients
  • Seafood/Meat/Exotic game
  • Seasonal menu/specials
  • Hidden gem
  • Quaint/Cozy/Intimate
  • Extensive wine list
  • Private rooms available
  • Some table side prepared dishes
  • Traditional old fashioned service
  • 4 course tasting menu $55
  • 5 course tasting menu $65
  • Every Wed. 3 course lobster dinner $39
  • Every Sun. 3 course prime rib roast dinner $39
  • Street parking
  • Lunch/Dinner
  • Le Gavroche – Review 1

**Recommendations: Duck Confit, Coquille St-Jacques, Rack of Lamb, Boeuf Bourguignon, Les Souffles for 2

This is my second post for Le Gavroche. My first visit was for a media dinner (see here) and since then I’ve been meaning to go back. The food was pretty good the first time, and exciting enough to keep me curious. There were a couple things I still wanted to try, mainly the Gateau Lili La Puce, which is apparently their famous dessert. I wanted to experience Le Gavroche as a “regular” diner so I could get a well-rounded perspective of the restaurant and provide a better report. I should note, the restaurant was still aware that I was coming in since I had to make reservations, but I can honestly say that my server didn’t know my “business” and I was treated no differently.

I’ve spent the last 2 Christmas Eve dinners at Kirin Seafood Restaurant so I wanted to switch things up this year and go French! I decided to revisit Le Gavroche for their special Christmas Eve dinner. I know it’s not exactly the best time to revisit considering it’s still not a regular night, and they were fully booked for the evening, but the menu sounded appealing and I really wanted to try that cake or “Gateau Lili La Puce”!

On this occasion we were seated in the “basement” dining area which is usually used for private bookings. The media dinner was held upstairs so I was glad to experience the atmosphere of a different room. I was very pleased with the basement dining and it was even cozier and more intimate than the upstairs. Like I mentioned in my last post, it’s like going over to someone’s house for dinner. The only thing is that this private room is a bit cluttered and it comes off as a storage room with random boxes, wine bottles, and glasses. It kind of ruins that fine dining atmosphere a bit, but on the whole it does suit that vintage French fine dining feel.

This is the cake that determined where my Christmas Eve Dinner was going to take place. The website says: “Amongst the finest desserts served, “Madame’s” Lili Cake is a patisserie triumph unequaled anywhere.” Keep reading to see what I thought about it.

The experience was different from the media dinner, but not in a good or bad way. I mean this time around I did have to pay for it, but it didn’t affect the overall experience considering even when it’s complimentary I always write from a perspective of a paying customer. Anyways, what I can say is that I tried most of the highlights at the media dinner, which is a given, but there was still more to be discovered since the menu is pretty big. It offers a “Classics” French menu and a “Creations” French menu, which are twists on French classics.

For Christmas Eve, La Gavroche was offering a 3 course menu and a 5 course menu. My intentions were to order the 5 course menu the whole time, but that was until they told me that the regular menu was also available for the evening. That was an immediate change of plans on my side. More often than not, I will always order from a regular menu because most the items and recipes are usually tried, tested, and true. I find the food is better than a “mass produced” price fixe menu, although it does end up being pricier. I just find the regular menu is more representable of the restaurant and what they can really do. I also want YOU to be able to try it at your next visit… so I want to make sure I’m trying dishes that are always available.

From my two visits, I can say that if I stick to my recommended items, I can have a very delicious and satisfying experience at Le Gavroche. My experience the second time was just as pleasant, and for that reason I have even increased my “food rating” by .5! But thank goodness I ordered from their regular menu or I would have been disappointed and even subtracted a point. However under the circumstances, I’m going to let it be. The ambiance made up for the some of the food and my dishes were clear winners and worth the revisit. After this dinner I actually went to Ramen Sountaka… not that I was still hungry, but it was just around the corner… oh god I was so full!

On the table:

Complimentary Bread

  • This was better than I remember it being.
  • It was warm, crusty, and soft and chewy on the inside. It was actually a very enjoyable baguette.

Mince Meat Tarte – 2/6

  • This was the l’amuse bouche and it wasn’t bad, but it was served cold.
  • It was crispy sheets of filo pastry stuffed with shredded pork, apples, raisins and whole cranberries. I could taste some cinnamon and I liked the savoury and sweet contrast, but it wasn’t really a big deal. It was a bit dried out, but it was only the amuse bouche so it’s okay. It was fitting for the occasion.

Baked Onion Soup (Regular menu) – n/a

  • $12
  • This was brought to us by accident. I didn’t think it was the “seafood terrine” we had ordered. I took a picture, but I didn’t try it, although I was tempted to. It smelt delicious!
  • It’s on their regular menu so I might go back to try it. It’s a big portion, but it should be because it’s $12, which I find pretty expensive for French Onion Soup.

Winter Squash Soup, Duck Confit Dumplings (Christmas menu)1/6

  • It was incredibly bland and watered down unfortunately. It actually tasted like 50% water and 50% squash soup.
  • The dumplings reminded me of Chinese wontons and I couldn’t tell it was duck confit. The filling seemed and tasted like regular ground pork.

