La Brasserie

Restaurant: La Brasserie
Cuisine: German/French/Bistro
Last visited: January 26, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (West End/Robson Street/Downtown)
Address: 1091 Davie Street
Train: Yaletown-Roundhouse Stn Southbound
Price Range: $20-30+

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try

Food: 3.5-4
Service: 3
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 3.5
Additional comments:

  • Franco-German bistro
  • Comfort food
  • Neighbourhood feel
  • Cozy/sophisticated
  • Meat focused menu
  • Limited fish/vegetarian
  • Daily specials
  • 35 seats
  • European wine list
  • Great German beers
  • 30 European select beers
  • No reservations
  • Dinner Sun-Thurs. 5pm-10:30pm
  • Dinner Fri-Sat. 5pm-11:30pm
  • Brunch Sat-Sun. 11am-3pm

**Recommendations: Steak Tartare, Braised Lamb Cheeks, and the Brasserie Burger is good, but not my first choice in the city.

An honest restaurant that truly embraces what it means to be neighbourhood friendly. No reservations. Not in the Anthony Bourdain sense, but in the sense that they actually don’t accept reservations. Although it may frustrate some, it’s the type of restaurant that caters to those living in the area. The daily plate specials are another sign of welcoming those who live nearby, and it’s really a special place on the Davie strip that consists of mainly bars, diners and casual mom and pop eateries.

Opened by two brothers, this sophisticated Franco-German bistro offers a touch of class (even next to Love’s Touch adult store) in a non-pretentious context. It’s a cozy spot where solo dining feels comfortable and it’s a place to unwind at even before the weekend arrives. Sure it’s appropriate for couple dining with candlelight at each table, but with an open kitchen, no table cloth, and food to get full on, it’s a place where nobody would judge you for eating the pickles with your hand.

Speaking of judging, I did a lot of it myself this evening. I chose to sit at the bar, which is one of the best seats in the house for a foodie. It’s where all the action is, but on this occasion I couldn’t help but to cringe at some of the special requests. Steak Frites with no frites. Fish of the Day. Mushroom Ragout. And burger with no fried onions… I should end all of those with question marks, not periods.

Okay how do I say this politely? You’re at the wrong restaurant if you’re on a diet, want to eat light, or prefer seafood and/or a vegetarian. Although the menu has options for your lighter appetite, it’s not the specialty or style here. Mind you, there were a lot of orders for the “right dishes” *ahem* pork and red meat, and the rotisserie chicken isn’t to be overlooked being slowly roasted in house. On that note I would also highly recommend their Brass Chicken Sandwich offered at La Brasserie Street Food Cart.

“At first I ordered the onion tart, but when I saw them making the burger I canceled the tart and ordered the burger as my third appy… “

La Brasserie is a Franco-German bistro and I would say it’s even more German than it is French. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s about the meat and potatoes. Hearty, generous portions, made in house with fresh ingredients, it’s for people who want to eat, and that I did!

The menu is sophisticated, yet approachable and although I hoped that the mains would not exceed $20 for being that little neighbouhood bistro, the overall experience was quite valuable and pleasant. The menu has three sections, “Froid”, “Chaud” and “Plats” – in keeping with the French aspect of the Alsace Lorraine influence of the food, that is “Cold”, “Hot” and “Mains”. There is a limited selection under all three headings, which is a sign of focus and specialization.

It almost reminded me of the Les Faux Bourgeois of downtown, but again with a German edge. I was hoping to see pork knuckle braised in German beer on the menu, which would have really been representative of its German roots, but I guess it’s still somewhat catered to the safe tastes of Vancouverites. The food was more or less all enjoyable, and I wasn’t caught by surprise since I’ve tried a couple things here in the past.

I love that nothing went to waste, and although almost everything is homemade, at times it came across as flat, and “carefree” translated to a bit “careless”. It doesn’t seem like there is much rotation in the menu, so it might be reliant on what they’ve always known, which can be good, but at the same time could be better. Although La Brasserie has heart, some of the food I tried lacked passion this evening, but at least the ambiance was inviting enough to make up for it.

