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Argo Cafe on Ontario and West 3rd Ave, Vancouver

The Argo Cafe is certainly a place I would not have found on my own. It was HM who alerted us about this hidden gem. After doing a bit of research on line, it appears that it is very well known and popular with people who works around the area.

The Argo Cafe is perhaps one of those place you will not bother check out. At a quick glance, you might not even think it is a restaurant. The painting outside is very gaudy. There is the heavy metal door and the windows are barred. If I did not know anything about this restaurant, I don’t think I would even go in for a cup of coffee.

Maybe that’s the way it should be. The Argo Cafe is already … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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DB Bistro Moderne on West Broadway, Vancouver

Updated: 4th July 2012; This restaurant had closed according to Urbanspoon.com.

The one meal I had always looked forward to each week is Friday dinner with Suanne. It is not that you don’t already know that if you had been following this blog.

The one place we had always wanted to go to is DB Bistro Moderne. Frankly, we held back from going there because it is not exactly cheap and requires a special occasion to justify it … until now.

DB Bistro Moderne is located on West Broadway. It is just next door to its more illustrious sister restaurant, Lumiere. Just a few doors away is a place called Moderne Burger. DB Bistro Moderne and Moderne Burgers are two totally different and unrelated restaurants. Just thought we point out the obvious.

Before DB Bistro Moderne came to being, this was Feenie’s which we blogged about oh, so long ago. It is a long story and so I won’t go into that. Needless to say, it is stuff that one could creatively write a story about Feenie’s rise to fame (and fall). Did you know I worked with Rob Feenie before? A few years ago, I was the Project Manager for the launch of a range of high end home appliance in Canada. We had Rob Feenie do a demo and invited the media and public. Gosh, I still can’t believe the bucks the company paid for a 1 hour appearance.

Enough of Feenie … today DB Bistro Moderne is inspired by another great chef, Daniel Boulud of New York.

I had no idea. We had assumed that DB Bistro Moderne a lot like Feenie’s. We were wrong. This is certainly more upscale than Feenie’s ever was.

As usual, Suanne and I went very early at 5:30PM. That was the time that DB Bistro Moderne opens for dinner. We were the first one there. So it is kind of misleading seeing a lot of empty tables above. The place was absolutely filled by 6PM.

With dim lights and soft music, the ambiance was beautiful and it was perfect for a dinner date. The place is very dim for picture taking but who other than us takes pictures in dinner, right? Wrong! When we were there we could see TWO other tables taking pictures of their food too. Gosh, I have a feeling that this is getting so common that restaurants is so used to this nowadays.

As expected, service was excellent … and very French-y. Too French-y for us. We were surprised by some Amuse-bouche. As much as we tried to understand what it is called, we couldn’t understand, despite asking twice. Rather than end up looking stupid, we decided not to get the server say it a third time. Some Frenchy name. All we got was that it is some kind of cured fish. There you go. But nice touch!

Our server told us that their special of the day is Prime Ribs. Well, it was not just called Prime Ribs but a very longish description that really captivated us. It is one of those sharing plates. You know, big big portions for two people that many restaurants are doing these days. Our server was doing such a great job in describing that I was having half a mind already of ordering that. Then she said “This is $40 …”. Oh … interesting … now we are talking.

And she added “… per person”. Hmmm … on second thought maybe we’ll get the burger instead.

Le Bread came next. Pardon my French but this is what I call Le Bread de la Excellente. Very good, very nice.

There is even three different types and served with butter. The first is cheesy and crusty. The second was herb-y and soft. The third was regular baguette.

We gobbled that down rather quick. The server came and asked if we wanted more. “Of course” we said. We had more.

Two things was on my mind before I came. It was “foie gras” and “burger”. I was quite set on getting that. We finally decided get between the two of us a selection from the prix fixe menu ($35) … and a burger and … a foie gras appetizer.

Foie Gras. I said I can’t remember if I had this before. Suanne said I had and I had forgotten. Whatever right? If I can’t remember, I might as well not had foie gras before. Well, at least not as big as this.

