by Andrew Morrison | Though it won’t be open until the early Autumn, “Au Comptoir” should be on every Vancouver food-lover’s radar. The 50 seat restaurant currently under construction at 2278 West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano is being launched by Maxime Bettili and Julien Aubin, two old friends who met at hospitality school in France 17 years ago. The front of house veterans toiled at cafes and brasseries in France before moving to Vancouver nearly five years ago. Aubin has been a fixture at Les Faux Bourgeois in the Fraserhood ever since, while Bettili has worked at Bistro Pastis, Les Faux Bourgeois, Jules Bistro, and The Acorn.
What’s in a name? Au Comptoir translates as “at the counter/bar” — an honorific of the universal restaurant industry practise of always dining at the bar. Oh, and Au Comptoir will sport a gorgeous tin bar, built especially for them in France. The only other one of its kind in Canada is the absolute thing of beauty at Toronto’s Le Select.
What they have planned for the space is not like most French-themed cafe/bistros one readily comes across here across the pond. They’re going to strive for the same kind of cafe-style service that predominates in Paris, which is to say it’ll be open all day, from morning until night, with no reservations. Such establishments are liberating for customers used to New World protocols. One doesn’t feel rushed or guilty for taking up a table for an hour and a half with a good book and a beer. To French servers, refreshment has no check average, and the pace of a guest’s experience is none of their business. Whether you’re in for a bottle of wine with a steak frites or a cafe au lait with a pain au chocolate at 9am or 9pm, service is service.
Of course, only time will tell if Aubin and Bettili will be able to pull off this uniquely ambivalent shoulder-shrugginess. The chasms between Canadian and French tipping traditions and our understandings of what constitutes a “living wage” are tres deep.
The look is going to be a little different, too. Aside from the stunning bar alluded to above, expect custom-built tables made out of antique sewing machines, a pair of skylights soaking the room with natural light, and accordion-style folding front windows bringing the outside in. They’ve only just begun construction, so the images below will only give you a hint of the aesthetic to come, but I’m imagining a very social environment. It’s a good location.
As far as food is concerned, I’m not privy to the extent of the menu, but in our conversations to date I’ve heard mention of foie gras burgers, “bavette” steaks, magret de canard à l’orange, club and croque-style sandwiches, and pastries galore (the latter made in-house by Franck Buiron, formerly of Blue Water Cafe). It all sounds good. They’ll also have a simple list of cocktails, beers and 5/5 wines by the glass, plus a reserve list for those whose tastes have deeper pockets.
These guys sound like they know exactly what they want out of their first business, and that’s a thick slice of the country they left behind. This is perfectly understandable. They’re a long way from home, and that’s lucky for us, as the zeal with which they’re keen to shorten the distance will likely translate deliciously on our plate and in our glasses.
While West 4th already has it’s fair share of French-themed eateries, I don’t think “market over-saturation” arguments apply in the case of Au Comptoir. It has all the makings of an original, one that should draw in the curious from beyond Kits. As long as the execution is there – and we should have no reason to doubt it considering the owners’ pedigrees – I have my hopes up for good things.