Le Troquet Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bistro Le Troquet on 3rd and Central

Pope Gregory the Great was a prolific writer canonized as a saint and recognized as a “doctor of the church.” Among musicians, singers, students and teachers, he is revered as a patron saint, a heavenly advocate who intercedes on their behalf. Among gluttons of the Middle Ages, however, the supreme pontiff was reviled. In his treatise Morals on the Book of Job, Pope Gregory essentially condemned them to Hell, a denouncement reflecting the strict austerity of the times. For gluttons, the unpardonable sin was in deriving too much pleasure from eating. Eating, or more precisely the pleasurable overindulgence in food, was viewed as an ungodly preoccupation with temporal and corporeal pleasures at the expense of spirituality.

Church leaders of the Middle Ages didn’t just denounce the derivation of pleasure from eating in a general sense. They listed five specific ways in which gluttony was a sin: eating too soon, eating too expensively, eating too much, eating too eagerly, eating too daintily and eating wildly. By Middle Age standards, many Americans are gluttons and would be condemned to an eternity in Hell for our enjoyment of food. Fortunately the provincial dogma regarding the enjoyment of food has been replaced by more “one dimensional” thinking that focuses on the sin of the inordinate desire to eat too much when there are needy going without food.

Very European Dining Room

In The Science of Sin, Dr. Simon Laham posited that “If Pope Gregory the Great had it right, the French are going straight to Hell.” It’s a declaration that doesn’t sit well with the French who in 2003 petitioned Pope John Paul II to remove gourmandise (gluttony in English) from the list of seven deadly sins. For the proud French, gourmandise reflects shared pleasure and generosity—sharing food as a social activity. Gourmandise respects moderation and portion control and is wholly contrary to the priggish conformity to propriety that describes gourmets. Rather than a cardinal vice, the French argue that gourmandise is a theological virtue.

Alas, it’s not a virtue practiced often or well (or maybe not at all) in America where lunches tend to be hurried gobble-and-go affairs spent more attuned to the latest cat video on YouTube than on what we’re eating or with whom we’re sharing our meal. Contrast that with the gourmandise experience—a leisurely, three course, two-hour lunch spent in conversation with friends. Gourmandise is more akin to a marathon while the American dining experience has devolved into a sprint.

Mushroom Soup

In Albuquerque, no one has been more instrumental in introducing the spirit of gourmandise or in providing fine French alternatives to the ubiquitous chile-laden cuisine that seems to define the city than chef Jean-Pierre Gozard. Chef Gozard started it all in 1975 with the launch of La Crepe Michel, a hugely popular restaurant that’s still going strong nearly four decades later. In 1979 he opened Le Marmiton, one of the four or five restaurants I’ve missed most from among all those which have closed since we returned to Albuquerque. From 1987 through 1995, Chef Gozard plied his talents in Casa Vieja, a Corrales landmark.

After leaving Casa Vieja, it looked for a while as if Albuquerque had seen the last of the über chef, but in 2008 he turned up at La Crepe Pierre, a highly regarded restaurant which eventually evolved into Chez Bob, another excellent French restaurant. By year’s end, Chef Gozard had launched Cafe Jean-Pierre, within easy walking distance of the Century 24 theater. At the close of 2015 and advent of the new year, Chef Gozard closed his eponymous restaurant to focus on Le Troquet Bistro on the intersection of 3rd and Gold in the downtown area.

Frog Legs

Le Troquet occupies the charming space which served as home to P’Tit Louis Bistro for years. Fashioned like a turn-of-the-century Parisian bistro, the art-deco ambiance includes hardwood floors and furnishings with masculine black accents bespeaking of period authenticity and precise craftsmanship which is also apparent in the artisan construction of the hand-crafted art nouveau bar and other decorous touches.  It’s a setting which just may inspire the spirit of gourmandise even among the most rushed diners.

The interior is cozy with fewer than a dozen tiny tables in personal space proximity to one another. The tables are obviously intended for dishes to be delivered in sequence, not for several dishes to be delivered at one time. Each table is adorned with linen tablecloths and napkins. A soundtrack featuring the soothing stylings of Edith Piaf and other French singers of decades past lend to a dining experience in which time seems to have stopped nearly a century ago

Jambon Beurre with Fruit

The menu is more timeless and surprisingly ambitious considering the relatively small and very intimate confines of the restaurant. One side of the two-page menu is dedicated to more informal “lunch-type” items. It lists soups, salads, hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches and quiches, warm plates and desserts. The other page lists nine dinner entrees and two appetizers. Those dinner entrees include several of the magnificent dishes which made Café Jean-Pierre one of Albuquerque’s finest restaurants of any genre. It’s a list of lavish deliciousness, each entrée making it impossible not to derive great pleasure from the indulgence of eating.

4 March 2016: Quite possibly the best soup on the menu is a soup du jour offering of cream of mushroom. If your benchmark for cream of mushroom comes from a red-labeled can, you’ll curse having wasted your life at your very first bite of Le Troquet’s soul-satisfying rendition. Rich, creamy and steaming hot, it is the essence of French comfort, replete with the flavor of heady, earthy mushrooms tinged with a nuanced hint of white wine. It’s the type of soup which will inspire diners to close their eyes and luxuriate in swoon-worthy deliciousness. Not surprisingly, this version is as good (if not better) than the cream of mushroom soup served at Café Jean-Pierre.

Veal Scallopine Normande

4 March 2016: With centuries of enmity between England and France, it stands to reason that name-calling would ensue as we learned during our three years in England. Whenever English citizens spoke of the French, the term “Frogs” was bandied about, the sobriquet “Frogs” apparently derived from the French propensity for enjoying frog legs. Frog legs are a delicacy not often found in restaurants across the Land of Enchantment, but Le Troquet has them. These mild-flavored gams are coated with a combination of garlic, herbs, fresh tomatoes and white wine…and no, they don’t taste like chicken (though there is a textural resemblance). Frog legs, in fact, don’t have much flavor at all. They’re rather bland and nondescript, hence the tendency for restaurants to sauce them or coat them in other ingredients.

4 March 2016: Though blessed with the wide availability of sandwiches dressed with every conceivable condiment, sometimes only the simplicity of a relatively unadorned sandwich will do. During our time in Europe, we were surprised at how much we enjoyed simple sandwiches constructed with no more than three or four ingredients. Nostalgia filled our hearts with every bite of the Jamon Beurre, a simple sandwich made with ham of Paris and butter on a baguette. That’s it! Three ingredients, no more. The rich creaminess of butter on a soft, moist baguette is the perfect repository for salty, savory, smoky ham. Though Dagwood might not appreciate its sparsity, we loved it.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 March 2016: While veal scallopini is a traditional Italian offering, French influences can be added to produce a superb dish you’d be proud to serve and even happier to eat. Le Troquet’s Veal Scallopini Normande will please the most discerning palates. Thin, delicate veal medallions of veal are lightly floured and sautéed then deglazed with apple brandy and served with roasted apples (ostensibly from the apple orchards of Normandy, for centuries producers of Europe’s best apples). The veal is so tender you can cut it with a fork and so good, it may be lust, another of the seven sins, you’ll experience as you consume it with wonton alacrity. The veal is served with sweet, tender carrots and fresh haricot verts. 

6 July 2016: My first experience with chicken cordon bleu was on a flight to London way back in 1979.  The quality of airplane food back then was probably on par with the quality of food at most high school cafeterias.  To say the dish didn’t impress me in the least is an understatement.  While chicken cordon bleu was all the rage in French restaurants across the fruited plain back then, I don’t recall ever ordering it at any restaurant.  That’s more than three decades of denying myself, all courtesy of a poor-performing airplane galley.  Had Chef Jean-Pierre catered for the airplane, I might today count chicken cordon bleu as one of my favorite French foods.  Le Troquet’s version, pulchritudinous poultry stuffed with ham and Gruyere cheese and topped with a sumptuous sauce made with caramelized onions, is easily the best I’ve had.  Considering a small sample size, that’s not saying much about chicken cordon bleu, so let’s qualify the degree of my affinity for the dish by declaring it’s now one of my favorite French dishes.

