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Jan 8, 2009 06:30 PM

Bham -- New French Place?

Anyone tried the new French restaurant in Lakeview? I called today and they have started serving dinner (they started out just with lunch), but don't have their liquor license yet, there was some problem and they had to reapply. Wondered if anyone had tried it yet.

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  1. I had lunch there last Friday. I ordered the burger, which came with two sides--I had the fries and stuffed tomatoes. I ordered the burger medium, but it was a tad overcooked. The fries, which were thick cut and coated with some zesty herbs, were very good. Ditto the tomatoes.

    One of the chefs/owners, Evens, came by our table twice to check on us. It sounds as though the city has given him fits over the liquor license, which is not at all surprising given Birmingham's horribly dysfunctional city council. I will definitley go back--they had a white and black chocolate mousse that I really wanted to try, but did not have room.

    6 Replies
    1. re: pinotboy

      Do you remember much about their menu? Or better yet, do you know if they have a website?

        1. re: bhamdining

          The menu looks promising, I have been hesitant but may need to try it out.

          Has any one else been there to give a report?

          1. re: marcbham

            I went today for lunch and loved it. I ordered the breaded mahi with fries and braised cabbage. They brought out an amuse-bouche which was a cucumber round with a dollop of some creamy aoili type sauce then shaved, raw tuna (or was it salmon?), topped with red roe. There were two of them and I could have eaten fifty. Gives me an idea for an appetizer. On to the main dish. They apparently make everything in house which included an interesting bread that day that tasted mostly of pepper and spices. The bread crumbs on the fish are made with the house bread (probably from a prior day). The fish was moist while the breading was crunchy and topped with some relish of chopped red and yellow bell peppers (I think). The fries were hand cut and fried to order, a little oily and salty but in a good way like my mom used to make. Braised cabbage was braised cabbage, which I like well enough.

            The menu is interesting and I definitely plan on returning soon to try the quiche, crepes, and the croque monsieur.

            Owner/chef (?) was speaking French with one table.

            Crystal my server was cute and engaging and was not afraid to make recommendations when asked.

            1. re: Dax

              The amuse bouche from Monday was salmon and the chef says it was guacamole but it didn't really stand out.

              I stopped back in for lunch today and had the croque madame (which you can get with the fried egg on top but I didn't). Since business was slow, I ended up speaking with the co-owner and co-owner/chef and staff about business, liquor, etc. The liquor license is very much slowing down business (as I noticed at lunch) and must be really tough on dinner. Give them a shot.

              Some of the dishes on the website which require booze in the recipe (ie escargot) apparently cannot be served yet. I assumed you could use alcohol as an ingredient even without a liquor license since most of the actual alchol is burned off but maybe not?

              Is it legal to BYOB to a place without a liquor license in Alabama? This state has some weird liquor laws.

              Lunch was good although the croque was a little heavy with all of the cheese. That's the way they are supposed to be prepared but I had been considering the burger too. Fries excellent again. Amuse bouche was almost a crab rangoon except filled with chevre and sauteed onions, accompanied by a roasted pepper relish.

              Edit: They are also doing a Sunday brunch.

              1. re: Dax

                Yes, it is legal to bring your own wine to a restaurant, as long as they do not have a liquor license. However, it is illegal to bring wine to an establishment that DOES have a liquor license, although this is often ignored. (I checked into this recently with the ABC.) Yes, Alabama definitely has some weird liquor laws.

    2. Sorry - didn't see this thread at first. I just posted a lengthy review in the thread titled "Cafe de Paris in Birmingham" - here's a link to that thread:

      5 Replies
      1. re: flyerguybham

        I went back for lunch today and had the crepes with ham and cheese--very good. There were a lot more people there today than there were the first time I went, so hopefully business is picking up for them.

        I was told they should have their liquor license in about a week, which should help them a great deal.

