Le French Corner
Sweets and Eats
By Scott Sharot
Le French Corner is not in the business directory under “Le” or “French” nor is it in the yellow pages under “restaurants” or “corners.” It did turn up under “bakery,” which is ostensibly what it is, a French bakery with a small café that serves wonderful French pastries and a limited menu at breakfast and lunch. I drove right on by the first time because it's not actually on a corner as the name suggests. The French pronoun/English combination of Le French Corner scared me a little, but upon further investigation, I came to realize the place is not a faux fancy place with a faux fancy name. It is a place that serves good, honest food that features a combination of French bistro fare with an American accent and the personal vision of the chef.
Le location is lacking in charm for eating outdoors. It's nestled in auto care row with two brake repair spots, a lube place and a parts store within earshot. A few tables are placed on the sidewalk in front of the building's white, rustic planters dressed with some annual blooms, a festive touch. Unlike Paris or New York where you can people-watch to your heart's content, here you are challenged by views of commerce and passing traffic.
Once inside, you'll find a sunny lemon-yellow and white color scheme with floral pictures and photographs of France that may be purchased from the walls. Tables are covered with plastic checkered cloths and dressed up with fresh roses and sweet smelling purple stock in clear vases. The focal point of the room is the large, wooded, custom-made shelving that house the many incarnations of freshly baked bread. There are two long, refrigerated pastry cases filled with all manners of sweet treats, a wide selection ranging from fresh fruit tarts to four different kinds of éclairs and everything in between. The sound system plays a steady stream of accordion music, Broadway hits with a French accent and even Beatles favorites.
For a true continental breakfast, you can enjoy a bowl of café au lait and a baguette served with butter and French jam for $3.50. Their coffee is from Red Rock, one of our better local roasters. Something about drinking café au lait out of a large bowl somehow makes it “more better.” You can jazz it up a bit with a croissant or pain au chocolate instead of bread.
There are only a few choices for breakfast, including bacon and eggs, a croissant with ham and egg or a deli-type plate with Brie, dry prosciutto, a salad and bread. Instead, I ventured from the breakfast menu and enjoyed a very good quiche with smoked salmon and leeks. The crust was just right and the salmon was not overpowering. The leeks were a bit frazzled and dried-out on top of the quiche but I enjoyed the dish anyway. It was served with a salad that was pretty complex, especially for an early hour, dressed with an excellent vinaigrette. You may order the quiche plain, without the salad.
The lunch menu features the perennial bistro standbys, croque monsieur and croque madame. The name is derived from the verb croquer, to crunch or to munch, so literally it means sir crunch or madam munch. It's basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with an optional fried egg on top. The sandwich was made popular in America by Chef James Beard.
Several other sandwiches are offered, including their most popular choice, the Cuban ... go figure. I opted for crêpes since there are so few places in town that offer them. This crêpe was cooked just right, paper-thin and golden brown in all the right places and filled with delicious chicken in a creamy rich béchamel sauce. The crêpe was dwarfed on its gigantic serving plate by an enormous and very original salad, featuring baby greens, tiny squares of yellow, red and orange peppers, cucumbers, pickled cocktail olives, cornichon (French for “gherkin”), plus slices of tomatoes and tiny niçoise olives. By the way, be very careful with those tasty little denture crackers! The little black Mediterranean fruits have small but deadly pits inside that can wreak havoc on your teeth.
The bakery is the place's strong, sweet suit. The croissants are large and not quite as rich with butter as I like but better than most of the competition in town. The Napoleon was just right and the mille-feuille (thousand layers of puff pastry) was a deep golden brown that gave the dessert an almost beurre noisette flavor. The pastry cream was not too sweet and the icing on top just right, both in looks and taste-wise.
Service is attentive and pleasant with a few “bonjours” and other French phrases thrown in for good measure. Le French Corner is a nice respite, even if you're not in the market for auto parts. Stop in for a pleasant taste of France. C'est bon!
Le French Corner; 3905 San Mateo NE; 889-3810; Hours: Mon-Sat 7 a.m-5:30 p.m.; Closed Sun and the first Mon of every month; Price Range: Inexpensive; MasterCard and Visa accepted.
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