A life consumed by food. A lifetime consuming food.
My sister will be hosting the family for Christmas this year, and we’re having a few guests who I think have high expectations from our foodie family. I am contributing a fair number of dishes to the meal this year, one of them being fondue. Since I haven’t made the fondue yet, I won’t be writing about that little adventure/misadventure today. But, all these thoughts of fondue have prompted me to write about my experience at the only fondue restaurant in the Lower Mainland that I know of.
Au Petit Chavignol opened a few years ago, perhaps pioneering the landscape change in the Downtown East Side. It’s a good thing that Au Petit Chauvignol is a few blocks away from Carnegie Library, where most of the addicted, homeless, and desperate congregate, otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve ever dared to venture to its doors. But, since they are in a relatively secure location, I have little hesitation visiting the restaurant.
Comparing East Hastings Street to the interior of the restaurant is the difference between fine dining and finding a used needle. Yes, the street was a bit rough around the edges, but I’d say that fact added to the experience on a whole. I was able to view my car parked on the street from the inside the restaurant, a bonus security feature perhaps. As I sat, I felt the very intimate ambiance that the limited seating and dim lighting provided. The modern decor with its bold colours made me immediately forget about what may have been taking place beyond the glass windows. I didn’t sit for too long before it was time to look over the menu.
Although their menu was fairly straight forward, there were plenty of options for cheeses and their accompaniments, including wine, which I have yet to acquire a taste for. Since I had never tried it before, I thought I would take the opportunity to order raclette instead of a typical fondue. But before the raclette arrived at the table, the tasting platter I ordered came on plates stacked three tiers high. I would be lying if I said I remember what kind of cheeses we were served that evening because the notes I took seem to have disappeared somewhere. However, I do know that the two preserves on the plates were their in-house quince paste, and a Fraser Valley apricot butter. In addition to the preserves, there were a few types of pickled vegetables and meat which included a duck rillette. It was fun to mix and match the condiments with the cheeses and meats, although some combinations were a bit mismatched.
The raclette looked like a cross between a hibachi and a tiny tabletop oven. A small gap, only large enough to fit the pan that the cheese slices were melted in were placed on a resting plate inside the raclette. The resting plate was balanced over a gel fuel burner, and it took patience to cook the cheese until it was crisp and bubbly. Like the tasting platter, there were pickles that were served along with the raclette, but the roasted fingerling potatoes were quite a surprise to me. Cheese and potatoes make a great combination, so great that it makes me wonder why didn’t I think of having potatoes with fondue before.
Some people may consider fondue to be bird food, but by the end of the meal I was completely stuffed. I know things on Hastings still aren’t great, but it seems that a few small businesses like Au Petit Chavignol are willing to take the risk of opening up shop only footsteps away from the open-air contraband supermarket. Business owners who have taken that leap of faith seem to have had the benefit of great publicity, but I hope that such a benefit will have lasting influence on their success and my palate.