One Saturday night, after we decided half an hour would be too long of a wait for dinner at an establishment in Gastown, we stumbled upon a lovely little spot just seconds down the block. Lily Mae's was just as buzzling that night. We had never seen or heard of this French-inpsired bistro before but decided to take a peak to satisfy our curiosity. I would describe the ambience as warm, cozy, eclectic, and charming. Careful attention are placed in accenting decors with baby blue and white colour schemes. Space is pretty limited, but I still find the setting quite lovely.
We were first greeted by Armand, one of the partners of the restaurant. He was very accommodating to us despite the bistro running at full capacity. Our server, Natalie, was also very pleasant and, to be honest, we haven't received as attentive service as we did that night in a while.
The menu has a list of comfort favourites such as the French onion soup, poutine, beef bourguignon, while the prices are reasonable. As Lily Mae's is still pretty new to Gastown food scene (it opened last October), some of the items on the menu are being tweaked. Their winter 3-course menu for $25 is a steal and it includes an appetizer, a main, and a dessert. You can't go wrong with that.
We chose crab cake and French onion soup as starters and neither one was a disappointment. The crab cake was served on a bed of arugula and "ebi sauce", a punchy aioli. What I loved about it was that aside from the crab cake being almost the size of a burger patty, it was actually packed with 90% crab meat. It had golden crispy on the edges and was excellent with the sauce. French onion soup was not covered with melted cheese as I had hoped, but it was tasty and comforting, nonetheless. The crostini was baked with generous amount of cheese. The broth was savoury, and had a lot of depth. It was actually the star of the show rather than being blanketed by the bread and the cheese that accompanied it.
Traditional mussels in tomato or white wine cream sauce replaced sizzling mussels on the menu and also an option on the 3-course menu. The mussels were fresh and still a good plump size. They didn't have that strong, distinct (almost rotting) aftertaste that some mussels have when they have been frozen or sitting around too long. I also hate to see them shrink from being overcooked down to particles. The white wine cream sauce hit the spot and I drank it up like soup. Of course, I also used up the sourdough to soak up all the flavourful broth and they later expanded in my stomach.
Eggplant parmigiana was a great and hearty dish. There were right amounts of cheese and tomato sauce. It was like eating a home-cooked, low-carbs and meatless lasagna. Armand told us it was his own recipe and they will be adding the dish to the regular menu.
All the dishes were excellent but the rustic meatball risotto particularly gave us an extra "wow" factor. For some reason, the turkey and beef meatballs transferred me back to my adolescent memories. The risotto was cooked just right, the porcini mushroom gravy was rich, earthy, and comforting; creamy but not overwhelming.
For desserts, there were 2 options; triple chocolate Guiness cake or apple bacon cake. Of course, without having to think twice, I pounced on the apple bacon cake. Some may find me twisted but I have a thing for sweet and savoury, not sure why. I leaned to the couple next to our table who just finished their desserts, "Pss.. which one was better?" And without hesitation, the husband claimed, hands down, the apple bacon cake was really memorable. They were both rocking back and forth, completely satisfied out of their minds. I couldn't hardly wait for mine to arrive.
When it did arrive, I dove in, making sure I have a good bacon:cake:ice cream: caramel sauce ratio.
The apple cake was fluffy, buttery, sweet with caramelized apple chunks, and moist from soaking in the caramel sauce. The warm texture of the cake with ice cold, creaminess of ice cream, and a salty, crunchy bits of bacon and pecans just put everything together like a work of art. I could not stop eating it. So, to say it was good would be an understatement.
The triple chocolate Guiness cake with fruit coulis was also decadent and delicious. It was rich and compact, but very subtle in sweetness at the same time.
This dining experience was quite rare to occur where we enjoyed every aspect from the ambience, to service, and quality of the meal. That night, Lily Mae's was impeccable. Armand was also one of the driving forces behind creating this positive dining atmosphere. He was very warm and personable. I never realized how crucial it is for business owner, particularly in food and service industries, to create positive connection and interaction with their his guests, and thus, creating a good rapport. Despite being incredibly busy, I don't think one customer felt neglected or unhappy because they waited for the food for too long.
If Lily Mae's goal is to leave their customers feeling satisfied, then darn it, they were successful on that busy Saturday night. I'm not just speaking for our table either. I spoke with a couple next table, and they, too, just stumbled upon this gem and couldn't have left any happier. Lots of hugs, lots of laughter. Bravo. Lily Mae's is definitely making her mark.