I think they call this Torchon. Twenty one bucks. This was not on the menu and we were told this is the special of the day. The foie gras is made in a pate with a fig in the center … and …

… served with fig puree and 2 very crispy toast. Two very, very toasty crispy toast. Four would have been perfect’er.

Smoooooth … is how we say the foie gras is. Now I can say I had tried foie gras before … that is until I forget again.

Très joli mais vingt-et-un bucks … courtesy of Google Translate.

The above is called the country duck terrine. It is the appy part of the $35 Prix Fixe menu.

With onion compote, whole grain mustard, home made pickles scattered all over the plate, we debated how to deal with this. They even had sea salt and pepper placed in the corners of the plate that we almost missed because it was dim and that there was just a small portion on the side.

This is IT.

This is what I always wanted to try. I call this the twenty-eight bucks burger. They call this the New York’s Original DB Burger.

I don’t think I had ever tried a more expensive burger in my life. For twenty eight bucks it had to be perfect. It WASN’T!!!

Well, let me explain … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Les Faux Bourgeois on Fraser and 15th Ave, Vancouver

Frank, my boss, came over to Vancouver a few weeks ago. The last time he flew in 5 months ago, we were wondering if he was coming to serve termination notices. That was because he did not state what his mission was. This time he came with a pre-announced agenda — he was here to conduct final interviews for more Project Managers. So no fears of losing our jobs anytime soon because all the projects is going to keep us busy for sometime. Good!

The last time Frank came, I brought him to Burgers Etc on Hastings. He absolutely loved that. He is not into fancy adventuresome Asian food which is a shame. I would have brought him to some memorable places. So I played safe and went to …

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… Les Faux Bourgeois. It’s so hard to spell that Bourgeois word, not to mention pronouncing it!

I think it is pronounced as lay-foo bow-zu-ar … something like that.

And I think it is French for The Fake Middle Class.

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For a French restaurant, Les Faux Bourgeois is located in an unlikeliest of places. For directions, I would say that it is at the intersection of Kingsway and Fraser but technically it is on 15th and Fraser. The place has a rustic feel with original structural details. This creates a certain charm which makes Les Faux different from other French Bistros.

Les Faux Bourgeois is perpetually booked solid. I used to make reservation on a Monday for a Friday and they would tell me they do not have tables anymore. I was lucky that day. It was a Thursday when I called at noon and they told me that’s the last table they have for the day. If you think of walking in, I don’t think its a good idea.

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There was three of us. Gage joined us. He is not too much of an adventrous eater from what I see. He always has this big bowl of salad which he mix in the office.

We called a few drinks hoping to just relax after a few hectic days. And then we had to be told by our waiter that we have to leave by 7PM. He said that was the condition that they told us when they took my reservation. I did not recall being told that. We made no fuss over this but I thought I should let you know. I think they want to turn the tables fast.

I had the Corona. It is a Mexican beer, nothing French about it. What is this thing about the wedge of lemon on Coronas anyway? Is it a branding kind of thing for Corona? I don’t see this done for any other pale lagers. Is there a story behind this?

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The bread came. It was absolutely marvelous. It is especially so when you see this … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Paris Series: Thaly Train to Brussels

I learned another French word, Gare du Nord. That’s French for North Station. :-) I took the train from this station which is known to be one of the busiest train station in the world. The Gare du Nord even have an airport-like departure/arrival schedule board.

[Note: About a week after I left Paris, there was a major riot in this station where a few hundred people battled the police for roughly handling an African immigrant who did not have proper papers. When I was in the station, there was a large presence of police and military armed to the teeth. I can feel the tension.]

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My plan for the day is simple. Get an early train ride into Brussels and then spend a part of the evening exploring the city. Well, I did not count on needing to book a seat — I thought that it’s just to show up at the station and then you’ll get on the next available train. For that I had to wait two hours to get on the next available train.

I thought it was just an ordinary train from Paris to Brussels but it turned out to be a TGV variant called the Thalys. They run on dedicated high-speed rail track and on certain section on the same track that EuroStar uses.

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Although I had myself a first class ticket which just costs a bit more from second class, I did not expect the comfort at all. I thought it was just only wider, more comfortable seats. For one, there were free newspapers given out by the stewardess (yeah, they had stewardess on trains!). After so many days of French, I was glad to see an English newspaper.

