Un Peu de France sur La Mile Rouge

Royale Brasserie Francaise, 730 17th Avenue, SW.  A little taste of  a French casual bistro in the middle of the Red Mile.

I do love travelling to Europe.  

My first trip abroad, more than 40 years ago, was a class trip to France. Too young to really appreciate where I was and what was around me, we visited Paris, Bourges, Blois, and a tiny town called Épinal, not far from the German border.

Paris, France, circa 19-seventy-something.  I'm the 14 year old with the beer and the shades, with some classmates, and those are less-than-impressed Parisians at the next table.....

While a lot of it is a blur (beer, wine, lack of sleep and too many years in between will do that), one thing still stands out in my mind today about that time: the food.  I recall trying vichyssoise for the first time, in a hotel restaurant in Paris, creamy and thick with potatoes and leeks; an “omelette au fromage” served by a crusty waiter, street side at a bistro near the Sorbonne; an exotic bottled soft drink and a simple sandwich in a small town during a lunch stop; and the most amazing Easter dinner, served during a home stay on the edge of Alsace-Lorraine: homemade, handmade streusel with a creamy chicken filling, a quiche Lorraine, studded with chunks of ham and heavy with Gruyere cheese, cream and eggs; wine—red, watered down by half for the young children, and a warm cherry tarte for dessert.

I’ve been back quite a few times and have had some of the best meals of my life there.  From a simple charcuterie with a crusty baguette and wine in a field to a full-blown, no holds barred five course dinner at Bocuse in Lyon, I can't think of a time when the food has been lousy; it's really on the person to find or to have a less-than-perfect meal.

Restaurant Paul Bocuse, Lyon

So to think that you could replicate the food, or the feel, of the perfect French meal on 17th Avenue, SW might be a stretch.

(Now, if you’ve been around Calgary longer than me—almost 40 years to be precise, I know where you think I’m talking about.  Not yet, but soon, I’ll tell you about a meal there).

Royale Brasserie Francaise is the place I wandered into in the early days of my quest, during Stampede.  It was a Sunday morning (the first one, I believe), and I just wanted to find a quiet place for brunch.  Dressed in shorts and sneakers, I felt a little intimidated when I walked past the first time, as it looked so….French.  Or something.

I got a few doors down, and thought, no, that’s where I want to go, so I might as well take a chance. I spun around and headed in.

I swear it felt as if I had been transported to a bistro in the middle of the French capital.

The main dining room is at least two stories high—an open atrium to skylights for a roof.  

Banquettes, covered in rich, deep dark blue fabric, crisp white tablecloths, an intricate pattern on the tile floor; wait staff in long navy aprons, slacks and white shirts. Very clean, very sharp. Beautiful. (And I was fine in my shorts.)

And then there's the garden.  I chose to sit outside as the midday heat hadn’t quite set in.  

My back to the street, my view was of a courtyard, some well-manicured flowers and greenery, a street cart (used to hold plates and utensils I think), marble tables and wooden chairs.  My first thought as I pondered the menu was that I could close my eyes, listen to the street sounds, and imagine that I was thousands of kilometres away from 17th Avenue SW, maybe a block or two off the Champs Elysees. 

It was perfect.

And the food was excellent—a croque monsieur—ham, cheese and béchamel on toast, a light salad, some fresh squeezed orange juice and a perfect cup of coffee.

I thought, I must come back again.

And so Andy and Gabby and I made our way there just the other night; I wanted Gabby to experience it as she has some French-Canadian in her (in an odd twist, the hostess was a friend of hers from elementary school—from Edmonton; they hadn’t seen each other in years, except on social media).  And Andy, he’s got his mother’s travel bug, and as long as there’s beef, he’s in.

We chose to sit inside, in the main room.  Great for me because I got to try both spots.

Andy had steak frites, Gabby a chicken dish, and I chose the gnocchi with béchamel, peas and mint (I know, I’m mixing my European cuisines—with delicious results, I might add); I also had some perfectly cooked fresh asparagus.  We all agreed the dishes were really great and the service was perfect.

And even though all three of us were pretty full, neither Andy nor I could resist the crème brulee, and Gabby had the strawberry mousse, with a little coconut sorbet on the side.

In the end, we agreed we had totally enjoyed a nice leisurely meal, with excellent, friendly service, in a comfortable space, with some good conversation.  Just like a meal at a casual bistro in France.

Royale Brasserie Francaise, is, for sure, one of the places on 17th to which I will return.