By virtue of being a team in good standing in our hockey league, once again we were presented with money to spend at the Thirsty Penguin located upstairs at the rink. Okay, I have nothing against the place. After all, it serves a purpose. It provides food for people who are already there for hockey, watching hockey, skating, watching skating and the sort. For me, there is much better food found elsewhere for the price. So when Gadget Girl wanted the whole team upstairs to share in the free food, I respectfully declined. Hey, I need to eat something different! I'm a team player, I swear! Ultimately, this is one of those rare times I did not eat with my team on a Friday. So what's the alternative? How about eating with fellow bloggers instead? I quickly suggested the idea to some and the result was Kim, Anita, Darina and Whipping Girl joining me for dinner at Jules Casual French Bistro. Although there is "casual" in the name, Jules is far from unsophisticated. In fact, the ambiance and clientele exuded a homey elegance. With piano music in the background, energetic chatter and mood lighting, Darina and I were already liking the place. However, the luminescently-challenged room played havoc on my picture-taking. I pleaded to use my flash; but everyone agreed not to. In the end, it was a good decision because the seating arrangements are quite close. I'm sure our dining neighbours would not appreciate a side of blinding light with their Steak Frites...
On the topic of Steak Frites, that is one of the options in the Table H'ote menu which includes a starter salad and dessert as well. Darina opted for this and the steak was alright. More cooked than I would've liked, it did have decent flavour from the herb butter. I wasn't a huge fan of the frites. They were mostly stuck together and resembled the ones I could get at the Stanley Park Concession. My point is they were crispy; but nothing else set them apart. For my starter, I had the Lobster & Shrimp Bisque. There was definitely a strong lobster essence; but it was somewhat overwhelmed by a level of spiciness that I have never seen in a bisque. If this was named something else, I would've been fine with it. Furthermore, it was quite thin. For my main, I went with the Seared Pork Chop with Dijon cream, braised Savoy cabbage and honey glazed carrots. Being a double cut pork chop, this probably took a while to cook; thus our food took longer than expected. However, it was beautifully executed with a nice sear on both sides and barely (and I mean barely) cooked centre. Thus, the meat was still quite most. The luxurious Dijon cream provided an smooth accent to the otherwise modestly-seasoned chop. I was on the fence in regards to the cabbage and carrots. On one hand, it was deliciously sweet; yet on the other, it was mushy. Yes, that is braised veggies for you; but it ain't my personal favourite texture.
Kim went for both of the daily specials starting with the Gazpacho. As stated by our server, the ingredients were lightly blended. For me, I found it to be quite bland. Cold tomato soup is what I got. Maybe we were expecting more spice? Then again, I'm biased since cold soups are not my favourite. Both Whipping Girl and Kim had Moules et Frites, albeit with different broths. Whipping Girl had the classic version with white wine, garlic and parsley while Kim went for the special which was a spicy tomato broth. The mussels weren't bad, quite plump and sweet. If I had to choose a broth, the tomato one was better. The white wine version looked cloudy and was a one-note flavour while the tomato broth tasted as it was described. The accompanying frites were somewhat stuck together and it did not change my mind about them.
Anita started with the had the Cocktail de Crevettes et Salade d’Avocat (Prawn & Avocado Salad) to start. I sampled the salad portion of the dish and it was very mild. I guess it in that way, the avocado was allowed to shine. For me, I would've preferred a bit more acid. Anita remarked that the prawns were cooked perfectly. For her main, she had the Duck Confit and I didn't get a chance to sample it. From all accounts, it was good. By the time desserts rolled around, the restaurant had pretty much cleared out. Finally, we could use the flash! See how much better the pictures are? For my dessert, I went for their daily feature which was Mixed Berries with peppercorn ice wine. Although it was very slight, I did get the peppercorn with a muted sweetness from the syrup and it added a "je ne sais quoi" dimension to the dessert. As you can see, the berries were vibrant, fresh and sweet.
Whipping Girl chose the classic Creme Brulee. The torched sugar topping was both hard and a brilliant caramel brown. That was perfect. We weren't so fond of the custard though. It tasted alright, not overly sweet. Not a big deal since the sugar on top provided all the sweetness it needed. What we didn't enjoy was the thin custard. It needed to be slightly thicker. Otherwise, this was okay. Kim ended up with the Pear Clafoutis, which incidentally is named incorrectly. Kim and Darina were discussing that is should really be a Flaugnarde since it was made without cherries. Whatever the case, this version was cakey rather than than custardy. Are those even words??? It was very light tasting and I didn't get much pear. Bottom line is that it wasn't bad nor great. Anita had the Melting Chocolate Cake with ice cream. Uh... When it arrived, it looked more like an overcooked burger patty than anything. However, it tasted much better than it looked. It was moist, not overly sweet other than the caramel sauce. Hey it was a decent dessert. Just think of it as similar to a molten chocolate cake.
As part of her Table H'ote menu, Darina had the Chocolate Terrine. It was very rich texturally and not too sweet. It had a definite dark chocolate bitterness to it and all-in-all a pleasant dessert. In general, the food at Jules Casual French Bistro is decent. Nothing outstanding; but I wasn't expecting as much. Considering that it is located in Downtown, the prices they charge are quite reasonable. Not much is over $20.00 and if it is, there is a good reason for it. In fact, the pricing is roughly the same you'd pay at a number of the popular chain restaurants. Sure, there were some misses with the things we ordered; but nothing is ever perfect, especially with food. Jules would not be my first option for French food in Vancouver, with the likes of Les Faux Bourgeois, Salade de Fruits, Mistral and Pied-a-terre. Furthermore, there is L'abattoir a few blocks down, albeit at a higher price point. Therefore, if you wanted some French fare in Gastown and still have money left over for some late-night partying, Jules does the job.
- Okay portions
- Generally decent food
- Decent food; but there are better options
- Food came out a bit slow