Vol au Vent
Posted by Degan on July 3rd, 2012
I wasn’t expecting much when my mom recommended a place on the beach in White Rock. There are a few solid restaurants that we return to but otherwise the strip is lined with “barely hanging in there” seafood and burger joints (with the recent addition of not one but two Irish pubs). Le Vol au Vent didn’t immediately appear to offer much hope, with their placard advertising fish and chips but past that it was a different story; the patio was lined with Parisien bistro chairs, the counter was filled with beautiful French tarts and the owners greeted us in French! And the smell was amazing – meaty, red wine stew smells mingling with the buttery baked goods coming over the pass from the kitchen. I inhaled so deeply so many times I thought I might make myself light-headed but I was already giddy at the thought of the authentic French bistro food that was coming that it didn’t really matter.
The place is run by a husband and wife team – he cooks in an open kitchen and she serves – who bring up the bistro intimacy by addressing each other as “dear”. As each dish was served she brought it around to show some of the other tables.
The menu is simple; a page of starters and a page of mains augmented by chalkboard specials (also in French) but which covers off all the traditional favorites. Escargot are on there, as are Coquilles St. Jacques, mussels, rabbit, bone marrow, veal…We knew we had to save room for dessert so we shared an order of escargot to start, followed by a Wild Boar Bourgignon, Bouillabaisse and seafood salad – but first a small plate of French bread smeared with chicken liver pate and Moroccan olives arrived.
My mom tells me it’s not a brand new restaurant and they do seem to be in the habit of educating their customers about French cuisine. The pate was gorgeous and even the olives were a beautiful pairing, the spicy heat bringing out the unctuousness of the spread, but it was down-played so incredibly with her delivery, “if you don’t like liver, just smell them.” I know not everyone likes liver, but red-wine washed liver pate is an entirely different thing and it was gorgeous! Let people eat it!
The escargot were served in their shells with a generous helping of garlic butter and instruction on how to use the snail tongs, but no matter, they were perfect and I do like the traditional preparation. Both my mom’s seafood salad and my Bouillabaisse were chock-full of salmon, scallops, mussels, squid and prawns but where hers ended with lettuce and a lemony-vinaigrette dressing, my fish were soaked in saffron broth and accompanied with the traditional rouille (mayonnaise made with saffron and garlic), sliced bread and shredded cheese to be floated in the soup. Her salad was excellent for summer, don’t get me wrong, but the Bouillabaisse was exquisite.
Matt had Wild Boar Bourgignon served in an individually-sized cocotte. The meat was falling-apart tender, perfectly balanced and rich, with a portion of blueberry sauce as a float.
For dessert there were individually made tarte tatins, a pear and almond cream tart, local cherry clafoutis, a Far Breton (Brittany prune pudding), Krause Berry Farms strawberry and rhubarb tart, and cheesecake. I keep saying I’m new to liking desserts but it’s the sugar that I don’t have much of a taste for and honestly, I love French desserts. I was happy that Matt picked the tarte tatin and my mom the (still warm but slightly burnt) clafoutis so that I only had to decide between strawberries and prunes. And it was still tough! But I had no regrets about the strawberry-rhubarb tart. It was fresh and local and tasted of summer. I think I chose well because the cherry tart was a bit dry and a bit burnt as I mentioned and the apple pie suffered the same fate. They were all served with a double helping of whipping cream and ice cream, which sadly didn’t help much.
I’d like to see more local ingredients on the menu and the prices come down a bit. Everything is made fresh and with quality ingredients so that justifies the price somewhat but the décor doesn’t suit a date night and there were only a couple of tables in on a Friday night. I’ve watched enough Kitchen Nightmares to know there’s room to simplify the menu, make things less expensive and get people in the door. The food and service are excellent and with a few tweaks it could become known as quite a fantastic authentic French bistro.