By Karen Spezia
Chez Nous, and iconic french bistro, has been feeding delighted Austinites for an astonishing 34 years. That’s impressive longevity in any town, but especially one where local institutions are rapidly supplanted by shiny new things.
Chez Nous has not only survived but flourished. For over three decades, the crowds — which include both old-time regulars and eager new fans — keep returning to its modest dining room. And not much has changed. The menu has rarely deviated from its roster of French bistro classics, and the décor has remained unapologetically unhip, like dining at your grand-mère’s maison. People don’t go to Chez Nous to be challenged or surprised; they go for consistently great food, polished service, and Old World ambiance. And authenticity. Chez Nous is not some poser French restaurant, but a bistro started by real French people – Pascal Regimbeau, Sybil Reinhart-Regimbeau, and Robert Paprota – who came to Austin from Paris to open it in 1982.
Dining at Chez Nous is like taking a master class in French cuisine. Start with the homemade pâté, served with a chewy fresh baguette, crunchy cornichons and briny Nicoises olives. Or the quintessential escargots sautéed in white wine butter. There’s also a rotating soup du jour and if it’s wild mushroom, get it. Salads are simple but lovely, like the salade Lyonnaise topped with a poached egg and lardons, and the salade de crudités, studded with carrots, fennel, chickpeas, and beets.
During lunch only, Chez Nous offers sandwiches and crêpes like a delicious buckwheat crêpe oozing with Gruyere cheese and grilled ham, and topped with a dollop of béchamel and optional egg. Hearty grilled sandwiches include the classic Croque Monsieur and the open-faced tartine campagnarde topped with bacon, goat cheese and roasted tomato.
For more substantial fare, there’s succulent duck confit served with red wine gastrique and apricot ginger compote. Trout meunière is delicately sautéed in butter, lemon juice and parsley. And rustic homemade sausages are grilled and served atop a pool of savory lentils. There are also scallops, lamb chops, and of course, steak frites. Even side dishes are shown great care like tender haricot verts and addictive, pillowy pommes dauphine potato puffs.
Of course, since it’s French, save room for dessert. There’s chocolate mousse, apple crêpes, extraordinary crème brulée, and can’t-miss profiteroles stuffed with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate. Naturally, the wine list is all French and full of fairly priced treats by the glass or bottle.
With Austin’s current frenetic restaurant scene, it’s a joy to return to a place like Chez Nous, with some roots and history. Where you feel transported to a simpler time and place. Where there’s no irony in its oilcloth covered tables, its weathered art and soccer posters, its Edith Piaf on the stereo. It’s genuine and timeless, unaffected by trends and hype; a rare creature in today’s new Austin.
Photographs by Daniel Cavazos
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