For over a decade, St. Pete locals have raved over Alésia Restaurant’s top-notch French and Vietnamese fare. Sisters, Erika Ly-Hsu and Sandra Ly-Flores, however, have been enjoying those same dishes for much longer.
“Sandra and Erika grew up eating this food,” Carlos Flores—one of Alésia’s four owners—shared with me at a rustic, wooden table on the restaurant’s fairy lit patio. “Their dad has been cooking these recipes since they were kids.”
A first-time visitor to the acclaimed local eatery, I eagerly listened as Carlos dug into the details of how Alésia rose into existence.
“In 2010, Sandra and Erika said they wanted to start a café that would bring their culture to St. Pete. There were no restaurants in this area at the time.”
The spot that the women planned, Carlos explained, would be a breakfast and lunch establishment serving French and Vietnamese dishes with subtle Chinese influence. That blend of cultures, they believed, was distinct to their family heritage, and would thus offer an “unexpected mix” of foods and flavors that actually “work very well” together.
Family-crafted, international recipes come to St. Pete
With the idea of family at the center of the project, Sandra and Erika recruited their husbands, Paul Hsu and Carlos, as mentioned, to join the venture as business partners. Sandra and Erika’s father, The Ly, was also added to the Alésia team as one of its founding chefs, while their mother, Jacqueline, was put in charge of desserts.
From the outset, the family-run establishment has been committed to serving The’s original, homemade recipes. A Vietnamese man, who relocated to France after the 1975 fall of Saigon, The raised his daughters on a complex, flavorful diet that combined the best of both cultures.
Today, Alésia—with The still in the kitchen—continues to turn out many of its classic dishes, such as beef pho in a 24-hour simmered broth and decadent French patés. The initial daytime café concept of the spot has evolved, however, with Alésia now operating as a highly-esteemed full service restaurant complete with one of St. Pete’s most charming evening dining terraces.
Regardless of the shift in operations, though, the Ly’s have kept Alésia true to its founding vision: a family-centered culinary destination that celebrates connectivity and cultural diversity.
If that premise hasn’t already caused your international wanderlust to book a reservation, stay tuned. Last night, I enjoyed dinner on the team’s lovely terrace. The highlights should do the trick.
Since I’ve already hinted at The’s iconic 24-hour pho, I figured it would probably be the best place to start my Alésia recap.
For those unfamiliar, pho is a classic Vietnamese noodle soup typically comprising of beef stock, thinly sliced meat and various spices. Alésia’s version of the meal features all of these components, along with shaved onions and scallions, in The’s aforementioned, slow-cooked beef broth.
To elevate this dish even further, the team suggests sprinkling in a few drops of sambal hot sauce, which—along with hoisin and lime—is cleverly served on the side of each bowl.
Another Vietnamese staple, Alésia offers four versions of the bánh mì sandwich; the “traditional” (salami, soppressata, Parisian ham, and pork liver paté), BBQ char siu pork, grilled pork, and grilled chicken.
Though all four are served on artisan bread with fresh veggies and house-made sambal garlic aioli, I’d definitely recommend the grilled pork. The meat, in that rendition, is fused into a juicy 10-inch patty, covered in a sweet marinade, and charred just enough to create a crisp edge of perfection while preserving its tender center.
AKA, it’s pretty much the fanciest riblet with mayo you’ll ever have.
Ok, so this one I didn’t try (yet), but it looked damn good on the table next to mine.
BANANA NUTELLA CREPES
Nothing screams French food like a good crepe, and Alésia’s banana Nutella crepes epitomize everything the classic dessert (or breakfast?) should be.
Featuring a light—yet still decadently eggy—batter folded around homemade chocolate spread and thick cut bananas, this dish is drippy and gooey in all the best ways.
FLOURLESS HOUSE BROWNIE
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the house brownie (with French vanilla ice cream, of course) is the perfect way to round out an Alésia meal.
And if you’re not into desserts? Well, this is one comes naturally gluten free and loaded with hearty walnuts and almonds, so it’s basically health food.
Like, really good, hot, melty health food.
Cooking from the heart
Curious what else is on Alésia’s internationally-inspired menu? The restaurant, which is located at 7204 Central Avenue, is open Tuesday through Saturday for you to find out.
Don’t be surprised, however, when you end up becoming a regular. With love and family at its core, a trip to Alésia is more than just a meal; it’s a visit home.
For more information on Alésia Restaurant, diners can visit the spot’s official website, https://www.alesiarestaurant.com/, or follow them on the social media.