My hackles rise the minute we walk into Les Faux Bourgeois and hear Bamboleo pulsing out the speakers. Please, good lord, not the Gipsy Kings.
I know it's not fair to judge a restaurant by its soundtrack. But the bitter taste suddenly frothing in my mouth is a Pavlovian response, developed through the nineties, when this bouncy brand of flamenco-lite was played ad nauseam by every restaurant from here to Halifax (often in an attempt to disguise boring food with a contrived air of worldly sophistication).
Granted, it's been an awfully long time since these French Roma guitar strummers last serenaded me through dinner. And as I ease into a padded bucket stool at the bar, I can't help but notice that everyone around me actually seems to be enjoying the music. They're all laughing and smiling and bopping in their seats as they dig into plates of buttery escargots and drip strings of melted Gruyère down their onion-soup slopped chins.
Well, at least the volume isn't too loud.
This new neighbourhood restaurant, at Fraser Street and East 15th Avenue, might best be described as cozy retro groovy. The walls are covered in lacquered maple panelling that looks like it's been recycled from the sixties. There's a vintage china cabinet with sliding glass doors in the passageway to the kitchen, and gooseneck lamps mounted in the corners and set to dim.
There's nothing faux about the menu, I note with a sigh of relief. It's a short but soothing medley of classic French bistro standards, supplemented by an enticing list of daily chalkboard specials that include cassoulet, chicken pot-au-feu and a line-caught ling cod simmered in white wine with clams, Savoy cabbages and baby chanterelles.
Most of the entrees are around $15, which seems almost too good to be true. And what's this - a handful of decent wines (French, Italian and Spanish) for only $23 a bottle?
"We want everyone to drink red wine, so we keep the prices low," a charming French bartender explains.
My feet have suddenly started tapping.
Les Faux Bourgeois is the brainchild of Stephan Gagnon (a former co-owner of Jules Bistro in Gastown) and Andreas Seppelt (Gord Martin's partner at Go Fish). They have hired Tina Fineza as a consulting chef to design the menu and steer the kitchen through its first few months.
Ms. Fineza is the resident chef at Kitsilano's pan-Asian Flying Tiger. But there's nothing fusiony or fussy about the food she's cooking here.
Pâté de campagne ($10) is moist, loose, laced with lots of liver and served in a cute miniature cast-iron cocotte with cornichons, mild grainy mustard and a bottomless basket of crusty baguette.
Moules marinière ($14) is a big portion of plump mussels in a luscious white wine sauce that doesn't skimp on the wine or the butter and comes with golden fries cooked perfectly.
Tarte flambée Alsacienne ($12) is a melt-in-the-mouth mille feuille with flakey pastry that's thicker than the average crust. It's topped with caramelized onions, a generous layer of crispy lardons and a few dollops of ricotta (which might not be traditional, but taste great on the tongue).
Some more wine? Why not? It's only Tuesday but feels like Friday, what with the full house of customers who keep streaming in and out.
The Gipsy Kings are still wailing in the background. But by the time we dig into our main courses, my shoulders are gently swaying to the infectious rhythms.
The chef's special duck confit ($14) is pulled off the bone and served without skin in a bouquet of wilted spinach, potatoes and morels, all arranged on a sticky bed of rich veal sauce sprinkled with huckleberries. It's the only dish that doesn't deeply please me. I find the sauce a bit too sweet.
But the grilled lamb fillet ($17) is positively scarf-worthy. The meat is served sliced, on the bloody side of medium rare, with caramelized cauliflower, green beans and blue cheese melting into a very nicely reduced sherry pan sauce that gleams with a bright sexy sheen.
By the end of the night, I'm actually humming along and singing out loud to those wretched Gipsy Kings still spinning in the CD carousel.
Then it suddenly dawns on me. The Gipsy Kings is actually the perfect soundtrack for Les Faux Bourgeois, which is everything a good French bistro should be - familiar, cheap, robust and cheery.
If done properly, as it is here, this type of cooking never goes out of style. And even I will grudgingly admit that the same goes for the music.
Les Faux Bourgeois:
663 East 15th Ave.: 604-873-9733***
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