        1. re: flyerguybham

          Went back again for lunch today with my wife. Walked in around 12:15 and almost every table full - probably a result of the 4-star review the Birmingham News gave them a few days ago.

          Evans (one of the two owners) greeted us and sat us, but it was taking a long time for drink orders. After about 8-10 minutes we started to notice that there seemed to be only one waitress. Evans was running back and forth from the floor to the kitchen playing host, waiter, and chef. You could tell he was beyond nervous - it was clear they were WAY understaffed for the crush - we wondered if they had not anticipated the effect of the good review in the paper.

          He finally got back to us after about 10 minutes. He apologized profusely, MANY times, and said that they had 4 servers call out sick today (not surprising - seems like half my office is either out sick or getting over something now). We noticed some tables were getting distinctly restless, as the one remaining waitress and Evans tried to manage the whole room (and Evans was also helping cook - I was peeking back in the kitchen from time to time and I think it was just the other owner back there).

          Surprisingly, once the orders got in, everything went fairly fast. More importantly, the quality of the food was probably even better than the first time. I had the Chateau Steak and my wife had the Quiche of the Day, which was a bell pepper quiche. My steak was delicious, a good size, and cooked to my specification. On the side I had the carrot puree, which sounds not very good, but was delicious, it was a ramekin with a puree of roasted carrots, it was really nice and creamy and the roasted flavor came through. I also had fries. Steak, fries, and carrots were $10 (as are most/all of the lunch items).

          The quiche, however, was the star. It was honestly the best quiche either of us had ever tasted, and we order quiche a lot. For example, we usually like the quiche at Sunday brunch at Chez Lulu, and this blew it out of the water. It was incredibly flavorful, the peppers were fantastic, and the cheese was nice and strong and really came through. I was eating the little bits left on my wife's plate when she was done.

          During our meal, Evans managed to check on us a few times and kept our drinks full, and each time he apologized profusely for the delays (which really, once the drink order was taken, were not that long). We said that it was no problem and that we were enjoying our lunch, but he said, "No, I must apologize, you are the customers and this is not right and this will never happen again, I cannot apologize enough" and on and on. He was really sincere, if over the top a little. He insisted that we enjoy a dessert on the house, so after much arm twisting (ok, not that much :-) we shared the cherry pie. It was also fantastic, an individual pie with a really interesting crust halfway between pie crust and almost like a custard, with dark cherries baked in, a bit of ice cream on top, and a fruit glaze and cream type sauce on the dish. Yum.

          Meanwhile, now that most of the lunch rush had been served their food, Evans went around to each table with apologies and insisted that everyone get a free dessert. We had been eying one table of six that was REALLY unhappy with the delays, and watching how they would respond. They were gruff in their responses, sitting with their arms crossed, but put in their dessert requests. When the desserts came, it sounds ridiculous, but they took a couple of bites, and the entire demeanor of the table changed. Their postures relaxed, they started smiling, they were swapping talk about how good all of the desserts were - it was one of the best saves of a customer service situation I've seen in a while and they left happy.

          We were in the restaurant all told about an hour and 10 minutes (would have been an hour without the dessert). A little long for lunch, but we didn't mind, these things happen, Evans did a good job to salvage the situation as best he could, and most importantly, the food was again fantastic. We're already talking about our next trip there.

          I know I sound like they hired me to do their marketing, but I can't say enough good things about this place. The food is really good, especially for the price, and I just like to see someone so earnest about running a restaurant and doing right by his customers.

          1. re: flyerguybham

            Wow! With all the recent praise this place is getting, I've got to try it! In your opinion, how does it compare to Chez FonFon (the only other true French place in town that I know of)?

            1. re: sheilal

              I've not been to Chez Fonfon yet. Certainly just from appearances Cafe de Paris is a more casual atmosphere. The menu is more affordable at Cafe de Paris from what I am seeing online. The cuisine at Fonfon looks like it tends towards more traditional fare - the sample menu I am looking at, Fonfon is serving rabbit, lamb, steak tartare, escargot - the food at Paris is more familiar. There is some overlap, such as the Croque Madame, quiche, the salads, salmon.

