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Let's Eat Out

French Bistro Finds a Home in San Marino

August 20, 1987|BARBARA HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

If rosemary is for remembrance, then it would be hard to forget Julienne. This French-inspired bistro in San Marino is as closely linked to the strong-scented herb as some women are to a certain perfume.

Boughs of rosemary line the counter where the day's wares are displayed. Sprigs peek from tiny bouquets on the tables. And the slim dark leaves of the plant flavor the one item that is as indelibly linked to Julienne as the words "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance" are linked to Ophelia in Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

This signature creation is Julienne's rosemary-raisin bread, which accompanies almost anything you order. The bread is also the framework for scrumptious tarragon-flavored chicken sandwiches; the background for crisp, thin, rosemary-raisin Parmesan toast; and the stuff of which croutons are made. Rolls can be special ordered, and loaves are usually for sale at the baked goods counter in back.

At lunch the other day, Julienne was packed, and people were waiting for tables outdoors. I prefer to eat inside because the small space is so grandly decorated. Leaf-printed hunter green drapes, old fashioned, bistro-style tiled floors, lots of marble, faux and real, and the displays of appetizing dishes transport me to Paris in some other era. That is no coincidence because Julienne's owner, Susan Campoy, and former partners Arthur and Christine Withrow researched the bistros of Paris to create the look.

Campoy, a caterer for 10 years, opened Julienne in 1985 primarily as a catering and takeout place, and these functions continue. But customers wanted to eat on the premises, too, and they did so in such numbers that waiters had to be added.

Campoy describes her menu as "very good, basic food" and "home cooking." In surrounding San Marino and Pasadena, that doesn't mean beans and meat loaf. Julienne's strong point is intriguing salads such as green tortellini and pea pods in pesto sauce, couscous with currants and toasted pine nuts, wild rice with corn and peppers, gazpacho salad and asparagus with sesame-orange mayonnaise.

A Thai-inspired beef salad adapts to California tastes with a subtle rather than startling dash of chile. Chicken Chinoise combines chicken, pea pods and water chestnuts in a lightly sweet citrus dressing, and the Normandy salad resembles a Waldorf with chicken added, tarragon in the dressing and red-skinned apples cut in hefty chunks.

Julienne accommodates the indecisive by offering combination plates of any two or three salads. Salads are also paired with soup--the other day there was very fresh light salmon chowder served steaming in a glass cup--or with quiche.

The cooler months bring ragouts and daubes, cassoulet and a bourride with aioli sauce. I remember a wonderful country sausage and potato stew that included lots of apple wedges, and an orange-flavored veal stew with big slices of red potato, zucchini, tiny onions and that trademark herb, rosemary. Hot weather inspires lighter dishes, like honey-mustard Cornish game hens, herb-roasted lemon chicken and a tomato-basil tart.

Not only flavor but looks matter at Julienne. An assortment of pates was grouped with olives, cornichons and French bread on an elegant marble-patterned plate. Salads and other dishes are garnished with fruits chosen with an eye for quality--the fattest strawberries and the sweetest cantaloupe. And who could resist the tray of coffee fixings that usually rests on the counter inside. The little containers of cinnamon, shaved chocolate, crystallized ginger and rough lumps of brown sugar are sure to lure you away from sober black coffee.

Julienne has had a succession of pastry chefs and pastries, but old favorites like chocolate truffle brownies and lemon-coconut bars remain. On earlier visits I tasted glistening, darkly caramelized tarte tatin and almond-flavored pear sponge tart straight from the oven. The latest chef is turning out sugar-dusted rugelach that are irresistible. When I admired them, I was given one to sample.

A word of caution: On one wall is an enormous painting of an overstuffed child, whose appearance signals the result of eating too much of this very good food.

Julienne, 2649 Mission St., San Marino, (818) 441-2299 or (213) 682-1008. Open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Continental breakfast served on Saturday. Closed on Sunday and Monday. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Salads are $4.50 to $6.95; entrees $6.50 to $10. Combinations include two salads for $7.95 and three for $8.95. Park on the street or in the lot that opens onto an alley in back.

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