L’Abattoir (Revisited/Updated)

Restaurant: L’Abattoir
Cuisine: French/West Coast/Pacific Northwest/Eclectic
Last visited: December 18, 2011
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: FMF Must Try!

Food: 5
Service: 4
Ambiance: 4.5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • French-West Coast cuisine
  • Innovative/creative cuisine
  • Seasonal/local menu
  • Casual fine dining
  • Sophisticated, but not stuffy
  • Moderately priced
  • Award winning
  • Popular for cocktails
  • Full wine bar
  • Nut free restaurant
  • Late night hot spot
  • Reservations recommended
  • Monday – Saturday 5:30pm – 10:00pm
  • Bar service until midnight
  • L’Abattoir – Post/Visit 1
  • Joe Beef at L’Abattoir (Guest Chef Series)

**Recommendations: Poached Egg with Burgundy Truffle, Pan Fried Veal Sweetbreads on Toast, Hanky Panky Cocktail, Confit of Albacore Tuna, Raw Pacific Oysters, Poached Egg, Caramelized Bananas

If you’re invested in Vancouver’s food scene, it’s likely that you’ve tried one of Gastown’s favourite and most raved about restaurants. L’Abattoir opened July 2010 and was recently named one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants of 2011 by EnRoute Magazine. I don’t know what their definition of a year is… but, sure. Joining this Top 10 list is also  Hawksworth Restaurant and Van Horne in Montreal which I checked out a couple months ago – see here. Anyways I paid a visit to L’Abattoir earlier last year (see here), and it was time for a revisit and an update.

In a nutshell, L’Abattoir is basically the restaurant Yaletown wished they had, Main Street secretly wished they had, and Gastown is pleased to have. For non-locals that just means it’s a happening, independent, hipster, but not so hipster restaurant that is somewhat disguised as non-pretentious, but is somewhat still a bit pretentious.

It’s a nice neighbourhood restaurant for those carrying a bit of extra cash, or for those living paycheque to paycheque, but enjoy the fancy things in life. Welcome to Vancouver! Memberships are free.

It’s casual fine dining with West Coast inspired French cuisine that is more or less appropriately priced for the area and style. It’s rich for West Coast standards, but not for classic Northern French standards. The portions are slightly on the small side as expected, but it’s fresh, creative, local and well delivered.

There were a few risks and exotic meats, slight variations on similar rich sauces and creamy melt in your mouth textures in most dishes. The circular presentation and simple use of vegetables were usually used as delicate decor or pretty confetti, and I can’t help but to to think there is a slight disinterest for fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The nuts I get because chef is apparently deathly allergic, but everything is somewhat catered for a carnivorous appetite. It’s food for the metrosexual man disguised under a subtle prettiness that women would awe at and men would find sexy. Pretty sexist comment, but… yeah it’s just a pretty sexist comment.

Personally, my feelings haven’t really changed since my first visit. The food was great, but I still wouldn’t mind the envelope being pushed further especially with the name L’Abattoir which means slaughterhouse. There is still somewhat of a safeness and I just wanted it to commit even more and introduce me to new things that I’ve really never had before. It’s new and creative, but also not really a “step ahead” and I kind of expect that result at a restaurant like this. On the other hand I’d still recommend it, support it, and I appreciate it for being consistent and “pretty”.

On the table:

Joe Beef L'abattoir (1)Complimentary Bread Basket

  • It’s everyone’s favourite bread basket!
  • It’s also due to the fact that there are hardly any restaurants in Vancouver making their own bread and giving it away free.
  • It was pretty much just as I remembered, the same variety, served warm and still complimentary.
  • Anchovy Twist: This was still my favourite and most interesting for me and the anchovy flavour was much stronger than last time. It was a soft, flaky, very buttery and savoury puff pastry twist with a prominent salty anchovy flavour.
  • Bacon Brioche: It’s a soft brioche with diced bacon rolled into it and the bacon tastes more like ham. It was okay, but I still don’t find it as light, buttery or fluffy as a traditional brioche should be.
  • Sesame Crisp: The flatbread crisp tastes Indian or Middle Eastern and it was spiced with lots of smoky cumin, sesame seeds and poppy seeds, but the cumin is strongest. I liked it then and I like it now!