On the table:

Complimentary Bread & Butter

  • Warm toasted crusty baguette, caraway rye bread, butter and house made chicken rillette was a beautiful way to start a Franco-German meal.
  • I always appreciate any restaurant serving complimentary bread and butter and the rillette was a bonus and a sign of non-wasteful cooking.
  • The rillette was moist, with a few chicken chunks, not heavily seasoned, and a bit lemony with I think lemon juice and fresh thyme. It tasted like chicken salad and it was nothing fancy, but good and appreciated.

**Steak Tartare4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • $12
  • Made upon order it was a classic French steak tartare served with crunchy house made crostini, easily dressed salad and house pickled baby pickles.
  • The beef was rich, creamy and buttery, but not meaty in flavour and it was a generous amount and well priced.
  • It was finely ground and I question it being cut by hand, which is harder to find these days. This one was easily spread on toast.
  • It was marinated with a creamy dressing, a little mayo, fresh lemon juice, some mustard and I think smashed capers, minced onion and a little bit of minced pickles.
  • There was a good acidity in the tartare and some parsley and chives for herbs.
  • I have a feeling they used the same Sherry vinaigrette dressing to marinade the meat as they did to dress the salad.
  • It was a sweet lemony dressing and I wouldn’t have guessed it was sherry vinaigrette due to its thicker creamier consistency and pale yellow colour.
  • I liked the sweetness which balanced out the acidity in the tartare and I could taste the mustard and it was well seasoned.
  • I would have liked a Dijon mustard kick to it, or perhaps a little more crunch and texture since the onions and pickles were almost pureed smooth.
  • A nice drizzle of truffle oil wouldn’t hurt, and next time I would consider paying a bit more for that too.
  • I appreciated the salad to balance the heavier tartare and I did love it and would reorder it.
  • The server was attentive and noticed that I was out of crostinis with tartare still remaining. She quickly replenished me without having to ask and at no additional charge.

Baby New Potatoes Stuffed with Braised Oxtail3/6 (Good)

  • $11
  • This was actually a new introduction to the hot appetizers, but it was a bit unimaginative and under seasoned.
  • I really like oxtail, but it’s slightly acquired because it’s a bit gelatinous, rich and fatty, but not chewy if done well.
  • If done well it’s like extra fatty braised beef short ribs with an even stronger beef flavour.
  • It came with three skin on half potatoes which were tender, buttery and creamy and a bit hollowed out to fill with the braised oxtail.
  • I was hoping the potatoes would be infused with a lemon flavour to balance the richness of the meat, although I wouldn’t complain if they were confit either.
  • Essentially I just wanted more flavour from the potatoes, although they were cooked well.
  • It was substantial, but repetitive and I was hoping for either another sauce or just more seasonings because it tasted very literal.
  • The oxtail had a slightly gelatinous feel due to it natural fattiness, but there was nothing chewy about it. It was very meaty in flavour and simply sauced with its own juices and perhaps a bit of red wine and maybe even bone marrow. I couldn’t taste any other seasonings even if there were some.
  • I would have liked an herb oil, freshly grated horseradish, or even pickled pearl onions to cut the heaviness.
  • The salad was dressed with the sweet Sherry Vinaigrette, which was standard and served with almost every appetizer. I enjoyed it, but a change wouldn’t hurt.

*Brasserie Burger3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Aged white cheddar, bacon, crispy onions, truffled aioli, frites $17
  • At first I ordered the onion tart, but when I saw them making the burger I canceled the tart and ordered this as my third appy, or third main.
  • This is one of the house favourites and although it was visually appealing and good, I couldn’t taste all the ingredients it listed.
  • It’s one of the few burgers in the city that is offered medium rare. I’ll take one!
  • Intimidating? Not at all! Excited? Very! Most of it was onions and it easily squished down to a sizeable burger that was messy to eat, as burgers should be.
  • It was piled high with crispy onions and it reminded me of their Brass Chicken Sandwich offered at La Brasserie Street Food Cart.
  • It was the same buttermilk bun too, but this time around the bun was really dry and it kind of ruined the burger.
  • The chicken sandwich had the benefit of lots of gravy, so even if the bun was dry, it wasn’t noticeable.