Beignets with Apricot Marmalade

4 March 2016: There are five desserts on the menu including the patisserie du jour (or pastry of the day). St. Gregory the Great would have frowned had he been presented with the option of beignets as he would certainly have succumbed to temptation. Four warm beignets heavily dusted with confectioners’ sugar and served with an apricot marmalade would have driven even Job to temptation. Surprisingly dense yet remarkably light, each beignet is a puffed-up piece of goodness. The apricot marmalade packs just enough of a fruity tang to serve as a foil for the beignets.

If it’s a sin to eat at Le Troquet Bistro where profound enjoyment is assured with every bite, Albuquerque has plenty of transgressors who prefer to think of themselves as enjoying the Lord’s bounty.

Le Troquet Bistro
228 Gold Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 508-1166
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 July 2016
1st VISIT: 4 March 2016
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Mushroom Soup, Veal Scallopini Normande, Jambon Beurre, Beignets, Frog Legs

Le Troquet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chez Mamou – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Chez Mamou on Palace Avenue in Santa Fe

When she asked me to repeat the name of the French restaurant where we were dining one slightly breezy Sunday morning, I knew my clever bride had something in mind.  Relaying that we were dining at Chez (pronounced “shay”) Mamou, she retorted “are you sure it’s not called “Shame on you.”  That was her reaction to a server having deposited a stale, probably older than day-old baguette on our table.  She followed up with “no self-respecting French restaurant, especially one claiming to be a bakery would serve bread baked by Napoleon’s baker.”  Whether or not the fossilized (her term) bread was indicative of Chez Mamou’s daily performance, it was enough to rile my usually saintly patient wife.

By this point, she had already dissed the coffee, an Allegro Coffee blend, which she found entirely too strong and “more bitter than supporters of England wanting to remain in the European Union.”   (In the interest of full-disclosure, she finds coffee too strong if it can’t be “cured” by five or six packets of Splenda.”)  She would later repeat her “what’s the name of this restaurant” comment while eating some of the restaurant’s highly-touted pastries and croissants, reputedly baked by a master baker (and I won’t repeat how she twisted that term). That, my friends, is why she leaves the reviewing to me…and lest you think she’s nit-picky, the only time she’s ever compromised on her exceedingly high standards is when she said “yes” to me.

Dining Room at Chez Mamou

You should certainly set your expectations high when visiting a restaurant as highly touted as Chez Mamou.  Never mind that it earned rave reviews from both the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe Reporter, where it really earned its creds with me is from a Facebook post by Daniela Bouneou, erstwhile owner of the fabulous  Torinos @ Home.  When Daniela posts about a restaurant, you’re well advised to heed her recommendation.  Chez Mamou also earned a 3.5 rating (out of 4) from Yelp, 4.5 (out of 5) from Trip Advisor  and 3.9 (out of 5) from Zomato. Interspersed among mostly glowing comments in these three crowd-sourced review forums are a few opinions which would make excellent roast material.  At least our experience wasn’t an outlier.

Chez Mamou is one of several French restaurants serving the City Different, not really a surprise considering the long and storied history of French people in New Mexico.  Launched in 2012, its East Palace Avenue location is scant blocks away from the Santa Fe Plaza, but in ways it seems almost an ocean away…as far away as a Paris sidewalk cafe.  That’s especially true on a Santa Fe summer morning if you’re trying to escape the sweltering heat of Albuquerque as was the case during our inaugural visit.  A light, cool breeze and the courtyard’s sun-shielding shade transported us to a better time and place.  Had we known Chez Mamou was so pet-friendly, we might have brought our four-legged children Tim and The Dude.

Al Fresco Dining at its Finest

Weather-permitted, the courtyard is definitely preferred seating.  If the courtyard is full, there are a few tables preceding the front entrance that’ll give you a great view of the street activity.  The space which houses Chez Mamou is bisected into two halves, one occupied by Noëlla Jewelry Couture.  Decor is tasteful and homey.  Step up into the cafe and your eyes will immediately gravitate toward the pastry case with its colorful display of pastries, breads, croissant and other French baked delicacies.  Few display cases in New Mexico are as lovely.  You’ll want to order the chocolate croissants the minute you walk in or you risk the cafe running out entirely.

From among the baked goods we shared, the chocolate croissants stand out.  While no croissant will ever have enough chocolate to sate this chocoholic, the chocolate chunks on these beauties are strategically placed so that you’ll experience sweet and savory tastes in virtually every bite.  The croissants are buttery, light and flaky, but they’re served with a hard butter which is a challenge to spread.  Fortunately a housemade strawberry jam accompanied our croissants.  The jam, nearly pureed in texture, was very reminiscent of fresh strawberries plucked at their optimum ripeness, neither too sweet nor too tart.

Mussels Mamou

Where Chez Mamou really stands out is in the large variety of its menu, particularly its brunch offerings.  While many restaurants feature an abbreviated brunch menu usually short on lunch-type offerings, Chez Mamou’s brunch menu is staggering in its variety.  Like me, the cafe doesn’t believe 7:30 in the morning is too early for Frog Legs, Escargots, Fettuccini Carbonara or any number of sandwiches on a canvas of freshly baked bread.  If you’re more of a traditionalist, the menu also includes a number of omelets (made with eggs produced by local, happy, free-range, Nambe hens) as well as sweet and savory crepes and even a Croque Madame…all because sometimes you feel like breakfast and sometimes you feel like lunch.

In England, as in much of Northern Europe, mussels are so readily available and relatively inexpensive that they’re often dismissed as a poor man’s shellfish.  During our years in England, we enjoyed mussels by the bushel, but we never contemplated the possibility of incorporating New Mexico flavors (not that we had red or green chile readily available) into either the wine- or cream-based broths we regularly prepared.  Thankfully restaurants in New Mexico, regardless of genre, know their patrons practically expect a little red or green in virtually every menu, even on dessert items…and as we all know, chile improves the overall flavor of everything it touches.

Steak Frites

In an inspired example of France meets New Mexico, Chez Mamou offers an eponymous appetizer called Mussels Mamou which showcases the lively flavor of red chile paired with the incomparable flavor of applewood smoked bacon in a light wine sauce punctuated by shallots and parsley.  Although comprised of only a paltry six mussels, everyone knows that more than half of the enjoyment of mussels is in sopping up the broth with a good bread.  Because the bread we were provided lacked the dredging qualities of great broth sopping bread (hence my Kim’s dissatisfaction described above), we had to spoon up the broth instead.  While still good, the sensory–tactile, olfactory and taste–experiences were diminished somewhat.

Because she missed the French fries often served with mussels (who doesn’t love moules frites?), my Kim’s choice of entree was the Steak Frites, a flank steak served with a pile of French fries and assorted vegetables.  After recent encounters with sinewy, tough ribeye steaks, we were delighted to find the flank steak tender and absolutely delicious (in Kim’s estimation, better than a much more expensive steak at Ruth’s Chris).  Prepared and seasoned to her exacting specifications, it didn’t even need the delectable mushrooms in gravy (not quite duxelles style) though they, too, were mouth-watering.  So were the vegetables (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower) which were so good even avowed vegetable-haters of all ages would enjoy them.  Alas, the frites were strictly out-of-a-bag quality, a far cry from the twice-fried frites we enjoyed in Europe and now in La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque.

Duck Confit

One of the more challenging decisions we faced during our inaugural visit was how to enjoy the duck which is prepared three different ways: duck confit, duck confit pasta and duck confit salad.  The duck confit (red wine demi glace over slowly cooked duck) served with fresh roasted tomato, seasonal vegetables and potatoes au gratin had me at au gratin, a potato dish served often at French restaurants bur almost nowhere else.  A layer of Gruyere blanketed the perfectly prepared potatoes, imparting a creamy texture, richness and saltiness.  As with the aforementioned mussels, the superb red wine demi glace beckoned for bread so as not to leave a single drop on the plate.  It was one of the best demi glace preparations we’ve had at any French restaurant in New Mexico.  The duck, too, was well prepared and nicely seasoned with dark meat qualities showcased in every bite.

As beautiful as the pastries under glass appeared to be, we must have ordered the wrong ones because their appearance was certainly deceiving.  Kim opted for the cherry tart, the most redeeming quality of which was that real, whole cherries were used, not some gloppy gelatinous mix.  Alas, the thickness and plenitude of the breading was off-putting.  Such was the case as well with the almond tart of my choosing.  Topped with almond slivers and walnut pieces, it would have been far more enjoyable had there not been so much breading.

