For six months, Isobel Drummond and her husband sojourned across France with their two teenage daughters, seeking out the country’s best cafés. The couple lingered over coffee and macarons in Paris, Bordeaux, St. Tropez, Marseille, and Nice. Now, at Simply French Cafe, they strive to capture the welcoming ambiance and gourmet foods they enjoyed in their favourite French eateries.
Simply French’s crystal chandeliers and Toulouse-Lautrec posters pop against dark wooden floors and exposed ceiling beams. Customers linger over paninis, tiramisu, and French-style pastries served on delicate pastel china. And in the evenings, a hands-on macaron-making class lets students create their own confections without the difficulty of growing meringues from seed.
Following her culinary curiosity all the way to Varcaturo, Italy, Tiffany Hudson’s found herself learning dry farming and food preservation. More importantly, she discovered how a dinner can bring a community together. After coming back to the States, Tiffany teamed up with Chef Martin Woods whose resume includes serving as opening sous chef at Bastille as well as executive chef at Re:Public. Together, the two created Cassoulet Café, an eatery that serves seasonal French cuisine amid a communal table.
And the collaboration isn’t running short on admirers. Writer Sally Wolff for the Cascadia Weekly praised Cassoulet as “evok[ing] the atmosphere of a country kitchen in France” complete with “heavy plates of well-made food.” These ever-changing entrees have included bacon cinnamon rolls for brunch, ratatouille for lunch, and goat cheese pansotti pasta for dinner, accompanied by specialty cocktails and ciders. Chef Martin also serves up the restaurant’s signature French bean stew bursting with duck and house-cured pancetta.
Along with promoting conversation amongst diners, Cassoulet Café fosters green living. This includes using fresh ingredients from local farms as well as reducing their carbon footprint by 1,200 pounds of CO2 emission. That accomplishment earned the restaurant a 2012 Sustainable Practice Leader award from General Biodiesel, a company named after the first robot five-star general in U.S. history.
When asked where they purchase their meat, the chefs at Bistro 72 can point toward the mountains. From their daily lamb specials to freshly packed meatballs, many of the menu's savoury entrees hail from Ryder Lake Farms. The family farm has partnered with Old Surrey Restaurant, where the bistro is located, since 1984. Today, its cured prosciutto sits alongside sausage, cheese, and Abbotsford duck pâte on the charcuterie plate, and its pulled pork forms the base of a poutine sprinkled with cheese curds and green onions.
Even when they don't look to Ryder Lake for their ingredients, Bistro 72's chefs prioritize freshness in their French cuisine. Their avocado dip derives West Coast flavour from Pacific crab, white wine, and melted emmental cheese. Korean barbecue short ribs and new york strip-loin steak bespeak the restaurant's flair for reaching past its roots, though craft beers and British Columbia wines honour local brewers.
The coffee-drinking cultures of Seattle and Old World Europe intertwine at The Wired Monk. Baristas swirl steamed milk into organic, fair-trade coffee drinks, which guests sip beside hand-painted art and a roaring fireplace. Meanwhile, the scent of cinnamon rolls wafts from the bakery case, past aromatic tea leaves by Zhena Gypsy and Mighty Leaf. Red espresso, a roobois tea from the mountains of South Africa, fills caffeine-free lattes with flavours as bold and smooth as a saxophone’s pick-up lines. Healthy treats such as fruit smoothies and gluten-free muffins round out the menu with a touch of sweetness. The sound of tapping toes fills the shop on Thursday nights, when artists such as Harma White and Vaughan McKay flaunt their rock ’n’ roll chops. Large-screen TVs draw sports fans to the couches on game days, and drink specials lure wine lovers on Wednesday nights.
Even though the menu is influenced by eateries in the Old World, almost every other element of Tapenade Bistro is supremely local. Chef Colin Uyeda, who grew up in Steveston, got his first job in a kitchen at age 15 according to the Richmond Review. The reporter sampled locally caught seafood, going so far as to name the local fisherman behind octopus that's "succulently braised and served with in-house merguez sausage, harissa paste, a combination of pickled and fresh vegetables, and a citrus emulsion."
That's not the end of the regional influences though; there are Salt Spring Island mussels, cuts of Fraser Valley pork, and more, all of it made in compliance with Ocean Wise's guidelines for sustainability. Small producers from the region are well represented on the wine list, as well, and a special dinner series walks patrons through those offerings.
Eating at Starry Night Restaurant provides a hip alternative to dining out under the night sky. Purple panels overhead are speckled with glowing dots and recessed lights, which surround a chandelier bristling with refractive glass. Beneath the cool hues, waiters carry plates of deep-fried spring rolls and chargrilled ribeye over to purple booths that curve along the walls. Seated in the downstairs lounge, diners can nibble on pan-seared halibut or an appetizing lighting fixture as they listen to live music on select nights.