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They came by with some disposable wet towels. Nice touch …

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They even served food on board. This is included as part of the ticket price. I was told that there will be snacks on board but I did not expect this.

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I remember there was a choice of two. After all these weeks, I can’t remember what was offered. I think the sandwich below is fish sandwich. It was cold but tasted fresh.

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Some oranges …

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… chocolate mousse …

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… and my favourite drink, tomato juice. Gosh, they even gave me a small pack of Celery Salt to go with it — just how I always had it at home. Fancy that.

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They came by the second time round and asked me if I wanted second helpings too … and they asked in English. :-)

There are several different seating configurations on every train. This certainly is more comfortable than the Eurostar to me.

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Before we arrive at Brussels, they even came by with a small bar of chocolates. Service was excellent. They came by also asking if I needed a taxi at the station so that I can have a taxi waiting for me the moment I step off the train.

I’ll give them 11 out of 10 points.

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The entire journey took just under 1.5 hours. The train zipped along at 300 km/hr. I was thinking this is three times the highway speed in Canada and I hardly feel that it traveled that fast.

The Brussels Midi/Zuid station is a much brighter and modern facility than the Paris Gare du Nord. Already, I feel more at home already as most people spoke perfect English although the official languages in Belgium is Flemish, French and German. That explains why this station is called both Midi and Zuid. There are no gypsies, no police armed with machine guns, nobody wanting to loop coloured strings around my fingers …

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I’ll officially start the next series of my travel within the Low Countries. Brussels is the de facto capital of Europe. This clean and beautiful city houses the headquarters of NATO and the European Parliment. It is also where the most powerful of the European Union institutions are located.

The picture below is the Atomium which is perhaps the most iconic image of Brussels. Later … I’ll be blogging about this amazing structure.

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OK, most importantly, there more more food related entries in this series. I think you will like this coming series. I enjoyed Brussels … the people are very friendly and helpful and the streets felt safer. Later …

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Paris Series: Breakfast at Paul

Ooops. I said that yesterday’s blog entry was my last on Paris. Well, I found a few more photos I missed and this means you gotta bear with another Paris blog today.

Never much of bread fan, I found myself falling in love with Parisian bread. Everywhere I go in Paris, I inevitably come across the chain of bakeries called Paul. They seem to be as prevalent in Paris as McDonalds and Starbucks in North America.

They have bakeries of every size. They have small counters at train stations and there are some full fledge bakeries. They are always busy and filled with a lot of people. There was one Paul bakery that had lines that snaked out the door. Their bread and pastry looked so tasty — the variety is bewildering.

The morning I left Paris, I stopped by the Paul at the Gare du Nord station. The one thing that I remember was that there were a lot of young gypsy girls asking me if I speak English. i always sternly tell me “No, I don’t speak English”. :-) Does anyone know what they really want? Are they just asking for money?

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This Paul outlet is just a small counter which is more than good enough for me. The board list a bunch of stuff they sell. I can’t tell what is what except for the Pains — that’s bread for French. See? I did learn some French here. :-) BTW, Paul was founded 120 years ago, believe it or not.

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My fav? The baguette. There are so much I learn about the humble baguette. Did you know why baguettes are shaped the way they are? Well, apparently there is a law in France that prohibits bakeries from working before 4am. This makes it impossible to make enough bread in time for breakfasts. The long slender baguette bakes faster than the rounder bread and thus it became what it is today. Does this story sound credible?

One weird thing. When I got the baguette, I asked the staff to cut it up. The staff asked me how many pieces I wanted it … and I said five or six. She responded, “huh? you want two or three?”. “No,” I said, “I want five pieces”. She sounded very surprised. Is it abnormal to have baguettes cut into so many smaller pieces?

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I also bought this tasty looking piece of pastry. I am sure there’s a nice sounding name to it but I just don’t care to learn the name. It was nice … all pastries in France is nice.

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I got myself a “coffee with milk” to wash it down. It was such a small cup. I recall someone telling me that “coffee” does not come in cup sizes like what we’re used to in Canada.

