Cuisine: French/West Coast/Pacific Northwest/Eclectic
Last visited: February 12, 2011 **Updated post here
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown/Downtown)
Address: 217 Carrall Street
Train: Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain
Price range: $30-50 ($25-28 Mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
- French-West Coast cuisine
- Innovative/creative cuisine
- Popular for cocktails
- Casual fine dining
- Sophisticated, but not stuffy
- Moderately priced
- Award winning
- Full wine bar
- Nut free restaurant
- Late night hot spot
- Reservations recommended
- Monday – Saturday 5:30pm – 10:00pm
- Bar service until midnight
- Dinner post 2 – Revisited/Updated
**Recommendations: Hanky Panky Cocktail, Confit of Albacore Tuna, Raw Pacific Oysters, Poached Egg, Poached Egg with Burgundy Truffle, Pan Fried Veal Sweetbreads on Toast, Steak Diane, Caramelized Bananas
Ahhh L’Abattoir. The Labatory. Or does it mean The Lavatory? French is not my forté… oh look at that! So maybe it is! Anyways L’Abattoir actually means the slaughterhouse. It’s probably been one of Vancouver’s most raved about restaurants since it opened summer last year. My expectations for it were extremely high since it almost made every single top restaurant list of 2010, but mine (see mine here). Well I hadn’t tried it until this visit, so there’s no way I could have included it, but I’m seriously considering one of the dishes for my 2011 list. So what else is there left to say if everything’s already been said? Well if you’re on here, then lots!
L’Abattoir is located in Gastown, in downtown Vancouver, and it serves innovative cuisine with West Coast flavours and French techniques. It’s casual fine dining, approachable, and reminded me of a contemporary French bistro. I was expecting the food to be heavier and meatier, but it was rather mild, light and catered to West Coast tastes and style. It actually really reminded me of Chambar in many aspects, but slightly more affordable. Chambar is one of my favourite restaurants too and that’s a sentence I rarely say.
Nonetheless I was not disappointed even given how high my expectations were going in. The food portions are a bit small as expected, but the value is there and the prices are justified from a “foodie” stand point. I honestly don’t think they’re charging more than what they have to and I really respect restaurants that do that.
The team they have here is pretty damn strong. I immediately caught notice of the set up, relatively huge kitchen and kitchen staff, which was unexpected for a rather narrow and mid-sized restaurant (typical of Gastown). There’s a heavy investment in the food, and I could taste the passion that went into making it too. With “Bartender of the Year” Shaun Layton as head barman, and Chef Lee Cooper in the kitchen, I was expecting some serious culinary magic.
Chef Cooper’s background includes some of the most notable fine dining restaurants and he was also a finalist in the Bocuse d’Or competition (see my 2011 Bocuse d’Or post). As I waited for my table I grabbed a drink at the bar and with some casual chit chat I also learned that Chef Cooper was allergic to nuts, so it’s interesting to know that the whole restaurant is nut free.
The food itself is predominantly West Coast with lots of fusion of flavours and use of fresh ingredients and herbs. Although the food was calorie heavy (not that I care), and the menu calls out exotic meat and game, it actually didn’t taste as rich as I expected. I have a hard time trying to figure out his style because it was literally and figuratively all over the map, with a very eclectic taste. He did introduce me to new flavours and I did appreciate his attention to creamy and crispy textures. I was intrigued by a few dishes, but also not blown away by all of them, however at least it offers up something different to the Vancouver scene.
The menu was adventurous for Vancouver standards, although in the greater scheme of things I would love to see the envelope being pushed further. With slaughterhouse more or less in the name, I think I came in thinking it was going to be a softer French version of Incanto in San Francisco (see my post here), but I don’t think Vancouver is ready yet. Or is it? Overall L’Abattoir is still a great experience for any food, wine and cocktail enthusiasts and I understand the hype. It’s a well rounded and elegant restaurant that Vancouver needed ages ago, and I am looking forward to my next visit.
Added note: Call me paranoid, but just in case, I’m not rating the service because Vancouver is a small world and my camera can give it away sometimes. I also backed off using Twitter and I just want to ensure my integrity of coming from a neutral perspective, or as neutral as can be. The meal was completely paid for.
On the table:
- Gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca, Orange twist $9
- I’m just starting to explore the world of cocktails, so I don’t really want to rate it.
- However I’m calling this man candy. It’s not an original Shaun Layton drink, but it is fresh to the Vancouver scene.
- It’s pretty damn delicious considering it’s not something I would order without the recommendation.
- It’s sweet like candy with a nice citrus to balance it out. There’s a slight bitterness, but it’s aromatic and the texture of the drink was great. It was thick and caramelized yet balanced with Gin so it still wasn’t too dessert-like.
- Great starter or even after dinner cocktail.