              Basically, I would say that Fonfon is a bit more of a "destination" restaurant that you plan ahead to go to every now and then, whereas Paris is more of the neighborhood cafe that you might drop into once a week, and I think the menus and prices reflect that.

              Quality of the food, I can't really compare, having not eaten at Fonfon.

              1. re: flyerguybham

                I went to FonFon last night for the burger which was awesome as usual and I could eat those frites daily. We also ordered the charcuterie plate which was huge. It had chicken liver pate on toast points plus more toast points for the salumi, sausages, pates, gerkins, beets, radishes and god only knows what else. I was the odd man out on the order of 3 scallops but they disappeared quickly and the beans they lay atop were delicious as well.

                I do not think the dinner prices of FonFon are that far off from Cafe de Paris and both have comparably priced lunch menus. FonFon feels more Bistro to me (although I haven't been to France). I agree with previous posters that the atmosphere of CdP is a little lacking but the food is pretty damn good. Perhaps once they get some more business/income, they can improve the ambiance.

        2. My wife and I had an early (5:30) dinner at Cafe de Paris last night and, for the most part, were very pleased with the food. It was also the first night that they had their liquor license. We had been told when we made our reservation that we could bring our own wine and there would not be a corkage charge, and they honored that commitment without even bringing it up -- a good start.

          The amuse bouche sounds like what Dax was served at lunch, except no roe on top. It was quite tasty, and we got 3 apiece, which seemed overly generous if you'd like people to order an appetizer too.

          We decided on separate appetizers. My wife opted for the seafood-stuffed pastry, and she had nothing but praise for it. I, on the other hand, ordered the only disappointment of the meal, described as "Salad of Crab and Avocado -- Crab Meat, with Diced Avocado, Peppers and Diced Tomatoes." What it turned out to be was a handful of mixed greens with a light vinaigrette dressing, a single wedge of tomato, no peppers, no crab meat and two light pastry cones, each about 6" long and 1" in diameter at the open end that appeared to be made from crepes. Each was filled with a creamy substance with very little flavor to it at all. It was almost as if someone had forgotten what the dish was supposed to be.

          Things definitely changed for the better when our entrees arrived. They, and the accompanying sides were absolutely delicious. My wife ordered the Mediterranean style snapper, which turned out to be two nice size fillets served in a sandwich arrangement with ratatouille-style vegetables in the middle and on top. For sides, she ordered the rice pilaf and the braised cabbage. I chose the Atlantic grilled mahi-mahi, which was not grilled (the server pointed that out when I asked how the dish was finished), but was lightly coated in bread crumbs and pan sauteed. It was a generous portion, and was served much like my wife's snapper, two pieces of fish with ratatouille-style vegetables in the middle and on top. This was just fine with me. I ordered the same sides as she did. Now, you should know that I am a big fan of all kinds of fish, as long as it is fresh, but my wife is quite partial to shellfish, and doesn't order fin-fish that often. Be that as it may, we each spent the rest of the meal commenting on how much we loved our entrees, both agreeing we would order the same thing again in a heartbeat. The sides were also excellent, with a combination of spices in the flavoring in each case that was somewhat unusual to our tastes, but which we both really liked.

          For dessert, we decided to split a piece of "bread pudding." I put that in quotes because it was like no bread pudding we ever had in New Orleans (and we've had lots there), nor anywhere else for that matter. It was, however, very good and of a size that made it nice for sharing.

          The bill, including two cups of coffee, but no liquor, came to about $78 before tax and tip, which we thought quite reasonable for the quality and quantity of food we had received.

          As to service, I would say it was adequate, but nothing super. We did, however, observe a young man waiting on a few tables near ours, and were extremely impressed with his manner, his knowledge of the menu, his willingness to make suggestions, etc. Next time we go there (and there will be a next time soon), we will definitely try to get him as our waiter.

