In the last couple of years, Vancouver has been home to a proliferation of bistro-style restaurants serving up the kind of rustic fare you might find in a French country kitchen–onion tarts, bubbling gratins, and hearty stews.  Exactly my favorite type of food. When I’m not cooking it, I’m making my way across this fair city, fork in hand, sampling the best these little French-style eateries have to offer.

Enter La Brasserie, bistro cooking with flare. Unlike its cousins Les Faux Bourgeois or Bistrot Bistro, this eatery offers French specialties with a German twist.  Sauerbrauten sits on the menu comfortably next to the steak frites, which shouldn’t be as surprising as it seems. This is exactly the kind of food you would find in Alsace, the region of France that shares a border with Germany. Fittingly enough, Alsace is also where the brasserie originated.

I had been wanting to visit La Brasserie since it opened, and finally rounded up a couple of food bloggers to come with me. It’s a small space, with only 35 seats and does not take reservations, so I met Sherman from Sherman’s Food Adventures and Kim-Kiu from I’m Only Here for the Food right after work, at 5:30. Showing up shortly after opening turned out to be a good idea. We were the first patrons of the evening but the place filled up quickly after our arrival.

I had briefly perused the menu online but as I thought about what I might order, I realized that the starters appealed to me more than the mains. There was an Alsatian onion tart, a truffle poutine, and a French onion soup gratinee–one of my favorite dishes. If you live outside of Canada, you might not have heard of poutine. It’s a French Canadian specialty which basically consists of fries topped with cheese curds and smothered with gravy. I finally decided to order the mussels and frites and pass up an appetizer, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to eat it all if I ordered anything more.

Our waitress brought us a couple of selections of bread on a wooden board, accompanied by some butter and a pork and chicken rillette. My table mates were not terribly impressed but I enjoyed it, gobbling down more than my fair share. I’ve rarely met a baguette I didn’t like. My philosophy about bread is … even when it’s not good it’s not that bad. The rillette, had a nice texture but was underseasoned for my tastes. Still, I really liked the idea of serving a rillette with bread.

However, I did sample Sherman’s poutine and Kim’s starter–the steak tartare.  I can say that it was a better than a lot of poutine I’ve had, though I didn’t particularly notice anything even vaguely truffly about it. The cheese curds provided the requisite “squeek” but the amount of gravy on the fries was overkill, leading them to become soggy quickly; this bothered my friends, who also thought the gravy was too peppery. I myself didn’t find this to be the case.

Kim’s steak tartare came with some thin and deliciously crispy toasts. The steak tartare had an overtone of horseradish  that overpowered the beef, and had some chives and onion in it to give it more texture. It was a nice touch, but like the rillette, I felt it was a bit on the bland side.

Our mains came in due time, and we all took turns sampling each other’s orders. Sherman and Kim had focused on the Germanic side of things by ordering suckling pig and lamb cheeks respectively; I felt as though I were dining in a Belgian restaurant with my mussels and fries. My mollusks came in a broth of saffron, white wine and garlic. It is hard to go wrong with mussels, and these were plump and delicious, though I didn’t really taste much saffron in the dish, if any at all. But the fries! Can I just tell you about these frites?  Piping hot and crispy on the inside with a soft, mealy center and a deeply potatoey taste. Dipped in a side of fresh mayonnaise, they were incredible and absolutely worth the price of admission.

Sherman’s pork was served with sauerkraut and schupfnudel–a dumpling that looks (as Kim put it) like oversized gnocchi. As these are staples at the Eastern European table, this dish was not something I would have ordered myself. The dumplings were heavier than they were supposed to be. The suckling pig was slightly dry but had a browned crispy skin–the best part of any pork dish, in my opinion. The sauerkraut, with its tartness, balanced the meal out nicely, which is the point of sauerkraut, is it not?

I sampled Kim’s braised lamb cheeks as well, which came with celery root puree, caramelized vegetables, and a rosemary jus. The vegetables were well prepared, which should be a given but it’s surprising how many restaurants fail in this regard. Although I love lamb, I had never had lamb cheeks before, and found them too gamey.

Overall, I had an enjoyable meal at La Brasserie, though the food was generally underseasoned for my palette. I don’t think my blogger friends will rush to go back to this place, but I see a bucket of those frites in my near future. Plus, I want to try that onion tart.

La Brasserie is open seven days a week from 5:00 pm to midnight.

La Brasserie

1091 Davie Street

Vancouver, BC

(604) 568-6399

All photographs are courtesy of Kim-Kiu Ho of the blog I’m Only Here for the food. Thanks Kim!

For more photos, or reviews of the Vancouver restaurant scene, check out Kim’s blog.

Shermans’ review can be found here and Kim’s here.

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