- Cognac, maraschino, house made orgeat, lemon, aromatic bitters, bubbles, sugar rim $12
- This is a Shaun Layton original. Again, I’m not rating it because I’m still getting familiar with cocktails.
- I thought I would hate this drink because I’m not a fan or cognac or maraschino.
- It reminded me of an orange creamsicle, but not as sweet. There was a slight creaminess from the almonds coming from the orgeat.
- It was fruity, more bitter than floral, but still aromatic. It’s not as sweet as the Hanky Panky, and I liked that one better.
- I sensed the love already! Homemade breads and just the right amount, it’s bread you don’t mind filling up a bit on.
- Anchovy Twist: Delicious! It was a soft, flaky, and savoury puff pastry twist with a slight fishiness in the aftertaste. My favourite of the breads.
- Brioche: It tasted okay, but I wasn’t a fan of it as a brioche because it wasn’t as light, buttery or fluffy as brioche should be. It was more like a croissant in flavour and it just wasn’t a classic brioche texture.
- Sesame Crisp: This was almost like an Indian crisp or a modern take on papadums. It was spiced with lots of smoky cumin and it was more Indian tasting than sesame tasting. I liked it!
- Smoked pork fat, egg, crispy bits $13
- I stopped reading after I saw “confit”. Anything “confit” is usually on my table.
- If salads were this exciting all the time I would order them a lot more often.
- It was an ultra buttery rich and creamy savoury melt in your mouth piece of tuna and then there were salty crispy cubes of airy light pork fat that played their role as croutons! The pork cracklings held their oils so eaten with the tuna it gave juicy salty bites that enhanced the smokiness in the tuna.
- These crispy cubes of pork fat aren’t as intense or good as the crunchy “crackling” ones from Meat & Bread, but they’re different style and they sure do its job in this dish regardless.
- The flavour was so well developed via cooking methods and the textures were fantastic.
- There was a thick tangy lemon aioli on the side that just added to the tuna’s buttery texture and the tang just helped bring out the fish’s natural flavour. The dish didn’t even really need much of it though. There was also a drizzle of a lemon herb sauce on top, which I didn’t take too much notice of.
- The egg was actually interpreted as white cubes, and the texture was like marshmallows. It could have been made with egg whites and they were a bit spongy like soggy bread. I think a quail’s egg would have been nice, but I also think the yolks may have been used to develop the richness in the lemon aioli it was served with.
- As rich as it was, it didn’t feel heavy and the wild greens helped balance it out.
- Mushroom and marrow croquettes $15
- This was another very creative dish. I liked the concept and plating, but I expected more from the croquettes.
- I wasn’t expecting to see the oysters out of their shells either, but it worked with what they were doing.
- The mushroom was almost like mushroom carpaccio. It was thinly sliced, silky and slippery sweet mushrooms and it reminded me of Abalone mushrooms or even thinly sliced scallops. It enhanced the seafood aspect of the dish and the raw oysters matched the mushroom texture with little contrast.
- The croquettes weren’t that great for me, but they did have this dipping sauce that tasted like an oyster infused aioli. I’m a bit indifferent on that because creamy things that taste fishy… isn’t exactly appetizing…
- The croquette had a crispy Panko exterior and the inside was almost like a very finely minced rice pilaf with what seemed and tasted like rice, mushrooms, parsley, onions, and chestnuts.
- I was hoping for more of the meaty marrow flavour to come through and I would have preferred a bone marrow risotto croquette instead. It wasn’t dry, but it was mealy and I think creamy would have been great.
- Yes, a creamy croquette rather than having a creamy aioli to dip them in would have been great.
- Crème fraiche, horseradish, dumplings $10
- Meatballs please.
- This was very Eastern European in concept, and it’s pretty much borscht. It reminded me of Ukrainian or Polish food, but with West Coast twists.
- I could smell the tang of it immediately. The server said it was topped with a dollop of homemade ricotta, but I’m pretty sure he meant crème fraiche.
- When Ukrainian people have red beet soup at home they often have it with a scoop of sour cream, so it wasn’t really anything new for me (I’ve had lot of authentic, home cooked & restaurant style borscht). I couldn’t taste the horseradish and I was excited about that part.
- I really love beets and this just didn’t do it for me. The broth was more tangy than sweet and then there were diced beets, onions, celery and I think either turnip or potatoes in it too. It was aromatic, but lacked flavour. It needed some strength from a meat stock or just a more seasoned stock.
- The meatballs were the only redeeming factor and it was where most of the flavour was. They actually tasted Indian or Middle Eastern and I think there was cumin in it. It was an interesting and unexpected flavour with borscht and crème fraiche, but it didn’t really do anything for the meatballs, but perhaps add moisture.
- The dumplings were very weak. It was pretty much all dough and it tasted raw. It was the texture and flavour of storing perogies in the freezer for too long and then cooking them and having them fall apart into mush, except with no filling either so they’re just bland balls of mushy dough. I really didn’t enjoy them.
