Full disclosure: I was invited to dine at Catch 122 along with a group of food bloggers, local media and food…enthusiasts. The entrees were complementary but dug into our own pockets for the rest of the bill. I’ll still give you my honest opinion about the place but just thought you might like to know
“When I think French food, I think white table cloths and fine dining.”
Having been to a disproportionate number of French restaurants recently, I’ve also recently heard that phrase or something similar a disproportionate number of times. True, most of the time if someone mentions French cuisine, we immediately think Joel Robuchon, Thomas Keller, wine lists with things we can’t pronounce and immaculately plated food served by waiters wearing gloves.
Of course, you don’t think of any of those things walking to Catch 122, which is located right on the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Although revitalization projects have improved the area in recent years, you can still clearly see why it’s referred to as Canada’s poorest postal code. For the most part, you’re rather safe despite the sketchy surroundings. As rap has taught us, “don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing”. This particular area near the Woodwards building has been home to several developments in recent years with condos creeping in. If you head any further East, you’ll encounter some of the most desolate areas of the city where drugs and homelessness are rampant but if you head a block West, it’s luxury high-rises and high-end boutiques.
One step into Catch 122 and you don’t think Downtown Eastside. Warm, incandescent bulbs light up the rough brick walls and solid woods that comprise much of the dining area and bar. The place feels welcoming and comfortable, like if Cheers took place in a French bistro. The tables are entire cross sections of tree so no two are the same and most of them have holes. There are barrels sitting around and I don’t think there’s anything in them. I love the look of Catch 122. It’s a relatively new restaurant but the space has character.
One look at the menu and you don’t think French food immediately either. Alongside classics like coq au vin and duck confit, there’s a lasagna and a pulled pork sandwich. That seems consistent with what owner Brent Kyle tells me about not focusing necessarily on French cuisine but just good food inspired by French cuisine. That’s true…everything here seems to be a home-style comfort food like mac & cheese but made with care and precision.
I opted for a beef carpaccio ($13.50) to start and the coq au vin for my entree, which came with a recommendation from my server. The menu isn’t huge but there’s still plenty to choose from. There’s even two different types of poutine! Several of the appetizers (like both poutines) are available as sides for your entrees.
As far as presentation goes, the beef carpaccio is a stunning blend of color with that deep red, thinly sliced beef, a puff of fresh, green arugula, shaved Parmesan and crostini. It’s a great mix of flavor as well with the tender beef, salty cheese and crisp, slightly bitter greens. I’m not saying everyone should eat meat raw but I really enjoy stuff like this. It lets the ingredients shine on their own.
I’m told Catch 122 has some of the best coffee in town. Not even the fancy pants coffee either. The regular brewed coffee is about two bucks and from the multiple cups I saw everyone else drain, I’d assume it’s pretty good. I’m not much of a coffee drinker myself so I went for a Boylan Cane Cola ($2.50), which uses cane sugar rather than the high fructose corn syrup found in Coke and Pepsi. Only in North America do we go for the lower cost of corn syrup over the superior taste of cane sugar. Everywhere else in the world they use the good stuff. Next time you’re in the US, ask for a “Mexican Coke”. Trust me…cane sugar it makes all the difference.
Like the beef carpaccio, the attention to plating with the coq au vin ($21) is evident. It speaks to the attention to detail and refinement the kitchen treats this rather rustic dish. Even the potatoes look like they’re posing. You wouldn’t think a wine braised chicken would be all that attractive but the sum of the parts here in quite a good looking plate…er, bowl.
The first thing I noticed is that this is an absolutely an enormous portion of food. I should’ve put something into the picture for a sense of scale but basically it’s half a free range chicken braised in red wine and veal stock with pearl onions, bacon, mushrooms and baby carrots. There’s also an entire field’s worth of roasted garlic nugget potatoes sitting underneath that chicken. In all seriousness, there were at least two sizable potatoes at the bottom of my bowl. As for the bowl itself, this really should’ve been served on a plate. Cutting things up with a knife and fork is more difficult when the food isn’t anywhere near the surface of the dish way down past all the spuds.
Taste-wise, the dish works. The chicken is slightly too salty by itself but mellows out with the potatoes, which just soak up the flavor. The meat has a deep, rich red wine note throughout and a slight peppery kick. There’s a lot of stuff in the bowl…a considerable amount of bacon and mushroom is mixed into the potatoes. I enjoyed everything in my bowl and enjoyed it just as much when I ate the other half of my entree at home the next day. I have my annoyances with the bowl but this is otherwise a great dish.
Kyle tells me that his previous restaurant was on Commercial and that he took pride in the fact that everything on the menu is available to go. Two large refrigerators at the front of the house were stocked with frozen versions of pretty much everything available. I haven’t tried this but my coq au vin held up well against my microwave.
Some of the other dishes around the dining room included this lasagna Bolognese ($18) which, like my coq au vin, was enormous. Not only is it wide but that dish is deep as well. There’s at least enough lasagna to feed two adults or half a Garfield. I tried a bite and the cheese layer on top is crispy, melty goodness like it should be but the rest of the lasagna is lacking in the cheese department. The noodles are well-cooked with nice bite but I wish all the ingredients in between mashed together a bit better. I shouldn’t be able to make a such clear distinction between meat and cheese. Needs some tweaks to make this a great lasagna.
Normally with people I know are food bloggers, we have no problems sharing food. Heck, I’ve met some food bloggers for the first time and we’re eating off the same plate half an hour later but since a bunch of people at the dinner weren’t bloggers, I figured they may not be as comfortable with the idea. Fortunately, they were all more than happy to let us pose their food by the window for photos before chowing down. Among the things I didn’t try myself were:
Cream of asparagus soup ($6.75)
Slow roasted pulled pork grilled cheese ($14), served with fries and a mixed green salad.
AAA New York striploin ($25) with a red wine peppercorn sauce or Roquefort cheese sauce and seasonal vegetables.
Mac & Cheese ($5.25. Oh boy…look at that gratin layer…). Did I mention it’s an open kitchen?
Chocolate ganache delice ($7.50)
Croissant “bread pudding” ($7.50) with berry compote and creme Anglaise.
Overall, I had a great time at Catch 122, although that may have had more to do with the fantastic new people I was meeting than the service. Although we were the only people in the restaurant, the kitchen’s times were rather inconsistent. I know my table ordered last but our food arrived nearly 30 minutes after everyone else. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The staff are very welcoming, attentive and apologized profusely about the long wait for my food. Yes, there were 15-20 of us but that’s not nearly capacity for Catch 122.
As for the food, some of the other diners I spoke to loved their meals (the steak especially) while others weren’t too impressed (duck confit received reviews of “salty” and “bitter”). For the most part, everyone thought the food was good even though we had a minor quip or criticism about just about all the dishes we tried (like my dislike for serving the coq au vin in a bowl). I think certain dishes need a bit of a tune-up but otherwise, Catch 122 is serving up some very good food at very reasonable prices, especially since you’ll probably have enough for lunch the next day as well.
A contemporary and comfortable setting with great ambiance and tasty French bistro-style food at reasonable prices. Dishes are as large as the plating is pretty. There are some hiccups with service and some quibbles with individual dishes that keep Catch 122 in the “good” category rather than “great”.