Pastry Tray

As with virtually all restaurants we visit, our experience was a mix of good and not-so-good.  That’s not surprising.  What is surprising is the delta between the good and not-so-good.  Our entrees were outstanding, as good as prepared at any French restaurant in the Land of Enchantment, but the baked goods (save for croissants) were lacking.  It’s quite possible this was an anomaly, but it’ll take additional visits to know for sure.  That’s something this gastronome and his oft-fussy better-half are happy to do.

Chez Mamou
217 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 216-1845
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 June 2016
COST: $$
BEST BET: Duck Confit, Steak Frites, Mussels Mamou

Chez Mamou French Cafe & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Clafoutis – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Clafoutis French Bakery & Restaurant

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, you only need to know 10 words to understand 25-percent of what native [English] speakers say and write. You need to know 100 words to understand 50-percent of what native speakers say and write, and 1000 words to understand 75-percent of all the words used in common, everyday English. To understand 95-percent of the text used in blogs (even this one) and newspapers, you need a vocabulary of only 3,000 words. Considering the Oxford English Dictionary lists more than 171,000 words in current use (and another 47,000 obsolete words), knowing 3,000 words doesn’t sound very impressive.

Many years ago before my first trip to France, I took an inventory of how many French words I knew, arriving at somewhere near that magical number of 3,000. While knowing that many words in English would make me fairly conversant, knowing 3,000 words in French (from a language boasting of 100,000 words) certainly didn’t endow me with conversational fluency. Not even close! French orthography, the spelling and punctuation of the French language, comes easy for me compared to pronunciation. If you’ve ever seen the episode of Friends in which Joey Tribbiani attempted to speak French, you’ll know of what I speak.

Clafoutis on a very busy Saturday afternoon

While enjoying the relaxed ambiance and luxuriating in the intoxicating aromas of freshly roasted coffee at Clafoutis French Bakery and Restaurant in Santa Fe, my ears perked up upon hearing a Mexican server and Mexican busboy merrily greeting guests with “Bonjour Madam” or “Bonjour Monsieur” as appropriate. It brought to mind my own failed attempts at speaking French at a sidewalk café in Normandy lo those many years ago. In Spanish I asked the busboy how much French he could actually speak and smiling shyly, he admitted to not knowing more than a handful of words. That, however, was not the case with Samantha, our statuesque server.

Samantha, a Rutgers graduate who majored in theater and guided us through an exquisite meal, is conversant in both French and Italian. She even taught us how to pronounce Clafoutis, prompting Kim to chide me “I told you it wasn’t Claw Footies.” Kim did a much better job at reciprocating all the “merci beaucoups” and “sil vous plaits” than I did. Decades-old memories of speaking French like Aldo the Apache (the Brad Pitt character in Inglorious Basterds) had rendered me more than a bit bashful. Samantha, similar to most (but not all) servers in France, was very patient and kind, grateful that we would make the effort to engage her in French.

Duck Breast Salad

Named for a luscious French dessert made by baking fruit in a custard-like batter, Clafoutis could just as easily be named Déjà vu for the “haven’t I been here before” sensation you experience as you take your place in the long queue of guests waiting to for a table. More than any other French restaurant we’ve visited in New Mexico, Clafoutis looks, feels, smells and tastes like the French cafes of my travels to France. That’s not just my experience. Santa Fe’s scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author Cheryl Jamison describes Clafoutis as “pretty much like a mini-trip to France and, to me, that pretty much equals a trip to Shangri-La.”

On her 10Best column for USA Today, Billie Frank, one-half of the fabulous Santa Fe Travelers notes that this “bustling boulangerie/patisserie…will take you to Paris.” Or at least Paris meets Santa Fe. Clafoutis is located at the northern terminus of Guadalupe Street next door to a Land of Enchantment landmark, a LotaBurger. You’ll want to heed Billie’s advice: “Parking is a bit challenging here. Arrive at 7AM when they open or mid-morning after the early rush.” We arrived shortly before noon and faced the dual challenge of finding a place to park as well as having to stand in line behind a dozen or so equally ravenous diners. Those ravenous diners became rather long-faced when they were finally seated only to find the pastry case nearly empty and learning that the beignets (a Saturday morning special) had run out.

L’Assisette Francaise (The French Plate)

Because of close proximity seating, you can practically imbibe all the aromas and flavors of dishes being delivered to your neighbors. It exacerbates the challenge of deciding what to order. You’ll likely change your mind several times before deciding, but it’s probably impossible to make a bad choice. The lunch menu is organized into categories: les quiches, les salads, soup al’oignon (onion soup), les sandwiches, les bruschettes, les crepes and los croques (Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame). Entrees are spelled out in French with English translations immediately thereafter. Descriptions of each item are in English. Your server will recite the specials of the day.

If the daily special is the duck salad, shout your order if you have to, just don’t miss out on one of the best salads you’ll have. This entree features a generous number of duck breast medallions seared to a lovely pinkish hue in the middle with a slightly caramelized crust on the outside. With a fatty (but not greasy) richness, moistness and tenderness, the duck may be the star of this stunning dish, but it’s got an excellent supporting cast: juicy and tart grapefruit slices, walnut halves, fresh greens and a light drizzling of Dijonnaise dressing. The Dijonnaise leans much more toward mustardy qualities than it does mayonnaise. That’s a good thing for those of us who appreciate lively flavors.

Sandwich Prosciutto

In the spirit and tradition of the Charcuterie, Clafoutis offers an L’Assiette (French plate) brimming with cornichons, ham, prosciutto, hard salami, pearl onions, cheese, mixed green salad, butter and brie. It’s nearly everything the French version of Dagwood would want on a sandwich. Indeed, if you are inclined to pile onto the accompanying sliced baguette, you could have several beautiful sandwiches. Alternatively, you could savor each and every morsel of these French “cold cuts” sans pain (bread). For palate cleanser in between meats and cheeses, don’t use the cornichons, delightful little French baby “pickles,” with a zesty, tangy snap. Instead delight in the simplicity of French butter on baguette slices. We often crossed the English channel just to pick up bread, butter, cheese and wine. Clafoutis reminded us how thoroughly enjoyable those experiences were.

There are a number of superb options on the sandwich menu. Unlike their American counterparts, most sandwiches in Europe don’t tend to be adorned with so many ingredients piled on that you lose a sense of what it is you’re enjoying. Sandwiches at Clafoutis tend to have no more than a few ingredients, including lettuce and tomatoes. As with the bakery-fresh sandwiches we enjoyed in Europe, butter and not mayo or mustard, is the preferred condiment on several of the sandwiches. The Sandwiche au Prosciutto (prosciutto, butter, tomatoes and lettuce) is an exemplar of why butter is sometimes better than say, mustard. The saltiness of the prosciutto and the tanginess of mustard would cancel one another out. The fresh, creamy butter allows the prosciutto to shine. Sometimes it’s the simple touches that work best.

Nutella Crepe with Ice Cream and French Jams

Savory and dessert crepes are offered all day long as are the large house waffles. For us there is no better crepe than one topped or stuffed with Nutella then heaped with a scoop or two of ice cream. That’s how we ordered our crepe at Clafoutis though we also asked for jam which, thankfully was presented on the side in tiny jars we took home. It took one bit for both of us to proclaim these the best crepes we’ve had on this side of the pond. Thankfully we were given spoons with which enjoy the crepes because stabbing someone with a spoon isn’t as painful and we both wanted the last morsel of that crepe.

Julia Child once said “In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” Be that the case, Clafoutis is a gold medal winner, an absolutely wonderful piece of French heaven meeting enchantment in New Mexico.

402 Guadalupe Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 988-4809
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 February 2016
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Nutella Crepe with Ice Cream and French Jams, Sandwich Prosciutto, Duck Breast Salad, L’Assisette Francaise

Clafoutis Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexican

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro in the Mountain Run Shopping Center on Eubank

Who can ever forget Fred the Baker, the haggard, perpetually exhausted Dunkin Donuts baker and his iconic lament, “time to make the donuts?” Every morning an annoying alarm clock would rouse Fred from his deep slumber and he would wearily utter his trademarked catch phrase as he prepared for the rigor of the day. For fifteen years—from 1982 to 1997—Fred the Baker let America know it was time to make the donuts, reminding them that while he was doing so, the guys who make the supermarket donuts were still in bed. The Fred the Baker commercials became ingrained in American pop culture, but they also had a ring of truth.