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My recommendation … when in Paris, get some bread from Paul’s. You must absolutely try it or else you can’t say you’ve really been to Paris. It’s like an European visiting the US without having stop by Starbucks or grab a Big Mac from Mickey D. :-)

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Paris Series: Escargot Appetizer and Lunch in Latin Quarters

Now … this blog entry is about food and only about food … how’s that sound to you?

I did not expect that there were so many eateries here along the narrow streets at the edge of the Latin Quarter. I don’t really know what the street is called or the restaurant I went into. It was so hard to choose because it appears that everyone of them had such great deals. What I like is that they are fixed price menus … all around the 12-18 Euros price range for three courses.

I already know what I wanted … something I had never seen before let alone tried but had heard so much of … snails, or in a better word escargots.

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Ordering the drink is a no brainer … Perrier, the carbonated spring water bottled somewhere in France. It’s French … that’s all it matters to me. Ordered a large bottle because I was so darn thirsty. This sure beats any pop drink when you’re thirsty. This bottle is 5.50 Euros … expensive right?

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It is in France I discovered what the baguette should taste like. I mean, we had baguette at home, sometimes bought from the supermarket, sometimes Suanne baked ready made ones. They are OK and had never understood the fuss about the french loaf.

But holly molly, the baguettes I had in Paris is like a million-trillion times better … no kidding. They are so good I could have just have a meal on them alone … no spread, no butter, nothing … just plain naked baguettes. The crust are so crusty that it splinters apart breaking it. The insides is so soft and airy. I fell in love with baguette and looked forward to them at every place I went in Paris and Brussels.

Back home, I learnt that there is actually a law in French that defines what a baguette is — and that it must contain ONLY water, flour, yeast and salt. Nothing else! If the baker is to put in a single raisin, then by law it is not a baguette. Can someone from France confirm this?

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Escargot is normally served as appetizers but to me this is the main meal. There are just six pieces of small snails. I expected the snails to be bigger. They came with snails tongs and fork. I was fumbling trying to figure out how to use that thingy until some guy came over and showed me how. That looked easy enough but after he walked away, I tried again … I got it all wrong again.

I put down the tong and used my fingers instead. That was easy.

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The snails looked very greenish and unappetizing. I would not say that it tastes great, not at all. They are somewhat rubbery and chewy. Would I order this again the next time I’m in a French restaurant? Probably not.

It appears that the snails are not cooked in their shells. They are removed from the shells, cooked and then put back inside again before serving. Hmmm … why bother putting them inside again I wondered?

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The main meal is the Duck Breast which came with a baked potato. The baked potato is good — much better than the normal ones we have in Canada.

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The duck breast is hard and appears to have been fried. There are just six slices of them. Served in Orange Sauce, it gives a certain tanginess. Plate looked good but taste wise, it’s so-so.

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For dessert, I opted for three types of cheese. I am not particularly fond of cheese myself but ordered this because this one sounded more frenchy. Arghhh … blue cheese again but this one is not too bad. Goes well as a spread on the baguette. Question … do the French spread these type of cheese on baguette?

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I had a window table and took my time enjoying my food and watching the tourists go by. I liked this meal … a lot.

“Eat snails” … checked!

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Paris Series: Quiche Breakfast and the Notre Dame

Just across the road from my hotel was a patisserie. Unlike in England, frankly, I really don’t know where to go for breakfast. I could have breakfast in the hotel but it costs 15 Euros — too expensive for me.

So, I just went across the street to get something from the patisserie. It was my first time and I can see what the fuss were about french bakery shop. The place smells so nice and there were so many types of bread alone that it’s bewildering.

I just got something familiar — Quiche, vegetable quiche.

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I walked over to the Metro station to get a seat to eat before I head to my destination. That’s all I had for breakfast … quiche and chocolate milk. The quiche is much better than any I’ve ever tasted before. The warm pastry was so soft that it flops down. The quiche and choc milk costs 3.80 Euros.

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This is a day I planned to visit the two most famous churches in Paris, the Notre Dame and the Sacre Coeur. The Notre Dame is located on a small island on the River Seine called the ?le de la Cit? (don’t ask me how to pronounce it). It is here where Paris was founded. Compared to London’s Thames, this river seem so idyllic whereas the Thames is so chaotic.

