St Lawrence, Vancouver.

July 2018

We had really been looking forward to eating at this downtown Eastside restaurant, universally well-reviewed and recommended by a lot of friends. It’s a class act, but sadly on this night we didn’t go home a hundred percent convinced.

The location is where several other new upscale restaurants (Mackenzie Room, Ask For Luigi) are, in what is still a rough neighbourhood. It’s on a corner, and approaching it from the east the exterior is a consevative French navy blue: high-class, and the interior and atmosphere didn’t disappoint at all. Busy kitchen staff visible off to the side look professionally clad and seriously focused on doing wonderful things. The furniture and the room is euro, everything is in good taste.

We were four. Waiter, a cheerful fortyish French guy quickly took drink orders. We scanned the fairly short menu, happily finding the Québec-influenced dishes pretty much as advertised. Our cocktails were satisfactory, a classic martini and one of their listed specials, and some kir Royale. We got going with shared starters of beef tartare and the duck liver mousse. Both of these were perfectly respectable, one of our company said the tartare was “the best (he’d) ever tasted”. I thought it was good but that he was being a bit aspirational. The duck liver mousse really was a home run, embraced in a puff pastry shell and absolutely packed with liver and cognac flavour.

Things for us went downhill from there. Robin ordered the warm potato salad special as her main and it was tasty enough but the potatoes were cut into tylenol-sized pieces so there wasn’t the satisfying bite of potato we seem to like in such a wonderful salad. The other two mains were the grilled hanger steak and a duck roulade. I had a bite of the steak and it was smoky flavoured but just a bit overdone. Lately we have “discovered” cheap cuts of meat like skirt or hanger steak or triceps, which can be sousvided at about 118° and then seared on a really hot barbecue, and perform pretty close to high-end ribeye which is at least three times the money. Whether that’s what they did here or not they missed the mark by 10° or so.

My duck roulade was the disappointment of the evening for me, having had delicious moist and crispy-skinned turkey roulade done by my son Gordy for Christmas the last couple of years, and also a gorgeous sour-accompanied chicken roulade at Madera in Menlo Park. I was expecting the duck to be moist, the skin to be crisp, and there to be some sort of savoury high-flavoured complementary spread on the meat before it was rolled. What I got was two hockey pucks without any skin, verging on dry (I guess it had to be breast overcooked. Duck thigh would have been juicier), and that was it, nothing else inside. The “Barbra Streisand” sauce was a straightforward reduction and didn’t prevent this dish from raining on my prospective parade.

There were fries which were delicious and quickly gobbled up, perfectly crisp and nicely salted. Speaking of which, I signalled a waiter and requested salt and was eventually just ignored. As was my friend who asked them to turn down the loud rock music.

The wine list is eclectic mostly off-big-ticket French. We went at the waiter’s suggestion for a 2015 Roussillon, Clot de l’Oum ‘Compagnie des Papillons’. My friend Dale raved about it but as I had chosen it in collaboration with the waiter I think he was being kind. The smell was just vinous, and the mouth feel although substantial was predominantly bitter. $84.

Damn! When we sat down, in spite of the music and noise that made me take out my hearing aids I was thinking wow. This could be a real new favourite. Too bad somebody (it would have to be chef JC Poirier) just wasn’t for some reason on this particular evening adequately on the comfort-food page for us. In line with promotion this was not-haute-cuisine but very classically tricked-out bistrot fare, but overall a little dry in finish. $400 with tips for four people.

Dommage. Food 8.7, service 7.9 (points lost for the salt), ambience 9.3, value 8.0, peace and quiet 5.0.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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