Being a baker means rising very early and working during hours in which most people are sleeping. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “bakers work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays” and “the work can be stressful because bakers often work under strict deadlines and critical, time-sensitive baking requirements.”

Deliciousness Abounds at La Quiche Parisienne

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro is an exemplar of every story you’ve ever heard about how hard bakers work. Master baker Bruno Barachin and his better half Sabine Pasco, the on-site pastry chef, put in the type of hours which would exhaust most nine-to-fivers. Hard work is a way of life with which they are very familiar, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Similar to Fred the Baker, any sour disposition with which Bruno and Sabine might wake up, dissipates when they greet customers at their sprawling new location.

From its launch in 2006 through May, 2013, La Quiche Parisienne Bistro held court in a delightful Lilliputian café in Albuquerque’s downtown area. It wasn’t exactly an ideal location. Not only is parking downtown an adventure, ingress and egress for folks who don’t work downtown is a time-consuming exercise in patience. The cafe, ensconced in a pedestrian mall, was a bit cramped (to say the least), but its diminution could be viewed as a positive because diners were surrounded by the wondrous aromas emanating from the bread ovens.

One of the most Pulchritudinous Pastry Cases in Town

In its new location, the space which previously housed Glazed Hams & More in the Mountain Run Shopping Center, there’s plenty of parking and seating is no longer in personal space proximity. Because the new location is much larger, however, those alluring aromas dissipate across a larger area and you won’t imbibe them quite as much. The new location boasts of more counter space for pastries and breads. Showcased in glass pastry cases is a larger assortment of even more colorful and delicious pastries. It’s a wonder drool tracks don’t run down those pastry cases from customers studying their contents carefully.

Among the indulgences, you’ll find loaves of country bread, sourdough bread, fruit tarts, fresh-baked baguettes, quiches, artisan cakes, pain au chocolate (chocolate croissants), and so much more, all tempting treats which bear witness to Bruno’s Master Baker certification and Sabine’s genius. The bistro’s beauteous breads and pulchritudinous pastries will be available, in season, at the Nob Hill Growers’ Market every Thursday from 3PM to 6:30PM. On Saturdays, also in season, La Quiche’s products will be available at the Albuquerque Downtown Growers’ Market. It’s the closest thing you’ll find in Albuquerque to the experience of al fresco noshing on bread and pastries in France.

Croissant Sandwich with Ham, Butter and Cheese

The breakfast menu is somewhat limited if all you’re perusing are the seven items categorized as “Breakfast.” Expand your perusal to include the “Viennoiseries” section of the menu and you’ll reach the mother lode. Viennoiseries are baked goods made from a yeast-leavened dough in a manner similar to bread or from puff pastry, but with ingredients which impart a richer, sweeter character similar to that of pastry. The dough is often “laminated” with a bright oily sheen. The Viennoiseries menu includes flaky croissants, apple turnovers, cinnamon rolls, Danish, brioche and more.

The lunch (or early dinner) menu includes three soups, four salads, an array of sandwiches in which the bistro’s bread shines, tartines (open-faced sandwiches), appetizers and entrees. Entrees are served with your choice of side: salad, Ratatouille, endives braises or French fries. It’s a surprisingly ambitious menu if you’re of the mind that bakery menus are limited. It’s also surprising that the menu isn’t strictly a vehicle for showcasing the bistro’s baked goods (take the steak frites, for example).


Strasbourg Sandwich

9 June 2013: A bowl of the onion soup Gratinee is a great way to start your dining experience.  If you don’t share that bowl with two or six of your best friends, you may not have room for anything else.  The soup is served in a swimming pool-sized bowl similar to the bowls of pho served in Vietnamese restaurants.  As with many French onion soups, this one is topped with bread and cheese though the cheese doesn’t drape over the entire bowl as some French onion soup does.  Also unlike so many served in Albuquerque’s French restaurants, this is a vegetarian soup made with a vegetarian stock.  It’s not quite as rich as French onion soup made with beef broth, but is quite good in its own right.

9 June 2013: The French country pate from the tartines section of the menu is another excellent starter.  Served as an open-faced “sandwich,” the pate is sliced into quarter-inch thick slices and placed atop a slice of French country bread then topped with shaved carrots, lettuce and red onions.  Cornichons, those delectable small pickled gherkins, olives and an incendiary French mustard complete this plate.  The pate is somewhat on the coarse side (so much better than the mousse variety) and doesn’t have that strong liver flavor of some pate.


Steak Frites

9 June 2013: The sandwich menu is comprised of seven sandwiches, all made with the bistro’s amazing homemade breads. All sandwiches are served with French fries, though you can substitute fruit or a spring mix salad for a pittance more. Extra cornichons and French fries are other options. Named for the capital city of the Alsace region in eastern France is the Strasborg Sandwich which is constructed from pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and 1000 Island dressing on toasted Levian bread. The pastrami is the ubiquitous Boar’s Head brand, but it’s sliced on the premises. The sauerkraut has just enough fermentation to make it pleasantly sour; it won’t purse your lips. The Levian bread (bread of a wild yeast) is outstanding with a nice elasticity and texture.

9 June 2013: My Chicago born-and-bred Kim is much more carnivorous than I and would have steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner if she could. She often laments the inability of Duke City chefs to season steaks well. For her to compliment the seasoning of a steak means the chef is a bona fide genius. The steak at La Quiche was perfectly seasoned for her with the amounts of kosher salt, cracked black pepper and garlic she enjoys. It’s an eight-ounce Angus cut prepared to your exacting specifications and is served with French fries and parsley butter. Slather the butter on the steak for a moist, creamy glaze and rich flavor.



9 June 2013: The 2007 animated film Ratatouille probably did more for the consumption of vegetables than all the food pyramids put together. Ratatouille, a traditional French stewed vegetable dish, is popular among dieters because it’s low in fat and calories while being rich in nutrients. There are many ways to prepare ratatouille and most are passable. La Quiche’s rendition is wonderful, a medley of red, green and yellow peppers, onions and endive tossed in olive oil and grilled to perfection.

9 June 2013: Our first life-altering experience with the pain chocolate (chocolate croissants) baked at La Quiche was at Limonada, the popular Nob Hill restaurant. It was an experience we duplicated at the bakery where this delicious treasure was created. The croissant is delicate, light and flaky with a buttery essence. The chocolate is an “adult” chocolate, not the cloying milk chocolate stuff kids enjoy. There’s a Goldilocks quantity of chocolate—not too much, not too little…just enough. This is probably the very best pain chocolate in New Mexico!

Chocolate Croissant, the very best in Albuquerque

One of the many highlights of my friend Larry McGoldrick‘s 80th birthday gala was a chocolate-pumpkin birthday cake lovingly fashioned by Sabine.  It was a delicious demonstration of exceptional artistic talents, a picture of which you can see in the November section of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Year in Food.  After the event Larry, the professor with the perspicacious palate, reminded me I was overdue for a second visit to La Quiche Parisienne.  That return visit took place on a blustery December day experiencing the trifecta of wintry woes: wind, rain-snow and cold.

Cinnamon Roll

12 December 2015: Though not nearly as artistic, Sabine’s cinnamon rolls are in rarefied company as some of the very best in the Land of Enchantment.  You might be challenged to list more than three cinnamon rolls worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of true cinnamon roll greatness.  My list would include the cinnamon rolls at the San Marcos Cafe, the pumpkin-cinnamon rolls at Saratori D Tully and now perhaps the best and certainly the most worthy of the name, the cinnamon rolls at La Quiche Parisienne.  Unlike the icing-laden bricks some restaurants try to pass off as cinnamon rolls, these beauties are infused with aromatic cinnamon and go light on the icing.  Even better, the spiral roll is flaky and light, each pull-apart strand as buttery and delicious as could be.  These cinnamon rolls are what other cinnamon rolls should aspire to.

Moules Frites L’indienne

12 December 2015:  Motivational speaker Robert Toru Kiyosaki once declared that “French fries kill more people than guns and sharks, yet nobody’s afraid of French fries.”  The average American eats about thirty pounds of fries per year.  For the most part, French fries in New Mexico’s restaurants tend to be of the out-of-a-bag variety whose culinary contribution is empty calories.  They’re filling, but not fulfilling.  Enter the frites at La Quiche Parisienne, some of the very best in New Mexico.  Texturally, they benefit from being double-fried, a preparation technique which renders them moist and firm, not flaccid and dry.  They’re also seasoned to perfection, meaning lots of salt, a little pepper and a hint of garlic. 

