mais oui, chez nous

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Five years! I’ve been married to the hubby for five whole years.

I know we’ve had our tough times. I’m pretty sure a few of the worst happened in an IKEA. But as I reminisce about the years I’ve spent married to this man, I’m so grateful that I can’t even begin to count the happiest moments. There’s too many.

To celebrate, last month we wandered over to Chez Nous, a little French-focused restaurant tucked away in a quiet alley in a residential part of downtown Charleston.

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From the second we walked up to the nondescript house where the restaurant was located, I could tell that Chez Nous would be my kind of place. Charming rustic interior? Check. Al fresco patio built of faded brick? Check. Hand-scrawled menu with only six options total so that I could order everything the place had to offer? Check, check, check.

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Honestly, I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to be able to run your finger down a menu and say luxuriously, “Give me one of these…” Short of not getting a menu at all and just cupping my chin in my hands with a girlish “Surprise me!,” I can’t think of anything I like doing more when ordering at a restaurant.

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On our lucky night, our starter courses consisted of a mild, creamy Toma cheese with a sliced baguette that was appropriately crunchy and soft in the right places and a fennel and shrimp salad topped with watercress.  The fennel and shrimp salad had the right balance of lemon and olive oil and was just a tasty, tasty dish.

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Next to arrive was a poached egg and leek in vinaigrette accompanied with some pancetta. I don’t know about you, but panchetta + perfectly runny yolk = my happy place.

For our main courses, we enjoyed a striped bass (pictured at the top of this post) and a steak frites with sauce roquefort. We grappled with this course the most. To me, you can’t really call yourself a legitimate French restaurant unless two things happen: 1) you have an amazing moules frites dish (mussels) and 2) your steak frites is solid. With a limited menu, I gave Chez Nous a pass on the moules, but I needed the steak frites to be a homerun.

The steak, a ribeye that was as big as my face, didn’t disappoint. It was perfectly medium rare, with that crunchy seared crust that makes you temporarily forget where you are. The fries, however, were kind of a letdown. Deep-fried in duck fat, I expected the golden-brown fries to be not just crisp, but like, crisp crispy. They were just north of soggy.  Good flavor, but a damp fry is kind of like a wet blanket on a meal.

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The hubby wanted me to say something to our delightful server, but I just couldn’t bring myself to. Part of the issue is me. I have the hardest time being confrontational about my food. As someone who cranks out meals pretty much six days a week for two of the toughest little critics in town, I know how hard it is to make a good plate, and how easily things can go awry. As long as I’m enjoying things on balance, I’d rather just shut my pie hole and have a good time without sweating the details.

I couldn’t help but think, however, that part of it is Chez Nous’ atmosphere. It’s a cozy, inviting place, almost to the point where I felt like I was eating at someone’s French grandmother’s house. I mean that in the best way, as if that little French grandmother was cranking out chocolate mousse in the back and pouring it into mismatched mugs and just tucking them into all sorts of nooks and crannies in the refrigerator, just wherever she could find space until it was time to serve them. But it also made me loathe to rock the boat, as if the chef herself would come out from the kitchen, point to our table, and ask to taste the offending fries.

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Luckily, the dessert course redeemed our little fry incident, and with one bite of the lemon panna cotta I was instantly transported back to our transcendent lunch at Bistrot d’Antoine two years ago, when the hubby and I had traveled with my sister and brother-in-law to the south of France with the Gravy Baby.  I haven’t had a panna cotta as delightfully refreshing since that bistrot lunch — that is, until now.  And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to hop over to Chez Nous than to try convincing the hubby to buy me a transcontinental flight for a little bit of custard.

Oh, and also — just in case you need more convincing, check this:

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Now if that’s not a lover’s dish, I don’t know what is.

Chez Nous | Charleston, SC