Restaurant offers a slice of Paris in Bee Cave
At the end of the small Uplands Shopping Center on Bee Caves Road near the intersection of West Hwy. 71 sits an authentic French bakery and pastry cafe—the real thing but without the jet lag.
Once inside, diners are greeted by French music, colorful sweets and the aroma of fresh brioche, the exact ambience owners Anne-lise and Chi-minh Pham-dinh sought to create when they moved from their native Paris to the U.S. five years ago.
"What I love about this country is that you have the freedom to do what you want," Chi-minh said.
In France, cooking and baking are not admirable professions, reserved for students who were not good at school, Chi-minh said.
Before working in the culinary department of a store, Chi-minh spent years at a stressful job as an insurance agent before deciding to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a cook and baker in his own restaurant kitchen, he said.
"I've always loved cooking and being around kitchens," Chi-minh said. "When I was a little boy in France, my grandmother told me, 'One day you're going to be a cook, a pastry chef.' I realized that I love [cooking and baking] too much—I had to do it."
Chi-minh learned the art of pastry making and French cooking while Anne-lise worked as a lawyer to support the two of them. After visiting Austin and Chicago, the two became enamored with America and in 2008, moved to the U.S. and accepted positions with a French bakery in Colorado. The couple ultimately chose Austin as their home.
"From the drive out of the airport, I fell in love with Austin," Chi-minh said of his first visit to the Lone Star State. "It's green, affordable and everyone is nice."
In 2009, Anne-lise and Chi-minh took a chance on a new shopping area in Bee Cave. A close friend told Chi-minh about the West Austin neighborhood's future growth potential. When the Pham-dinh's unlocked the doors of their current location just outside of the Uplands neighborhood, only a bank and dry cleaners were operating out of the small strip center.
"It was scary because Bee Cave was kind of dead then," Chi-minh said. However, Baguette et Chocolat became a success even before it opened May 15, 2010.
"We opened on a Saturday, and the night before, we were having dinner," Anne-lise said. "A car pulled up and someone knocked on the door asking us what time we were opening. The next day, a line of customers formed at 6 or 6:30 a.m., and we didn't open until 7 a.m."
Chi-minh credits the success of Baguette et Chocolat to his commitment to the authenticity of French cooking and baking. Anne-lise says that the cafe evokes pleasant memories for those guests who have recently traveled to France.
"Everything is made from scratch with French recipes," said Chi-minh, who imports his chocolate and pastry ingredients from France through a Florida company.
Chi-minh said the pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant, $2.99) and baguettes ($1.99 to $3.99) are top customer favorites.
For those who have never been to France, Chi-minh recommends the Parisien Brie Sandwich ($7.29), with its French ham, triple-cream brie, tomato, cucumber, olive oil and romaine lettuce. The restaurant offers both French savory crepes ($6.29 to $7.19) and sweet crepes ($3.49 to $5.39).
"Simple things can be awesome," Chi-minh said. "You don't have to complicate things. It's what we do here. The right ingredients, the right recipe and that's it."
Is French toast really French?
Chi-minh Pham-dinh, co-owner of Baguette et Chocolat, has been asked by numerous guests if he serves French toast.
"After [World War II], people had to make do with bread—old bread—eggs and milk, so French toast was born," Chi-minh said. "It's historical but not found in France today."
Baguette et Chocolat, 12101 Bee Caves Road, Bee Cave, 512-263-8388, www.baguetteetchocolat.com
- Tue.–Fri. 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
- Sat. 7 a.m.–4 p.m.
- Sun. 8 a.m.–2 p.m.
- Closed on Monday