One of the most enjoyable ways to enjoy the frites at la Quiche is with one of the three Moules Frites entrees.  Two of the moules (mussels)–Marinieres and Provencale–are steamed in white wine.  The third and most aromatic (and delicious) of the three moules entrees features a bowlful of steamed mussels in a creamy Indian curry.  The L’indienne mussels are terrific, all telltale signs of freshness and flavor prominent in every bite, but the curry broth is what you’ll long remember.  You’ll relish each morsel of the baguettes provided as you sop up as much curry as it will hold.  When the bread is gone, you might even enjoy the broth in soup-fashion.  It’s absolutely delicious!!

Beef Bourguignon

12 December 2015: Once considered a “peasant” dish, Beef Bourguignon was elevated in the culinary community because it was enjoyed so much by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier.  Today, it’s one of the most popular and beloved of French dishes, a comfort food favorite that seems especially wonderful when wintry weather is at its worse.  Preparation techniques for this traditional French stew involve a rather lengthy braising in red wine with onions, garlic, carrots and an herb bouquet.  The end result is very tender, very flavorful dish you’ll love any time of year.  La Quiche Parisienne serves it with fluffy rice, a baguette and a green bean-carrot medley which validates no one does vegetables as well as the French. 

12 December 2015: Just when you think you’ve tried every type possible of  French cuisine, you run into a dish that’s wholly unlike other French dishes you’ve had before.  The Boudin Blanc a l’Alsacienne or white sausage in the style of Alsace (once a part of the German Empire) provided that “aha” moment for me.  Having had similar dishes in German restaurants, it surprised me to find it in a French restaurant especially considering the historical enmity between Germany and France.  A pho-bowl sized portion of white sausage, bacon, sauerkraut and steamed potatoes proved addictive. The sauerkraut is lip-pursing in its tartness, providing a delightful contrast to the sausage and bacon. The steamed potatoes resemble log-sized Texas fries in appearance only. Texturally and from a flavor perspective, they’re so much better.

Boudin Blanc a l’Alsacienne

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro is a sleek, elegant escape to baked bread deliciousness, but there’s so much more to this paradise of pan. For instance, there are some nine quiche dishes on the menu, each one an invitation to swoon-inspiring flavors. There are decadent desserts a plenty sure to wear down your willpower. Make a run to the Mountain run shopping center soon.

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro
5500 Eubank Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-2808
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 July 2016
1st VISIT: 9 June 2013
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: French Country Pate, Ratatouille, Steak Frite, Onion Soup Gratinee, Strasbourg Sandwich

La Quiche Parisienne Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Crêpe Michel – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Le Crepe Michele in Albuquerque's Old Town

Le Crepe Michele in Albuquerque’s Old Town

The crêpe is, at its essence, not much more than a very thin cooked pancake, but ask even the most accomplished chefs to relate their initial attempts at baking crêpes and you’ll be regaled with tales of exasperation, woe, despair and misery. Use too much water or milk and not enough fat and the crêpes will turn out elastic and tough. If your pan isn’t hot enough, the crêpes will stick to it; too hot and the crêpes turn out lacy. Roll them too tight and they’ll explode and scald your face…

Or at least that was the experience of Dominicans trying to pass off as Cuban cigar rollers in a hilarious episode of Seinfeld. When the owners of the Magic Pan crêperie became incapacitated, Jerry had the “Cubans” fill in at the restaurant rolling crêpes. Not surprisingly, the “Cubans” rolled the crêpes cigar tight, causing the filling to spray out and burn diners trying to eat them.

The back dining room includes a live tree growing through the roof

The back dining room includes a live tree growing through the roof

My own experiences include a sprained wrist from trying to flip crêpes on a pan for lack of a crêpe spatula. Using a spatula improved things just a bit, but the resultant effort was something tasting more like crêpe paper than pancakes.  The   etymology of the word pancake is, in fact, derived from the French word “pannequet,” which is what crêpes used to be called until someone noticed the resemblance of a very thin pannequet to crêpe, the crinkly fabric. 

Crêpes are believed to have originated in Brittany, a region in the Northwest of France. While no one knows the precise origin of crêpes, I know a proud (most would say haughty) Frenchman who claims the crêpe is the progenitor or inspiration for the Mexican tortilla, the Russian blinchki and even the Indian masala dosa.  Most would ascribe that claim to French pride.

French bread with butter

French bread with butter

Whatever their origin, there’s no denying the crêpe (referring to both the thin pancake by itself or one filled with sundry ingredients) is extremely versatile. Crêpes can be made savory or sweet. They can be had as a main entree or as dessert. In Paris, crêpes are a ubiquitous street food and in rural America, they’re still rare enough to be considered a special treat. In Albuquerque, there is no more practiced and proficient purveyor of the crêpe than the venerable La Crêpe Michel in Albuquerque’s Old Town.

For more than a quarter-century, La Crêpe Michel has provided one of the city’s very best alternatives to New Mexican cuisine. Set back in an easy-to-miss alcove, this unpretentious, cafe-style restaurant has an unmistakably relaxed European feel to it. Housed in a charming adobe house and protected by codes governing historic buildings, it provides an interesting dichotomy–a French restaurant in a distinctly New Mexican edifice whose ceilings have vigas and brass light fixtures and the floors are made of red brick.

Pâté de Campagne Maison

Assisette Payasanne

The dining room is small enough for diners in adjacent tables to participate in each others’ conversations (they’re usually about how great the food is). An enclosed garden room includes a charming feature also found in two other Old Town dining establishments–a living tree growing through the ceiling.  Ambiance is only one of the reasons La Crêpe Michel has remained a popular hometown favorite for so long.  In 2013, Albuquerque The Magazine readers selected it as one of the Duke City’s five best French restaurants while Alibi readers named it the Duke City’s very best French restaurant in 2013.

True to the restaurant’s name, crêpes are a featured fare, prominent on both the entree and dessert portions of the menu. Other entrees illustrating the kitchen’s culinary diversity as well as an assortment of salads and appetizers are also available.  So is what appears to be a selective beer and wine list. The dinner menu changes seasonally with the special of the day posted on a slate board.

Crepe Aux Fruits de Mer--the fruits of the sea in a crepe.

crêpe aux fruits de mer

Arriving at your table shortly after your menu is a basket of sliced French bread with a tub of real butter and a black and green olive tapenade. It’s a delicious prelude to a magnificent meal–or a part of it if you can manage to stave off eating more than a slice or two and saving those slices for serious sauce dredging.  if, however, you’re famished, you’ll be happy to hear the wait staff will replenish the bread basket faithfully.

23 March 2013:  Since diners alone can’t live on bread alone, La Crêpe Michel offers Assisette Payasane, a hearty charcuterie showcasing a country blend of choice marinated pork, veal and chicken liver pates baked with spices, herbs and fine wines.  The pâté is accompanied on the plate by tiny cornichons (sour crisp pickles made from tiny gherkin cucumbers), some of the very best grainy mustard I’ve ever had (with almost as much pungency and heat as horseradish)  a small salad of mixed greens and if that’s not enough, you’re also treated to a triumvirate of fetid fromage.  Though advanced geriatric progression is my excuse for forgetting the names of those cheeses, what’s not to be forgotten is their taste and texture.  One soft cheese was certainly in the brie family.  Another soft cheese had a nutty, creamy texture and slight tanginess.  The third had a hard rind and rich flavor, perhaps a Munster.


Sole Meuniere with scalloped potatoes and fresh vegetables

1 June 2007: The selection of crêpes is mouth-watering. It will take repeated visits to try them all, but you’ll be happy to do so because they’re all reputed to be excellent. Best of all, they’re reasonably priced and each one is full-meal sized. The crêpe aux fruits de mer, a blend of sea scallops, bay scallops and shrimp in a veloute sauce, is memorable. The shrimp and scallops are succulent, sweet and perfectly prepared. The veloute sauce is smooth, creamy and rich, a credit to various stock bases thickened with a roux. 

