By VALERIE ADAM
Even before I moved to the Beach last March, I was anticipating a visit to Sauvignon Bistro. Local friends raved about it for years and it was the choice locale to celebrate our birthdays. C’etait parfait.
After interviewing owners Gregoire Godin and Stephane Poquet, there is no doubt as to why it is and will continue to be a quintessential neighbourhood institution. Like Sauvignon, they are charming, innovative, eclectic and fun.
Bonvivants with that je ne sais quoi, they’re “Yin and Yang,” in perfect balance. Their personalities are reflected in everything from the decor, vibe, menus and by extension the loyal staff and clientele.
Godin and Poquet met and worked across the street from each other in London, England’s energetic and vibrant West End SoHo district. Godin is originally from Toronto, of Acadian descent, and Poquet from Brittany, France.
The restaurant was named after Godin’s Boxer, inspired by a Sommelier class. Imagine him calling for the dog, “Sauvignon, Sauvignon!”.
Formerly a convenience store, the space was gutted except for the patterned tin ceiling. The attention to detail gives the dining rooms a timeless eclectic vibe. Think bordello chic with cozy banquettes, a crescent shaped bar, exposed brick, sexy lighting via red feathered lamps and a myriad of gold, silver and crystal chandeliers. Every seat offers a different view.
Godin’s photos grace the walls, including serene nature shots from Newfoundland and Yosemite to architectural icons like New York’s Flatiron building, mixed with an array of cool industrial snaps (and yes they are for sale although it’s not advertised).
The food and wine menus change progressively except for the “Sauvignon Classics” including: Caesar salad (done right); Spicy grilled shrimps with black bean and avocado salad drizzled with a zesty citrus papaya dressing (see recipe below); Orecchiette tossed in a spicy chorizo and tomato cream sauce (see recipe below); Grilled black angus strip smeared in pommery mustard, smothered onions and russet potato fries – an inventive twist on steak frites.
These are the pillars of an internationally inspired menu that keeps its clientele wanting the same and wanting more.
“I took the Orecchiette off the menu one summer and a notable number of clients stopped coming. I added it back on when I found out why,” said Godin.
Sauvignon boasts an 80 per cent regular clientele, and it was that loyalty that helped to keep it alive and well, especially during the first wave of COVID-19.
“Locals were afraid Sauvignon would disappear,” said Poquet. “We had never done take out, we are always too busy.”
Godin added, “During COVID, we didn’t really change anything. We delivered locally, no Uber, and timed things so the food was hot.”
Poquet and Godin’s nephew Justin were on the front line doing deliveries personally. The mark of any great restaurant is the people..
“Regulars were really pleased to see all of the staff back,” said Poquet. “They’ve been with us from seven to 21 years.”
The recent shutdown for this month has definitely been disappointing for indoor dining, and Godin and Poquet are concerned for other restaurants, but not for Sauvignon.
“When we shut down last year, it was our clients who kept us going. They supported us to ensure we wouldn’t close. We’re confident that they will do the same again. Our clientele is like family,” states Godin.
With the current provincial shutdown set to begin easing on Jan. 31, restaurants will once again be allowed to welcome indoor guests at 50 per cent capacity.
Along with the easing of provincial restrictions at the end of this month January also sees Sauvignon Bistro celebrate 23 years. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure to experience it, ne manquez pas!
1862 Queen Street East
Below are three recipes courtesy of Sauvignon Bistro:
Spicy Grilled Shrimp With Black Bean And Avocado Salad (for 6)
2 cups black beans, cooked and cooled
3 avocadoes, chopped
1 bunch scallions, finely sliced
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 Papaya (ripe) deseeded and chopped
2 gloves garlic
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Shrimps deveined and peeled
Cook black beans on the stovetop in salted boiling water. When fully cooked, lay flat on a tray to cool down.
Make the papaya sauce. Add the solid foods (in order) into a blender or food processor and blend. When well blended, season to taste, add the lime juice and continue to blend.
Chop the vegetables for the salad as noted. With exception to the scallions, try to cut everything about the size of a black bean for optimal visualization.
Add the lime juice and papaya sauce last, mix the salad together.
In a small bowl, take your desired number of shrimp, add a splash of oil and sriracha to your desired spice level. Mix and throw them on the grill. When cooked, top the salad with them.
Orecchiette Pasta With Chorizo and Tomato/Cream Sauce (for 6)
2 red onions, fine diced
3 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chilli flakes
1/2 pound ground chorizo logs
6 gloves roasted (or raw) garlic, crushed
26 fluid ounces canned tomatoes, blended
3 cups 35 per cent cream
30g parmesan, split in half
rosemary sprigs, whole for garnish
2 cups dried orecchiette pasta, (1 to 2 packs)
Finely chop the onions and rosemary. In a wide based pot or pan on medium high heat, add some oil and cook this until the onions are translucent and fragrant.
Add the chorizo. Using a wooden spoon, break up the log of chorizo until it is no longer whole. Cover and allow to cook.
In this time, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is al dente (slightly less than fully cooked).
Open the can of tomatoes and blend it up. Keep aside until later.
Remove the cover of the pan and add the garlic. Using a masher, mash up the chorizo as much as possible until no large chunks exist.
Occasionally breaking down the meat some more in the process, continue cooking until the bottom of the pot begins to create fond – a layer of colour and stick that starts to crisp the meat. This is highly important to the flavour and the texture, and it is very important not to keep on high heat as this will turn into burning.
When the chorizo is broken down small enough and is nice and crispy, add the tomatoes in. Season and mix.
Turn down the heat a little and scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan. You will physically feel the difference when you do. This adds an extra layer of flavour to the sauce, gives the sauce the darker richness in its colour and helps to clean the pot. This process is called deglazing.
Allow to reduce until thickened, stirring occasionally, until no pools of liquid visibly left.
At this point, if you would like to save your sauce for later, it can be stored.
Add the cream, half of the parmesan and the noodles and mix. Reduce the sauce until it nicely coats the pasta and, like before, no pools of liquid remain.
Top with parmesan and a sprig of rosemary.
Chocolate Marquis (for 6)
6 eggs, yolks and whites separated
175g unsalted butter, cubed
40g cocoa powder
75g icing sugar
250g dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
Using a double boiler (a bowl on top of a boiling pot of water) melt the butter and the chocolate. Having these cut smaller beforehand will help quicken the process.
Be sure to turn the stove element down to medium heat to prevent overcooking.
Whip the egg whites in a stand mixer, slowly adding the icing sugar to the point of medium peaks. If doing this by hand, this will be your arm workout for the day.
Add two teaspoons (10 grams) to the egg yolks, and the remainder to the chocolate/butter mixture, stirring constantly until combined. Be sure not to leave too long so the egg yolks do not cook.
Take the mixture off of the stove top, and fold in the egg white mixture until it is fully incorporated.
Let stand for a few minutes to cool down slightly. In this time, line a bread loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving plenty on all sides. This will help shape the marquis and prevent sticking.
Pour the marquis mix into the loaf pan, cover top with the remaining plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge until fully hardened (about three hours).
Unwrap, cut off a nice slice and enjoy.