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Cafe de Paris in Birmingham

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Has anyone else eaten at Cafe de Paris (http://www.cafedeparis.us/) yet? My wife and I went for lunch this week. It is in Lakeview in the location formerly occupied by Los Angeles. It is run by two chefs that grew up and trained in France and have been working in Birmingham area restaurants for a few years (Bottega, Five Points Grill, Lakeview Oyster House). We came away impressed.

My wife had the ham and cheese crepe and I had a salmon panini (not sure how authentic French that is but it was good!) The crepe was -loaded- with filling and was very tasty - the ham was smoky and also had some sweet notes to it. The panini was one of the best paninis I have had - thin slices of smoked salmon, hard boiled egg, tomato, a really nice mayo based spread, and pressed really nicely in the panini press. The sides were excellent - the chef mentioned that all of the produce came fresh from the Alabama Farmer's Market. I had the mixed veggies which were grilled and included eggplant, squash, tomato, mushrooms, carrots, very nicely seasoned. The fries were hand cut and I am pretty sure they were oven baked, too.

While we were waiting on our meal, we received a complementary appetizer, they were a wonton type wrapper stuffed with a cheese/herb/nut mix of some sort and fried, with a sweet (mango?) dipping sauce. I don't think that's something you would see in classic France cuisine, but I could see it being inspired by French island or French African influences. In any case, it was tasty and they were gone in 60 seconds. :-) We also saw other tables receive complementary fruit desserts - clearly they were proud of their food and wanted to share it! We also had a basket of fresh bread that was made and baked fresh in the kitchen and was excellent.

Evans, one of the chefs, welcomed us when we first were seated and explained his vision for the restaurant. He came again to check on us during our meal, and bid us "au revoir" as we left. The waitress was friendly and appropriately attentive. The restaurant was not crowded, about 7 or so tables were occupied, but everyone seemed to really be enjoying their food and interacting with the staff and chef.

The food is also very affordable. Almost all of the lunches (entrees, crepes, and paninis) are $9.95, and come with two sides. It was a lot of food for the price, especially since it was high quality, and not just repeats of what you can get in all of the other lunch spots around town. I am looking forward to going back again for lunch and dinner. Speaking of which, they are doing a special Valentine's event if anyone is looking to do something a little different.

Now for the cons, and really it's only one, the decor of the place. The room is cavernous with very tall ceilings. So when you walk in, it doesn't feel like a cozy French cafe at all. There are scenes of Paris on the walls, but for some reason, the artwork is hung -very- high on the walls, so down at table level it seems spare. There is no unifying theme - the entry is vaguely Asian, with a woven bamboo-type screen framing the entrance. One corner of the restaurant is framed by fake-ivy-topped classical columns which feel out of place. There are large glass windows which let in too much light and also provide a random scene of a somewhat neglected corner of Lakeview. And there is a bar that juts out into the room, but which feels kind of out of place and unfinished. All in all, you can kind of tell it was decorated by two chefs on a very tight budget. :-) I would personally like to see the curtains drawn to soften the light in the room a bit, bring the artwork and lighting down, incorporate darker, richer colors (wood tones and dark reds, burgundies,brass) - something cozier so that when you step inside, you feel like you've left Birmingham. I realize that would be expensive, and I also understand they had a REALLY hard time getting financing for this (turned down by 40 banks and eventually raised family money) but there are probably some simple things they could do to make the space cozier.

Having said that, it's very clear that these two guys are earnest and have a passion for bringing French cafe cuisine to Birmingham. The quality of the food I've had so far is excellent, and the menu is interesting and quirky enough to differentiate themselves. I think they have an uphill battle because of the economy right now and because the space could use some improvement, but if you focus on the service and what's on your plate it's really a nice change of pace and I would recommend that you give it a try. I'd like to see these guys succeed - they have a good story and are working hard, they seem to genuinely care about Birmingham and the dining scene here, and they are doing a good job merging French cuisine and local tastes in a way that's different than what is available elsewhere around town (especially at these prices).

So, anyone else been here yet? What did you think?

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  1. I had dinner with friends at Cafe de Paris last weekend. What a fabulous French restaurant. I had the Mahi Mahi. It was cooked to perfection. The fish came with fries(frites) and green beans. My friends had the duck confit, mussels and grouper. I would have to say that the duck is some of the best I've ever had. The prices were remarkable. We went before 7 when they had half-price appetizers and discounted bottles of wine. And don't forget the dessert. The chocolate cake with ice cream was delicious. I am so glad that we have a new French restaurant with French chefs from Paris. They were very hospitable. They came around to each table to ask about the meal. What a true gem in Birmingham!