12 November 2015: On a damp winter day, one of the most comforting of comfort foods is the Ficelles Picardes, a savory crepe stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, and ham.  When typing the name of this spectacular entree, my spellchecker suggested “picturesque”  and indeed, the dish may make you swoon at first glance with bubbling, molten, melting cheese and a thick, creamy Bechamel sauce creating a savory steam which wafts upwards toward your eagerly awaiting nostrils.  That promise of deliciousness is delivered on in every bite.  The earthy mushrooms and salty ham pair together very well.  In fact, the ingredient and flavor profile combinations are absolute genius.  This is one of the best savory crepes in creation!

Ficelles Picardes

23 March 2014: In her 2006 autobiography My Life in France, legendary chef Julia Child wrote that eating sole meuniere on her arrival in France was an “epiphany.”  The dish is widely credited with setting her on her culinary path.  She described the sole meuniere as “a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top.”  If that description sounds rather simple, it’s because the dish itself is supposed to be rather simple.  The challenge is in creating a sauce that isn’t too buttery or too lemony.  It also helps to use a superb quality fish.  The sole meuniere at La Crêpe Michel is hardly life-altering, but it’s a good representation of the dish.

Filet De Boeuf, a special entree.

Filet de Boeuf

1 June 2007: A featured entree you’ll find only on the slate board is the Filet de Boeuf, beef tenderloin prepared to order with your choice of a black peppercorn cream sauce or a Roquefort cheese sauce. While each of these two sauces by themselves have flavor characteristics with the potential to overwhelm a slab of beef, at La Crêpe Michel, the sauce is a subtle flavor ameliorant that enhances the flavor of the beef. (This is where you can use the restaurant’s wonderful bread to sop up any remaining sauce.) Sharing plate space with the Filet de Bouef are some of the best scalloped potatoes you’ll find anywhere as well as a side of fresh vegetables cooked just enough to give them a crispy snap when you bite into them. 

23 March 2014:  Whoever said “real men don’t eat quiche” didn’t ever eat at La Crêpe Michel where the quiche du jour is more than a good, safe bet if your taste buds aren’t hankering for something specific.  Here quiche is a draw to the restaurant–even among the manliest of men.  There are several reasons for this.  A thick wedge of creamy quiche proves light and flavorful with fluffy eggs and a thin, lightly seared crust.  A simple quiche made with blue cheese, scalloped potatoes and parsley is an exemplar of simplicity made well.

Quiche of the Day: Blue Cheese,

Quiche of the Day: Blue Cheese, Scalloped Potatoes, Parsley

As superb as the savory entrees might be, an evening of fine dining at La Crêpe Michel is incomplete without at least one of the restaurant’s famous dessert crêpes. These are the type of crêpes about which you dream at night, the type you don’t want to share even with someone you love, the type you know will mean a return visit is in order…and very shortly.

1 June 2007: When you see Crêpe Au Poivre on the dessert menu, you’ll probably wonder if it’s French ingenuity in play or a bit of French whimsy. One bite, however, and you’ll know there’s not only inventiveness in this crêpe, but a chef who knows how to apportion sweet and savory ingredients in perfect proportion. This crepe is filled with vanilla ice cream and “seasoned” with black pepper and Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur from Italy. It is absolutely wonderful!

Crêpe Au Poivre

1 June 2007: More traditional is the Crêpe Au Chocolate, a thin crêpe filled with melted Belgian Callebaut chocolate and Chantilly cream. To say Callebaut is a fine chocolate is an understatement. Created with prime grades of cocoa beans and replete in fat content, it is rich and hearty chocolate decadence, an exemplary confection. Chantilly cream is sweetened whipped cream flavored with vanilla or brandy. Put all this together and you might have to ask for an angioplasty with your dessert, but oh, what a way to go! 

12 November 2015:  When given a choice from among the Sheik’s seven daughters, Moses (as portrayed by actor Charleton Heston) responded “can a man choose from the stars of the sky.”  This sentiment crosses my mind every time we peruse the dessert crêpe menu at La Crêpe Michel.  Every crêpe sounds absolutely fabulous, each better sounding than the rest.  With every visit, it’s likely a new favorite will emerge.  My most recent favorite is a crepe stuffed with nutella and vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate and Chantilly cream.  God bless the French for having conceived of such deliciousness.

Crepe Stuffed with Vanilla Ice Cream and Nutella then Topped with Chocolate and Chantilly Cream

La Crêpe Michel is one of Albuquerque’s premier French restaurants as well as one of the best reasons to visit Old Town. 

La Crêpe Michel
400 San Felipe Drive., #C2
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-1251
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 12 November 2015
1st VISIT: 1 June 2007
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Pate De Campagne Maison, Filet De Boeuf, Crêpe Aux Fruits De Mer, Crêpe Au Poivre, Crêpe Au Chocolat, Ficelles Picardes

La Crêpe Michel on Urbanspoon

P’Tit Louis Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

P'tit Louis in Nob Hill

P’tit Louis in Nob Hill

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,
then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you,
for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Ernest Hemingway

I’ve often wondered if Ernest Hemingway would have felt at home in Taos during the “roaring twenties,” a period of dynamic artistic, societal and lifestyle upheaval.  Instead of communing with the Taos Society of  Artists and other inspired Bohemian minds, Hemingway spent much of the decade in Paris, a city whose own liberal attitudes attracted poets, painters and writers from throughout the world. Paris was a vibrant city which drew many expats from the so-called “lost generation” of cynical young people disillusioned with the materialism and individualism prevalent in society at the time.

Paris was not only a relatively inexpensive city in which to live, unlike America it did not have a prohibition against alcohol.  The American expatriates–F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein among them–would gather at cafes to discuss their work and drink until their money ran out.  Much of Hemingway’s most productive writing, in fact, took place in cafes which he visited with his characteristic blue notebooks, pencils and a pocket knife with which to sharpen them.

The dining room

The dining room

Hemingway was spellbound by the allure and sophistication of Parisian life, so utterly cosmopolitan and unlike the sedate and predictable conservative life of his youth in rural Illinois.  Nightlife included visits to the Champs Elysee where Josephine Baker and a troupe of exotic nude dancers captivated the city.  Long nights of drinking, concerts, dancing and stimulating conversation  defined  Hemingway’s madcap nightlife and that of his cafe society associates.

Aspects of Hemingway’s Paris can be found in Albuquerque’s  P’Tit Louis Bistro which is fashioned like a Paris bistro of the early twentieth century.  If you don’t look out the windows onto Silver Avenue, you might actually feel as if you’ve been transported to Paris of a bygone era, the era of Ernest Hemingway and the lost generation.  P’Tit Louis is a special place frequented not by a lost generation, but by guests who don’t look as though they patronize the chains embraced by conventional society.  It’s a place in which intellectual discourse can be overheard among diners who have likely traveled abroad and read Moveable Feast.

Moules Roquefort with Pommes Frites

The painstakingly thorough attention taken by co-owners Christoph Decarpentiers and John Phinzyto re-create the art deco ambiance of a turn-of-the-century Parisian bistro left no detail untouched.  Hardwood floors and furnishings with masculine black accents both bespeak of period authenticity and precise craftsmanship which is also apparent in the  artisan construction of the hand-crafted art nouveau bar and other decorous touches.

The interior is cozy with fewer than a dozen tiny tables in personal space proximity to one another.  The tables are obviously intended for dishes to be delivered in sequence, not for several dishes to be delivered at one time.  Each table is adorned with linen tablecloths and napkins.  A soundtrack featuring the soothing stylings of Edith Piaf and other French singers of decades past lend to a dining experience in which time seems to have stopped nearly a century ago.

Escargots De Bourgogne: 1⁄2 dozen escargots in garlic butter

The menu may inspire lascivious salivation.  As in many French bistros, two menus are delivered to your table (if you’re thinking one is a wine menu, you’d be wrong).  A small paper menu lists a nice selection of cheeses for the fromage fanatics among us. Proper etiquette is to enjoy cheeses after your main course and before or as a substitute for dessert.  Cheeses are intended for nibbling as you enjoy conversation with your dining companions, hence it’s a digestive aide of sorts.  Certainly your conversation will include a discourse of appreciation for the cheeses themselves, an international array from France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Denmark, England and the United States.  The last cheese listed is a soft green chile Cheddar made in Tucumcari.

