Thoughts And Photos From The First Few Days At “L’Abattoir”

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Those were a fun first few days at L’Abattoir in Gastown. With the kitchen in calibration mode to perfect their timing, the pace was calculated so as to guarantee necks above water until close. The door was managed really well, and the action was all very smooth from my vantage point on the pass (the busy communications and exchange station in the kitchen where the plates are finished by the chef and then distributed to the staff). Almost as many customers were turned away as were seated on opening night, which is, I think, a jolly good harbinger of things to come.

From valet parking needs to service protocols, some interesting dynamics are already emerging, the most fascinating of them being those generated by the neighbourhood itself. As I’m sure most of you are aware, Gastown enjoys a late crowd these days, especially on weekends, and since the kitchen only stays open until 10:30pm, it’s Shaun and David at the bar who are receiving the wave of latecomers. As we are busily shutting down (polishing silver and stemware), they get pretty well slammed with folks keen to take a peek, wish them well and get their drink on. They’re both solid pros, however, dudes long accustomed to high volume. Most of my experience has been at slightly more formal restaurants that don’t attract a crowd seeking Negronis and Manhattans, so it’s weird to be finished with food service and then confronted with a crush of bodies at the bar. It’s pretty awesome.

As is to be expected, several bloggers made their way in within hours of the doors being unlocked. Truth be told, the very first table provided some of us with a giggle. Here’s an exchange that could have been plucked straight from the “Anti-Foodie” column…

Me: “Hey, is table 23 ready for the main courses to be picked up?”

Server: “I don’t think they’ve even touched their appetisers yet…”

Me: “What? But we sent them out ten minutes ago!”

Server: “I think…um…”

Me: “Uh-huh?”

Server: “I think they’re taking pictures of their plates and then tweeting them.”

Me: “Jesus.”

A few print and TV media people were in on opening night, too. One of them (a darling) insisted on taking my picture to instantly share with her billion Facebook pals. Gasp. A pair of PR ladies (who I really like) had a nice laugh about the “tables being turned” when I ran out their suppers. I suppose that’s to be expected and I don’t mind any of it, just so long as I don’t drop anything or let anyone down. For the most part, however, the first couple of nights saw legions of industry people who were out to support old friends and co-workers. Most of the staff at L’Abattoir have been around the block of our restaurant scene, as have the owners and those in managerial positions. For them it must have felt like a family affair. For me it was sort of intimidating. I hope to get over it.

Working with co-owner/chef Lee Cooper on the pass has been very fulfilling. We worked out a system for plate expediting on the fly, which is pretty much a double-sided piece of tape upon which his order chits are pressed, simple as that (I’m getting used to reading upside down). He’s a calm guy, probably the mellowest I’ve ever worked with during service, but a total stickler for detail. If one of his cooks misses something or makes an error, I think 99 times out of a 100 he’ll catch it before it gets to me.

I never thought I’d ever want to get back into restaurant work, but after opening night I knew that it would be good for me. All the old and familiar feelings came back – a heady cocktail of exhilaration, dread, anxiousness, joy, and strong desire not to fuck up. It tasted good, especially with a little wine afterwards. Though I’m serious about the tasks allotted to me and believe that I can pull my weight as much as the next guy, I suspect that there’s a sliver of me – however small – that might be doing it for the sake of occupational therapy.

To be perfectly honest, writing is a very lonely pursuit, especially when it’s all that you do (as is the case with me), and though I have plenty of work that I adore on my plate already I don’t think a little moonlighting will get in the way, especially when the work is so enjoyable. I think it’s exactly what I need to do to stay sane and happy as a writer, and I’m glad and very grateful to have the opportunity. My only big concern is that I might look like a dilettante when asking for shifts off here and there to go traveling (as I often have to do). I’ve got several food trips lined up through to September (New York, Tofino, Okanagan, Victoria), so there will have to be some juggling with the schedule and lots of shift brokering if it’s going to work it out. Come Fall, however, things should smooth out. Let’s hope I don’t get fired before then!

A few readers and friends have been asking via email and in person if I’ll be reviewing the restaurant for the newspaper. I will not. Writing critically about a place that I’m pulling shifts at (even if it’s for a magazine story) isn’t all that kosher in my book. I’m sure you’d all agree. That’s the way I rolled when I balanced restaurant work and food writing years ago, and I don’t mind rolling like that again. For what it’s worth, I have my fair share of food writer biases already (I’m not a vegetarian; I don’t like chain restaurants; pork fat is rad; et cetera ad infinitum). What’s more, since Mr. Grunberg has kindly invited me to stay on indefinitely, reviewing it is now doubly impossible.

