"I've seen at lot of change in this corner," the middle-aged woman said to the French-speaking bartender as he poured her another white wine at Bistro St. Germain in Seal Beach. "And this change is the one I've liked best!"
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The eatery occupies a prime space on Main Street that has never been able to keep a restaurant for long. I can't even remember the previous eatery before St. Germain set up shop about two years ago, and I didn't notice this French spot until recently, always too focused on 320 Main and Crema Cafe when in the area. It's a bit of an anomaly, to be honest: refined cuisine in a stretch more famous for bars and comfort food. But it's worth a visit, not just for the people-watching, but also for one of the more underrated happy hours in North OC in an unapologetically Gallic jaunt: a luscious country paté, fatty pork sausage simmered in red wine to sumptuous results, a great onion soup and more. The portions are large, yet become ridiculously affordable during happy hour, when they're half off! Nowhere in this part of the county will you eat richly and cheaply at the same time.
Don't be a cheapskate, though; make sure to order more than just tapas. Lunchtime brings big sandwiches: a gigantic croque monsieur, a fine hamburger, a refreshing caprese. The crêpe game is, of course, strong—best is the one slathered in a béchamel sauce, thick and fluffy and perfect. Dinner is when the chefs show they're worthy of Escoffier, with a classics menu of lamb Provençal, steak frites, a pork filet mignon slathered in a mustard sauce, and a boeuf bourguignon stewed for so long its savoriness collapses on itself like the most delicious black hole of all time.
In this era of extreme cuisine, it's interesting to see French food—long derided as stuffy and high-falutin'—make a bit of a local comeback between Marché Moderne, Moulin Bistro, Bistro Papillote and now here. Bistro St. Germain can still use more customers, but it's on the right track to shake off the corner's curse. Even better? It airs Dodgers games—vive les bleus!
Bistro St. Germain, 302 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 430-3200; bistrostgermain.com.