The larger laminated menu showcases traditional French bistro fare. Compared to the compendium-sized menus at some restaurants, P’Tit Louis’s menu is petite–fittingly in consideration of the tiny tables. The Les Salades section of the menu lists six salads, the type of which might grace a table in Provence. The “assiettes” (small entrees and hors’d-oeuvres” designed to fit precisely on a plate) section of the menu lists six items, including your choice of trois (three) cinq (five) or sept (all seven) cheeses.

Wonderful French bread with unique tongs for escargots

Les Moules (mussels) are a specialty of the house with several versions featured daily along with a daily mussels creation.   Once considered food for the poor, mussels have become earned reverential respect in the hands of French chefs.  At the Bistro moules du jour include Moules Marinieres (steamed with white wine and shallots), Moules Roquefort (steamed with Roquefort sauce), Moules Piquantes (white wine, chili peppers, jalapeño) and Moules Saffron (saffron cream sauce).  The Les Sandwiches section of the menu lists five sandwiches including a Le Croque Monsieur (French ham, gruyere and bechamel) Local IQ’s Kevin Hopper considers life altering.  Only two items grace the Plats Du Jour menu: Le Ragout du jour (our daily stew) and La Quiche du jour (quiche of the day).  The limited (four items) Les Desserts menu is only slightly smaller than the Les Vins (wines) menu which showcases seven red and white wines.

As you contemplate the menu, one of the nattily attired wait staff will ferry over to your table a large basket of French bread, a slice of which is deposited on your bread plate. It will be the first of several slices you’ll either slather on the unctuous French butter or will use to dredge up some of the incredible sauces you’ll enjoy. With a hard-crusted exterior and a not quite pillowy soft interior, it’s a delicious bread.

Coq Au Vin

30 April 2011: Call it a perfect bread for dredging up the broth in which the Moules Curry (a special of the day) is served.  The curry is a perfect foil for the delicate, slightly briny flavor of the succulent shellfish.  The curry broth, saffron in color and mild in flavor, is ameliorated with minced garlic.  It would make an excellent soup on its own.  28 December 2011: Perhaps even better than the moules curry is the moules Roquefort, a dish so outstanding that the venturous diner about town Jim Millington orders it every time he visits.  It’s easy to see why. This traditional coalescence of land and sea flavors showcases the pungent blue cheese flavor of the “king of cheeses,” rendered just slightly less sharp with fresh cream and a mill of pepper.  If you’ve never had a palatable cheese soup, you’ve never had the moules Roquefort broth tinged with the briny deliciousness of fresh mussels.  It’ll hook you. 

30 April 2011: On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the Bistro offers fresh oysters on the half-shell if you’re inclined to luxuriate further in hard-shelled seafood. If you’re more inclined toward hard-shelled land delicacies, you’ll love P’Tit Louis’ escargots de Bourgogne, a half-dozen escargots in garlic butter. Unlike so many escargots, these are not extricated from their shells and deposited in small cups filled mostly with bread crumbs and minced garlic. You’ll have to work for these delicious beauties. Fortunately you’re given the implements with which to accomplish this deft feat–a full-sized fork in which the exterior tongs have been bent back and a tool that looks like a surgical implement, but is used to hold the escargots while you extract the buttery, garlicky delicacies. It’s worth the effort and more.

Betteraves & Chevre (roasted beet and goat cheese) salad

7 September 2013: Escargots and oysters constitute two of the “exotic” foods some people won’t even try.  Rather than bemoan that parochial attitude, we should celebrate that unacculturated diners don’t try them because that leaves more for those of us who love them so much.  My introduction to oysters, both fried and raw, took place in Boston more than half my lifetime ago.  It was love at first bite.  That love was rekindled by an oyster po’ boy at P’Tit Louis, a po’ boy constructed with oysters from the cold North Atlantic waters near Boston.  Unlike some of the overstuffed oyster po’ boys we ate by the boatload in New Orleans, you could count the oysters on this po’ boy in just over one hand.  The oysters are perfectly prepared, a light breading sheathing the unique “ocean” flavor of each golden mollusks.  The baguette was lightly toasted with an airy texture.  A creamy dressing lent moistness.

30 April 2011: During our inaugural visit, we lucked upon the ragout du jour being Coq Au Vin, the classic French stew whose origin (claimants to its invention include Julius Caesar’s chef) is in delicious dispute. Featuring a single chicken leg cooked in red wine with onions, carrots and celery atop a generous mound of mashed potatoes, this is a version perhaps improvable only with pearl onions instead of sliced onions. Otherwise, this is a very enjoyable dish. The chicken falls off the bone into a wine blessed broth that’s perfect for sopping up with that terrific bread. The wine broth also serves as an excellent “gravy” for the mashed potatoes, made with real potatoes.

Bone-in pork chop topped with a sauce of cornichons, spicy tomatoes and more

17 December 2011: The tasty temptress offered during our second visit was a bone-in pork chop topped with a sumptuous sauce showcasing spicy tomatoes and cornichons, essentially two acidic flavors which coexist beautifully together against a backdrop of America’s other white meat.  The pork chop, a half-inch of tender porcine perfection plays the foil against the crunchy tartness of the cornichons and especially the sharpness of the mound of chopped, spicy tomatoes.  It’s an interesting sauce, not one I could find among the 103 basic French sauces, but one now on my radar. 

It wasn’t so much the haute cuisine of France’s grand, elegant restaurants which won my heart during frequent visits to France in the 1990s, but the more simple family fare–bread, cheeses and meats. In France, as in much of Europe, the ancient culinary art of charcuterie is still highly revered and well-practiced. Charcuterie refers to the products made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie. The operative word here is “made” as in butchering, cutting, salting, curing, slicing, storing and preparing such meat products such as bacon, sausage, ham, pates, and more. As Bon Apetit Magazine has discovered, the charcuterie practice is alive and well in America, too.

Oyster Po' Boy

Oyster Po’ Boy

17 December 2011: In the spirit of the Charcuterie, P’tit Louis offers L’Assiette de Charcutaille, a beautiful plating of cornichons, country pate, rosemary-encrusted ham, sopressata, garlic sausage and Spanish chorizo served with as much bread as you desire if you want to construct a sandwich or four.  As good as the bread is, my preference is to enjoy each meat unadorned, using a cornichon as a palate-cleanser.  The cornichons are delightful little French baby “pickles,” with a zesty, tangy snap.  Each of the meats offered is deliciously different from the other, offering a nice balance of salty, spicy, sweet and piquant flavors.

30 April 2011: Landlocked Albuquerque, stereotyped as being too far from the verdant paradises which produce sheer freshness in their fecund fields, has a surprising number of restaurants showcasing salads constructed of high-quality, fresh ingredients. Add P’Tit Louis to the list if the Betteraves & Chevre (roasted beet and goat cheese) salad is any indication. A very understated sherry vinaigrette means the ingredients have to shine and shine they do. The greens are crisp and firm with a just-picked freshness. The roasted beets are sweet with just a hint of tanginess and the roasting lends a depth of flavor, particularly in accentuating the beets’ natural sweetness. The goat cheese is as soft as cream cheese and is impregnated with a sweet, mild pungency. it’s a delicious chevre.

L’ Assiette de Charcutaille: cold cuts & country paté

7 September 2013: At many French bistros steak frites is a standard menu offering, often the most popular entree.  The “steak” part of that term is pretty ambiguous because each chef at each bistro determines how to prepare it.  P’Tit Louis’ rendition is bold and flavorful, prepared in the au poivre (a literal translation would be “pepper steak”) style.  Peppercorns give this steak a very lively “peppery” flavor without taking away from the deliciousness of the high-quality boneless cut of beef.  A wine gravy lends a rich quality.  Prepared at medium-rare, it’s one of the best steaks we’ve had at a French restaurant in New Mexico.  The frites (French fries) are double-fried and virtually greaseless, so good that to add ketchup would be a desecration.

30 April 2011: When my sweet-toothed Kim joined me in England in 1985, it surprised her to learn that French gateaus and desserts weren’t nearly as cloying as cakes and desserts in America.  It’s something I liked from the start, but it took her time to get used to desserts that weren’t tooth-decaying sweet.  The Bistro’s desserts remind me very much of the desserts in France, an  expression of natural flavors, not sugared ameliorants.  The Creme de Caramel reminded me of a Mexican flan, but far less sweet. Better even is the chocolate pot de creme, a ramekin of semi-sweet adult chocolate.  It’s the antithesis of the American version which tastes more like chocolate frosting.

