From frites to madeleines, bistros serve up a deal

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Vancouver is blessed with a sweet assortment of bistros. There’s lots to love, with choices ranging from the elegant Pastis and Mistral to casual spots like petite Salade de Fruits, period-perfect Jules, and gutsy La Régalade. Over the past year, several newcomers—keepers, all—have made their mark. Fittingly, these four are neighbourhood joints, and worth venturing out of yours for.

Bistros are typically small (30 to 40 seats), casual, convivial neighbourhood places, crowded with wooden tables and chairs. Décor can include wainscoting, mirrors, and maybe a few atmospheric pictures. Inexpensive, sometimes rustic dishes simply presented are a given. Specials, and sometimes even full menus, are written on chalkboards. Classics include onion soup, pissaladií¨re (an olive, onion, and anchovy tart), pí¢té de campagne, terrines, mussels and frites, steak frites, duck confit, coq au vin, beef bourguignon, and rabbit if you’re lucky. Desserts are uncomplicated—fresh fruit tarts, chocolate mousse, crí¨me caramel, í®le flottante, and delicate madeleines. Typically, wine lists are compact, and are bolstered with beer and apéritifs.

Across the board, this lot of newbies is refreshingly affordable; ambiance runs from simple to smart, but never posh. To whet appetites, we challenged proprietors to suggest a $30 two-course meal for one, complete with drink (pre tax and tip), with tasty results.

Pied-a-Terre (3369 Cambie Street, 604-873-3131) The oldest of the new, Pied-í -Terre opened in late 2007 and was instantly jammed at lunch and dinner. Still is. The draw? Likely the ownership (Parkside, La Buca): wine guy Chris Stewart—one of the best in the biz—and chef Andrey Durbach, whose deeply flavourful cooking resonates in steak tartare, pí¢té de foie gras, poulet rí´ti, and Dijon mustard rabbit. A few apéritifs like Campari and pastis, and a token beer, complement an affordable all-French wine list with lots of by-the-glass options. “We built for long-term,” Durbach says. “We provide comfort, quality, and good value. I like that people can order as little or as much as they like—maybe a glass of rosé and salad, or steak frites and a carafe of rustic red wine.” The $29.50 three-course table d’hí´te ($24.50 at lunch) is a chart-topper. $30 deal meal: Co-owner Chris Stewart touts the onglet and frites with a glass of Cí´tes du Rhone, or soup du jour, terrine maison, green salad, and a glass of Kronenbourg.

La Brasserie (1091 Davie Street, 604-568-6499) This West End spot, helmed by chef-brothers Michael and Stephen Wiese, opened last October to nightly lineups. “We set out with value for money in mind,” said Michael when we stopped in. Prices are modest, with mains ranging from $15 to $19. Specials occasionally ring in above $20. Fare is Franco-German, shown to advantage in Alsatian onion tart, suckling pig, mussels and frites, and coq au vin. Plats du jour like Wednesday’s bouillabaisse and Sunday’s cassoulet are simple yet lusty. Justifiably proud of their 30-label beer list—15 are German and thoroughly food friendly, and there’s a mostly French wine list tricked up with a couple of Germans. $30 deal meal: Michael Wiese recommends the house-made spicy bratwurst with pomme purée and sauerkraut, Kí¶nig Ludwig wheat beer, and a chocolate or lemon dessert.

Les Faux Bourgeois (663 East 15th Avenue, 604-873-9733) Countless East Siders have said how stoked they are that Les Faux Bourgeois opened last fall in their ’hood, where mostly noodle shops and Vietnamese cafés flourish. With constant swarms of happy diners, owners Stephan Gagnon (formerly of Jules) and Andreas Seppelt (Go Fish) expanded by offering dinner daily and adding a café next door for daytime coffee, snacks, and lunches. Les Faux Bourgeois’s compact menu covers bistro must-haves—escargot, onion soup, pí¢té, frisée aux lardons, duck confit, pot-au-feu, and steak frites. Best dessert? Warm madeleines. A democratic Old World/New World wine list delivers well-priced selections from everywhere. $30 deal meal: Cover off the classics with soulful onion soup, cassoulet, and a glass of Spanish Grenache.

Au Petit Chavignol (845 East Hastings Street, 604-255-4218) The newest of the lot, it’s barely been open a week. Brought to us by Les Amis du Fromage’s Alice and Allison Spurrell and Joe Chaput, this high-ceilinged 40-seater is housed in one half of a 1923 character building; a super-sized version of Les Amis du Fromage fills the other. Au Petit Chavignol serves rotating selections of cheese, charcuterie, raclette, fondue, croque madames and monsieurs, salads, house-made terrines, and more, prepared by chef Brad Miller (ex Bistro Pastis). A mostly French wine list—with a few “German Rieslings that we love because they’re great with cheese,” Chaput says—showed two dozen rarely seen reds and whites, a rosé, and several beers. $30 deal meal: This shared meal for two rings in at $60: butter lettuce salad, San Daniele prosciutto, raclette, petite chocolate cookies, and Beaujolais.

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