That won’t, however, stop me from saying that I think it’s an excellent restaurant. I really, really do. I wouldn’t have signed up for the story if I thought it would suck in the slightest. It’s such a perfect storm of concept, design, value, talent and location that it would be an absolute disaster if it weren’t any good.

For my part, everything I tasted during training was original, thoughtful and delicious, and from what I hear from the chef’s former bosses and co-workers, he has some amazing game (just yesterday in Whistler I bumped into a former colleague of his from Ubuntu in California who assured me how talented he was). I’m very eager to sit down during service for a proper meal, but it’ll have to wait for now. So far, the response from customers has been positive, and every plate I’ve salivated over and eyeballed on the pass has been especially attractive.

Just about the entire menu is covered in the following photographs. They were taken at the staff tasting just prior to the inaugural service. As far as my palate is concerned, there wasn’t a rethinkable dud in the lot. Two dishes were the best things I’d had in months (the chicken and mushroom mains). In the end, however, what’s good is entirely up to you. Be sure to say hello when you give it a whirl. I’m the little four-eyed monster fumbling in the kitchen, trying hard not to screw up…

More on L’Abattoir

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15 Responses to “Thoughts And Photos From The First Few Days At “L’Abattoir””

  1. Matt R. on July 20th, 2010 10:04 pm

    Andrew, either your food photography skills have improved or that is the best looking food I have seen in a long time. Well played.

    Hilary’s chocolate yogurt, as in the cheesemaker? Oh snap. WTF, why didn’t I think of that.

  2. T on July 21st, 2010 11:41 am

    oh so embarrassed and blushing…think our table was the ‘table of bloggers’. We were just eager and excited to try out the new food and document in. But to be fair…I did warn the wait staff of our paparazzi-ness for the night :)

  3. Scout Magazine on July 21st, 2010 11:45 am

    ^ Yeah, like I’m one to talk! It’s a sign of the times and changing mediums. Don’t sweat it. Thanks for the giggle.

  4. T on July 21st, 2010 11:52 am

    @Andrew – It was funny though…that night our waiter did mention you were there and to make sure if we bumped into you to drill you for info

  5. Scout Magazine on July 21st, 2010 12:08 pm

    I would have been ready. They don’t f@ck around with training. :-)

  6. Jonathan on July 21st, 2010 12:08 pm

    We weren’t that bad! You should see us when the groups of bloggers get large, that really is a spectacle. And besides, L’Abbatoir got a love letter out of it on foodandtell.com!

  7. Scout Magazine on July 21st, 2010 12:14 pm

    You weren’t bad at all. The funny thing for us was the fact that the first ever paying customers were journos. Honour is due to the first table, always.

  8. Scout Magazine on July 21st, 2010 12:14 pm

    PS. Nice pics, Jonathan!

  9. Jonathan on July 21st, 2010 12:20 pm

    Thanks! They have great lighting, so that made it easy. Really enjoyed it, look forward to trying more of the menu. Cheers.

  10. pablopicante on July 21st, 2010 1:51 pm

    out-standing impromptu dinner there on monday. still reminiscing about the flank steak/ sweetbread combo…
    much respect to both front and back of house for the flawless execution this early in the game! :)

  11. Miguel Quezada on July 21st, 2010 3:59 pm

    Andrew you can more than hold your own on the pass. Old man you still got it.

  12. Fud on July 21st, 2010 10:35 pm

    The blueberry Sorbet with the “Fizz” a.k.a. Fizzy Lemonade was incredible. So refreshing and light.

    Even though we only tried a fraction of the menu it will be hard to beat the Crispy Mushroom Turnover. The Morels and Chantrelles…my gawd.

  13. Suzie on July 24th, 2010 5:46 am

    OMG the bartender there is SO hot! Reason enough to find a stool at the bar :)

  14. Nicole on July 25th, 2010 1:12 am

    Had dinner here tonight, and was completely blown away. What an excellent dining experience. The mushroom turnover was insane. I’ll be back, absolutely! This place is a perfect example of what makes the Vancouver restaurant scene great.

  15. Favourite 2010 Moments | Senses Inspired on December 31st, 2010 5:51 pm

    [...] with Jonathan of Food and Tell at L’Abattoir’s opening night.  For a bit, we thought Scout Magazine’s mention was about us but apparently a table of bloggers arrived just before [...]