Rare is the discovery of a truly authentic French restaurant between these shores. I’ve tried a few and most have been Americanized. Unfortunately, for those seeking authenticity, this is far from acceptable. But I’d been hearing rumblings about this French restaurant here in Austin. Folks were swearing that this place, Chez Nous, was a righteous, get down joint. The real deal neal! So in keeping with my being your global gastronomic tour guide, dear reader, I continue to find restaurants here in town whose food is authentic, foods that inspired me during my global trek.
Chez Nous, huh? Well, I’ll see about that! So, one night last week I set out to see just what all this fuss was about. So I headed over to….
As is my usual, I never trust an ethnic restaurant that is lorded over by someone not a native. So imagine my jump for joy when I learned that Chez Nous was founded by a French couple. That sniglet of information was all I needed to hear and was the beginning of what turned out to be a most, soothing, wonderful evening. And by the way, the meal was knockout. Pleasantly surprised doesn’t really do the experience justice. Allow me…
Chez Nous was founded by Pascal and Sybile Regimbeau, she from Normandy, and he from Paris. Sybile met Pascal when she’d moved to Paris to work in the fashion industry and they, too, never looked back.
They’d been dating a while when Sybile lost her job and suddenly opportunity for change was standing at their door and knocking. Having toyed with the idea of taking a road trip across America -as the French do have a love affair with this wild, untamed country of ours- this job loss suddenly made that trip become quite the possibility for them both.
So they grabbed life by the horns and made it happen.
Landing in New York City, they rented a car and headed to all points due west, ready to soak in all the diversity this country has to offer.
After several months, finally reaching the West Coast, buying a car along the way, they headed back east, returning to a town that had caught their fancy, a place they couldn’t get out of their minds, not to mention, they’d made friends there as well who were all too quick to welcome them back. Where did they head? Austin, of course.
Instead of planning the rest of the trip home, suddenly they found themselves finding jobs and putting down roots. They got married! Here in Austin, too! Sybile went to work as a waitress at Threadgills and even though Pascal’s father had made him swear to never get into the restaurant business, both Sybile and Pascal realized that Austin needed a real French restaurant, and they began to plot and plan.
This was the late 70’s folks, when Austin was blooming. Willie was getting famous, people were swimming naked at Hippie Hollow, Armadillo World Headquarters was one of the coolest music venues in America, fajitas were far and few between. Time was ripe.
Even though Pascal’s father had forbade him to be a restauranteur, admittedly it ran throughout his families tree. Pascal’s forefathers, dating several generations back, were all restaurateurs and many others in his extended family were, too. So, this business naturally ran in his blood. The die was cast and both he and Sybile felt they could make an authentic French restaurant work here. Even though his father made him swear, Pascal took the plunge with Sybile by his side.
While scouting a location off 6th St., a couple of Sybile’s regular customers at Threadgills had taken an interest in the dream the young couple harbored. So much so, they eventually put up the money to help make it so.
Chez Nous was born in 1982, and still resides at the original location that Pascal found at 510 Neches St. (between 5th and 6th).
The couple were quick to import Michele Lesnof, a chef from the mother country. Good move! Then Robert Paprota came aboard, another French compadre’, as a partner. The three musketeers were born! They also invited other compatriots to these shores to help them paint murals on the walls and lend a hand with the interior design to make it feel like you’re on the other side of the big pond, certainly not in Texas.
And that was one of the most disarming effects of the night. Even though only half a block from 6th St., I felt like I was in France on The Left Bank. They’ve really done a marvelous job at making the restaurant’s interiors very authentic. And on this particular night there was also a small combo playing. A clarinetist and an acoustic guitarist conjured up soundscapes of the Le Hot Club of Paris in the 30’s when Stephan Grapelli and Django Reinhardt held court. It was hard for me to believe that I was this close to 6th St. In my reality, I simply wasn’t.
One thing that caught my eye was the staff all looked and acted very European. Sybile informed me they have been lucky enough to find just the right types of personalities to help make the experience that much more symbiotic with the overall mood the restaurant projects. Most everyone there is a long time employee, too, and that wasn’t difficult to tell. They all retained a very natural ebb and flow. You aren’t assigned any particular waitperson, either. Everyone on the floor keeps an eye on you and your meal’s progress. I never wanted for anything this night and always had a cheerful face and a most engaging personality to make sure my dining experience was the very best it possibly could be.
I also had inadvertently picked a very special night to dine as this night was the French equivalent of New Years, which is the Beaujolais Nouvo, the first day the new Beaujolais’ are available to the public. Color me lucky. The glass I had sat on the tongue ever so well.
I kept it simple and ordered the Menu du Jour, for $23.50, which is available every day, entrees changing daily.
This night I ordered the mushroom soup (the very finest that’s ever passed between these two lips!), followed by a pork pate’ and a steak grilled to perfection and smothered in a tomato béarnaise sauce, accompanied by pommes dauphines and a cooked herb tomato with a buttery vegetable medley. For desert, part of the special, I had some of the most light and fluffy chocolate mousse I’ve ever had. Every bite of this meal was a lifetime. As good as it gets, folks. As good as it gets…
I checked the wine list and even though very short (which is good-helps you to choose) they had included some of my personal favorites, as many of our French tours were through the wine making regions and some were incredibly standout to me then, and most of these comprised their wine selection. Whomever’s in charge? Good palette! Excellent choices!
Chez Nous has an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, from soups to pate’s, cheeses and escargot, which are available in orders of 6, 9, and 12; a great selection of salads abide that feature a specific eye for detail, my favorite being the Salade Michele: mixed greens and Belgian endive with roasted shallots and pears, crumbled Roquefort cheese and dressed with a black currant, walnut oil vinaigrette.
The luncheon menu is mostly lighter fare, featuring inventive crepes and traditional sandwiches (I could live on the croque monsieur -grilled ham and cheese- alone!), as well as fish and steak dishes for the more hearty daytime eater.
Lunch is served Tuesday thru Friday, from 11:45AM-2:00PM. Prices vary between $5.50-$15.50.
The dinner menu has a great and varied selection of entrees. Seafood is featured: scallops, sea bass, lobster and shrimp; while there is no lack of dishes for the meat eater, too: veal, sweetbreads, duck, lamb, and of course, their inimitable take on a great steak. I will say this, the French have perfected the art of grilling a steak!
Dinner is served Tuesday thru Sunday, from 6:00-10PM. Prices vary between $5.50-$26.50.
Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club, Discover, and American Express credit cards are all accepted.
All in all, if you’ve never been to France and would like to try original French cooking at its finest? Be sure and visit Pascal and Sybile at their most cozy and inviting creation. You can make reservations by calling (512)
No finer way to spend time, and no more romantic place to bring that special person, than to take in a most sumptuous, entertaining meal at Chez Nous. You have my guarantee.