Seafood Terrine (Christmas menu) 3/6

  • Seafood terrine, grilled scallop, lobster brandy sauce.
  • The scallops were only seared on one side which really bothers me. They were good though, but not very seasoned.
  • Everything was generally lightly seasoned and the lobster brandy sauce wasn’t strong enough. I actually thought it was tomato sauce.
  • The terrine was pretty good and it had nice layers of potato, salmon, shrimp and I think some scallops. It reminded me of scalloped potatoes with seafood.

Escargots, Frogs Legs, Roasted Garlic Sauce (Regular menu)4/6

  • $16 (It’s a 2 part dish)
  • Escargot 3/6
    • I decided to go classic French with my entire order. What better way to start than with this traditional appetizer.
    • The escargots was not bad, but not great. The best ones I’ve had in Vancouver to date are from Salade de Fruits Cafe – see here.
    • The sauce was a tangy melted butter sauce with some white wine and parsley and I just prefer the standard garlic and butter sauce.
    • The escargots were a little chewy and rubbery from being slightly overcooked and they lost some of that shellfish flavour as well. Good, but not great.

  • Frogs Legs – 4/6
    • A French and also Chinese delicacy. I enjoyed the frogs legs more than I did the escargots.
    • It’s not my first time eating frogs legs, but I also don’t have it often. I’ll assume they’re frozen because they usually are, but good thing they don’t taste frozen.
    • In France it’s common for frogs legs to be lightly breaded and fried, but I’m glad they didn’t do that here. I find that takes away from the frogs legs.
    • Frogs legs taste like incredibly slippery (not slimy), tender and mild chicken. It’s lean and the texture and flavour is a chicken wing meets scallops. Unless you’re familiar with the anatomy you would probably think it’s a chicken wing.
    • It was topped with juicy Portobello mushrooms and a light garlic and mushroom gravy which needed to be more reduced. However the flavour was still good and it didn’t overpower the flavour of the frogs legs.

Palette Cleanser – Lemon Sorbet (Regular menu) – 4/6

  • Fine details like this is what I love about Le Gavroche.
  • They gave us a palette cleanser at the media dinner, so I was praying that it wasn’t a “special favour” – and it wasn’t! I was so happy. I think it comes standard if you order an appetizer and entree for any of their dinners.
  • It’s an elegant touch to a classic French restaurant and it makes all the difference in terms of completing the meal as well as the experience.
  • It was icy, tangy, yet sweet and very refreshing and served in a frosted glass. It looked a bit milky in texture and was white in colour, but it should be dairy free.
  • I could have used more lemon zest in it, and they offer a lemon sorbet and lemon Vodka on their regular dessert menu for $8.50.

Roasted Sablefish (Christmas menu) – 3/6

  • Roasted sablefish, lobster emulsion
  • This wasn’t anything amazing. It was good, but quite old fashioned and regular. It was also Sablefish, which is pretty much impossible to ruin. I did like how it had a crispy pan fried skin on the bottom though. It was decently seasoned and moist (which Sablefish always is anyways).
  • I couldn’t tell that the sauce was a lobster emulsion and it tasted like a buttery tomato sauce. It’s pretty much the same sauce they had on the seafood terrine, but even lighter.
  • I wasn’t a fan of the rice which came off as Uncle Ben’s and the thin sauce just made it taste like Western congee.

Turkey (Christmas menu) – 2.5/6

  • Turkey – Port marinated breast, turkey leg, smoked bacon, and walnut stuffing
  • This sounded and looked better than it actually was. It was originally the main I had my eye on, considering it was Christmas Eve dinner. However I still tried a decent amount of it.
  • It was a huge portion and made for carnivores. For fine dining Le Gavroche is pretty generous with their portions.
  • The veggies were nice and tender and there was also a small side of creamy scalloped potatoes with a nice cheesy baked crust.

  • The turkey was dry and the stuffing tasted like a dry crumbly mixture of fresh bacon bits, breadcrumbs, and perhaps some minced carrots and pieces of walnuts. It was a bit too bitty for me and it had a Cajun like spice with lots of smoky flavours.
  • The turkey was wrapped in thick bacon strips, but it wasn’t crispy. It was actually more like slices of ham, but it was smoky again.
  • The sauce didn’t do too much and there wasn’t exactly enough, and/or it wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the amount of turkey. Since it was dry, it required even more sauce. It was just a simple red wine meat gravy, but nothing memorable.


