For international flavours, Vancouver has pretty much got you covered: want Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Lebanese, Persian, Greek, Algerian, or Moroccan for dinner? No problem. And although food from France is well represented, the food of Quebec? Not so much—until now.
St. Lawrence is a charming new spot that specializes in fare from the land of Carnaval, joual, and Laval.
It’s the latest from J-C Poirier, the Saint-Jérôme–born chef who—along with his partners in the restaurant group called Kitchen Table—is behind Ask for Luigi, Pourhouse, Pizzeria Farina, and Joe Pizza. As was the case with Ask for Luigi when it opened in 2014, expect to see St. Lawrence popping up on people’s lists of the city’s best new restaurants this year.
Awash in deep-blue hues, the restaurant occupies the former Powell Street home of Big Lou’s Butcher Shop. Craig Stanghetta and the team at Ste. Marie Art and Design nailed the corner space’s interior, giving it refined details like subtle ceiling ornamentation and an exquisite stained-glass window along with rustic touches such as antique plates and kitchen items that adorn the walls. There are some black-and-white framed photos of Poirier with his parents and thick, old French cookbooks here and there, giving the place a homey feel.
The drinks list is almost exclusively French, save for a handful of beers and a selection of Japanese whiskies that are a nod to the building’s history. Once part of Japantown, the former Komura grocery store was forced to shut down during the Second World War. (The word Komura remains on the ground in front of the restaurant’s door in its original mosaic tile, with similar tiling continuing inside.)
On offer are apéritifs like Dubonnet, Noilly Prat, and French 75 (the cocktail described as “le vrai”, made with cognac, not gin); French wines and ciders; and liqueurs and spirits such as calvados, Chartreuse, and Grand Marnier. Add in the French music playing in the background and the French words flying about the room (all of the front-of-house staffers speak the language save for one, as do many kitchen staff) and you may as well be sitting in a bistro in Montreal or Quebec City—both cities that Poirier has called home.
Don’t be surprised to feel the need for a walk along the seawall after dinner or the next day; true to its roots, this food is hearty, the kind of stuff that brings to mind lumberjackets more than yoga pants. Sauce—whether it’s white or more jus-like—is celebrated.
Just as in so many restaurants in la belle province, rustic pork rillette with grainy mustard and whole-wheat bread precedes every meal. Standout starters include mushroom vol-au-vent—the puff pastry surrounded by Mornay sauce abundant in fresh dill, tarragon, chervil, and chives—and steak tartare with chèvre noir, a cheese that originated in Chesterville, Quebec, made of goat’s milk in the style of aged cheddar and wrapped in black wax.
Those who can’t fathom a Quebec-based dinner without poutine will find a more elegant version here. Pomme Duchesse à la Royale consists of a baked potato with its flesh piped back into the skin, accompanied by cheese curds and gravy.
For main courses, tourtière de ville au cerf calls for venison, the meat stuffed high in a neat little pie that’s adorned with pastry fleur-de-lis (plus a toothpick hoisting a mini Montreal Canadiens flag). The ballotine de canard is a rich dish with a technical preparation. Ballotine is traditionally a boned chicken, duck, or other bird stuffed with forcemeat and other ingredients. Here, forcemeat made from sage-seasoned duck legs surrounds tender breast meat, all of it tidily wrapped in collard greens. The two hefty rounds rest atop a sauce made out of bones, then reduced with white wine, orange zest, and maple syrup. Completing the meal are braised endive and a traditional pommes Dauphine, a mix of potato purée and pâte à choux, or pastry dough.
Rounding out the main courses are braised rabbit, pork chop with Oka cheese and butcher sauce, lingcod, and hanger steak with escargots, bone marrow, and, naturellement, frites. (Small plates start at $10; mains begin at $32.)
Tarte au sucre is a must-have dessert: surrounded by cream, the sugar pie is just like grand-maman used to make, with a lattice top. Rice pudding with salted-caramel sauce, meanwhile, comes in a big bowl for the entire table to share.
If you manage to snag one of six seats at the kitchen bar, you get a front-row seat to all the action that takes place in the tiny cooking space, including the dessert station, with Poirier serving up many of the dishes himself—ça c’est bon.