Young competitive chefs are making headline news in the culinary world these days by reinventing modern cuisine with new techniques, but as a diner, there is something very reassuring and special about dining at a traditional restaurant with an established chef and seasoned staff. It’s important to have an open mind in trying new restaurants and novel food concepts, but there is a comfort in being able to let go of all of that for a meal that is guaranteed to be good and sophisticated service that is sure to please. On a recent trip to Vancouver, we chose to have our first dinner at Le Crocodile, a traditional French restaurant that came highly recommended to us by a local. Chef Michel Jacob has been heading Le Crocodile for 25 years, maintaining a high standard of cuisine and an excellent reputation that has remained unchanged. I wanted to have a quiet and relaxing dinner where I could sit back and put my full trust in the chef and my servers, and Le Crocodile seemed like the perfect choice.
Le Crocodile is named after Au Crocodile, a famous restaurant in Strasbourg which received 3 Michelin stars under Chef Emile Jung where Chef Michel had a life changing inspirational experience. When Chef Michel was apprenticing under Chef Johnny Letzer in Strasbourg, he and his other colleagues were taken to Au Crocodile for a first hand dining experience where he was introduced to a new culinary style and philosophy that would eventually motivate him to follow the same path. After numerous other stints working in restaurants in France, Switzerland and Belgium, Chef Michel eventually moved to Vancouver to open Le Crocodile, a fine dining French restaurant. After 25 years, Le Crocodile still remains strong as one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants under his leadership and with the help of original staff who have remained loyal from the very beginning.
The restaurant is just off of Burrard street, one of the main strips that runs through the city center. Crisp white linen tablecloths, red leather banquettes, classical music and hanging oil paintings set the stage for elegant candlelight dining. French servers sporting crocodile tie pins welcome you with a genuine smile and a joke or two. Here you will receive old school hospitality and superb service in a beautiful dining room, but somehow it doesn’t feel stuffy or formal at all. It’s an unpretentious and relaxed atmosphere created by the generous staff, making for a pleasant experience for business dinners, romantic anniversaries and even family gatherings with children. The menu is classical French cuisine incorporating fresh local ingredients. Steak tartare, duck liver terrine, escargots, Alsatian onion tart and duck confit stand out as French classics, but Le Crocodile also offers many bounties of the local seas with entrées like oven roasted loup de mer, broiled sea bream, lobster tempura, grilled tiger prawns and lobster bisque. We started with a complimentary appetizer of smoked pork belly, foie gras and fresh herbs tartlette, a luscious and creamy tartlette that was served piping hot right out of the oven.
Trio de Saumon: tartare, fumé et ‘Style côte-ouest’
You can’t leave Canada without eating Canadian salmon. We ordered an appetizer of BC salmon prepared three-ways: candied salmon with tartar sauce, salmon tartare with cucumber, capers, tobiko and quail egg on a bed of sliced cucumbers, and smoked salmon with crème fraîche, capers and chopped onions on blinis. Candied salmon, made by curing salmon in honey and spices before smoking, is a popular way to enjoy salmon in Canada.
Confit de canard sauce au cidre
The duck confit, served with apple cider jus, was incredibly juicy and meaty, cooked to perfection with crisp and flavorful skin.
‘You cannot have a meal without our pomme frites!’, our server said with a wink, and brought over a plate of complimentary crispy shoestring fries.
Ris de veau aux cèpes; réduction aux agrumes, purée de navet
Luscious veal sweetbreads with meaty chunks of whole cepe mushrooms were served with silky spoonfuls of turnip purée in a citrus reduction sauce. The sweetbreads were prepared extremely well, with just a touch of wholesome gameyness that was complemented by the crisp frisée and the acidity of the sauce.
Poêlée de cuisses de grenouilles à l’ail, beurre ciboulette
I was excited for my plate of frog legs, as it’s not something that I can find easily in Los Angeles. I love the light flavor and the easy texture of frog meat, and Le Crocodile pan fried theirs with garlic and butter and dressed them with a chive butter sauce with lots of fresh parsley. The tomato concassé elevated the flavors of the dish with its acidity and refreshing flavors.
Soufflé au Grand Marnier
After a palate cleanser of complimentary pear sorbet and raspberry mille-feuille, we perused the dessert menu to see how we could complete our fantastic meal. A cheese plate? Alsatian apple tart with vanilla ice cream, made-to-order pear tart, chocolate crepes or crème brûlée? We went for the special of the day, the most sensational Grand Marnier soufflé, a warm, airy and light pillow of delight that melted into heavenly bliss with the warm vanilla sauce.
Every meal at Le Crocodile is finished with a complimentary plate of darling little dark and milk chocolate crocodiles which our jaws clamped down on and consumed without hesitation.
Le Crocodile is an upscale French bistro without outrageous prices, attitude or pretentiousness. It was a joy to have an elegant and relaxing meal that was superbly orchestrated by our lovely French staff who treated us with great respect and care. It’s hard to find such good hospitality without paying a hefty price, and for that Le Crocodile is a true gem. It’s no wonder they’ve been standing strong for 25 years and why they are adored by Vancouverites. Le Crocodile has all of the makings of a top class restaurant- history, reputation, class, authenticity, service, quality and most importantly, consistency.
100-909 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 2N2, Canada
Random trivia: Did you know that crocodiles sweat through their mouth? That’s why crocodiles are often seen on river banks with their jaws wide open- it’s their way of cooling off.