On a quiet corner in Vancouver’s Railtown neighbourhood, St. Lawrence sits just one block south from its popular sister restaurant, Ask for Luigi. With Luigi comfortably established as a city staple—guests often found in a queue prior to opening, hungry for scrumptious pasta—co-owner and chef J.C. Poirier was able to turn his attention to a cuisine a little closer to home.
“For chef, it’s about going back to his roots as Québécois, and also his training, and really reimagining and re-examining the classics,” says Michael Ziff, St. Lawrence’s Quebec-born general manager, who previously worked overseeing Vancouver’s Hawksworth and Chambar restaurants. “He’s really treating Quebec as if it’s a region of France, in a way—regional cuisine as an extension of French gastronomy.”
As Poirier made his name in the Vancouver dining scene—co-founding Kitchen Table Restaurants to establish city favourites like Pizza Farina and, of course, Ask for Luigi—St. Lawrence’s French-forward menu was always a dream. A series of sold-out pop-up dinners leading up to St. Lawrence’s July opening allowed the team to try dishes on two 30-seat sittings per night in a city arguably lacking in Québécois cuisine. “What I think we want to establish was—it’s the beyond-the-poutine thing,” Ziff says with an almost rueful laugh. So what does Quebecois cuisine entail, if not only squeaky cheese on saucy fries?
“[Chef Poirier’s] really treating Quebec as if it’s a region of France, in a way—regional cuisine as an extension of French gastronomy.”
All meals at St. Lawrence begin with a dollop of cretons (a pâté-like mix of ground pork and spices cooked slowly over four hours) to be spread with mustard seeds on thick slices of grainy bread. “It’s sort of an amuse-bouche, but it’s also the gateway to talking about Quebec food,” Ziff explains. From there, appetizers like bison tongue (brined and smoked in the style of Montreal smoked meat) and beef tartare (made with creamy and sharp chèvre noir cheese in lieu of egg) perfectly encapsulate St. Lawrence’s marrying of French and Québécois cuisines.
Entrées are protein-forward and flavourful. Dishes like a lush pork chop, duck ballontine, or mustard-braised rabbit are each paired with a sauce (butcher, maple, herb, respectively) supplying just the right sumptuous or sweet note. Specials du jour might find you sharing a Cornish hen for two, slicing easily in half to reveal decadent foie gras and sweetbreads, or a dessert of fluffy meringue—though you can’t go wrong with Québécois classics like tourtière (filled with venison) or a deceptively light tarte au sucre. “It seems to be bookending people’s experiences here,” Ziff says of the sugar pie.
Aperitifs and digestifs also tie the meal together, with sips of craft beers, ciders, or French wines along the way. “The [thinking behind] the beverage program was, ‘how do people drink around meals like this?’” Ziff says, listing lighter drink options and cognacs to help cut hearty entrées perhaps not quite typical of the light and healthy West Coast way.
Yet stepping into St. Lawrence already transports guests somewhere between B.C., Quebec, and France in a realm of soft blues and dusty greens punctuated by subtle fleur-de-lis. Walls are accented by brass lamps, antique plates, and oil paintings of pastoral and still life scenes—a refined hominess courtesy of Botanist and Osteria Savio Volpe designers Ste. Marie. Even when peak dinner hour finds all 44 seats filled, attentive servers set a decidedly relaxed atmosphere, and even the open kitchen betrays no sense of stress. The constant rumble of guests’ conversation might be inspired from the quiet request on the menu’s opening page to s’il vous plaît put away your phone for the meal.
Leave the work day behind you, Ziff suggests, and focus on their mantra of food as pleasure. “You’re here to indulge—you’re probably not here to watch your waistline,” he admits. “We’re here to facilitate that.” You are in good hands at St. Lawrence.
St. Lawrence, 269 Powell St, Vancouver, (604) 620-3800.
Photos by Glasfurd & Walker.
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