The Hired Belly has long enjoyed a weakness for "real" bistros. Not the post-modern West Coast hybrid but the true neighbourhood salute to all things French, where sound ingredients, healthy portions and affordability all sing in culinary harmony.
Café Régalade (2836 West Fourth Ave., 604-733-2213) is like that. It's the offshoot of West Van's celebrated La Régalade, run by Steeve Rayé, who left the original to pursue a second venture, also owned with his father Alain.
It's not fancy, but it's smart and feels authentic without being contrived. The tables are an irreverent fire engine red, and not that large. It's cozy by default, which is not a bad thing. The decor sports contrasting sepia tones of classic bistros with gaily decorated plaster pigs heads. Service is equally down-toearth, efficiently friendly.
The extensive regular menu encompasses most of the classics, such as French onion soup, steak tartare, duck a l'orange, steak and frîtes, boeuf Bourguignon and so on. It's a good line-up, with an excellent charcuterie plate, as well as terrines, rillette and more. And if that's not enough for you, the chalkboard, which changes daily, will oblige with another wide ranging list.
Standouts from our visit included a generous trio of sautéed scallop terrine tartine, with red onions and radish ($9) that could easily pass for a main. The scallops were perfectly cooked- and the dish was a good match with our bottle of Chilean Cantavida 2007 Curico Riesling ($29), also sold by the glass, as are several wines.
Hangar steak, well-aged and tender, arrived with green salad and potato purée (or optional fries), served in its piping hot cast iron pan, a nice touch (that you shouldn't touch), which keeps the meat hot as long as you're eating it. Wine? Robust, affordable Minervois La Galine ($40).
Definite nods to the mothership range from the seven-hour braised lamb ($23.95) and half a roasted chicken ($18.50), another substantial serving.
Along with the braised lamb, West Van's La Regalade quickly gained a reputation for its desserts, or rather Steeve's desserts. No surprise, they don't disappoint either, with almost everything baked daily. The café is open also for brunch and breakfast, and Steeve starts his days early. Desserts-half a dozen announced on a tableside chalkboard-once again span the classics. Whether it's île flottante, nougat glacé, tarte tatin, profiteroles or the aptly named La Resistance chocolate mousse and hazelnut cake, they are all irresistible ($6.95).
Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday and for breakfast/brunch Tuesday to Thursday 10: 30 a.m. to 2: 30 p.m., Friday to Sunday 8: 30 a.m. to 2: 30 p.m.
Hustle down to Edible Canada at the Market to catch the last of their Festival of Asparagus-part of an ongoing series of week-long menus saluting the freshest of short-lived seasonal ingredients. Not to be missed: nut-crusted ling cod with asparagus, sorrel salad and rhubarb cream sauce; or pistachio and asparagus semifreddo. Three courses for $35. For reservations, call 604-682-6681.