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.
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.
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 his father passed away, 14-year-old Alain Rayé was faced with a decision: continue with school, or go to work in a kitchen. So, over the next few decades, he worked his way up to chef. For a time, he helmed his own acclaimed Restaurant Alain Rayé off the Champs-Élysée in Paris. When he moved to Vancouver, he brought some of his favourite parts of France—and its kitchens—with him, opening La Régalade French Bistro in 2002. This casual North Shore French eatery has since received a good deal of praise from Vancouver magazine. La Régalade won the bronze award for casual French cuisine in 2012, and the gold award for best restaurant in the area in 2013. The man in the kitchen himself was also recognized with the magazine's 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award—in part due to his talent for following "the deeply satisfying combo of classic technique and rustic recipes."
The aromas of provincial cooking mingle with uncorked French and British Columbian wines to waft through La Régalade's intimate, dimly lit dining space and onto a verdant outdoor patio garden, where songbirds lament their inability to hold a fork. In the kitchen, Chef Rayé earns his praise with a mastery of the classics. He prepares steaming plates of escargot with garlic butter and herbs, bowls of hearty shrimp and lobster bisque, and main dishes of boeuf bourguignon and spiced, braised lamb shanks. And yet he doesn't always confine himself to the kitchen—he's also authored a cookbook filled with photography and colourful illustrations.
Laurence and Michel Gagnon have united two countries in the shadow of Whistler's mountains. Open since 1997, their boutique creperie—which seats only 35 people—draws recipes from France and Switzerland to fill out its menu of light afternoon fare including spinach and strawberry salad, caesar salad with smoked bacon, and escargot.
Part of the blue-and-white venue's appeal is that its meals tend to be interactive. Diners can dunk their own meats and vegetables into a cheese fondue, covering morsels with imported Swiss Emmenthal and Gruyère cheese. Meat fondue enables you to cook your own bites of beef, pork, and prawns, whereas chocolate fondue submerges kiwis and strawberries in Belgian dark chocolate. Then, of course, there are the crepes—savoury variants stuffed with smoked salmon or lobster, vegetarian-friendly ones brimming with mushrooms, and sweet treats that can be flambeed with rum instead of watered-down lighter fluid. These tasty bites may be paired with equally delicious drinks; infused with a shot of rum, the shop's smoothies draw equally from the best qualities of fortifying apertifs and refreshing strawberry punches.
In addition to taking their meals in the cozy dining room, guests often dine within the sunny confines of the shop's outdoor patio. No matter where the food is served, Laurence and Michel stay close to help with the preparation, and during catered events, they craft all the dishes personally in front of guests.