Updated Oct 23, 2012.
It’s not unusual for new restos to tweak things as they go along but we’re more than intrigued by Le Parisien’s just launched “petits plats”—a definite nod to Spanish tapas, with some excellent tastes from chef Tobias Grignon and team.
No fiddling with the stalwarts —such as French onion fondue or the addictive foie gras parfait—that have propelled Le Parisien back to the kind of popularity not seen since the days of the original Café de Paris. But the new $3.50 small bites—such as extraordinary beef tongue pastrami, and a superb smoked herring and warm potato salad—add up to some truly tasty additions to go with a glass of wine (or two…).
Owner John Blakeley has also shifted into a more seasonal theme, that somewhat mirrors what’s taken place over the years at Bistro Pastis, but with a definite ‘nose-to-tail’ nod.
“We wanted to add a rustic element to the menu,” says Blakeley. “These are types of dishes you’ll find in any bistro in France at this time of year. They are part of the harvest tradition, where every part of the animal is used, or preserved in some way for use in the winter.”
Hence “The Nasty Bits” special menus (Nov 1-14, Nov 15-30), which offer a truly ‘organic’ romp through the likes of duck heart tourtière, tripes a la provençale, pan-fried calf’s brain and beef heart ragôut, as well as braised pig’s trotters, to mention just a few. The title is a reference to Jennifer McLagan’s Odd Bits cookbook, which celebrates under-utilized animal parts that, due to a supermarket dominated society (and resulting demise of small butchers) have fallen out of favour.
However, thanks to folks like Blakeley and Grignon, the odd bits are making a solid comeback. And Blakely says if people like the new items they’ll find a regular spot on the menu.
Faves: Smoked beef tongue, crab stuffed sole, and house prepared choucroute garni with smoked pork chop, sausage, bacon and wine braised sauerkraut.
See you there!
However, aside from the fact that this is indeed a welcome restoration, I was moved (as I suspect were some others) by John’s speech, in which he payed tribute to the original Café de Paris founder Maurice Richez—who gave him his first gig in Vancouver—with a couple of great stories about Maurice’s (liquid) advice (or lack thereof!) on how to open a restaurant.
Here’s just a little bit of what John had to say:
“Either he (Maurice) liked you or he didn’t. He happened to like me and we bonded since day one.” (1983)
“He was an amazing mentor to me.”
“It’s a very sentimental feeling. It’s beyond belief how I can describe how it feels to be here, with you guys and the team that we have… Cafe de Paris changed hands quite a few times in the last ten years, so that’s why we decided to redo everything.”
(Except for the kitchen which, as Jurgen Gothe quipped is still “the size of a Buick glove compartment.”)
“We wanted to bring some energy to the room, and to the menu; the name had to be changed… for various reasons. But it was damaged for a good ten years. So we wanted to do something fresh.”
“The menu has been designed for the neighbourhood, we created items such as three different kinds of steak tartare, and three different mussel dishes. And carved dishes … chicken and cote de boeuf. All very affordable. It’s not just a special occasion place …”
That’s the feeling there is in a bistro in France. You don’t know each other but you talk about things, maybe over an espresso and a croissant…”
That’s the idea behind Le Parisien. Make it a neighbourhood place.”
Even back in the bad old days when all you could find to eat in Vancouver was either steak or planked salmon, there was at least one French Bistro in town: Café de Paris. The legendary, de rigueur wood and brass-trimmed West End room has operated under several owners over the last 35 years, some more successful than others. However, the once uncontested home of Vancouver’s best frites and the best strip-loin for the money had slipped more than a soupçon over the last decade.
Last week, the briefly shuttered space (most recently known as Bistro de Paris) reemerged as Le Parisien, now firmly in the hands of new owner John Blakeley, whose promise to return it to its former glory is well underway. In fact, it’s already hopping.
It’s fair to say the old bistro was looking shop worn- all the more reason to celebrate the vibrant, more open space that’s emerged, resplendent in mustard cream walls, rejuvenated parquet floor and lipstick red leather banquettes.
Those who have mourned the demise of the original room will find plenty to cheer about on Tobias Grignon’s faithfully French, and wallet-friendly menu.
Standouts from an initial sampling ranged from smoked chicken liver and foie gras parfait with pear compote ($14), a faithful Castelnaudary-styled cassoulet with cannellini beans and crispy duck confit ($20/$36 for two), a diet-destroying French onion fondue with lashings of Gruyere ($9), oysters Rockefeller and beignet (or raw on the half shell), Albacore tuna tartare with tapenade ($12/$19), house-made boudin noir ($17) and the list goes on.
There’s no shortage of traditional tastes to tempt. But we like the idea that you can drop in alone for a taste at the bar and a glass (from a smart, well-chosen list) or settle in for a shared roasted chicken with all the trimmings ($38).
Oh, and did we mention the fries? They’re as good as ever, if not better.
(751 Denman St, nr. Robson, 604-687-1418, lunch, dinner, weekend brunch. Closed Monday. TV-free.)