Café Sauvage: A walk on the wild side of French cuisine
A little slice of Paris has blossomed at 25 Massachusetts Ave. in the form of Café Sauvage, an all-day French café launched by husband-and-wife team Anaïs and Antoine Lambert and Executive Chef Kendall DaCosta. After years of working in French restaurants around Boston, the Parisian transplant couple wanted to open a spot that showcased a more diverse perspective of French cuisine.
“We really wanted a place that looked like us,” says Anaïs Lambert. “We are a mixed couple; he’s white, I’m Black. We wanted French cuisine but with other influences.”
The menu offers a few French classics such as French onion soup, crepes and steak frites. But visitors will also find a Vietnamese banh mi that’s been Frenchified, a crepe designed with Ethiopian flavors and a lemon sole with couscous and harissa. Chef DaCosta, formerly of the Four Seasons Boston and Bastille Kitchen, will shift the menu every season to incorporate what’s in bloom and keep up with the latest French cuisine trends.
In some ways, eating at Café Sauvage is like visiting the Lamberts in their own home. The menu includes Anaïs’ mother’s recipe for African roasted chicken with jollof rice. “You can have great chicken everywhere. But here it’s about the diversity in the flavors,” says Anaïs. “The garlic sauce we have is really something that my mom and most West African people know about. That’s something we wanted to bring to your plate here at Café Sauvage.”
Anaïs worked closely with STA Design to create the 38-seat restaurant, which she hopes to supplement with a Parisian-style patio in the spring. Along the windows is a row of rich green velvet banquettes modeled after a beloved couch in the Lambert home. Above the banquettes is green tropical wallpaper Anaïs imported from France.
The jungle feel alludes to the café’s name. “Sauvage” translates to “wild” and represents the nontraditional approach the Lamberts are taking to the French food experience. The name also represents how the team may have felt opening a multicultural restaurant in the Back Bay, just blocks from Newbury Street. Anaïs confesses that although the spot was prime for business, she had reservations about the neighborhood. “Boston is a white city, there’s no secret around that,” she says. “I was kind of afraid of how people would react to the food and to me and Kendall being here. I was happily surprised. People are more open-minded than I could expect.”
Café Sauvage’s all-day model is an homage to the Parisian bistro, which typically opens early in the morning to begin serving espresso and croissants and stays open late at night filling wine glasses and plating dinner. The café currently serves breakfast and lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant has been open for four weeks and the Lamberts plan to expand hours and offerings as the endeavor progresses.
Both the menu and the all-day model aim to make the café and French cuisine accessible. Anaïs says many people have the misconception that French food is stuffy and high-end. “Most French people just love small cafes, small bistros where they can hang out with friends,” she says. The food at Café Sauvage retains the high quality standards of French cuisine, but without a high price tag and intimidating atmosphere.
The café’s liquor license is still being processed but Anaïs says they will be serving up French wines and craft cocktails soon. In the meantime, she hopes diners will come for the global food experience.
“I want people to be surprised that in France they can eat something different than escargot toast and French onion soup,” she says. “I want people to feel an escape from their routine, for them to feel that they’re in Paris for a minute.”