  • There was just so much going on, and in this case a little less is more would have helped.
  • It was more medium than it was medium rare, and the patty almost tasted like a meatloaf because it was so soft.
  • The patty was pan fried rather than grilled so it didn’t have that smokey intense chargrilled flame flavour, but it was still moist, juicy and good.
  • The crispy fried onions were crispy, but not particularly salty or sweet, and I wish it had been both or at least one of them.
  • I couldn’t taste the truffle aioli, house made ketchup, aged white cheddar cheese or bacon, but they were all in there.
  • There were two strips of house made bacon, but they weren’t seasoned and I lost them under the immense amount of crispy onions.
  • The cheese was very thin so I really didn’t taste that either.
  • The lettuce was actually the salad so it was dressed in the sweet Sherry vinaigrette, but I couldn’t taste the dressing.
  • The burger was good and better than a normal burger, but for a medium rare burger I would prefer The Burger at The Oakwood Canadian Bistro.
  • Even though it’s not served medium rare, I actually like the Tap Burger at Ensemble Tap too and just found it better assembled or “ensembled”… ha!

Hand Cut Frites3/6

  • Included with the burger or $4 a la carte
  • The fries are single fried, hand cut, skins on, Kennebec potato fries.
  • They were semi crispy, short cut, easily salted, nice and creamy and good, but I wish they were all crispier.
  • It was served with a house made ketchup which was prominent with a licorice flavour and that was from the ground fennel seeds and anise. I like licorice so it didn’t bother me, but it is very strong.
  • Other great house made ketchups can be found at The Oakwood Canadian Bistro, Ensemble Tap and House Guest’s Red Eye Ketchup.

Suckling Pig 2/6 (Okay)

  • House made sauerkraut, schupfnudel $22
  • This is a house favourite, but unfortunately it didn’t deliver too well.
  • It’s comparable to an Italian porchetta or Chinese style roasted pork and there was some sort of stuffing in the middle, but too little to decipher what it exactly was. It tasted like some sort of bread crumb stuffing though.
  • My biggest issues with the pork was that the skin wasn’t crispy and the meat was quite dry, which are essentially the two biggest “taboos” for suckling pig.
  • Luckily there was a nice thick, rich, tangy and syrupy sauce which tasted like a fruity demi glace, but it still wasn’t enough to mask the dryness.
  • The crackling was a bit chewy and gelatinous rather than crunchy and sweet and it just didn’t seem very fresh and a bit premade.
  • Since the pork was so substantial and rich it was nice to have the sauerkraut alongside which was very acidic, slightly sweet and likely braised in apple cider.
  • The house made sauerkraut was also sauteed in some house made bacon, and juniper berries so there was depth in flavour although at times a bit too sour for my liking.
  • The schupfnudel is basically a German style gnocchi and it was pan fried, but not crispy.
  • It was a classic noodle that was creamy, soft and doughy, and I do like it, but it was really salty and I have a high tolerance for salt.
  • The dish was served traditionally with Dijon mustard, but the suckling pig really didn’t come together.

**Braised Lamb Cheeks (Thursday Special) – 5/6 (Excellent)

  • Served with pommes puree, winter root vegetables, carrot puree $22
  • I would actually come back on a Thursday especially for this dish. Wow. This was great comfort food.
  • If it’s a cheek, I’ll usually love it. It’s a cheap cut of meat and they made it taste $30. Brilliant.
  • It was 4 pieces of lamb cheek and it did have a slight gaminess which I’ve actually grown a bit accustomed too. It wasn’t overwhelming, but if your very sensitive to gaminess, you may be bothered.
  • The lamb cheeks were very fatty and had a naturally gelatinous texture which also made them creamy and melt in your mouth tender.
  • They were braised for 6 hours and required no knife and just shredded into pieces with a fork and I loved them!
  • They were glazed with a rich, thick, sweet and savoury syrupy lamb jus and they were incredibly hearty and rich.
  • The pommes puree was generous, but it was more like buttery smooth mashed potatoes than a pommes puree. Pommes puree should be made upon order and almost like a sauce and these were a bit stiff and more like a pile.
  • I absolutely loved the carrot and parsnip puree which was spiced with cinnamon. It was the sweetness to the dish and it was warm and comforting with the lamb.
  • The fresh root vegetables included kale, radicchio, spinach, leeks, carrots, cauliflower and parsnips and they were tender and easily seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • The leafy greens just absorbed the sauces so well and were incredibly juicy too.