**Confit of Albacore Tuna5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Smoked pork fat, egg, crispy bits $13
  • Personally, that description translates to “order me”.
  • This is one of their permanent menu items and I’ve had it in the past too.
  • 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, creamy and savoury melt in your mouth piece of tuna.
  • The whole piece of tuna was marinated with a lemon herb sauce on top, which I didn’t take too much notice of last time, but it was more apparant this time. It helped ease the richness of the fish.
  • There were salty crispy cubes of airy light juicy pork fat that played their role as croutons! This idea is also being used at Hapa Umi too now – see their Tonkatsu Caesar.
  • 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 as the crunchy as the “cracklings” 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.
  • 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, but in a good way.
  • 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 arugula and tanginess helped balance it out.

**Poached Egg with Burgundy Truffle 5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Potato gnocchi, leeks, pecorino $18
  • If there’s a poached egg being served at dinner, it’s likely it’ll be on my table.
  • Last time I had their Poached Egg – Smoked potato, red onion marmalade, potato granola which I preferred even more than this one, but this one was still excellent.
  • It’s a hot appetizer and the size isn’t enough as a main, but the flavours, textures and components certainly are.
  • The description sounded rich and hearty and so did the presentation. This was comfort food.
  • I’m a lover of rich foods, but even this was hard for my heart.
  • The concept sounded almost over decadent (if there’s such a thing) with potato gnocchi, a rich, creamy, thick sauce, and last, but not least topping it all with an egg.
  • It was serious business and heavy food.

  • Oh god yes. The poached egg seemed sous vide and it was perfect with the white part being bubbly and fluid the pool of yolk being ultra runny giving the dish another layer of sauce. It could join my Egg Yolk Series.
  • The gnocchi was topped with a super creamy thick sauce that was almost like a hybrid of hollandaise, béarnaise, pommes puree, and truffle mayo. It was heavy and as thick as pudding.
  • The egg yolk actually helped thin out the creamy sauce, so that just tells you how thick it was. It wasn’t thick enough to hold up a fork, but it was almost like melted mashed potatoes.
  • The gnocchi was such a heavy choice of pasta to use and it was more of a creamy gnocchi than a fluffy one. A gnocchi is needed to hold this sauce though.
  • They were lightly pan fried, but not really crispy and they were moist and good, but just super rich with the sauce and runny egg.
  • It would’ve been nice if the gnocchi was made with some nettle or basil to give it that freshness.
  • It didn’t have the authentic fork ridges which is an aesthetic I appreciate, but can overlook.
  • As for the gnocchi itself, the best gnocchi I’ve had is still from Federico’s – see Gnocchi Pomodoro.
  • Thank goodness for the crispy leeks to give it some texture and I actually wouldn’t mind some deep fried capers, a drizzle of balsamic, or something tangy to help break up the textures and flavours even more.
  • I’m a bit curious to see how that sauce would have turned out had it been a silky smooth cauliflower and celeriac root puree with a bit thinner texture.
  • There was a hint of truffle oil (I think), and then shaved Burgundy truffle on top.
  • For $18 it would be nice to get the truffle shaved at table side, but this was still good.
  • I wouldn’t mind more of the pecorino since I totally forgot it was in there and couldn’t taste it.
  • If anything I would say it had a cheesy texture, but not flavour and it’s such a strong cheese to start with.
  • It was no doubt a delicious dish if you have a palate for creamy rich foods.