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The word Notre Dame in French means Our Lady (Virgin Mary). This is also a functioning church. I can’t help but compare the Notre Dame to the Westminster Abbey. The sad thing about this church is that most of its historical treasures had been stripped away and destroyed particularly during the French Revolution.

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Unlike some large cathedrals, the Notre Dame is brighter because of the large stained windows. The Notre Dame is one of the first buildings in the world that employs the use of flying buttress that enables load bearing walls to have windows instead of solid walls.

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The flying buttress looked spectacular from the outside.

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I spent sometime along the river Seine trying to take some shots. On an overcast day like this, everything looked so drab and dull. I heard that the best place to look for food is at the Latin Quarters just south of the River. I did not know how close it was … it was just down an alley and it opened up to rows of bistros and restaurants.

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Dine Out Vancouver 2007 – Le Gavroche

Le Gavroche is a french restaurant set in the middle of downtown. Tucked amidst tall high-rise apartments and office buildings, Le Gavroche is set on a pretty two-storey Victorian house.

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It used to have a sweeping view of the North Shore mountains and habour. There are high-rise now blocking the commanding view. The setting is romantic. However, I find that the tables are placed too close together.

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For some reason, I came expecting very formal service. Perhaps it’s because the exterior looked so Victorian. However, the service were quite informal and yet friendly — even loud. They talk to us like we’ve been eating there everyday. I like that.

We started off with a Bloody Caesar — spicy and with vodka. Caesar is a very Canadian cocktail.

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The bread was quite OK. The crust was crispy. Nothing particularly exciting to this.

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Suanne’s appetizer is the Roasted Tomato Bisque with grilled scallop. There is only 1 piece of scallop in this — don’t you think that one would expect more than 1 piece? I would. The soup was bland with a bit of sourness in it — can’t even get a hint of tomato soup that I am used to. Is that how tomato soup in France tastes like?

Oh, we just love the way they say “bon appetite” … it is so … French.

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I am a bit more adventurous. I had the Duck Liver Pate with onion marmalade and toast. I don’t care much for the sour leek. The pickled dill is OK. I am not a particular fan of this but at least Suanne finished it off for me.

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The toast was crispy and when stacked with some liver pate and onion marmalade, it give a really nice balance of texture.

I saw the neighboring tables of Asians ordering this too. Seems like many of them left the liver pate untouched. I am OK with this, I think it’s nice but Suanne just thinks that the thought of this is yucky. Made me think that as much as Asians eat just about anything but duck liver pate (or just the way it’s prepared and look) does not appeal to them.

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I really did not want to order the Eggplant Lasagna but then the other choice is another plate of fish. I had tried fish the past few days and thought, well, I should try something different instead even though I really prefer fish.

The Eggplant Lasagna is nothing exciting. It’s very … normal. I can’t taste much use of spices in this. Pretty bland in taste. Is this how French dishes are normally made?

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Suanne booked the better entree: Roasted Free Range Chicken with capers, garlic, tomatoes and basil. This is served on a hot plate. The chicken is also piping hot — lots of steam once she cuts up the meat. It looks so much more better than my lasagna for sure.

The skin is crispy and thin and the leg and wing is served on mash (again bland) potatoes.

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Suanne loves dark chocolate. So, her obvious choice is the Belgian Chocolate Mousse. It’s rich and bitter. Somehow, she felt healthier eating bitter chocolates than sweet chocolates. Anyway, it’s also very thick and sticky … you know, it sticks to your teeth, roof of your mouth and such.

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Creme Brulee was what I got. Well, it’s a creme brulee like any other creme brulee, except it’s prettier. It has a half strawberry and the only different is that the sugar topping is thicker.

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Total damage came to $93, including taxes and tips. It was an experience for sure. At least we have ate in one of the best french restaurants in Vancouver. I am sure this is great for a lot of people. It’s just that I guess we prefer more spices and flavour — it’s just us. The best part of this meal? It’s the Canadian Caesar … sigh … :-)

Le Gavroche on Urbanspoon

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