Sebastien Baudin is from Annecy, a small town in southeast France near the border with Switzerland and Italy. Baudin's family operated a restaurant there, and he grew up in the kitchen. He told me that as soon as he was tall enough to reach the stove, he was put to work. Eventually he burned out on restaurant life, and as a young man he took five years off to pursue other interests.
But when he came to New Orleans nine years ago, he fell back into the life, working in several restaurants. After Katrina he returned to France for five months, but he'd developed a love for New Orleans, and told me that he couldn't wait to get back.
He and his wife wanted a place of their own, and when the space at 4206 Magazine St. became available, they took it. Baudin did much of the renovation himself, and the result is a comfortable space that bears no resemblance to the plus-sized-women's-clothing store that was the former occupant. The dining area is split by a wall that runs perpendicular to Magazine, and there's a raised section towards the rear, behind the small bar that doubles as a service station.
Baudin told me that he wanted his place to be a bistro in the true sense; that he wanted to cook “honest food” and to keep the prices down. He wanted the restaurant, which he named C'est la Vie, to be a place where neighborhood residents could come a few times a week, as opposed to a spot reserved for special occasions.
C'est la Vie opened on December 19 of last year, and true to Baudin's intention, it's a classic bistro. The menu is full of French standards, with a few interesting twists. Starters include soupe à l'oignon, of course, as well as charcuterie and cheese plates. Escargots à la Bourguignonne is executed particularly well.
At lunch Baudin serves sandwiches like croque monsieur, jambon beurre, and steak à la foriestière, in which skirt steak is paired with a mushroom cream sauce on a baguette. Quiches are on offer, and salads include warm goat cheese over greens with bacon and tomato and the salade sammesuffit, which combines greens, corn, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and ham all topped with a sunny-side-up egg.
Mussels are available two ways on the entree side of the menu; the classic à la marinière and à l'Auvergnate, in which the steamed bivalves are sauced with white wine and blue cheese. Both versions are served with frites, which also accompany the obligatory-for-a-bistro steak-frites. At C'est la Vie, the beef is a skirt steak, and it comes with a house salad. One interesting variation on the bistro classic is the magret de canard aux airelles, in which slices of duck breast are placed over mashed potatoes and topped with a lingonberry sauce, accompanied by ratatouille.
As I write, the restaurant doesn't have a liquor license, though Baudin told me it was in the works. As of now, there's a generous corkage policy; there's no charge for the first three bottles, and $5 thereafter.
C'est la Vie is open tuesday through saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, and from 5 to 10:30 p.m. for dinner. Sunday brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Call (504) 304-6497 to find out more.