Six weeks spent cycling in France with my dad fueled a love for French food, whether it was escargot, Coq au Vin or a fresh baguette with triple creme brie. Many of my more memorable dining experiences were not at the high end restaurants though, but rather small town bistros that many tourists don’t venture in to.
Conveniently I was asked to go last Sunday with a bunch of food bloggers, which meant I didn’t have to bother my friends with the photos I planned to take, the questions I knew I’d ask and the comments that were bound to escape my mouth.
So, do you guys want to order different dishes so we can try each of them?
I asked, in typical foodie manner. This may have been bold, considering I had just met the women, but they were all in to the idea.
Complimentary French baguette with butter
Each table is offered sliced French demi-baguette to nibble on as they wait for their appetizers and entrées. Plates are served warm which is a nice touch, but not necessary if the bread was served fresh out of the oven. Regardless of its temperature, you could still taste that it was fresh, with it’s crisp crust and chewy crumb.
Arugula, roasted beet salad with maple nut crusted goat cheese and pickled fennel in a citrus dressing
This dish was bold in color, but not as bold in flavour if you broke it down item by item. The beets and fennel would be better if pre-marinaded or salted as they were quite lackluster. This surprised me because you would expect the pickled fennel to be, well, “pickley”. The citrus dressing was an attempt at adding flavour and did so in a subtly, summery way. The stand out in this salad was definitely the maple nut crusted goat cheese; it was not strong in maple flavour but the nuts offered the creamy cheese it’s shape and bumped the dish from mediocre, to a pretty damn good starter salad.
Duck confit a l’Orange, with mixed green salad
Since fat molecules carry flavour you would assume a dish like duck confit, a salt cured duck leg poached it in its own fat, would be the epitome of flavour. Look at the above picture and tell me that doesn’t look like a (delicious) hard attack waiting to happen? I suppose that my eyes made my tastebuds expect more, as I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t the buttery mouthfeel I had anticipated. It was pan fried beautifully so that each bite was met with a crispy piece of skin but the meat was missing something. More than anything I think I was just upset that the portion was so small, leaving me hungry for more and questioning it’s worth of $22. That said I did order it without the pomme frites and requested extra veggies instead. Taboo, I know, but with a greasy fried dish I didn’t think I could handle more even if I was there to enjoy “comfort food”; that feeling after eating it would not be comfort. Additionally, I don’t think though that any restaurant should try to fill you up on a filler like french fries, and there should always be a comparable starch-free, healthier option.
I love halibut; I love to cook it, eat it, and just bought a ton of it at the Halibut festival. I also know that like other fish, it is easy to overcook. At my home or a friend’s home, this is forgiven, but at a restaurant? And for more than one person? And twice, like what happened with one of the other diners? Not okay. In their defense they were quick to replace the dish without hesitation and with deep apologies.
Beyond the fact that the fish was overcooked the roasted pepper sauce was quite flavourful, and the mint was a nice touch. The asparagus was cooked to perfection but with only three half spears it was a tad chintzy in the vegetable department as it was in all of the dishes. It would have been nice to have both more sauce and asparagus and less (slightly overcooked and mushy) potatoes.
Coq au vin with roasted garlic nugget potatoes
I decided to write about this dish last because it was without a doubt the best of the three I tried. The veal stock and red wine braise was fantastic and coated the pearl onions, mushrooms and free range chicken like cheese fondue wraps around and soaks in to a piece of bread. The carrots were cooked so tender but still firm and the chicken was moist and flavourful. Many people who ordered this dish had difficulty finishing it, mainly because there were about twice as many potatoes as there needed to be, even if they were tasty. Definitely something worth ordering again, especially if you’ve never had French food before, as it is a very traditional dish.
Croissant and apricot bread pudding with caramel, creme Anglaise and berry coulis
I’m not surprised this was as beautifully presented as it was, as presentation was definitely one of their strong points. There’s a lot of love that goes in to making a dish look this delicious.
I’ve had croissant bread pudding only once in my life, and that was at NFA. When I had it there you could tell it was croissant-based because of the buttery texture and the calorically irresponsible feeling you got when eating it. This croissant bread pudding was much denser and more bread like than it was light and flaky like a croissant. That said it is combined with apricots and accompanied with berries. I loved the apricot bits in it and the caramel drizzled on top. These flavours held their own while complementing each other. The berry coulis and the frozen grapes were delicious but seemed more for presentation than contributing useful flavours. I didn’t eat it with the dessert but rather on it’s own. I would order this dessert again, but would be interested to taste some of their desserts and they had an interesting selection, including Tammy’s favorite, the Espresso Creme Brûlée, with an Americano or a cappuccino. She mentioned that they have been working on their latté art and have been going through some pretty rigorous training with Elysian coffee, their supplier.
“Our introductory Barista class with them lasted 5 hours and ran from 5-10PM; Getting to sleep after that was not so easy. I have another advanced training session coming up soon.”
The presentation was fantastic on all of the dishes and the staff there is very friendly and efficient. The cocktail (and mocktail) list is carefully thought out, boasting traditional bellinis, and a few unique ones that caught my eye, including the Pourquoi Pas? if you’re a drinker or The Gastown Riot, if you’re not.
The cuisine is considered French-inspired comfort food, although they seem to have a random selection of items on their menu and their takeout, with Thai, Indian and Italian items. Since they have another business, InDishpensable, which offers fine dining, locally sourced, take out food I can understand why they have the medley of dishes. It would be nice to see more focus at the restaurant since they claim French-inspired comfort food.
The idea of French-inspired comfort food was a collaboration between head chef Walter Messiah, who spent 3 years as a chef in Provence, France, and Tammy and Brent who are fond of both French food and the idea of comfort food.
Owners Brent Kyle and Tammy Siu
Catch 122 offers an open-concept kitchen and a “nothing to hide” attitude, with no walls between the kitchen and the sitting area. The wall-length photograph of West Hastings at the turn of the 20th century pays homage to the historic Gastown neighbourhood.
I loved the decor, with the refurbished wood for the seats and table and the brick wall that spans one side of the restaurant. While Siu designed the interior, Kyle built the bar and the tables. I can understand why they’ve had a lot of success for breakfast, brunch and lunch as they way it’s laid out looks more suitable for informal dining with a bench laid out like a cafeteria. That said there’s potential for them as a dinner establishment, they just need to make their mark and be known in Gastown’s dining scene; not an easy feat but a plausible one.
Disclosure: Entree was a comped meal, appetizers, desserts and drinks were not.