L'abattoir**Pan Fried Veal Sweetbreads on Toast6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Sauce gribiche with veal tongue $14
  • Well hello there. There is a major lack of love for sweetbreads in Vancouver, so I was pleased to see these on the menu. Yes please!
  • This was probably my favourite thing of the night.
  • It was a thin and crispy grilled brioche toast spread with a layer of sauce gribiche (an egg salad, pickles and smashed caper spread that almost tastes like egg salad and tartar sauce) mixed with minced veal tongue, topped with pan fried sweetbreads, shallots, chives and drizzled with a syrupy sweet and tangy demi glace or pan jus.
  • There were so many things going on and it was again quite rich and heavy so I wouldn’t want any bigger than this.
  • The egg salad spread (sauce gribiche) made this even more filling than it already was with 3 sweetbreads laid over top.
  • The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the execution of the sweetbreads.
  • The sweetbreads weren’t very crispy and they were quite meaty rather than pillowy, creamy and light.
  • I loved the crunchy textures and creamy spread and there was a nice pickled flavour going on and the sweetness came from the demi glace.
  • Everything was just super saucy and it had a good amount of fresh parsley to give it aromatics.
  • The veal tongue was almost a waste though because I couldn’t taste it and it just felt a bit pointless.
  • The veal tongue I tried by itself, and alone it was ultra tender like tofu but I just wanted more presence from it.
  • If the veal tongue was shaved and placed on top of the toast, that might have done it. With the egg salad it would almost be a bit Russian.
  • I was imagining this with a mini sous vide quail’s egg on top of each sweetbread… oh god, see I told you I had a rich palate.
  • Not comparable, but if you like sweetbreads, the best one I’ve had to date is the Coffee Glazed Sweetbread from Le St-Urbain.

Steak Diane5/6 (Excellent)

  • Charred onions, potato fondant, peppercorn condiment $27
  • I rarely order steaks unless I’m at a steakhouse. It takes 10 minutes to make and if you have a good supplier it’s something I can make at home.
  • On the other hand, this steak was impressive for what it was and I could see it’s value.
  • Steak Diane or sexy Diane? The sleek black slate it was presented on just made the dish look even more stylized than it was.
  • The way it was plated almost looked like it was meant to be shared, so I took half.
  • The filet mignon was sous vide and the fat was well marbelized, but it was still a bit chewy and not as tender as it tasted or looked. I think it might have been just the quality of the filet mignon.
  • It was bright pink and since it’s sous vide it comes medium rare.
  • It was good, but not an excellent quality steak.
  • So instead of a traditional salt and pepper crust, or steak rub, there was a pile of peppercorns. It had to be executed this way since it was sous vide.
  • The pieces were topped with a variety of crunchy and nutty deep fried peppercorns so it was very aromatic, fruity from the pink peppercorns and then spicy with a flavourful peppery heat.
  • It would be great if there were some fried juniper berries as well because I always find that to be an amazing match with all red meats.
  • It came with a syrupy well reduced demi glace or red wine reduction. It was sweet, tangy and savoury and it tasted the same as the one drizzled on the sweetbreads.
  • I prefer potato fondant to frites and onion rings, so I was on board.
  • The potato fondant was exactly how a potato fondant should be.
  • It had a shallow cut which allowed it to get crispy and creamy during the confit process. It was creamy and buttery and not dry or noticeably pre-made.
  • It would be interesting to have a bit of deep fried panko crumbs or crispy onions to mimic a deconstructed onion ring though.
  • The grilled onions were caramelized and charred and they sat on top of a creamy and rich onion and thyme gel which tasted like an herby bechamel.
  • The onion and thyme gel almost tasted like a sweet velvety smooth pommes puree meets a creamy rich bechamel and it was one of the highlights of the entire meal.
  • It had that je ne sais quoi since the thyme was infused and not actually visible, but when you knew it was thyme, you really knew it was thyme.
  • The onion and thyme gel just neutralized the peppercorns and it was almost the “mashed potatoes” to the steak. They added a richness which couldn’t and wouldn’t want to be denied.
  • I would have loved another vegetable like green beans or golden beets for colour as well.
  • The last component was a bone marrow croquette.
  • 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.

Boneless Quail and Crispy Chicken Sausage Roll4/6 (Very good)

  • Roast foie gras, mushrooms, cauliflower $27
  • The portion for this looks quite small, but it is quite rich. Foie gras? Yes please!
  • I had a hard time figuring out what direction it was going in even though it was presented in a streamline.
  • I’m quite  indifferent about this dish because parts of it worked and parts of it were hard to understand.
  • It showcased 3 types of birds which included chicken, duck, and quail.
  • I almost wanted 3 types of duck, like a confit leg, rillette or pate, and foie gras. I would have been all over that!
  • The veggies were pan fried chanterelles and simple cauliflower florets and I was hoping for a bit more colour from maybe fava beans and love for the veggies in general. I do love golden chanterelles though and I appreciated them there.
  • I just couldn’t find the thread with all the components and it just seemed slightly random and separate.

