Another in a dying breed was lost recently with the regrettable and unavoidable closing of Hillcrest's Chez Odette. Genuine mom-and-pops are few and far between these days, what with the onslaught of Starbucks inside Starbucks next to Starbucks on top of Starbucks. Chez Odette was a mom-and-pop in the literal sense, with Odette heading the cooking duties, and her husband Harold at the pastry helm.
Tucked away beneath a burgundy awning in Hillcrest, Chez Odette was a weekday haven for the corporate lunchtime crowd weary of their burgers and low-carb veggie wraps. Offering on-the-go French cuisine at reasonable prices, it was well worth the short detour off University Avenue, if only to listen to her speak with an accent that 20 years in Southern California has done nothing to diminish.
Daily specials varied to suit Odette's mood, ranging from roasted turkey to herbed lemon chicken to beef bourguignonne. The latter was my personal favorite. I probably ate that dish alone as many times as all the others combined-tender chunks of slow-cooked beef steeped in a deep burgundy wine sauce, served with a crusty baguette to ensure not a drop of sauce remained. Fresh steamed vegetables, rice pilaf and the creamiest mashed potatoes you've ever tasted were regulars among the side-dish rotation. Add to that a full sandwich and salad selection, and the place was a lunchtime tour de force. For those craving an authentic French bistro offering, the salade nicoise was tops.
The most wickedly divine pastry selection outside Extraordinary Desserts flanked the cash register, housed in a glass case that begged for nose-pressing, fingerprinted inspection. Topped with canister upon canister of fresh baked cookies, it was practically a crime to leave without at least a small sweet sampling. Odette also offered full catering services, guaranteeing that no matter what tribulations lay ahead, at least each couple she graced with her culinary presence started out on the rocky road of matrimony on the right foot. Over the years, she cooked for such notable folks as then-Gov. Jerry Brown and Julie Andrews.
Early risers were known to crowd the small dining room during breakfast hours, greeted with the aroma of baking French bread wafting from the kitchen. Fluffy omelets served with garlic-roasted potatoes, flaky stuffed croissants and whatever other concoction Odette dreamed up that day kept customers more than satisfied, and earned her a loyal local clientele. No small number of people will now be challenged to find a new place to gather over coffee and good company.
After being in business for 19 years, Odette and Harold decided to call it quits upon learning the building that housed their kitchen would be closed for nearly two years to undergo extensive renovation. Only four months before the closing, Odette decided to finally succumb to her customers' pleading and offer cooking classes.
"At first we had six people, then we had 10, then 16, and now, for this last one, 20 people!" she told CityBeat in her wonderful, thick accent. "I only wish I had started sooner!"
Originally the plan was to close the restaurant portion of the business, but continue catering for those lucky enough to retain her services. Unfortunately, for wedding guests and party crashers alike, she decided instead to pack up and move to Colorado. Once there, she'll start making up lost time for the part of her family that's been deprived of her home cooking for the better part of two decades.She's also thinking of writing a book, or perhaps starting up the cooking classes again. Colorado's gain is most definitely San Diego's loss.