Got together with Stéphanie and Fabienne (French expat’ blogger friends) yesterday at the awesome Trees Organic Coffee Shop for a fun chat. And I feel a duty to report on my subsequent bouillabaisse expedition.
So it was Thursday night around 7:00 pm. The focus of my experiment was a restaurant called Cassis Bistro located on W. Pender downtown. A sign by the door had caught my attention by announcing… bouillabaisse. I just had to try it.
Quite hungry when I got there after our coffee, I opted for a pint of beer, more filling than wine and reminding me of the good old days when I’d order "un demi" on la Cannebière or in the old Marseille.
After a slight hesitation at the sight of the word raclette on the menu and the subsequent disappointment to see it served as a fondue, I stuck with the plan and ordered my bouillabaisse.
Well, I thought I did. My French accent must have taken control for a moment because I had to state my request again but slower to finally see the waiter’s face light up in understanding and repeat after me "Oh yes, a bullabeace!"
"Yeah, that’s it!" I grinned. He smiled and was gone. But the word must have been passed that a Frenchy was visiting, for within minutes one of the English-speaking chefs appeared bearing a very carefully crafted "bouchée", a single-bite appetizer which he tried to describe with French terms but only managed to loose me.
So I nodded, approved and sampled. It was very good indeed.
Soon after, my bullabeace arrived, equally well presented, even though a little unconventional. Sadly, a single minuscule "croûton" accompanied the plate, along with a mini-spoonful of a decent attempt at the famous "rouille" sauce.
My appetite worsened a notch at the modest size of the serving. I tasted the soup, which was good yet very lightly flavored. But the plate was flat and contained so little liquid that from the start I had trouble even filling my spoon. The emphasis was instead placed on an central island of seafood: white flesh fish, shrimp, scallops and some vegetables. And fennel.
Well I don’t honestly remember ever seeing a bouillabaisse served or presented that way. I guess the purists would argue that this was not really bouillabaisse, and I would have to agree. The price, however, was reasonable (but considering the serving size, quite logical.)
All and all, a good experience, despite the proximity at the bar of a rather inebriated dude from Saskatoon who lives in South America and who kept trying hard to convince me that Albert Camus was the best writer to ever walk the Earth – after having himself read his work translated in English!
So I can’t honestly say that I had a bouillabaisse but the fish stew was delicious. Actually, the dish reminded me more of "la bouille", a low-cost cousin of the original bouillabaisse, served in Marseille by a small and inexpensive restaurant where my dad used to eat near la Bonne-Mère, and which consisted of a thinner soup in which you were bound to find pretty much any seafood available at the time of cooking…
Marseille will remain for me the bouillabaisse capital, and the only place where, sitting at a small bistro table, I can close my eyes and almost hear César saying, across time and space, "Tu me fends le coeur."