- Smoked potato, red onion marmalade, potato granola $11
- ‘sdng’p;akldng!!! YES! Another dish that made me “mmmmm” the entire time. It’s a dish that I am sure to remember and would highly recommend. It’s nothing short of brilliant.
- It was a creamy, foamy, light and frothy smoked potato foam encompassing this perfectly poached egg with an ultra runny yolk.
- You break the yolk and mix it altogether and then you foodgasm… big time.
- It’s every texture you can imagine and it hits all your taste buds except for bitter and spicy. It’s honestly one of the most amazing dishes.
- The red onion marmalade was underneath the foam and it tasted like balsamic caramelized onions but they were much more tangy than they were sweet. It added a great tangy crunch to the dish and reminded me of sauerkraut.
- The runny egg yolk gave a richness to the light potato foam and it was almost like eating a whipped mousse, but then you’re hit with these sweet, tangy and savoury crispy bits of “potato granola”.
- The potato granola tasted like Dill Pickle chips mixed with honey glazed chips and it was sweet, tangy and savoury and imitated the texture of bacon bits, but the dish was meatless.
- I loved the creaminess of the egg, the light froth of the potato foam, sour crunch of onions which cut the richness of the egg, and then the crispy granola which was “the sprinkles on the ice cream”.
- At the bottom of the bowl there were tender pieces of white asparagus to give more texture along with the red onion marmalade. The white asparagus completed the dish without interfering with the stars of the show, which were the foamy potato and egg.
- The dish was creamy, light, yet rich with flavour, crispy, well textured, sweet, savoury, tangy, a tad smoky and just perfect.
- I love the concept of using runny eggs. It’s something Asians have been doing for ages! The best runny egg dishes I’ve had are the Raviolo from Chef Gino at Nove Italiano, and the “Chanterelles on Toast” from Chef Alex Tung at Tapenade Bistro. However this one is perhaps the best one to date. I want to marry it.
- Mushrooms a la greque, parsley, garlic butter $16
- This was good, but going after the poached egg was almost a disadvantage.
- Sablefish is also the most forgiving fish, so it tends to always be impressive since it’s impossible to mess up. It’s just so fatty, oily, naturally juicy, buttery and moist.
- The parsley foam was tangy from lemon and it just got completely overwhelmed by the ultra creamy, rich and garlic butter cream sauce. It should have brought more power to the dish.
- The texture and flavour of the garlic butter sauce was very unexpected and nontraditional. It wasn’t that garlicky but it was quite tangy and it tasted like a creamy aioli butter sauce mixed with creme fraiche. It wasn’t as thick as an Alfredo sauce, but I didn’t find it that outstanding and there was so much of it. I didn’t find it the ideal complement to the fish.
- The mushrooms were cooked in wine and lemon juice so they had more of a tang than a sweetness, so overall I found the dish leaning far on the tangy side without a balance of savoury and sweet.
- I would have also appreciated some type of crunch. Perhaps a well seasoned and seared crust on the fish or maybe even some honey glazed deep fried chick peas or edamame since they’re into the whole fusion thing… or even candied parsley on top. The dish was just missing something, although it was still good.
- Maybe even a simple drizzle of truffle oil could have done it.
- Squash puree, olive gnocchi, anchovy butter $24
- I forgot to take a picture before I destroyed it, and it still looks amazing!
- I started to lose the French aspect here and this was pretty West Coast with the exception of the modernized Italian gnocchi. It was an excellent dish, but a bit distant in restaurant concept.
- It came with 5 pieces of olive gnocchi. I was so excited for the olive gnocchi, but it was just okay and I think there’s more potential for it. I wish they had fork ridges as well. I found their flavour not that salty but a bit mucky.
- I love olives, but the flavour it gave was almost the flavour of why people tend to hate olives. It was mustard like instead of vibrant. It almost seemed like something was preventing the flavour to shine and perhaps a different type of olive would have worked better. It needed some Parmesan or capers or something to bring out the rich olive flavour.
- The fish itself was perfect and what gives it such a high rating surprisingly. It was crispy, moist, tender well seasoned and delicious. For some reason, as ordinary as it sounded and looked, the fish itself was better than expected.
- I loved the sweetness of the sauteed bell peppers and the sweet butternut squash puree that tasted like pumpkin. There was a hint of curry in the puree but it came unnoticed unless you looked for it, and it could have been a bit thicker in texture.
- There was also a basil vinaigrette puree and mixed with the pumpkin it almost created a sweet mint flavour.
- The basil puree wasn’t complex and perhaps a bit under seasoned, but I liked the combination with the pumpkin. It was quite strong with basil, but it wasn’t tangy and it almost seemed like there was Shiso leaf in it. It wasn’t one of those sauces that had me scraping the leftovers with the edge of my fork.
