Monday, March 30, 2015

90% gluten free at Linh Café

Linh Café - French Cooking on Urbanspoon I can't remember what initially attracted me to try Linh Café, but I was definitely sold on it when they replied that 90% of their dishes are gluten-free (but of the desserts, apparently only the chocolate mousse cake is gluten-free).

It's a smallish place, so if you do not have reservations, expect their earlier dinner seating to have a small lineup on busier days like Fridays evenings. You are probably safe to do a walk-in later, maybe around 8pm. Larger groups and chatty diners should probably go later so that you don't feel pressured to eat and get out because of the lineup at the door.

Decor is okay, with some interesting things to spot such as a row of painted pig heads. Also be sure to check out the potential desserts in the counter before you get started with dinner. I am normally careful to save room for dessert, but the dinner service at Linh Café surprised us and only two of us had any room for more than a couple of bites -- on top of doggy bagging some of our dinner.
The "problem" is you get bread. And french fries (or possibly mashed potato, as some people have previously reported). In our party of five, not everyone ordered a main and we still ended up with doggy bags and no room for dessert.

Dinner mains are over $20 here, which is sort of steep. But if you are feeling budget conscious, know that you can just order one main (and if you are dining alone, definitely don't order more than that unless you eat like a hungry hockey player) and expect to waddle out of there as well-fed as if you had just been to grandma's -- thanks to the free carbs mentioned above.

Like an old school restaurant, the bread is on the hot side of warm and probably only recently out of the oven. Fries weren't the best and not always perfectly long like McDonalds, but hey, they were decent and free so shaddup. If you don't want the carbs, better tell them first or they'll just bring it out--and they aren't stingy with the portions.
Unless you are faint with hunger, do NOT immediately eat up all the bread and french fries. People do that all the time at steakhouses and then they run out of room to finish their steak, much less fit in dessert. Besides, you want to save some bread for all the tasty sauce going around.

Banh Mi Cay Hai Phong - Spicy Baguette Sticks ($6.95 for three or $12 for six) Chicken & pork liver pâté, hot sauce, fried shallot
  • The "baguette sticks" are about the size of fat sausages -- maybe an inch thick and six inches long. They are pretty crusty on the outside and somewhat dry on the inside, so when you bite it, they break cleanly off. Don't expect a bread-like chewy experience.
  • The amount of pâté looks skimpy, but the flavour is powerful.
  • I recommend asking for the hot sauce on the side to make sure you get it on the side. It is really spicy, but mostly bitter. Since the liver is already somewhat bitter, it's not really stamping out any flavour, but I still recommend you try it out separately to determine how much you want in your baguette stick.
Poutine ($12.95) Peppercorn gravy, black forest ham, Swiss cheese, hand cut fries
  • The star here is the tasty peppercorn gravy. Despite the cosy sit-down atmosphere, you may or may not still feel it is worth an extra $3 over, say, Mean Poutine.
    • Save some of the bread to mop up the tasty gravy!
  • Had poached egg on it.
  • Jazzing it up will cost you extra: Made-in-house sausage ($4.50) or half butter-poached lobster ($21!)
  • Our waiter recommended a touch of freshly ground pepper, which was probably not necessary due to the peppery gravy, but it certainly didn't hurt any.
Lyonnaise Salad ($12.95) Poached egg, frisee, lettuce, shaved fennel, bacon
  • I was working on poutine, duck, chicken, and still trying to have room for dessert, so I passed on trying this. But the person who had it said her greens didn't have any dressing. Could be a fluke, could be the chef's particular style.
Vegetarian Roll ($10.50) Marinated Tofu, vermicelli, lettuce, fresh herbs
  • One of the few vegetarian choices and totally a dud.
  • Rice paper (?) wrap around the lettuce that holds the filling together. This was slightly sticky so the whole thing was tricky to even get off the plate.
  • Needed to slather this with sauce to be passably tasty. Vegetarians should just give Linh Café a pass.
Chicken Fricassee ($22.95) Chicken legs, tomato confit, preserved lemon
  • Wow was this salty! So off-puttingly salty that's all I could think about, sadly. You can try to ask the kitchen to watch the salt and season it yourself after if it really turns out bland.
  • Something else you can do is order a side of couscous ($2.50) to mix into the soup/sauce here. That, and save some of the bread. The complimentary fries won't help as much here since those are lightly salted.
Duck Roti ($23.95) Roasted duck, glazed grapes & apples, duck sauce
  • When I saw "roti" I immediately thought of some sort of flatbread to go with it. I am a sucker for rotis and naan bread and such so of course I immediately ordered this. Turns out, it's duck rôti -- i.e., roast duck. Duh. I should have realized you are unlikely to get roti out of French cooking.
  • For your money you get a sizable chunk of duck -- basically the rear one-quarter of duck. (No fatty tail, though). The price may seem daunting but combined with the complimentary bread, it's a full meal.
  • One quarter of a duck is, in my opinion, a bit too much duck for one person. Plus it looks like it is swimming in oil. You are liable to get meat/fat fatigue eating this, in the same way you could get your enthusiasm dulled while eating a slab of steak.
    • For this reason, I recommend you bring a buddy to share this item.
    • Fortunately the sauce has grapes and apples, which give a sweetness to offset any heaviness from eating tasty fatty duck. Spread them out and occasionally pair your bites with them.
  • Overall, nicely prepared duck with tender meat, but not my first choice of a main if I were eating alone.
  • Takes a bit longer to prepare than other mains. Just roasting the duck takes about 25 minutes.
Apple Chausson ($4.50)
  • Apple in puff pastry. Basically an apple turnover.
  • Something about this was just so good and tasty. It starts with the aroma -- so buttery! But the taste isn't too-buttery-rich.
  • Lovely flaky pastry. This was delightful to eat.
  • Sadly, because we were already having trouble finishing our order, this was the only dessert we got to try.
Cold Vietnamese Coffee ($4)
  • At our table was one Vietnamese person, and one person who'd been to Vietnam extensively. They assured me that the slow-drip Vietnamese coffee with its use of condensed milk was good stuff. But was it good enough to be worth $4?
  • Tall skinny glass with maybe 1/4 ice.
  • Bitter coffee -- where's my condensed milk?
  • I've wasted less money at Starbucks.
When the food was good, it was very good in a very-well-prepared sort of way. Service was friendly, and very attentive during the later dinner seating we had.

TIP: Don't go alone. One appy + one main can probably easily be shared between two persons. If you do go alone and want any chance of having more than just a nibble of dessert, put your meal together with appetizers.

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