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

17 December 2011: In the spirit of fairness and balance (please, no comments about Fox News), there is one item on the menu which not only didn’t win me over, but left me flummoxed.  Found faulty was the tarte aux citron, a lemon tart with nary the zest and tartness of lemon.  The only lip-pursing effect it had was in leaving our bottom lips downturned with disappointment.  In addition to lacking any hint of tartness, it had the texture of a corn-starchy out-of-the-box mix.  Jim Millington, who suggested a rating of  “32” would be appropriate will hopefully forgive my assessment of “24” which still places this charming restaurant among the elite in New Mexico.

Ernest Hemingway would have liked hanging out at P’Tit Louis Bistro with his literary colleagues.  You’ll like being transported to Hemingway’s time for a very good meal in a sophisticated bistro worthy of many visits.

P’Tit Louis Bistro
3218 Silver Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 314-1111
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2013
1st VISIT:  30 April 2011
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Les Moules with Curry, Les Moules Roquefort, Les Moules Saffron, Escargots de Bourgogne, Coq Au Vin with Aligot, Betteraves & Chevre, L’ Assiette de Charcutaille, Steak Frites, Oyster Po’ Boy, Chocolait Pot de Creme, Creme de Caramel

View P’Tit Louis Bistro on LetsDineLocal.com »

P'Tit Louis Bistro on Urbanspoon

Cafe Chloe – San Diego, California


Cafe Chloe in San Diego’s East Village District

From your seat on the sidewalk patio of Café Chloe, you can see Petco Park, the open-air home of the San Diego Padres. You’ll have a front row view of a veritable cavalcade of motorized and foot-powered conveyances—from swanky Maseratis to sleek inline skates. Passers-by on foot include some of the city’s most downtrodden as well as its captains of industry. As you take in your surroundings in the cozy, urban neighborhood café and wine bar in San Diego’s chic East Village, you might occasionally be transported, perhaps more than fleetingly, to a quaint Parisian cafe of your past or your dreams.

More than any other French bistro we’ve visited, Café Chloe takes us back to leisurely spring days in small, homey bistros by the Seine where we sipped coffee as intense and spicy as the city in which it’s served. That’s the magic of Café Chloe, a culinary gem which may have the look and feel of Paris, but whose heart and soul belong to San Diego. In fact, Café Chloe has been recognized by Eater San Diego as one of the “38 essential San Diego restaurants,” a compilation of myriad restaurants across a gamut of cuisines. These are the restaurants Eater San Diego recommends most.


Lavender Lemonade

Launched in 2005, Café Chloe is the little slice of Parisian culture San Diego has embraced, consistently naming it on surveys as one of the city’s favorite French restaurants. Some guests prefer al fresco dining and the sidewalk café feel of old Paris. The sidewalks of the corner location are lined with iron tables and chairs which are more functional than comfortable. The interior is bright, airy, intimate and convivial with bistro tables in personal space proximity. You can also dine at the white marble bar and you’ll certain want to browse the retail shelves for Café Chloe’s private label gourmet gifts and locally crafted jewelry.

While virtually every bistro, restaurant and café in Paris welcomes dogs of all sizes, in San Diego just under 200 restaurants welcome dogs at their outdoor tables. Café Chloe earned an average rating of five bones from respondents to bringfido.com. The staff welcomes dogs with open arms, lavishing them with attention and a bowl of cool water. Best of all, there’s plenty of shade under which your dog can relax in cool comfort. During out week-long stay in San Diego, our four-legged children Tim and Callie dined with us at four pet friendly restaurants. They were on vacation, too.


Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with a menu which changes frequently and features only the freshest local ingredients, sustainable seafood, all-natural meats and jidori poultry, Café Chloe is a café with a conscience. The menu touts “we believe in the value of supporting sustainability, regardless of cost, and hope you will invest in this belief with us.” To the cynic in us, that statement translated to “this is going to cost a fortune,” but that wasn’t the case at all. Every item on the menu is pleasantly priced.

Café Chloe inspires lingering. No one seems to be in a hurry and if you’re not either, you’ll appreciate the restaurant’s pace. It’s somewhere between relaxed and leisurely. You’ll also appreciate that the wait staff doesn’t rush you as you peruse the menu, an array of rightly portioned sensible dishes described very well. Cafe Chloe serves their popular brunch menu every day of the week now and you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to order. Every item will inspire involuntary salivation.


Mushroom & Bleu d’Auvergne tart

As you peruse the menu, you’ll want to refresh yourself with Cafe Chloe’s lavender lemonade, the very best we’ve ever had. I pray the village people at Los Ranchos de Albuquerque who operate the village’s Lavender Festival forgive me for that blasphemous and disloyal statement, but if they don’t I’ll drown my sorrows in more of that lemonade. The lemonade is fresh-squeezed and will purse your lips with its tartness, but it’s the fresh herbaceousness of the lavender you’ll long remember. This beverage tastes like summer.

Finding butternut squash soup on the menu in the heart of summer is always a surprising treat. Butternut squash soup has been my solace and source of warmth and comfort on many a fall and winter day. As we found out, it’s just as soothing and delicious in summertime. Cafe Chloe’s rendition of this soup is relatively thin and isn’t adulterated with heavy creams but is redolent with flavor and has a very even texture. Served piping hot, the flavor profile is punctuated by the mildly astringent flavor of sage. Succulent squash is the prevalent soul-warming soup which I crave year-round and Café Chloe’s is among the best.


Steak Frites with anchovy butter ,Chloe greens & Dijon vinaigrette

We gleaned an entirely different flavor profile from another starter which was no less magnificent than the butternut squash soup. The mushroom and Blue d’Auvergne tart is absolutely delightful. A flaky, buttery crust sheathes perfectly sautéed mushrooms and the rich, spicy flavors of Blue d’Auvergne, a French cheese made from sheep’s milk. A drizzle of Balsamic reduction on the plate lends a tangy-sweet flavor. What makes this tart special is balance—how every item contributes its unique properties to the flavor profile, creating a whole that is more delicious than its components.

With steak frites, you never know what cut of steak you’re going to get. Café Chloe serves a flank steak, a very flavorful and surprisingly tender steak despite being quite lean. It’s served in slices and prepared to your exacting specifications, but any more than medium and you’ll compromise some of the meat’s juiciness. At medium rare, the steak is charred on the outside and perfectly pink on the inside with plenty of flavor—and that’s even before you add the anchovy butter (which Bon Appetit refers to as a umami-rich compound butter). The steak is served on top of the frites which allows meaty juices to run down the fluffy double-fried frites.


Macaroni, pancetta, & Bleu d’Auvergne gratin

In November, 2010, Haute Living.com put together its list of the best adult mac and cheese dishes in San Diego. The article concluded that Café Chloe’s version “will make you crave it for weeks to come,” calling it “an incredible take on the classic dish.” The three components of this gratin dish are macaroni, pancetta and Blue d’Auvergne. The Blue d’Auvergne cheese could easily overwhelm this dish with its pungency and strong aroma, but it’s used judiciously to create a rather thick sauce which goes well with the generous amount of pancetta (pork belly sized cubes) interspersed throughout the dish. Served in a casserole dish, this adult mac and cheese dish is perfectly baked, amazingly delicious and picture perfect with a golden top. I’m still craving!

Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, will have to make a trip to San Diego to try Café Chloe’s pistachio bread pudding, among the very best bread puddings I’ve ever had. A pool of caramel espresso sauce surrounds thick, hot, pistachio-infused bread pudding which is topped with a salted caramel topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. There is a lot going on with this bread pudding in flavors and textures that are both complementary and contrasting. It’s sweet, gooey, warm, cold, nutty, creamy, buttery, salty and absolutely memorable. It’s one of the things we’ll remember most about our visit to San Diego.


Pistachio bread pudding with espresso caramel and vanilla ice cream

The one aspect about our delightful meal at Café Chloe most unlike Paris is the service. Café Chloe was a “best service” pick of San Diego Magazine. It’s perfectly paced to maximize your enjoyment of one of the city’s very best French bistros.

Cafe Chloe
721 9th Avenue
San Diego, California
(619) 232-3242
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 5 July 2013
BEST BET: Pistachio Bread Pudding; Macaroni, pancetta, & Bleu d’Auvergne gratin; Steak Frites; Mushroom & Bleu d’Auvergne tart; Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

Cafe Chloe on Urbanspoon

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