Above: Owner/Executive Chef Paul Magu
Paul and Laura Magu bring the exquisite flavors of Paris to the ‘burbs via their classy French bistro Rêve five nights a week, delighting neighbors and visitors alike.
Star-crossed restaurateurs Paul and Laura met while both working at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, despite arriving there from significantly different paths.
Owner/Executive Chef Paul Magu grew up in Paris, where he was classically trained and worked under famed chefs including Gerard Besson and Alain Ducasse. He moved to the United States in 2001 to work for the Ritz-Carlton as their prestigious dining room’s sous-chef.
Owner/COO Laura Magu grew up in the Bay Area and started working in restaurants at a young age, putting herself through college by waitressing. She moved into the field of catering management before starting as a banquet server at the Ritz-Carlton in 1999.
The pair would eventually meet, sparking marriage, three daughters, and the successful Rêve Bistro in Lafayette, California.
Although Paul left Paris, the French cooking techniques he mastered came with him across the Atlantic. For example, there is very little food waste in French cooking and this stays true at Rêve – which translates to “dream” in French.
When Rêve gets deliveries of whole fish, they use every bit, including the bones to make fish stock. This is standard technique in France. It’s derived from a deep appreciation for food.
This type of reverence spans the whole life cycle of the food, from the farmer who grew it to the supplier to those preparing it and creating something special for each guest.
This love and dedication shows itself in Rêve’s exquisite French classics, including coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, steak frites, and salade niçoise.
Crafting an Identity
Rêve Bistro is unique in that it has a superb French chef in the kitchen every night, yet it is not a haughty eatery that will blow your entire paycheck.
As its website boasts, “Kids are welcome and no, you don’t have to dress up!” The family-friendly atmosphere is of extreme importance to the Magus, whose children were one of the major catalysts for opening their own restaurant.
When their daughters were younger, Paul was working 50-70 hour weeks as the Executive Sous Chef at the St. Regis Hotel. “It got to a point where we had to ask, “What do we want out of life?”” Laura reminisces. Paul had always wanted his own restaurant, his own place to be able to show off everything that he’s learned and mastered.
The Magus decided that the reward was worth the risk. Paul left the St. Regis and they spent the next eight months searching for the perfect space for their French bistro to-be.
Their vision was a classic Parisian bistro. This was opposed to aiming for Michelin, even though that was Paul’s background. After all, he was trying to have a relatively manageable work schedule, not “have a heart attack at work,” Laura explains.
Rêve Bistro opened in January 2016 to a great reception from the neighborhood.
Adjusting to Covid-19
Until the Covid-19 pandemic, Rêve stood true to French cuisine in that it did not provide a to-go option. In a dramatic reversal of that policy, the Magus ordered over one thousand to-go boxes on the very first day of the stay-at-home order. They sent a message out to their patrons that they now offered a full array of to-go food.
In the past, Paul was opposed to packaging up his delicious creations. Even though this became the only option for survival, it did not mean that he would sacrifice his high standards.
They tweaked the menu and started having different to-go options, including take-out dishes and an online food shop with reheatable meals. Rêve has also been selling its wine at 50% off.
Today, Rêve offers seating in its patio area. However, this has still proven to be a bit of a financial strain because it includes higher payroll costs and new expenses with a significantly smaller amount of in-person business. Plus, always-changing rules for what restaurants can and cannot do adds to the challenge.
Still, though, if you stop by Rêve on a Tuesday this month, you’ll hear music on the patio. Popping gougères (French cheese puffs) into your mouth, you may forget you’re in California. It’ll be a Parisian dream come true.