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Mystery Diner: Escape to Parisian café at Chez Moi

Published: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 5:00 a.m. CST

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GENEVA – While the frigid cold swirled around outside, I was warming up with a hot vanilla latte, seated at a dainty table for two in a Parisian-style cafe – the perfect escape from a whirlwind of a winter and just what I needed to see me through the rest of the work day. The escape – Chez Moi.

Chez Moi, which loosely translates to “my place” or “at home” in French, is a cutesy enclave in downtown Geneva that recently celebrated its two-year anniversary. Its owner, operator, designer and executive chef Beth Simone Cull studied at the Cordon Bleu Culinary School.

According to the Chez Moi website, Cull still travels back to France when she can, but – instead – brought a “slice of Paris a bit closer to home.”

Chez Moi is primarily a breakfast and lunch joint. It can cater to the early morning on-the-go crowd and dine-in clientele. Menu items include breakfast sandwiches, ham-and-cheese croissants, crepes, French toast, galettes, quiches, sandwiches and salads. For the caffeine cravings, Chez Moi satisfies with an assortment of specialty drinks, espressos and cappuccinos, using coffee from PapaNicholas Coffee in Batavia.

My dining companion said she was happy to peruse a menu that offers items not easily found in the Fox Valley.

Walking through the heavy, steel grey curtains leading into the dining room, my dining companion and I were pleasantly surprised by the eatery’s inviting and “cute” decor. The exposed brick, ornate chandeliers and antique copper ceiling tile gave the room a vintage-chic feel. Seemingly, the front part of the restaurant’s interior is made to look like an outdoor café with light from outside streaming in; outdoor café-style chairs; chalkboards reading the day’s specials; and a dessert display case for carry-out traffic. The elongated dining room devoid of windows is seemingly the “indoor” portion of the restaurant. It’s slightly more decorous and equipped with a bar (serving beer and wine) at the back of the room.

We sat at the cafe portion of the restaurant because at 12:30 p.m. last Thursday the place was packed.

We started with the Deviled Eggs ($3), three halves that came with a couple pieces of fruit. The deviled eggs tasted fresh and the filling gave the egg a salty, textured creaminess.

My dining companion ordered the Croque Madame ($9), a grilled ham and Gruyere cheese sandwich with Bechamel sauce and topped with a fried egg. Sandwiches come with a salad or fresh fruit. She also ordered the Diabolo Menthe, a lemon-lime soda with shot of mint syrup.

My companion thoroughly enjoyed the Croque Madame, and said her “sandwich was flavorful and filling,” and that “the egg on top was a great way to tie the meat, bread and cheese of the sandwich together.”

I ordered the Galette ($9-$10) – a traditional French savory crêpe made with buckwheat (gluten-free) and topped with a dollop of crème fraîche. The filling I chose was the sausage, egg, apples, arugula, smoked Mozzarella and balsamic glaze. You can substitute the buckwheat crepe for flour, which I recommend doing as the flavor of the buckwheat isn’t necessarily as appealing as flour to the American palate. The organic, earthy taste of the buckwheat crepe overpowered much of its filling.

We ended the meal with the Chocolate Bread Pudding ($4.50). Warm, sweet and savory, the bread pudding had a chocolate-sauce drizzle that added a hint of bitterness to the sugar component.

Other notable menu items include the Breakfast Soup ($6), a chicken-broth based soup with bacon bits, crispy croutons and a poached egg; Crepes ($7) of the sweeter and more traditional variety, served with Nutella and/or banana or fresh berries and chantilly or cinnamon, sugar and toasted almonds; an Assorted Cheese Platter ($25) to sample with wine; Roasted Squash Salad ($10); and Quiche ($10) with salmon, arugula, Gruyère cheese and balsamic glaze.

Chez Moi also hosts an array of special events throughout the year, including wine tastings and public cooking classes. For example, the French eatery will host a cupcake-decorating and chocolate-truffle making class at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13. For $25 a person, attendees can enjoy a glass of wine and assorted small plates while decorating. (Reservations are required.)

My escape to Paris via Chez Moi proved a success and an experience that I undoubtedly will be duplicating. Until next time, bon appétit!

If you go

What: Chez Moi Where: 415 W. State St., Geneva Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday (closed Sunday) Phone: 331-248-0654 Online: chezmoigeneva.com

• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.

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