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Tucked away on the quiet end of Main Street, Cafe Monmartre is a long, narrow hideaway that harkens back to the days when neighbourhood radicals philosophized over glasses of red wine while nodding along to jazz standards performed by whiskey-soaked divas, and poetry performed by Canadian Spoken Word legend T.Paul Ste. Marie and friends.
Those days may have never existed in Vancouver but that doesn't stop Cafe Monmartre from creating a credible romantic nostalgia vibe. The cafe's walls are lined with photos and vintage French print ads, the drink list includes Pernod and well-chosen budget reds and a small stage at the front is used nightly (live music Tuesday through Saturday, spoken word and music Sunday evenings and actors improv Monday nights).
Best of all, this cafe obviously takes its food seriously. Though mainly French, the fare here does not adhere to the sauce-laden small-portion school of French cooking. The food covers all the unpretentious basics; chunks of brie served with warm baguette ($5.75), potatoes cut in generous chunks and baked in olive oil, garlic and herbs ($3.95), and a lentil soup ($3.95) thick with veggies in a richly flavoured vegetarian broth.
There's also a nod to Frances' North African neighbours. On a recent dinner we had the Mediterranean Platter ($8.95), which featured the above-mentioned potatoes, a tangy humus, tomato slices, warm pita and Kalamata olives. Perfect food to snack on during a night of beverage boosting.
From the mains we chose the Sacred Heart Crepe, a thin tender crepe stuffed with nutmeg-spiced spinach and mozzarella. It was mouthwatering, but a little too French in its portion size (wouldn't do for a stand-alone dinner). The French Ratatouille ($7.95) was an excellent value - a healthy portion of well-cooked vegetables in a tangy tomato base and served on jasmine rice.
Especially unusual for a French-style cafe is the lack of red meat on Monmartre's menu. There are four chicken dishes, though on the night we were there the kitchen had run out.
On the dessert list, grown-up sundaes (featuring liquers rather than syrups) sounded tempting but the waitress (who added immensely to the atmosphere with her film noir fashion sense) tripped over her adjectives trying to heap adequate praise upon the Decadent Crepe ($5.75). We believed the hype and were rewarded with a crepe stuffed with dark chocolate, nuts and brandy and spiked with orange zest - the kind of dessert that works miracles when you're searching for an upscale sugar rush.
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