- I didn’t know how to eat the dish because everything was almost separate. It was pretty straight forward, but I found the olive gnocchi out of place. It didn’t really go well with the sauces or anything else.
- I think the anchovy butter was on the gnocchi but it wasn’t strong enough. I actually think an anchovy gnocchi would have been better or maybe even a pumpkin gnocchi. The pumpkin gnocchi with a red pepper rouille would have been fabulous.
- Chef seems to love using crème fraiche as well and although I don’t want it in every dish, I’d be interested to see it used on here because it was missing a tang, which was unusual for his style. I think this could have been mixed with the basil vinaigrette.
- Rabbit fritters, puree of prune plums, bacon $26
- For those who hesitate on trying rabbit, it tastes just like chicken. I love it.
- In this case they took the rabbit loin and wrapped it around rabbit leg, which is a darker meat so it tasted like shredded dark meat chicken. It was cooked sous vide and then wrapped around bacon before being pan fried to a crisp.
- The rabbit loin was chopped up in a mixture with parsley and I could taste some white pepper and red chili flakes. It wasn’t spicy, but there was heat. It was almost like a very textured meatball with the darker shredded meat around it and then the extra thick slice of bacon.
- The rabbit wasn’t as tender as I expected for being sous vide. It was quite gelatinous and I found myself removing bits of the chewy skin. It should have melted in my mouth.
- The puree of plums were a great idea, but the whole time I kept thinking “this would be better with duck”. It tasted like a syrupy thick sauce of smooth, sticky and sweet melted and pureed Mejoohl Dates. Perhaps there was some molasses in it, but I’m not sure.
- The rabbit fritters were made with what I think is shredded dark meat rabbit, whole grain mustard, bacon, thyme and oregano or perhaps parsley. It was more creamy and rich than the marrow fritters, but it still wasn’t that creamy.
- The fritters tasted quite meaty, rich with bacon fat flavour and also some herbs to balance it out. It was quite good with the prune sauce, but not that memorable either.
- The crispy brussel sprout leaves and baby turnips were nice, but they were a bit under seasoned. I just felt like something was missing in this dish although still very good as is.
I don’t think they have a pastry chef, but I do think they have some recently graduated or currently enrolled pastry chefs in the kitchen. That’s what I got from the desserts at least.
- Caramel parfait, crispy phyllo, rum raisin ice cream $9
- The dessert scene in Vancouver can look pretty weak, but this was something definitely worth trying! It was great because every combination worked.
- It was warm, soft, creamy, sweet caramelized bananas and then this awesome caramel parfait on the side.
- The caramel parfait was like a frozen caramel whipped cream sandwiched between two thin sheets of crispy phyllo. It was like a very light and delicate ice cream sandwich, but it wasn’t icy, but more like frozen mousse.
- It was topped with a tangy vanilla cream fraiche which contrasted the sweetness and it really worked well separately or as a unit.
- The rum raisin ice cream was the perfect compliment. It was sweet, but well balanced and I could definitely taste the rum but it wasn’t overpowering. It was full of juicy raisins that were churned with the ice cream, so the skins had broke and the flavour was throughout.
- The caramel sauce was almost like butterscotch and in many ways it reminded me of a deconstructed take on Banoffee Pie (banana and toffee pie).
- Everything went together and it really shined as an excellent dessert. It’s creative, new and it didn’t try too hard, but was still different enough to be remembered.
- Cherry apricot compote, whipped vanilla crème fraiche $10
- This reminded me of an Opera cake. It also came across as a “hotel banquet” or “hotel dessert buffet cake”, so I was expecting something a bit more. Hotel desserts can be good, but they also can be lack luster.
- I felt like it really needed a nuttiness to balance it out. I know it’s a nut free restaurant, but they could use some roasted espresso beans or coca nibs to get a similar effect.
- For me this was too “behind the times” for L’Abattoir.
- It was a sweet cake with lots of layers of flavoured butter cream and some thin white cake layers, but overall it was very “been there done that”.
- I could definitely taste the espresso and chocolate balance, but it was pretty boring in textures.
- The vanilla crème fraiche didn’t serve as much of a purpose as say a chantilly cream or a whipped vanilla mascarpone would have, or even a white chocolate and vanilla whipped mascarpone! Yum!
- I almost felt like the compote and crème fraiche were one dessert and the cake was another.
I inhaled the Bannoffee Pie, or I mean “Caramelized Bananas” too quickly so I couldn’t end on that note. BUT I knew I had a Bakery Nouveau order coming up from Seattle, so I picked up my 6 macarons, 5 cakes, and one partridge in a pear tree… actually it was just a Pear Tart, but I picked those up, headed on home and ate half of those just to write this – see my post for Bakery Nouveau.