Rive Gauche Bistro defines casual elegance

Ambleside eatery offers a meticulously prepared and sophisticated dining experience

Rive Gauche, open now for just under six months, supplied a meal that is undoubtedly going to qualify in my year-end top ten roundup. In fact, I think I am going to add a layer to that annual column for Best Dish on the basis of the scallop main course that I ate on my recent solo visit to this West Vancouver space that has played host to various incarnations and reincarnations of Café Ca Va over the years.

Rive Gauche has maintained some of the best design elements of the elegantly appointed Café Ca Va, but the continuity ends there. The restaurant is now under the ownership and culinary direction of Chef Weimar Gomez, a strong but understated talent whose pedigree includes some heavy-hitting kitchens both here and abroad. His experience includes helming the Four Seasons Hotel kitchen in Shanghai, as well as serving in an executive capacity at Paris’s legendary George V Hotel, which is home to three Michelin star-rated eatery Le Cinq.

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Gomez’s time in sophisticated high-end dining shines through in the thoughtful techniques and stunning plating of dishes in his North Shore room, but he nevertheless preserves a certain approachability and earnestness that makes Rive Gauche experience welcoming. I sat at the bar, as I am prone to do when dining on my own, and engaged in a fun and frank conversation with the maitre d’, who I know only as Andres. Andres has a natural charisma to him, a disarming affability developed over more than two decades in the industry. He introduced me to the chef de cuisine on duty on the evening of my visit, Gleb Podshibyakan, who expertly turned out gorgeous plates all by himself to a moderately busy room. About 20 minutes into my meal, Andres introduced me to another young looking, casually dressed guy who walked into the room. This turned out to be none other than Chef Gomez himself, who sat at the end of the bar and folded some napkins for place settings, checked some numbers on a laptop, and kept a deceptively sharp eye on the evening’s service, all while unobtrusively ensuring that my meal was top shelf and that I had whatever I needed. It is rare that queries about a dish can be answered live time by the mastermind who developed it, but such was my experience.

Chef Gomez and his chosen front of house leader are connected through their native Colombian roots and through subsequent stints together at high profile venues around the world. That familiarity translates into a seamless guest experience. Indeed, my dinner service trio (executive chef, chef de cuisine, maitre d’) ran the restaurant like a well-oiled machine, anticipating needs and maintaining a personable but always professional demeanor. I was easily persuaded to enjoy a second appetizer before my main course, for instance, because I was afforded some insight into how it was made. It was a hefty and decadent dish of foie gras au torchon, the prized liver having been gently poached in Rasteau, a peppery, complex wine from the southern Rhone Valley. The liver, presented in two thick medallions, was served with toasted points of house-made brioche, a unique variation on the typical starch accompaniment for foie gras made here with a bit of cornmeal for weight and texture. A tangy berry jam helped cut through the innate creamy fattiness of the liver, as did a splash of Sauternes – the signature wine pairing for foie gras – generously proffered to me without asking.

My initial starter was a gorgeous dish of octopus cut into three tubular morsels and set atop al dente rounds of smoked potato, with colourful dollops of red pepper coulis, all shrouded by impossibly intricate, night-black segments of squid ink crackers, which looked like fine lace. The grilled octopus was fresh and big on flavour, nicely withstanding the heady smokiness of the potatoes. The artful presentation of this appetizer could easily be featured in the pages of an exclusive culinary publication. I paired this course with a simple glass of prosecco, its acidity and citrus notes allowing the bold flavours of the dish to shine unencumbered.

After considerable deliberation and discussion, I opted for Saint Jacques (scallops) for my main, having also been tempted by sablefish with white bean, porcini mushroom rubbed lamb, or duck with potato croquettes. Alas, I am grateful for the guidance towards the scallops as they were, as I suggested at the outset of this review, simply outstanding and qualify at this point in 2018 as one of the best dishes I have eaten.

Now look, quality comes with a price tag. I’m not going to gloss over the fact that appetizers here range from $14 to $29, and mains from $23 to $42. But this is not mass market fare. Based on what the kitchen doled out on my visit, as well as dialogue directly with the chef, I can report that Rive Gauche offers a meticulously prepared, always made-in-house, sophisticated and 100 per cent fresh dining experience. I would qualify this venue as fine dining, but without the airs that too often accompany that term.

My scallops, of which there were three massive, meaty specimens, were $31. The perfectly seared bivalves were set atop a bed of “leek carbonara,” an absolutely ingenious preparation of ribbons of aromatic leeks prepared with smoky and salty lardons (bacon cubes) and sharp parmesan cheese, finished with a velvety truffle foam prepared a la minute on the espresso machine. The dish was outrageously rich and although I eventually mopped up every drop of that carbonara and foam, I could not possibly have eaten another bite; no starch accompanied the scallops, and none was missed.

I am keen to revisit Rive Gauche, perhaps for their enticing sounding brunch service, and I hope that the restaurant’s creativity and quality are rewarded with continued patronage in a great looking space that seems to have finally received the team it deserves.

My meal, which included two glasses of wine, was $105 before gratuity.

Rive Gauche: 1860 Marine Drive, West Vancouver. RvGauche.com. 604-925-2503.

 

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