**Boeuf Bourguignon (Regular menu) – 5/6

  • Boeuf Bourguignon, Blue Goose Farm, Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes $25
  • For my main I decided to go with another classic French dish to match my appetizer.
  • This was delicious! It was an ample portion and it was very traditional. Every time I order a boeuf bourguignon I’m reminded of Julie & Julia. I even got to eat this beside a fireplace too! It was perfect, however I would recommend doing a wine pairing with this.
  • I can’t say I was impressed with the red wine gravy, but I was floored by the execution of the beef itself.
  • The beef was beef brisket and it’s melt in your mouth tender. The gelatinous parts were not chewy or tough, but just buttery and soft.
  • It was literally falling apart with every chunk I picked up. Browning it first, and slowly braising it for hours on low temperature is the only way to do this. Amazing. Each shred of beef was dangling by a thread of tender fat, but it wasn’t overly fatty either. It was just a well marbleized beef brisket and I barely had to chew it. The beef itself was a 6/6!
  • I got most of the flavour from the beef, not from the sauce. I could actually barely taste the intensity of the sauce and it had some sweeter Shiitake mushrooms and carrot flavourings, but the red wine just seemed so muted, making it a very mediocre. Most the “sauce” came from the pure juicy natural meat drippings in the actual pieces of beef.
  • The texture of the mashed potatoes was excellent. It was a creamy piped Russet mash, however it was a bit bland and I couldn’t taste much roasted garlic either.
  • I haven’t ordered this hearty French comfort food dish anywhere else in Vancouver except for Burgoo, so, having said that it’s my favourite right now, but I know it can get better.

Desserts

All the desserts are made in house. They’re all traditional French desserts and they actually have quite a selection. It’s decent enough that I would come back just for desserts and drinks.

Chocolate Pot De Creme (Christmas menu) – 1.5/6

  • Chocolate, Orange, Cayenne Pot De Creme
  • I’m not a big fan of chocolate pot de creme because it’s just too much of one thing for me. It’s pretty much a chilled cooked custard (a creme brulee without the crust).
  • I could definitely taste the orange, but not the cayenne or any heat for that matter. It was pretty dense, thick and overly sweet. It was  almost to the point of ganache and it was too much like eating a solidified chocolate orange truffle.
  • I’m also not a fan of chocolate and orange, so this dessert was just not for me. But if you like very thick chocolate orange custard, you’ll probably like this.

**Christmas Fruit Souffle (Christmas menu) – 5.5/6

  • They should just call this a pot of hot bubbly deliciousness!
  • They offer a “Les Souffles” for 2 people on their regular menu for $8.50, and knowing that… I would most definitely come back for this!
  • Souffles are ambitious, so I give credit to any restaurant that offers it.
  • Oh my god. Play the Usher song now! I loved this! It was huge and definitely enough for two people, but I could eat the whole thing by myself. It’s incredibly light and airy and it’s so easy to eat. The only thing I was missing was a creme anglaise! (Hence the 5.5/6 rather than 6/6).
  • It wasn’t as high or as poofy as the souffle from Hasting House Country House Hotel, but the topping was amazing! They dusted the topping with sugar and let it brown so it got all caramelized and crispy, not crunchy. It formed a tender creme brulee crust with little granular sugar crystals that instantly dissolved and melted on your tongue.

  • Then the inside! Oh the inside! It was just as enjoyable! It was a light, fluffy, airy cloud of souffle and then upon piercing the cloud was a  hot liquid stream of creamy bubbly foam, and custardy soup!
  • There was an egg flavour to the custard and the cake was so moist and the foamy river just kept oozing. I actually didn’t even miss the anglaise as I was eating it. I couldn’t stop! It was delightful!
  • It wasn’t too sweet at all and the bottom was little bits of candied fruit (which I hate) and raisins (which I like), but together in this souffle I loved! There were also walnuts at the bottom! Bonus! It was lovely!
  • The combination of airy custard with airy cake, crispy sugar crust, crunchy walnuts, and bits of candied fruit was super exciting for my palette. It all worked so well and was the perfect way to end off a Christmas Eve dinner.

Yes! Don’t think I forgot about the reason for coming…

Gateau Lili La Puce (Regular menu)2/6

  • Flourless almond & meringue layer cake $8.50
  • Yes it was a 2/6. 🙁 I ate it because it was there.
  • This little piece of Gateau Lili La Puce was my main reason for coming here. It was HIGHLY anticipated and I even thought it would make it on my 2010’s Best Dessert list in Vancouver, but unfortunately it was a no go. I’m as sad as you are… except you didn’t have to pay for it! Lol j/k!
  • Apparently the recipe for this cake has been here since the restaurant opened in 1979!
  • It’s also emphasized on their website: “Amongst the finest desserts served, “Madame’s” Lili Cake is a patisserie triumph unequaled anywhere“, so you can’t blame me for expecting a 30+ year old recipe to be out of this world. But honestly, I didn’t enjoy it and I’ve had my eye on it since my first visit at Le Gavroche.
  • I love almonds and the almond layers tasted like pure ground almonds and almond slices. However I could have used some almond extract or Amaretto to heighten that flavour up. The almond flavour needed to be developed because it’s an ingredient that needs help if used in desserts. It wasn’t that sweet at all and it was almost flaky and reminded me of a napoleon, but I prefer a napoleon.
  • The “meringue” part tasted like pure salted butter. It was really not good. It wasn’t baked so there’s no crispiness and it’s very waxy and literally the texture of a stick of butter from the fridge so it wasn’t fluffy or creamy either. It was even salty rather than sweet. I would call it a butter, not even a butter cream, and definitely not the flavour or texture of meringue.
  • I’d definitely come back for their souffle, but unfortunately not this cake. If you don’t have a sweet tooth there’s a possibility you would enjoy this more.

I was very full, but after all this I actually went to Ramen Santouka for Christmas Eve dinner #2! 😉

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