  • The quail was executed like their Loin of Rabbit Stuffed with its Legs dish.
  • It was cooked medium rare and the inside was a bit gelatinous and chewy, but I still enjoyed it more or less.
  • The quail was very tender, but a tad fatty and it was drizzled with the same demi glace, or slight variation of the ones served with the sweetbreads and Steak Diane.
  • Again I saw another rich, creamy and velvety bechamel like sauce, but this time it tasted like a cauliflower puree with a bit of lemony tang. It was slightly different, but almost the same as the onion and thyme gel from the Steak Diane.

  • Foie gras should always be the star of the show if it’s on the plate, so I found it a bit under appreciated as a “chopstick holder” for the cigar wrapped chicken roll.
  • The foie gras was a fair portion and it was simply pan seared, which I think is fantastic!
  • However I wanted it served with either some sweet fruit puree or over a bed of sliced pears or apples.
  • I was also looking for something acidic to help cut the richness of it, so something pickled would have been great.
  • The foie gras was good as it normally is, but I just felt like there was more room for it to be showcased in a better light.
  • The chicken sausage roll was my least favourite of the trio, and I wasn’t keen on this component.
  • It was almost like a pureed chicken meatball and it seemed steamed and almost the texture of spongy tofu or a light omelette and it was perhaps heavy on the egg.
  • It didn’t taste like chicken and in the context of a crispy spring roll I was quite lost.
  • If it was stuffed with duck sausage, duck rillette, or some veal chicken and pork sausage that might have done it.
  • I’m not sure if they wanted a light component to go with the rich and buttery foie gras, but I just found it a bit out of place.

Pork Shoulder Cooked in Milk4/6 (Very good)

  • Turnips, salsa verde $25
  • See! Again! The pretty confetti of simply treated veggies. In this case it was with baby turnips and a couple pearl onions.
  • It was a fairly large portion, at least out of the mains, but I felt like it was missing a component or extra ingredient.
  • I was told it was a rich and hearty dish… well then, that’s pretty much perfect.
  • However it wasn’t as rich as I was imagining and it didn’t have a rich creamy bechamel like sauce like everything else had.
  • It did have an herb oil and syrupy sweet, salty and tangy pan jus or demi glace again though.
  • One of my favourite parts of this dish was actually the kale.
  • There was some sauteed kale and they were super juicy! They completely absorbed all the sauce as if it were bread.

  • I ditched my knife with the pork.
  • The two chunks of pork shoulder were extremely tender and I was curious what would happen if they used coconut milk. This was just regular milk though.
  • It doesn’t taste like milk or anything, but milk just helps with the tenderization of the meat.
  • The pork didn’t have a particular flavour, spice, or herb besides the sauce it was served in and the salsa verde.
  • The pork was melting as I shredded it with my fork and it was a beautiful thing.
  • It wasn’t too fatty or lean and it was incredibly moist and juicy.
  • It was topped with a significant amount of salsa verde which was strong with tangy smashed capers, cilantro, mint, vinegar and onions.
  • The salsa verde was really sharp and acidic and I found it a bit too acidic and strong.
  • I almost wanted an avocado puree or compressed yogurt to help neutralize the tangy salsa verde.
  • There was a bit of chili flake in it too, but it wasn’t spicy and very mild in heat.
  • It ended up really overwhelming the pork and I kept just tasting salty capers and tangy vinegar and the pork wasn’t that rich to need that much contrast.
  • The pork was great, but the salsa verde was only okay with the pork.
  • I wouldn’t mind swapping some shaved turnips for a few shaved radishes for the extra spice too.
  • Personally, my favourite pork dish of the season (probably the richest too) is the Pork Confit Shoulder at Hawksworth Restaurant.

Desserts

What!? Where are they? I know. I know. They sounded amazing and the table next to me had this pear tart for 2 that looked heavenly, but I had reservations at CinCin for dessert. I planned on making a major dent in their dessert menu since they recently got a new pastry chef after Thierry opened Thierry. So no worries, I passed here, but I didn’t forget to balance my diet.

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