          One more comment, and that is on the restaurant's popularity. The space (formerly occupied by Los Angeles restaurant) is not small, but by the time we left at about 7:30, it was pretty much full. We happened to drive by there this morning about noon, and it seemed to be almost 3/4 full for brunch. If you're planning on going, therefore, you want to be sure to make a reservation. It looks like this could become one very popular place.

          1. I visited Cafe de Paris for lunch a couple of weeks ago. They had just gotten their liquor license but I like to drink wine usually and was disappointed with the lack of a wine list. All they had were house wines. The server told me that they are working on getting more wines in so I am am anxious to go back once they do because I loved the food.

            I couldn't believe how much food I got for $10, actually. I got the pan-seared salmon with a lemon-dill cream sauce. The sides change daily and I got the potatoes and the sauteed vegetables. It was all very delicious. They use whatever veggies they can find fresh and saute them in olive oil and rosemary and they were perfect, not overdone. I also loved the amuse-bouche, which was a wheat toast with a paprika mousse topped with a sliver of smoked salmon and a black olive. I never got to try the bread because it was not ready while I was there and he brought me the amuse-bouche after I had already gotten my entree, but that was no big deal.

            The server was helpful (I ask a lot of questions at new places just to see what they are about and how knowledgeable the staff is) although he was new and he informed me that they were short-staffed. The restaurant filled up quickly at lunch but the owner still found time to come by my table and talk to me. He seemed very nice and we spoke a little French with each other.

            I am very anxious to go back for dinner when they have more wines and try some dessert too!

            1. I recently attended Cafe de Paris for dinner with my husband and my sister, who was visiting from out of state. It was absolutely the worst dining experience any of us have ever had!
              The food was okay, but I've definitely had better. We ordered the pyramid de crab as an appetizer. It was cold, flavorless and was barely enough to feed one person. As entrees, we chose the mahi-mahi, sole, and beef tenderloin. Both fishes were tough and the vegetables were soaked in a puddle of oil. The beef tenerloin, ordered medium rare, was overcooked.
              They were obviously understaffed, with only 3 servers, waiting on 2 large parties, in addition to the regular guests. Our waitress was pleasant, but non-existant and clueless about the menu items. We finished an entire bottle of wine before we ever received our salads or a bread basket (at least an hour, if not longer).
              They tried to win us over by offering free desserts. Hesitant, we accepted and ordered coffee to compliment. The desserts weren't anything worth mentioning and the coffee was cold and stale. We had nearly finished our dessert before receiving fresh, hot coffee.
              Very unhappy and dissatisfied by our experience, we chose not to prolong the situation by complaining. Five days later and still fuming over a nearly $200 dinner bill, I mailed a letter of complaint to the owners, requesting a refund. Although I knew it was unlikely I would receive one, I at least hoped for a sincere apology.
              Serge called me after receiving the letter and was nothing short of insulting. He patronized me for having never been to France and therefore, not knowing what it was like to dine in an authentic, french restaurant. He stated that if I wanted fast food, we should have gone to McDonald's.
              He literally laughed at me over the discussion of a refund and said waiting 5 days to complain was too long to make such a request. Not once did he ever apologize for the poor experience we had. Finally he said, if we didn't like it, we didn't have to return. Needless to say, we won't be, and I highly caution anyone else to do so!

              1 Reply
              1. re: E_squared

                This exact same review/slam is on yelp with both posts being your sole post on each site.

                Personally, I feel that Cafe de Paris is good, not perfect, and the staff including Serge have all been very nice and accommodating the 10 times I have been there. Serge comes by to ask how you like everything. I like their breaded mahi prep and thought their carpaccio was excellent on a recent visit. With that said, I've never seen it crowded so I wonder how it stays open. I have noticed that they tend to run with a skeleton crew so I do not doubt your comment about being understaffed (although I haven't seen any noticeable lags in service but I sit at the bar).