Chex Axel has been passed down through various owners after over a decade in business and has been around for quite some time in the Montgomery area. The first owners named the restaurant Chez Axel after they had celebrated Bastille Day. Bastille Day is the name that has been given to the national day in France by predominantly English-speaking countries. It is celebrated on the 14th of July each year. In French, it is referred to as Fete Nationale and legally called le 14 Juillet.
What’s In a Name?
The name of the restaurant came from their son who was named Axel. When you say Chez Axel, it translates as “Come and visit with Axel.” The restaurant itself gives off the ambiance that you are visiting with a friend and is very inviting. The name has never changed since the first owners created and conceptualized the restaurant. Chez Axel used to have a bakery next door that was part of the restaurant, and all bakery items were included on the menu. In Southern France pastries are a major part of the culinary experience. The current owner, Rita Nadine Scala, saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a business for sale—coincidentally on Bastille Day. Without hesitation, she decided to end her career at UNM and pursue her career as the owner of Chez Axel. After years abroad in places like Switzerland and with a deep knowledge of the language and culture of France, Scala knew this was her calling.
Designing the Menu
The head chef and kitchen manager, Daniel Little, was making crepes on the day I visited, and I was able to follow him through the cooking process. Sous Chef Nathaniel Miles has been trained by Little and both have been at Chez Axel for eight years since it was purchased by Scala. The crepes are part of the lunch menu, and Little was preparing them similar to the way thin pancakes are created.
The lunch menu also includes several different quiches, some of which are seafood-based. The veal cordon bleu, made with a tenderloin, is a very typical French dish that invites you to experience Southern France in a home away from the home-like environment. The cassoulets are a big hit, especially in the fall and winter. They are made with various kinds of meats and a little bit of duck, the whole thing resembling a large stew. Duck is a major component of Southern French cuisine and is used primarily to uphold French traditions through food. Escargot and French onion soup, as well as salads that include goat cheese, upon request, and cheese plates are available on the appetizer menu. The beef bourguignon is one of the most popular dishes, and it includes a wonderful sauce.
The restaurant has a large selection of seafood options. They have different options including salmon, trout, tilapia, sea bass, fillets, snapper, shrimp and scallops. Little says, “I find that people really like the fish options on the menu, so we have never done away with any of the fish.” Appetizers for seafood include frog legs and shrimps. The frog legs dish is prepared by breading the frog’s legs and cooking them with garlic, shallots, and some salt and pepper. The frog legs come in frozen, and then they are breaded and fried at Chez Axel. All fish is ordered through the Santa Monica seafood company based in California.
The aesthetic in the restaurant immediately sends you to a remote southern province in France. The room is beautiful and has a very thoughtful table setting and is overall very romantic. The ambiance includes a stunning tea collection. Little’s daughter has a tea shop called the Fragrant Leaf where loose leaf tea from places like Japan is served. Chez Axel caters all the food for Fragrant Leaf. All those tea collections from different parts of the world are now displayed in a fantastically eloquent way at Chez Axel. There are plans underway to open up tea options at Chez Axel. The restaurant is currently working with the African American Artist Guild to create tea and etiquette classes. Little says, “Tea would be a wonderful asset because they often have large groups including the South West Writers Club and pre-wedding gatherings that frequent Chez Axel.” Little’s daughter would also like to re-open the bakery and include the tea options as part of Chez Axel’s extensive menu.
Creating An Ambiance
Other areas of the room at Chez Axel include stunning pieces of artwork that used to be housed in a gallery that Scala and her daughter owned in Nob Hill called the Blue Lily Atelier. Several artists had placed their artwork in the art gallery, and they were there for three years. Many of the artists eventually left the gallery and went on to open their own studios, so the Blue Lily closed. Some artists still like to display their artwork at Chez Axel because the ambiance is so welcoming. One of the most important components of French cuisine is the ambiance in which the food is presented. The flow of the experience itself makes the food at Chez Axel all the more tantalizing.
6209 Montgomery Blvd. NE