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France Patch

August 08, 1996|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAF WRITER

"I pass this along to you for purely selfish reasons," read the letter. "Bonjour is a little patch of France in my neighborhood, and we don't want to lose it a second time."

The proprietor of Bonjour, known to the diners merely as Lucinda, is a poised blond Frenchwoman who often wears a necklace with a single black pearl. She sold the place a few years ago but bought it back late last year, by which time Bonjour had lost a lot of its old customers--hence the letter writer's concern. They seem to have rediscovered it, though.

It's definitely a little patch of France. The pastel wallpaper has a dainty, tranquil pattern. The counter is often staffed by a decorous ingenue with a gentle French accent. Every time I've left Bonjour, I've felt soothed and civilized and a little more cheerful than I probably deserve.

Bonjour is very much a neighborhood place, as it would have to be, given its moderately obscure location at Chevy Chase Street and Verdugo Road in Glendale. Most of the customers are clearly regulars. On a wall near the kitchen are world and U.S. maps bristling with pushpins and tiny flags indicating the origins of people who have eaten here--and a map of Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, of interest to Glendale's many Armenians.

It may be a corner of France, but Bonjour is not what you'd call a French restaurant. It's just a charming place to hang out and have a leisurely cappuccino or two and maybe a sandwich, maybe the odd pastry. The pastry display always has very fresh croissants (the more ambitious pastries, though, such as napoleons and black forest cakes, don't move as fast and may not be so fresh).

The croissants are so good that the words "croissant sandwich," which strike fear in the hearts of many who have suffered insultingly bad sandwiches on stale, ice-cold croissants, are perfectly innocent here. Roast beef on a croissant is a delicacy when the pastry's fresh and the blend of mayo, mustard and pickle well considered.

You don't have to have your sandwich on a croissant. You could get it on (of course) a French roll. Besides beef, ham, and tuna and chicken salad sandwiches, there's one called au pa^te, which you might consider an especially fancy liverwurst sandwich.

The egg salad sandwich is surprisingly good, not at all the usual tired, homogenized egg salad. The egg is roughly mashed and has a good fresh flavor; it happens to be the cheapest item here. The same egg salad sometimes turns up in other dishes, such as something called eggs and asparagus, egg salad on a halved croissant, topped with some slightly overcooked asparagus chunks.

Croque-monsieur, the French toasted ham and cheese sandwich, is a bit dry and plain (no mustard) but it comes, as do a number of other items, with a substantial and very good fresh fruit salad--say, red grapes, strawberries, bananas and watermelon, always freshly sliced. You can get an even larger fruit salad by itself.

Other salads include a salade nicoise (the usual rather dry tuna and potato platter) and sometimes a surimi "crab" salad. The ingenue is a little embarrassed to say the crab isn't real, but it makes for a pleasant little salad anyway, surimi and green peas in a cream dressing with some shredded carrots on the side.

There are always a couple of homey French soups, such as onion, split pea or cream of broccoli. In the pastry case you can usually find a couple of quiches, such as a spinach model with some garlic in it.

The rest of the story (apart from breakfast, when you can get poached eggs on toast and eggs "Benedicte") is pastries. There are French cookies--a triangular almond cookie sweetened with honey, sables (two cookies sandwiched around a fruit preserve filling) and apple or other fruit bars, for which a cookie is baked with fruit and a streusel-like crust--and OK eclairs, usually with a cocoa-flavored filling. The Danish pastries seem more French than Scandinavian. The best pastries are the tarts, such as the tarte aux fruits, with a very dairy-tasting pastry cream layer, and a tarte au citron in which a sharp lemon filling hides under a stormy sea of browned meringue topping.

Nice.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

WHERE TO GO

Bonjour, Verdugo Plaza, 325 1/2 Verdugo Road (at Chevy Chase), Glendale; (818) 500-9847. Open Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. No alcohol. Parking lot. Takeout. Lunch for two, food only, $8.60-$16.40.

WHAT TO GET

Beef croissant sandwich, egg salad sandwich, fruit salad, apple bar, tarte au citron.

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