Tuesday, November 01, 2011

L'Abbaitoire

The name itself would keep me away. Did they win a contest for the world's worst restaurant name? Was The Genocide Cafe already taken? But I kept hearing about this place, as if it's not just the dead animal thing happening here. There was actual cheffery at play. So I came here on Hallow's Eve to check it out. Halloweening kids trick or treated through the streets. We remembered our daughter Bit in a thin witch costume trick or treating in North Van in 84, her first Halloween here, age 6. It was 6 below. And the day she was born, Oct 25th, 1978 I took the bus from our down town apt to the distant Grace hospital and encountered numerous Halloweeners, including Coneheads on the bus. It's cold enough now that I don't involve myself with bus trips downtown and all the walking in the cold world that implies unless I have a very good reason. No snow yet, but it won't be long.
The chef from L'ab was on the TV daily news show which frequently features cooking segments. He made something called Crab Toast. It reminded me of Dale MacKay's great crab soup I had at Ensemble (see previous post) a few weeks ago. Crab is delicate enough as it is without some fool with a chef's hat throwing in a heavy ingredient and depriving you of its essence easily enough. But well done crab really shows me if the hat is on the right head in this town. So I made the long trek from upper North Van to the bowels of Vancouver's Historic Gastown to check out the toast. It's not Slovakia but it's pretty good. And some of the quickest and most pleasant waitstaff I've encountered in quite a while.
The online reviews raved about its clever cocktails and A Spot of Tea really appealed to me. On line, at least. Never, in the course of imbibing this cocktail, was I reminded of an actual tea, one of my favourite daily indulgences for over half a century. It wasn't a bad drink per se, though what 3 thick slices of cucumber were doing on top of a cup of tea is too perverse to even inquire about. My cousin David Wolowidnyk at West restaurant had made me a tea based cocktail once, as an accompaniment to my entree rather than from the bar menu. It was not only better than this "drink," it was not in the same universe of pleasure. But I did appreciate the citrus note the "Tea" thingie introduced to my crrrunchy crab dish. And I do mean crunchy. I expected to see a breakfast food captain appear in my bowl at any moment. But the teaspoon of orange marmalade the bartender claimed was in my "tea" (sigh) may have been just the reminder of citrus my palate needed to enjoy the crab dish. It wasn't a pretty goal, but the puck eventually entered the net. I was no longer hungry, after a mile walk in cold weather, and that's saying something.
Earlier in the day, I'd watched Dale McKay make a beet dish, promoting the upcoming Gold Plates event next week. I can never call in fast enough for a free ticket, but I love a good beet dish. All those Ukrainian genes no doubt. So I ordered the beets with pears and cheese. And suddenly the long trek in a cold country might as well have been a stroll on warm sand. To go to a place celebrating the execution of cows and having the best vegetarian meal since a couple of killer apps at Charlie Trotters in Chicago in 08, this was not only why I go to restaurants to discover, this actually brings forth a vision of my future food consuming self, in meatless heaven. My pairing was what I assumed was a passion fruit based cocktail called the Gastown Swizzle. It reminded me strongly and pulpily of an apriocot-sotted cockail I'd had recently at Market, that in no way complemented the tuna burger (to my surprise; Jean George's cocktails and mocktails have been reliably good as long as the place has been open). But not a straw-killing pulp. And the combination with the astonishing beet PEAR cheeeeze Fresh Mint course was admirable. I spoke to the bar tender on the way out and he explained just how much tea he'd poured into my drink, plus all that dentist-enriching marmalade. But for a tea lover like me, the name didn't deliver. Bacon gene-shaped good for soaking up the divine cheese. But it really was more than I could eat, and I was about as hungry as I get. The bread so lacking at Ensemble, with MacKay's life altering sauces, was far to too abundant here, like a great French restaurant trying to forget starvation under the Nazis. I promised them I'd be back as long as they keep doing things like that to beets. You'd expect Kerouac to peer out from behind the pears, and Ginzberg howling at the mint. You wouldn't be disappointed.
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