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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

A Parisian treat arrives in L.A.

July 10, 2003|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

My favorite cafe, when I lived in Paris, was La Tartine on rue de Rivoli. Sometimes I would go there in the late afternoon and the brusque, ponytailed waitress with the gravelly smoker's voice would serve me a glass of Bourgeuil or Chinon and a tartine.

There, the open-faced sandwich was made with a slab of country bread from the famous Paris bakery Lionel Poilane, cut from a loaf with a thick, chewy crust. You could order your tartine with a smear of rillettes, a deliriously rich paste of goose or duck cooked in its own fat, or with a crottin, a small pillow of chalky goat cheese from the Loire Valley.

No butter. No mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato -- nothing. Washed down with that earthy red wine, it made a heavenly snack.

Tartines are catching on here too. Though Thursday night at Campanile is popularly known as Grilled Cheese Night, many of the cheese sandwiches on the menu are really tartines. The top of the one-page Thursday night menu reads, in fact, "Nancy's Tartine Bar." And now a new cafe is dedicating itself to the genre.

Cafe Tartine has lucked into a glorious corner space at Beverly Boulevard and Martel Avenue, big enough to put a handful of shiny metal outdoor tables on each side of the front door. Inside, it's coolly modern, even a bit stark, with chocolate-brown faux-leather banquettes.

The lunch menu is basically soups, organic salads and a one-page list of tartines ranging from regime (low-fat cream cheese with herbs and sliced tomatoes) to country pate -- all on bread flown in from Lionel Poilane in Paris.

I did have the Cafe Tartine salad one day, with a glass of very weak iced coffee. It was a nice mix of butter lettuce, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, avocado, tomato and fresh-cut corn tossed in a bland dressing. The arugula salad with prosciutto and shaved Parmigiano I tried on another visit was marred by greens that were yellowed and old. Somebody's not paying attention here.

The tartines make a nice light lunch, though, and they're certainly big enough to share, if you just want to grab a snack. The roast beef (which could be rarer) is cut into finger-sized wedges, thinly sliced and moistened with a spunky aioli. Curry chicken salad is a blast from the past: chunks of chicken with celery and golden raisins in a mayonnaise laced with turmeric- stained curry powder. There's also a basic grilled mozzarella and tomato that turns the tartine into a quasi-pizza, but it tastes just fine.

Dessert tarts are baked fresh each morning. I liked the chocolate almond version, sort of a brownie in a crust. The mixed berry fruit tart looked very fetching with its stripes of blueberry and raspberry, but it had an underbaked crust.

The place has been open only a few weeks, so glitches are expected, but if the kitchen and the service staff can get their act together, Cafe Tartine should be a good address to keep in mind when you need a little something to stave off hunger.

*

Cafe Tartine

Where: 7385 Beverly Blvd.,

Los Angeles

When: Open 8:30 a.m. to

6 p.m., Monday to Friday; 9 a.m.

to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.

No alcohol. Street parking

Cost: Soups, $4.50; salads, $7 to $10; tartines, $7.50 to $9.50; desserts, $5.50

Info: (323) 938-1300

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