Good French cuisine is not a rarity in Japan. Over the nine years I have lived in Utsunomiya, I have dined at more than half a dozen French restaurants in town. If you are downtown on the west side of the station, C’est La Vie is the most accessible French restaurant that I know of. Recently, my husband, my three year old son and I enjoyed an evening at C’est la Vie.
We went downtown by bus to take in the summer festival and were soon being jostled by the crowd along Orion Dori, the covered shopping arcade. I was almost swooning from the heat. We stepped out of the arcade, onto the cobblestone path alongside the Kama River (more of a canal) where we found a breeze, some trees, and C’est la Vie Restaurant and bar. Some patio tables and chairs were set up out front where a friendly, English-speaking lady greeted us and sold us French focaccia bread. I can’t guarantee she works there every night, and the restaurant only sets up the patio furniture and sells food outside during the festival.
I eagerly claimed the two seats remaining on the terrace, but my son started to whine. He wanted his own big chair. OK. We can do that. We stash the stroller at the door, and step inside. I take a deep breath and cross my fingers that my child will behave. The air conditioning provides a welcome relief from the outside humidity.
C’est la Vie is an ambient, cozy restaurant, dimly lit, with interesting things to rest your eyes on, like the floral glass light fixture above our table, the wall signed by patrons in various languages, the ham hanging from the ceiling behind the bar. Of about six tables, half were occupied.
The Y350 slice of freshly baked, soft focaccia bread topped with such things as tomato and herbs was brought back to us on a plate. It didn’t warrant our family being seated inside, and was quickly gobbled up. My husband ordered sparkling rose wine and white wine (Y700/glass), vinegared mushroom aperitif (Y400), Matsuri prawn dish and salmon pie (Y1500). The menu is written in katakana for the most part. Check out their menu (not including specials)
Yum. The mushrooms were tangy, garlicy, and went well with wine. The salmon pie pastry was flaky, the salmon not at all fishy. The prawns were mixed with vegetables dressed in olive oil and garlic. I savored forkfuls, alternating dishes. “I’m going to review this restaurant for JapanTourist!” I proclaim. “But this restaurant is already famous,” my husband retorts. A lot of things are deemed “famous” in Japan. I start taking photos but I've already eaten almost everything. My husband orders a basket of bread, Y300, which isn’t exceptional.
I have subsequently checked online to see just how famous Utsunomiya’s C’est La Vie is, in English. I found mention of it in English but I wouldn’t say it is famous (yet).
Now that I have raved about the salmon pie, I have to say it was small for the price; while it made up in quality what it lacked in quantity, I was glad I had eaten half a wiener and some fried scallops at the festival.
A light dinner for two came to just about Y5000 (incl. 8% service tax). Just worth it. An intimate meal at a “fancy” restaurant is a rare treat for my family. If location, ambience and taste are priorities, you want western-style food and seating, and especially if you're in the mood for romance, C’est La Vie is one of several small downtown dining establishments I would recommend. Come for dinner and drinks, enjoy your order, chat in a relaxing setting, then stroll the cobble-stoned, lit up Kamagawa River Promenade after dinner.
As far as I know C’est La Vie does not offer parking space to patrons. What parking can be found nearby is pricy. Besides, who wants to bring their car to a drinking establishment? I would say leave your kids at home too, but we managed with one.