Chez Meme Baguette Bistro –
I think I’ve been spoiled by the numerous amazing bahn mi’s that I’ve had in the Veitnamese-expat-heavy cities that I have lived in during the past decade. The combination of the French baguette and French pate, Vietnamese pickled vegetables, cilantro, and chilies, Asian/European cold cuts, animal fat, and (sometimes) fried eggs creates such an amazing synergy that is nothing less than amazing. Compared with better versions of bahn mi that I’ve had, most other baguette-based sandwiches (including ones I’ve had in France) seemed lacking. So even though I’ve read and heard rave reviews about the baguette-enclosed sandwiches at Chez Meme, I’ve never really had much motivation to give them a try – especially when I heard that waiting for a meal at the restaurant is almost unavoidable. Unless I think I will be amazed by the food at a restaurant, I am not one for patiently waiting in line for a potentially unknown amount of time for a weekday lunch (when I am usually starving).
I happened to be informed of the fact that Chez Meme takes reservations during weekdays, and yesterday – Tuesday – just so happened to be a weekday. I called at 8:30 A.M. and secured a reservation for my wife, my son, and I at 12:00 P.M.
At around 11:58 A.M., the three of us arrived at the restaurant to find our table – the lone empty table – waiting for us with a “reserved” marker/sign on it. As soon as menus were brought to our table, we were promptly warned that there would be a delay in us receiving our food. The restaurant was swamped with the all-at-once onslaught of both dine-in and takeout lunch orders at 12:00 P.M. and would likely not be able to satisfy everyone all at once. We understood and accepted that we needed to wait for our turn.
It took 45 minutes, but we did finally get our food right after everyone that arrived before us were served their food. Since we were forewarned and explicitly accepted the wait as a precondition of our meal, we had zero complaints about it.
The three dishes we ordered arrived one after another in a matter of minutes. The first that arrived was my wife’s beef bourguignon baguette sandwich with caesar salad.
My wife’s standards are high when it comes to bread, and the first comments she made about the bread was that it was crusty and flaking. She liked the crusty-flakiness of the bread, but she felt that it was no different than other crusty-flaky baguettes that she’s had locally. She thought that it was merely above-average. It was definitely not as great as the reviews make it out to be. She’s had better baguettes from other local restaurants and bakeries. She also thought that the short-rib based meat filling was pretty average-tasting. It was as flavourful as the braised short ribs in the short rib sandwich from Cactus Club – which meant that it was pretty generic. She also would’ve liked it if they went heavier on the horseradish than the mere hint that was included with her sandwich.
In contrast with the generic short rib bourguignon, my wife said that the caesar salad was anything but generic. The caesar dressing was a complete departure from the caesar dressing she was used to. It was more tangy, and had a much more sour and oily flavour that made it feel more like a creamy oil/vinegar combination than a proper caesar dressing. The dressing was so unlike classic caesar dressing that my wife actually felt that her first few bites were a bit unsettling. She almost stopped eating it if not for her will to power through the foreign flavours. She did manage to eventually get used to and finish the salad, but she still preferred the classic version of caesar dressing than the one she had at Chez Meme.
The second dish that arrived was my son’s steak (I forgot the cut) which he paired with a side of fries – which essentially made it an order of steak frites in this French restaurant.
The steak was supposed to be doused with a shallot reduction which we requested to be served separately. We order for the steak to be cooked to a medium well temperature and it came cooked to a perfect medium well. Cutting into the steak, I could tell that medium well was probably overdone for this cut of meat. It was really dry and did not have the moisture needed to give it a pleasurable, juicy, and tender texture. I had two bites of the steak – one with the sauce and one without. I can confirm that the piece sans sauce was a little too dry and had a little too much of a ‘beefy’-flavour (sort of like the flavoure of steak if you boiled it in tap water). The piece with sauce was much more juicy and had none of the beefy flaovurs. It was nicely rich, salty, and had an enjoable hint of shallot flavour from the included shallots. My son seemed to be ok with the drier texture of the steak because he finish the entire steak (minus my two small bites) without even breaking a sweat.
My son also liked the fries, which both my wife and I agree were pretty good. They were thin and crispy on the outside, and grainy/mushy on the inside. They were enjoyable both warm and cold; they were even better when dipped in the shallot steak sauce.
The final dish that arrived was my lamb jarret sandwich with a side of French onion soup.
I felt the same way about the baguette as my wife. I thought that it was nice, but that it wasn’t anything special. My lamb shank filling definitely made its presence known with its distinctive lamb flavours. Other than that, it was pretty generic just like my wife’s short rib borguignon. It had a texture halfway between dry and moist; it had a hint of mustard that I thought would be better if it was more pronounced; it had a sweetness that I thought was unrecognizable and unfocused. I did manage to finish the whole sandwich without complaining. It was Okay-approaching-good, but it didn’t quite reach the level of enjoyable-and-pleasurable. What it did reach the level of was filling. The size of the sandwiches at Chez Meme was very deceiving. My lamb jarret sandwich didn’t look that big at first glance, but the two halves turned out to be extremely filling – especially when you consider that my side of French onion soup was substantial on its own.
The ‘side’ of French onion soup was pretty hefty. It could itself make a meal if had with a third or half of a standard-sized baguette. It came with a layer of melted cheese that was not quite as charred and crispy as the French onion soup at other local French restaurants. The soup was not as salty as non-authentic local versions and not as sweet as other authentic local versions. I thought that the stock base was a little thinned-out and watered-down. I like bold flavours in French onion soup, but the soup at Chez Meme had flavours that were subdued. What I liked about the soup was the onions and bread included in the soup. The right amount of onions was included. It allowed me to have a few pieces with every spoonful, but did not allow the onions to overwhelm the soup. There was also just enough bread included to allow a piece to be included with every bite without having too much bread to soak up all of the soup.
Both my wife and I felt very full after eating everything that we were served. The sandwiches were deceiving large and the sides were substantially portioned. Although they were not anything close to amazing-tasting, the components were tasty enough for my wife and I to eat bite after bite until everything on our plates was cleared without either one of us feeling disgusted about any component of our dishes. The prices were not half-bad either. They were reasonable and could even be considered to represent value when portion sizes are taken into consideration. Thus, my conclusion on the food at Chez Meme Baguette Bistro is this: Satisfying? Yes. Amazing? No.