“Er, where are we?” I ask my friend Paul as he pulls into the parking lot of a strip mall in what I call Little Vietnam. His girlfriend Rachel and I exchange glances. “I thought we were going to a French restaurant.”
Paul has been talking about Les Faux Bourgeois for ages–one of Vancouver’s hottest new eateries. We’ve waited for a Friday night reservation for three weeks. I look across Fraser Street to the woman standing on the corner. Is she a lady of the evening, I wonder? As we step into the little bistro with its dim lighting and worn wood floors, we are immediately transported to a Parisian neighborhood circa the Jazz Age. I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s going to be alright.
The hostess greets us with a smile and leads us to a table by the window. I happily ease myself into a bench seat. This prime piece of restaurant real estate has already made the wait for a reservation worthwhile. As I take a closer look at the decor, I note that it actually has a retro appeal. The walls are covered in wood paneling and the lamps look much like those that hung in our living room in the seventies.
There is nothing kitschy about the menu, though–simply a lineup of the best classic French country cooking you’d find in a Parisian bistro: escargots de bourgogne, steak frites, chicken pot au feu. There’s even a chalkboard listing the daily specials. Most of the entrees clock in at an average of sixteen dollars, which as surprisingly inexpensive for French food of the quality this promises to be.
I start with the Coquilles St. Jacques, the scallops in white wine sauce. I also can’t resist ordering the frisée aux lardons, since it’s the only frisée salad I’ve seen on a menu since my visit to France last year. The scallops arrive piping hot, served in the traditional shell and smothered in bubbling sauce. The sauce is smooth, rich with wine and butter and a perfect foil for the velvety scallops underneath. The portion is small but that’s okay. I’m just getting started. The salad is fresh and crisp, tossed lightly with a traditional vinaigrette, and a nice light segue to my entree of choice, the cassoulet.
Cassoulet is a rustic casserole of beans, duck, and pork sausage. It actually looks simple but requires a myriad of ingredients and at least a day to prepare–if not two–which is why I never make it at home. I cannot resist ordering it whenever I go to a French restaurant, and the cassoulet at Les Faux Bourgeois does not disappoint. As I take my first bite the crunch of the golden breadcrumb topping gives way to a silky interior that is a melding of rich and complex flavors: tomato, garlic, pork, with notes of pepper and thyme. I decide right then and there that it’s the best cassoulet that I’ve had in the city.
My friends have ordered the duck confit and the poisson du jour (fish of the day), which happens to be salmon. Everything looks so enticing that we offer to exchange bites for future reference. The duck is fall-off-the-bone tender, served on a bed of wilted greens with roast potatoes, finished with a large dollop of a sweet yet earthy sauce of veal.
The fish is seared perfectly; light and crispy on the inside, moist and fork tender on the inside. It’s accompanied by spinach in a light yet flavorful cream sauce and a side of mashed potato and root vegetables.
As delicious as my cassoulet is, the portion is large enough for two people. I’m full before I eat a third of it. However, I always have room for dessert. I order the lemon cream tart, which has a sharp, bright citrus flavor with just the right amount of sweetness in a soft and flaky shell.
I take a bite of Paul’s chocolate mousse, which is as light as spun sugar, not too sweet, with the slight edge of bitterness that comes with really good quality chocolate. These sweet treats are the perfect cap to an evening filled with wonderful food and friendly yet unobtrusive service.
Les Faux Bourgeois is located at 663 East 15th Avenue at Fraser Street in Vancouver. Reservations may be made by calling 604 873-9733. The hours are from 5:30 pm to midnight. The restaurant also serves as a cafe from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm, serving organic fair-trade coffee and specialty croissants from Thomas Haas bakery.