From my blog 50in52Vancouver.blogspot.com:
Our last meal of the year was at The Slaughterhouse...or en francais, l'Abattoir. That's a little more elegant. The location is actually that of Vancouver's first prison, and was later converted into a butchery and meat packing facility, hence the name.
I made the reservation at the end of November, about the time we found out we were going to transfer to Vancouver. Like Montreal, I knew that the Vancouver restaurant tables would fill pretty fast for NYE. I found it at #23 in Huffington Post's Top 50 Restaurants in Canada 2013 list (and at #7 in 2012), which a friend sent me a few months earlier.
L'Abattoir is located in trendy Gastown, which was a pleasant 30 minute walk from our apartment. About 20 minutes in, the area started to look like a better-maintained version of Montreal's Old Port with antique lamp posts and cobblestone streets and side walks. I'm starting to notice why I always hated walking anywhere in Montreal. The side walks in Montreal are narrow and decaying, and are usually lined with a foot of garbage on the building side...that is, if they aren't closed off for construction or "repair." Vancouver has triple-wide side walks that look brand new. Seriously, it looks like someone vacuums and mops them overnight.
We arrived at 7PM, and were seated upstairs. The restaurant has a bar at the entrance, a dozen or so banquettes in the back, and about 15 tables upstairs. The upstairs felt very cramped. I barely had enough room between tables to squeeze my booty between the tables to get to the banquette seat. We could hear the conversations around us, and we were pretty much having dinner with the couples on either side of us. I was closer to the people beside me than to my fiancé and it was hard to talk during the meal.
Overall the restaurant looks urban chic. Lots of stainless steel, cool lighting, dark floors, butcher block tables, exposed brick, modern stark white chairs. It reminded me a bit of Le Bremner in Montreal, except Le Bremner is a little more rustic.
We started off with one of their "Classic Cocktails" and one of their "Original Cocktails." The Classics list weren't what you usually see on a drink menu. Forget about Cosmopolitans and Cuba Libres, because their Classics are real classics...like 1910's classics. I chose the Aviation - Gin, fresh lemon, Maraschino liqueur, and creme de violet. Stephen chose their namesake, the Slaughterhouse - Cognac, Rye, sugar, Elixer Vegital, orange oils, aromatic bitters, and Green Chartreuse mist. The drinks were perfectly balanced and mixed, but they were way too small for the price. Mine was served in a small champagne coupe, and I got to the bottom of the glass quite quickly.
Typically we like to get 2 appetizers, 2 mains and 2 dessert, unless a tasting menu is available. We like to taste as much as we can while we're there. There were so many interesting and local items on the menu that we hoped for a tasting menu, but were told that they do not have one. Their kitchen layout does not allow for a dedicated space for the smaller-scale tasting plates. The plates delivered to the neighbouring tables were larger than we expected and larger than most up-scale restaurants serve, so we decided to limit ourselves to 1 app, 2 mains and 1 dessert.
We had a tough time choosing between the Terrine of Duck Foie Gras and the Pan Fried Veal Sweetbreads, but finally settled on the former. It was served on top of brioche, and accompanied by yoghurt, black cherries, and Riesling jelly. It was good, but not much more than that. We've eaten a lot of Foie Gras in Montreal, and l'Abattoir's was lacking salt and richness. It was much lighter than we expected, and was more like a mousse than a terrine. It just didn't have the buttery taste and paté density that it should have. Also, I didn't like that it was already on the brioche; I would have liked to smear it on a brioche or crostini myself. It slows down the meal and makes it a more social sharing dish, like chatting over bread and butter before stuffing your face with the main. The brioche was also overly soft, leaving the whole dish with a lack of crunch.
I chose the sesame seed-crusted Pacific ling cod fillet as my main, and Stephen chose the daily special, the veal chop accompanied by a veal stew. I definitely eat with my eyes, and the ling cod looked mouthwatering. It was one of the best fish mains I have ever tasted. The fish was moist, and the sesame seed crust was perfectly toasted. It came with celeriac cubes, grilled pears, slaw and crab salad. I wouldn't change a thing about any of the components. It was flawless.
