Jan 3, 2010

Chez Elle: Tres Ordinaire

I was hoping for great things out of Chez Elle, the new French-themed coffee house and creperie I visited Wednesday morning at the burgeoning intersection of 17th and Summit west of downtown and the Crossroads. This intersection has become one of the coolest little pockets of businesses in town, now home to The Westside LocalBlue Bird Bistro and Fervere bakery. Given the standard set by these establishments, I figured Chez Elle would fit right in. What I found turned out to be something a little too ordinary.

Walking in, we found ourselves behind two other parties in line for placing orders. All customers must wait in line to order regardless of whether they came for food or coffee. Ten minutes later, we were still standing there waiting to order. One simple recommendation to the Chez Elle staff as they work out their new-restaurant service kinks: employ a host/hostess and small wait staff so diners can sit quickly and order food from their table instead of having to standing in what should be just the coffee line.

Regarding the food and drink, let's start with the coffee. Now, I live in the West Plaza area, surrounded by the city's best coffee shops (Hi Hat, Broadway, Roasterie, et al), so I knew the coffee at Chez Elle wouldn't be the main attraction for me, but hoped that it would at least be decent. Unfortunately, Chez Elle commits a grievous error with their coffee drinks: assuming that all patrons will enjoy their légèreté des mains addition of ground nutmeg. Woof.

I have three rules when it comes to coffee: be hot, be rich, do NOT be sweet or secretly spiced. Nutmeg violates the latter of these rules. It overpowers the natural nuances of the beans and gives the coffee a strangely unctuous aroma (marijuana-like?!?!) and tea flavor. After a few sips, I forgot it was coffee I was drinking. Next time I'll opt for an unadulterated espresso drink instead of the drip.

The food menu, however, is absolutely tantalizing. Every single one of the options listed on the classy black chalkboards (many more than what their online menu indicates) sounds delicious. On this trip, we opted for one savory (Legume), one that would be a little sweeter (Le Franco) and a soup - French Onion... what else?

The soup arrived first, with a great aroma strong on whatever alcohol was employed (my guess is sherry). The broth was a little light - could have used a higher proportion of consume - but quite savory. Tasty. The croutons used were small but crunchy. The shredded Swiss eventually became gooey, but was added to the hot soup on its way out of the kitchen instead of being heated in an oven prior to service, so I had to wait a bit for it to melt and felt ripped off by the shortcut. Overall the soup was successful, but with the restaurant's French bent, I was hoping it would have been another level above what it was.

I started with Le Franco - a warm, eggy crepe filled with caramelized siced apples, brie and fig compote, topped with a drizzle of creme and enough walnuts to convince me they actually lose money serving this dish at $7.95. The ingredients were all tasty, but like a Chipotle burrito, didn't get mixed evenly through. So a couple bites were terrific, but others were imbalanced. Still, I'd order it again.

The Legume came filled with fresh tomato, spinach leaves, mushrooms and artichokes. All of these elements were added to the cooking crepe raw and only heated partially. Weren't seasoned at all, either. The end result was a little bland, luke-warm and watery. I wouldn't order this again, but as I write this, I feel like the description makes it sound somehow worse than it actually was.

So, lessons learned with regard to the food and coffee: avoid the legume or other crepes with cold vegetables. Avoid drip coffee and keep a close eye on the barista to ensure no nutmeg is shaken into espresso drinks. These tips employed, a fine breakfast or lunch can be had.

The final disappointingly ordinary aspects of Chez Elle were the ambiance and decor. I'd hoped for a touch of the history of the neighborhood or the old Summit Theater building - the building that Chez Elle occupies - but instead found myself in a rather strangely decorated, polished new establishment, instead.

From the new tile floor, to the ugly couch pillows, to the weird collection of lamps and furniture, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. And for a French-themed coffee shop, where I hoped to linger comfortably in a classy Provence-inspired aesthetic, I just couldn't overcome the feeling of disappointment. I'm sure many people will go and find Chez Elle's interior perfectly acceptable, if not pleasant.  But to me, kitschy Eiffle towers everywhere I looked, gimmicky indoor fountains and cheap-looking shiny new leather furniture made the place feel like something created by a fan of France, not someone actually from there.

With a long list of great sounding crepes at reasonable prices, I can safely recommend Chez Elle as a satisfactory alternative breakfast/lunch spot. Just don't go during a busy work week lunch hour, as I feel the weight and service will be nightmarish. Save your trips there for lazy weekend mornings, watch out for nutmeg, and take good company or a good book to focus your attention on, and you'll leave having enjoyed the experience.

Rating: one napkin

Chez Elle on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I've been to Chez Elle several times now and have had a great or at least "good plus" experience each time The service is friendly, the place comfortable and the food very fairly priced. Your review, although "educated" seems a bit unfair considering this wee restaurant has only been in business less than 3 weeks. It often takes a bit of time for new independent places to get their sea legs and it would seem with all your apparent sophistication foodwise more fair to at least give a place a few tries before placing your mediocre review. Kansas City and France are not the same place and I find Chez Elle to be a wonderful addition to the KC restaurant scene that thankfully isn't just another meat joint that based on other reviews of yours i've read seem to be the ones you rate more highly.

Foodie32 said...

Anonymous: first, THANKS for sharing your opinion! I love to hear rebuttals and responses from others. Makes the blog more worthwhile to read for others, so I appreciate your contribution.
Overall either you're taking my review too negatively, or it just sounds more negative than I meant for it to. My experience at CE was not at all unpleasant. But I start out the post saying that I hoped for really GREAT things from Chez Elle. So admittedly, my expectations were set very high. Maybe a little too high.
Regarding your points -
Friendly service: agree but I don't care too much about service in my reviews.
Unfair review because it's only been open 3 weeks: I didn't suggest no one should go here or give it a chance. And I admit that once it works out some service kinks, it'll improve. Just trying to accurately reflect the experience I had and others could expect near the time my post wen up.
Favortism to "meat joints": I don't apologize for loving meat, but you do realize Chez Elle serves meat, too, right? I love vegetables and many vegetarian dishes. But we live in a meat-centric city so it makes sense that those are the foods that shine in our top restaurants. That's not of my doing.
Thanks, again, for your thoughts! I'll return to Chez Elle in a couple months or so and report on whether it improves.

abruce said...

I think it's about time for your return trip and second review of Chez Elle... We still haven't been and would like to go soon!

Anonymous said...

well should go back to chezelle now because they have a great chef named dawn and she is so good at cooking. She knows what she is doing. I hope she never leaves.

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