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Jul 12, 2010 08:20 AM

Birmingham -- Cafe de Paris

My wife and I went to Cafe de Paris Saturday, and enjoyed a good meal there. But I was shocked and a little sad to see the place was practically empty at 8 p.m. on a Saturday, especially on a day in which the chef/owners were the ones doing the cooking demonstration at Pepper Place.
For appetizers, I ordered beef carpaccio and my wife got the salad with the goat-cheese spring rolls. She really enjoyed hers. Mine was very nice-quality beef, not very marbeled, but plentiful and very good (I did have to salt it). It came with a salad in the middle of the plate that struck me as kind of odd.
On recommendation from our friendly, but not very experienced waiter, I got the lamb chops. I ordered them medium rare. They came out medium, but still tender and juicy. The chops -- five of them -- were stacked on top of the frites I ordered as a side. They soaked up the juices from the chops. The other side dish sounded great -- carrot flan -- but was so salty I barely noticed the minimal carrot flavor.
My wife, who is a vegetarian, ordered an entree-sized portion of the cheese ravioli appetizer. They were house-made, this day filled with bleu cheese and with a creamy sauce. Very rich but she enjoyed it both that night and for lunch the next day.
For dessert, we ordered a crepe with chocolate sauce. Since she likes white and I like dark chocolate, our waiter brought us both (nice touch).
Another thing that struck me as odd was the chef sent out an amuse bouche after we were eating the appetizers (I can't remember if we already had the entrees). I noticed this happening with the other tables (by the time we left, there were four tables filled, being served by two waiters).
The wine was very affordably priced -- bottles were slighly more than the cost of three glasses, and most bottles were under $40. But they were out of the Cotes du Rhone the waiter recommended as their special for the night, and he was worried they were out of the zinfandel we ordered (fortunately, they weren't and it was good).
All in all, it was a very pleasant evening. But I can't say it was $150 pleasant. I think the prices were a little high for the product and the service (especially the $14 for a goat-cheese spring roll salad and $8 for a few crepes and thimbles of chocolate sauce that may have cost $1 to put together -- but probably less). Entree prices were in the $20s and appetizers in the mid teens.
Our poor waiter ended up forgetting twice to bring us water. No big deal, except for whenit happens during a three-figure dinner.
I think it would be worth a return trip to check out the Sunday brunch or the happy-hour specials, with $5 small plates and desserts. But I don't know if I'd return for a three-course meal.

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  1. Big Daddy, I haven't eaten at Cafe de Paris myself - yet - but I understand from friends that it is very hit-or-miss.

    When I was trying to find the website for it just now, I saw that Google had accumulated 60+ reviews for the restaurant from different sources; interesting that several of the glowing reviews are written by what appears to be the same person under different nom de plume who punctuates their sentences with a space before a comma or period. Odd:

    Also, funny that the first reviewer, who gave it 4/5 stars mentioned that during happy hour they sell appetizers half off. But the appetizers are (according to the server) *half the size*. Cute!

    Does anyone remember the French restaurant that used to be in Vestavia about ten years ago? It was wonderful but I can't recall the name. If I'm remembering correctly, this was the same restaurant that for a time occupied the space at the Botanical Garden up until four or five years ago.

    Still, maybe I'll try Cafe de Paris for lunch sometime later this week and report back...

    4 Replies
    1. re: deepfriedkudzu

      The French place you speak of in Vestavia was Jean Rene's. It was in the space that Sekisui is now in (assuming it is still there--have not been there in years). They had a fantastic lobster bisque, and they did a really good job with venison, duck and other wild game.

      I miss that place.

      1. re: pinotboy

        Jean Rene's was great. Then some of the people behind that restaurant opened a French place in Crestline, that later morphed into Fire. I far preferred the Vestavia version of Jean Rene's. They even had a waiter who would go table-to-table, doing card tricks.
        I hope Cafe de Paris is better than what we experienced. The owners are nice guys and their concept adds to the variety of what's available around town. They did seem to have regulars, too. About half the people we saw there knew each other and one family was there on a Saturday night with their two school-aged children (who declined their father's offer of carpaccio).
        More reasonable prices might help.

        1. re: Big Daddy

          The French place that was in the space currently occupied by Fire was Cafe Julien. Prior to moving to Crestline, Cafe Julien had previously been in a strip mall on Highway 31 in Vestavia. It did not last long in Crestline--I think it closed shortly after 9/11 when restaurant business declined sharply. One of the owners, Alain Ehrhardt, went on to open Jean Rene's thereafter.

