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Restaurants | Critic's Notebook

Starting the Day in Paris With a Croissant and Good Coffee

October 05, 2000|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

PARIS — At home, luxury means coffee in bed any morning of the week. Yet when I'm traveling, I don't want to settle for an indifferent hotel breakfast (which is also inevitably overpriced). I want to get up and out. Wherever I am, I scope out the cafes and bakeries until I've found just the right combination of good coffee and satisfying morning pastry.

In Paris, the first place I go is Laduree, an elegant pastry shop with gilt mirrors and a painted ceiling that dates from the last century. Here, the pastries on display are truly heart-stopping. Though I'm tempted by the almondy financieres, the tall little kugelhopfs, and the bretzel (puff pastry in the shape of a pretzel), my dilemma is always between croissant a l'ancienne or croissant Laduree. Both are made with butter, but the l'ancienne is so light that it shatters into buttery crumbs as soon as you take a bite. More butter.

Cafe creme here is really cafe au lait with the coffee and foamy milk served apart to mix as you like. In a country that makes some of this worst coffee in the world, this is delicious. That croissant always seems to disappear awfully fast, so I might share another of the shop's specialty, the croissant fouree, that is, stuffed, with a paste of almonds, hazelnuts and sugar. It's a wonderful way to start off the day in Paris.

Just 3 months old, Cafe de l'Espanade on a corner overlooking the esplanade in front of Invalides, is another good spot for breakfast. Outside, a flotilla of iron tables and garden chairs with white canvas seats are sheltered beneath a broad white awning. Inside, the cafe (from the Costes brothers of chic Cafe Costes near Les Halles) is furnished with curvy apricot velvet slipper chairs and black lacquer tables. In reference to the cannons lined up in front of the Invalides, the chandeliers are made of cannon balls! It's all very tongue in cheek.

Breakfast, however, is much better than you'd expect at such a trendy venue. The coffee is good and strong, the orange juice freshly squeezed, and you can have either a plate of three miniature viennoiseries (pastries) or a toasted baguette. Take the latter, since you can spread it with sweet Echire butter and jams from Fouquet. For 15 francs more, which at the current exchange rate, is about $2, you get three perfectly fried eggs with bright orange runny yolks and some lovely Canadian bacon, which makes it quite the feast--fuel enough for a day spent walking all over the city.

BE THERE

Laduree, 16, rue Royale, 75008 Paris; also 75, avenue Champs-Elysee. Cafe creme 28 francs (about $3.75); pastries 11 francs (about $1.50).

Cafe de L'Esplanade, 52, rue Fabert, 75007. Petit dejeuner 80 francs (about $11), with eggs and bacon, 95 francs (about $13).

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