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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.

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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.

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! 

23 March 2014:  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

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: 23 March 2014
1st VISIT: 1 June 2007
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 21
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Pate De Campagne Maison, Filet De Boeuf, Crêpe Aux Fruits De Mer, Crêpe Au Poivre, Crêpe Au Chocolat


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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
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
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


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Cafe Chloe – San Diego, California

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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.

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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.

Chloe02

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.

Chloe03

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.

Chloe04

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.

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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.

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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
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 24
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