Salade de Fruits Cafe serves tasty fare sans froufrou
Even if you don't do that sliding-down-hills-on-two-sticks- and-ending-up-on-crutches thing, it's still possible to survive the Vancouver winter with your sanity intact. Rags-to-riches novels and the first season of Rome on DVD both work.
So do actual getaways to places that don't feel like the Wet Coast. Maybe you don't have a driving need to be a market porter in Les Halles, but you may like what they traditionally eat, and it should gladden your heart to know that on Saturdays you can sit down at Salade de Fruits and make your way through a bowl of authentic onion soup, surrounded by French voices, at a market price of $3.99.
Like the Galley Patio and Grill at the Jericho Sailing Centre, and the Law Courts Inn restaurant, this little eatery in the Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver just off Granville Street is one of those "secrets" on many people's radar. Evenings they take reservations, daytime they don't, and sometimes you have to line up, but provided you get there early for Saturday brunch, you shouldn't have a problem. You can leave as the crowds descend, stoked to wander along South Granville and to translate romantic French into prosaic English "lick the windows" of Bacci and Boboli.
The restaurant's tables are close enough for eavesdropping; the sunflower-yellow walls are filled with paintings, cartoons, photos, and maps. Rather like a supermodel, Salade de Fruits is tall in relation to its width and depth. A while back, it burst out of its size 0 surroundings and expanded into the centre's lobby. Walls are the same yellow, tables and chairs identical, so it doesn't have the institutional feel it might, and servers trotting back and forth stitch the rooms tidily together.
Let it never be forgotten that Canada is a bilingual country. Chalkboards list the day's specials, while wooden boards brought to the table carry the regular menu. Everything is in French. Tap water eau de robinet comes to the table in wine carafes just as it would in the motherland. The good, solid, everyday cooking is what you'd find in any number of small bistros.
Not all French cuisine is foie gras and truffles. Much of it evolved from food that we'd ditch in wasteful North America. Traditionally, baguettes past their best (meaning by early afternoon if you bought them this morning) become crumbs for gratins, cubes for croutons, little toasts for spreading pí¢té or tapenade on, and pain perdu ("lost bread"), the ancestor of French toast. Here it's egg-soaked and fried to crispness.
In Toulon or Lille, you'd get lemon to spritz over, and maybe some sugar to sprinkle. Salade de Fruits nods to Canada by serving a little pot of maple syrup and a bowl of fruit, fresh and canned mixed, alongside. Oeufs Benny come with saumon, légumes, lardons, jambon, or champignons. A crepe of the day is stuffed with champignons de Paris small button mushrooms in a creamy béchamel with the garlicky innuendo that seems to make its way into most dishes here, and is served with a big heap of greens with a slightly sweet dressing.
Since the doors opened eight years ago, Salade de Fruits' chef-owners Antoine Bonard and Krishin Rameshan (replacing Pascal Poutot) have been sending out a commendable selection of traditional favourites from their pocket-size kitchen. Weekdays at noon it feels like small-town France, where everyone decamps from their office for a couple of hours during which the mark of a truly civilized country parking is free by law.
A fresh-fish dish or two, grilled prawns, moules frites, quiche or a sandwich it's all competently made, sans froufrou, and mostly under $10. Wine? Pourquoi pas. The list, still small, has gone beyond the old days when the choice was simply red or white.
At night the pace slows, the atmosphere deepens, and the menu gets more serious with confit de canard, rabbit, and a fish of the day. Mains are still all under $20, even the rack of lamb (and that's four little chops, not the usual three). The three-course table d'hí´te, which changes weekly and is posted at www.saladedefruits.com/, is $21.99. Just remember it's cash-only, and don't forget to plug the meter at lunchtime.