In these parts, Mimi’s Café has always been known for its casual, NOLA-themed decor and an lengthy menu rife with country-style comfort staples. What perhaps isn’t known is the restaurant’s French roots. When founder Arthur Simms opened the first Mimi’s Café in Anaheim back in 1978, it was inspired by Parisian gastronomy, as well as a jolie fille named Mimi whom he met while stationed in the City of Lights.
After nearly a decade of being owned and operated by Bob Evans, the chain was recently sold to Groupe Le Duff, a French restaurant conglomerate bent on returning Mimi’s Café to its French roots. So those of you accustomed to chowing down on Mimi’s meatloaf, jambalaya and pork chops best adjust expectations: Classical French plats du jour have replaced the down-home fare. Gone are pre-cooked meats, low-quality ingredients and extraneous microwaves, and in comes a “food first” ethic Le Duff execs say is essential in order to elevate the brand and re-establish its former glory.
A revamp of the interior is also in the works, and it can’t come soon enough. I have to say, supping on fine French fare amidst all the kitschy Cajunerie affected the experience; it was sort of like eating sushi at a gas station or tapas at a hockey game. But while the garish environs served as a constant reminder of the Bob Evans era, the food most certainly didn’t. A starter of baked Brie ($6.99), served in a small cast-iron baker along with apricot chutney, Granny Smith apple slices and buttery baguette croutons, was proof positive. (A suggestion: less chutney, more Brie.) Another well-intentioned starter – artichoke frites ($5.49) – came served with a lovely lemon-basil aioli, but the flavor of artichoke was masked by a heavy batter that undermined the essence of the dish.
Still, the two openers had us anticipating our mains, and when they arrived, neither the tacky furnishings nor our blasé server could wipe the smiles from our faces. Fish, either on the side or in the soup, may have been absent in the signature bouillabaisse ($12.99), but the rustic Provençal broth, seasoned with saffron and bay leaf and swimming with scallops, shrimp and mussels, was outstanding. The dish evoked a longing for a seaside setting, all the more so when we looked up and took a look around. Patrons craving some of that old Mimi’s comfort should consider the coq au vin ($12.99). The plate of chicken braised in red wine, mushrooms and plenty of pearl onions and mushrooms was served atop a heap of creamy potatoes encircled with snappy petits pois. I think I even bit into a lardon or deux.
Bakery items like muffins ($2.19), fresh-baked croissants ($2.99) and cinnamon brioche rolls ($3.99) make excellent, if filling, post-meal options, but it’s good to see that desserts aren’t an afterthought at the nouveau Mimi’s. A classic chocolate mousse ($2.59) with light strawberry sauce was competently fashioned, but we wanted to sing “La Marseillaise” after finishing off the eggy, fluffy bread pudding ($2.59) served with a lush whiskey-butter sauce.
Mimi’s pricing scheme is more than fair, which should help the restaurant retain some of its existing customer base and, undoubtedly, attract new clientele. A departure from Mimi’s established fare necessitated an extreme shakeup – by our accounts, it’s a welcome arrival. Vive la révolution.
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