          Big Daddy, I agree with your comments above about Cafe de Paris: It is pretty good, but they are a little too high for what you get. Then again, they are not the only restaurant in town with that pricing philosophy.

          1. re: Big Daddy

            Jean Rene's! Yes, Pinotboy, you are exactly right. That was the name of it. Thank you.

            My husband and I had lunch at Cafe de Paris yesterday. It Oh, and Dax is right that they have added pizzas to the menu.

            My husband had the mahi-mahi which was nice. It came with two sides, and the day's sides were: fries (excellent, and I'm not big on fries), mixed vegetables (overly oily but otherwise alright), braised cabbage (which we did not choose to complement either entree), and a squash concoction in bechamel (I chose this as my side, it was *heavy* and just bland).

            My entree was a 'Croque Paris Madame' - which of course is a croque monseiur with a fried egg on top (curiously, when I order this at Chez FonFon they do not put the egg on top, rather it is incorporated into the sandwich if I remember correctly. If you order it there, the server will automatically mention how theirs is a bit untraditional). Anyway, it was *huge* and mostly bread: two unevenly sliced, very thick pieces of mostly nondescript white bread with of course a slice each of ham and cheese, and the fried egg on top. Oh, and it was sauced inside also, perhaps it was bearnaise, but honestly I don't recall. I ate about 1/8th the portion served.

            You know, a croque madame can be a happy ham & cheese sandwich with a lovely sauce made from the broken yolk, but this was done with a heavy, heavy hand.

            And the other thing I thought was off-kilter was that our amuse - an always appreciated little surprise, right? - were five heavy fried rounds of grits. I love grits but these had dark, thick casings like so-so hushpuppies.

            With the mostly heavy side items and the monstrous croque madame and the preparation of the amuse, it made me think that the chef was not playing along with the season. I might appreciate more being able to tuck into this kind of thing in December, but in July? Give me something I won't hate myself for when walking back to the car in 95* heat.

            A pic of our dishes is included. Glad we tried it for lunch when the entrees were just over $10/ea and not supper. It wasn't really bad, but there are so many other wonderful places to enjoy a mid-day meal, we don't see ourselves returning.

            One last thing: our waiter was *wonderful* and even followed us outside to thank us for joining them. Very nice.

      2. Is carpaccio typically very marbled? I love the dish and order it all the time but never have noticed the beef being particularly marbled. I love the melt in your mouth tenderness of it. As far as the salad, was it not just some dressed greens? I find a lot of places here (including Bottega) include some lightly dressed greens, often arugula. I like the tartness of the greens & shaved parmigiano reggiano when pared with the rich beef. And I think CdP's is pretty darn good (the whole plate).

        The amuse bouche has always been served before my meal arrived, although their service can be hit or miss (I have only gone at lunch). I find that their lack of business results in understaffing, which can be brutally obvious if a rush actually occurs.

        Note they do take the Weekly Card ... which I feel somewhat bad about using but still do on occassion.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Dax

          This didn't melt, which might have been helped by better marbeling. It might not. I wish this had been some dressed arugula on the plate; struck me as iceberg or possibly romaine. I enjoyed both my entree and appetizer, and did not view either as overpriced.

          1. re: Big Daddy

            Ignorance confession time: In doing some Internet research on carpaccio, I've found a few things:
            (1) Salads of some sort are part of the equation, with the classic being the arugula (or other bitter green) version Dax described, with a vinaigrette.
            (2) Tenderloin is the classic beef cut used for carpaccio, which isn't a very marbeled piece of meat. Some photos I've seen have nice streaks of fat in the meat, but the original version of the dish at Harry's Bar in Venice is named for the red hues favored by the painter for which the dish was named. (I fantasize, however, about how a kobe carpaccio would taste).
            (3) Many classic Italian recipes call for the addition of Parmesan cheese. I although I don't know if there's a French equivalent of that cheese for serving in French restaurants.
            Ahhhhh, as they say in Paris, confession is good for the sole.

            1. re: Big Daddy

              I think Cafe de Paris is doing whatever it takes to stay alive. I was in their for lunch the other week and they had added pizzas to the menu? I have not tried it so not sure if it's supposed to be a pissaladière or what ...