Stephen's meal came on 2 plates: one for the veal chop and another for the veal stew. The veal chop was a really thick cut and grilled to perfection. It laid on a bed of sautéed chanterelle mushrooms. Meat + Mushrooms = Stephen's vision of heaven. The veal stew had potatoes, carrots, and peas, and was topped with buttery and crumbly crust on top. When our waiter told us about the daily specials, I was a little shocked by the price of the veal ($50), but after seeing how much meat you got, it made sense. For me, it would have been way too much meat. The ratio of protein to sides was totally off, but I guess its a man's meal. Come to think of it... there weren't any sides... but Stephen looked satisfied. Stephen also ordered a bottle of craft beer from Brooklyn. A dark chocolate stout at a reasonable price ($6) compared to what we're used to ($6 would get you a half-pint of tap or a bottle of local back home). It was very rich and had tons of flavour of its own and was an excellent pairing to the veal chop.
We finished with the milk chocolate and Earl Grey pot de creme. You'll come to read that we tend to order things that have the terms "pot de _____" or "_____ verrine" in them. We like desserts with layers of different textures, and these usually come in glasses or verrines. We were not disappointed. The top layer was the usual whipped cream. I've never been a fan of whipped cream, but it was fresh and light. The creme part was dense, chocolatey and rich, but we could really taste the Earl Grey. Often when I've had dessert with black or green tea in them they tasted like a cold, stale and bitter cup of tea that had the tea bag swimming in it for 8 hours. I doubt the pot de creme is made to order, but the tea flavour was fresh. Lastly, the chocolate crumble pieces were just big enough (I hate when they are so small they are practically powder), and tasted like a less sweet and dark chocolate version of Oreo cookies. It was a great size for sharing, and we quickly devoured it.
We noticed that the menu did not contain the words potato or rice. Most dishes were accompanied by other more flavourful root vegetables like beets or parsnips. I don't know if this is intentional, but as a non-lover of taters, I certainly appreciate that they aren't used as a plate filler.
Just like at Cafe Medina, the wait staff was attentive, but not overly warm. All the staff we saw were very young and about the same age as us, and we expected them to be a little more dynamic. At one point, I was looking at a menu for another restaurant on my phone, and one of the waiters saw a picture and zoomed into the picture and said "Is that meat?!" Ooo interesting waiter! Progress! But that was it. Crack a joke, tell a story, ask about our plans for midnight. Warm up Vancouver!
THE STATS - Out of 10
Creativity: 8 - great flavour and texture combinations, near perfect presentation with the exception of the terrine
Service: 6 - it was good, just cold.
Bang for your buck: 7 - I was going to put 8, but the drinks knocked it down to a 7. It's up-scale dining and you pay an acceptable price for the meals.
Overall experience: 8 - the ambiance was cool, but we were a little too close to the neighbouring tables
Would I go back? Maybe
Who would I recommend it to? Small groups of friends (not more than 6); any age. I don't think it is a great place for colleagues, since it is hard to have a solid conversation because of the proximity to others and noise level. Don't bring your kids! I wouldn't recommend it has an intimate couple's date spot. Don't bring your picky friends who hate mushrooms and celeriac, yet have never tried them. We all know one of those.
For what occasion? Special occasions because of the price point. Our bill ran up to $158 and we didn't get 3 courses each. It's definitely not a "Hey, it's Friday night, let's go out for dinner" spot.
It was better than: To be determined
It wasn't as good as: To be determined
Expect: A solid 3-course dinner. It isn't amazing for what it is, but it is a sure-thing if you have someone to impress. There are no "Terrible" reviews on TripAdvisor, and I won't bash the 2 "Poor" reviews since they bring up legitimate issues.
Top 50 Worthy? I'm not sure yet, especially since this is only our second Vancouver restaurant. If I compare l'Abattoir to some of the Montreal meals I've had, it would probably just make the cut.
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