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 THE $20 GOURMET: A good grilled cheese never lets you down

By The $20 Gourmet


When the weather becomes as relentlessly, wrist-slashingly dour as it’s been in Vancouver these past few weeks, only militant, soulless raw-foodists are immune to the twin siren calls of white-flour starch and dairy fat. Luckily for our sun-deprived souls (but unfortunately for our nutrient- and fibre-deprived colons), savvy restaurateurs have already begun acting upon the realization that the recession has made diners long for the womb-like embrace of childhood comfort dishes. Among these is the humble grilled cheese sandwich, which is emerging on menus where, until very recently, such a down-market item would have been unimaginable.

Of course, grilled cheese is an inherently nostalgic — and, therefore, highly subjective — thing, so submitting it to myriad highbrow makeovers is not only gilding the lily, it’s fucking with our deepest sense of right and wrong. At least one luxe New York restaurant I know of has swollen its grilled cheese with lobster, while Montreal’s famed Au Pied de Cochon is said to have put foie gras in theirs — an especially stupid and vile-sounding idea.

Furthermore, when the rain is pouring and the wind is buffeting and I only have an hour or so in which to sate my spirit, the last thing I want is the air of ceremony that usually accompanies fine dining. I want to get stuffed and get out....

In late October, On the Plate columnist Andrew Morrison extolled the virtues of the Croque Monsieur at Au Petit Chavignol (845 E. Hastings, 604-255-4218, AuPetitChavignol.com), and after having set upon one like Cookie Monster in a Nabisco factory, I can only nod sleepily in agreement. France’s elevated but highly dangerous take on the grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich, its bread is saturated with melted Gruyère and Béchamel sauce. Au Petit’s version (a bargain $10) is as good as you would expect from an eatery owned by the proprietors of the exemplary Les Amis du Fromage cheese shops. A textbook lesson in how to get carried away with an already good thing, the kitchen is exceedingly generous with both ham and cheese, but then they slather the beast with even more cheese before baking it in the oven. Add a side of perfectly crisp frites ($5, or salad for the same price), and you’ve got a meal that will render you happily immobile for hours, if not the rest of the day..."


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