Molten Chocolate Lava Cake3/6 (Good)

  • With vanilla chantilly cream and strawberry sauce $10
  • There is a daily selection of desserts, but they seemed rather uninspiring, yet classic.
  • I doubt they change and the choices were creme brulee, a lemon tart and this chocolate cake. Basically they’re things that can be premade and easy to serve, which is fine, but I still want it to deliver.
  • For $10 I didn’t think this was worth it. $10 is the price of a dessert at a fine dining restaurant and for the price it should have been a scoop of vanilla ice cream instead of vanilla chantilly.
  • Although overpriced it was made quite well and it takes about 10 minutes since they warm it up before serving.
  • The creator of the molten chocolate lava cake is supposedly Jean-Georges and I would recommend his Warm Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream ($8) at Market by Jean-Georges.

  • This was good, but as good as a warm molten chocolate lava cake usually is.
  • It wasn’t too sweet and the cake part was actually very light and fluffy and almost like a souffle.
  • It was more of a sponge cake than a fudgy brownie and the exterior was nice and crispy which I liked.
  • The molten chocolate wasn’t thick, bitter or overly sweet and I’d say it was 60-70% dark chocolate.
  • The strawberry sauce was fresh and thick, but very tart and likely from California since strawberries are out of season.
  • I know the strawberry sauce was there for tartness, but I would have just went for something else.
  • I wish there was more chantilly cream because the little dollop didn’t do much, although I was pleased to see it was made with real vanilla bean seeds.

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  • Mark says:

    I was just thinking of taking my mother to La Brasserie for her birthday…any favorite picks you would recommend? Or…shall I choose from some of the other restaurants around? Other choice is Chambar…

  • Mark says:

    …blonde moment… however in my defense, your write up didn’t show up on my computer until after I sent my comment…lol…disregard my first comment!

  • Mimi says:

    I want to eat….thanks

  • Bow says:

    I think that La Brasserie would be better served by serving mains at $14-20, rather than $20 p+, especially in this clogged restaurant/bistro/tapas bar environment; and lower the appies to $6- 8…that would be more in line with a bistro which should be less expensive than a restaurant.
    The steak tartare should be chopped, not ground and I like the traditional serving, not molded but lying flat with a araw egg in the middle. Perhaps the rouladen and the Alsation onion tart would have been better than the oxtail and suckling pig.
    Nice review. I think beer goes best with this food.

  • Linda says:

    mmmm the food here looks amazing! i went here once for brunch and i’ve heard great things about the burger! i think just by looking at your choices, i definitely would opt for 2 appetizers instead of 1 entree 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @Mark – lol no worries Mark!! Glad I can help! Happy Birthday to you mom! Lamb cheeks are memorable!!!

    @Mimi – happy to hear!

    @Bow – I agree under $20 would be a nice price point for them, however they are still busy with $22-25 mains so maybe they’re priced right. I just feel the philosophy and ambiance suits $20 if they want to be more neighbourhood friendly. Good call on the bistro distinction. Yes! Beer list is good here!

    @Linda – If I went again I’d dabble in appies more too.. I need to go back for brunch!

  • agnes says:

    MMMMmmm….. the crispy onions is really a bang on:)

  • Mijune says:

    @agnes – it totally makes the burger and it made me so sad when I heard someone say “no fried onions”… if you’re having a burger just go for the whole mile… unless that person was allergic to them.

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