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Special Restaurant Issue | French

Where poulet comes home to roost

(Scene 2) What you really need is a week in Paris, but let's get real: You don't even have time to drive to Santa Barbara. What's called for is a virtual escape-- and right now L.A. is feeling very French.

June 20, 2004|S. Irene Virbila

Le petit dejeuner, Francophiles know, is the French breakfast ritual of coffee drunk from a large cup or cafe au lait bowl, often accompanied by croissants. At the adorable La Conversation in West Hollywood, the coffee comes in a big bistro-ware cup, with a pitcher of foamy warm milk on the side. The croissants, all baked here, are close to the real thing, served warm with raspberry jam and sweet butter. You can get them plain or with almonds or chocolate. And the French toast is made with Kugelhopf, a tender sweet bread from Alsace in northeastern France.

For croissants on the go, check out the beautifully flaky ones at Delice, a small bakery on Pico Boulevard just west of La Cienega. They're some of the best I've had anywhere in Los Angeles.

You'll think you've really left L.A. if you lunch at Angelique, a minuscule French cafe in the downtown garment district. For the street scene, grab a sidewalk table and order a sandwich on a ficelle (a skinny baguette) with frites or a fresh green salad. The charcuterie is made in-house: The owner's pate and rillettes (duck or pork cooked in its own fat and pounded to make a spread) are served at more than one much fancier restaurant. For a true jambon beurre, ask for ham with just a smear of butter--no tomato, lettuce or mustard. Don't forget a slice of apple tarte Normande or the lovely little cannele baked in special molds and scented with rum.

At Campanile, co-owner and pastry chef extraordinaire Nancy Silverton on Thursday night offers a special tartine (open-faced sandwich) menu with some wildly delicious variations. She also turns out a classic grilled cheese made with nutty Gruyere, along with a superior croque monsieur and madame.

Cafe Stella looks authentic--it could just as easily be in one of the hipper quarters in Paris as in L.A. But the crowd is the sort of delirious mix of Francophiles, expat French, gender benders and assorted bohemians that only Silver Lake can produce. The cafe celebrates the art of the aperitif with a pretty rose-colored Kir made with white wine and a dose of creme de cassis. Kir Royale is made with Champagne, a Cardinale with red wine instead of white. Sip and enjoy, nibbling on oil-cured olives or bread spread with tapenade.

For authentic regional bistro fare, the next place to visit is Mimosa in Los Angeles for the cooking of chef Jean-Pierre Bosc: luscious leeks vinaigrette, tiny whole fried fish, Lyonnaise salad, a delicious boeuf bourguignon and steak frites. On Tuesday he offers six variations of steamed mussels and fries (moules et frites) for a mere $14 each. Nearby Pastis also is very French, with a relaxed atmosphere and seasonal country cooking: frisee salad with poached egg and lardons, wild escargots prepared with a drop of Pastis, roasted rabbit stuffed with chorizo or a Provencal daube de boeuf. Owner Arnaud Palatan searches out little-known country wines for his list, and on Wednesdays, if you buy one bottle with your meal, he'll send you home with a second for free.

With its cozy banquettes and specials scrawled in a fine hand on the mirrors, Pinot Bistro in Studio City looks the part. The menu is updated bistro fare, with everything from endive and watercress salad with Roquefort to a slow-roasted farm chicken with a heap of glorious garlic frites. And for dessert, the croissant bread pudding.

On Mondays, JiRaffe in Santa Monica goes casual French with a three-course menu for about the price of a modest meal in a neighborhood bistro in Paris. One recent menu proposed heirloom tomato and rock shrimp salad or ratatouille-stuffed artichoke, Pacific snapper in a vermouth-caper sauce or a proper coq au vin, followed by raspberry clafoutis with vanilla ice cream and creme anglaise. It's quite a deal.

The cheeses at Lucques in West Hollywood are always perfect. I appreciate that they offer only three on any given night, but each is as ripe as it should be, and served at the correct temperature. They come with great bread--either a La Brea Bakery baguette or a lovely toasted nut and fruit bread.

Bistro-hopping can continue at the stylish Troquet in Costa Mesa. Though the menu changes daily, expect to find oysters, steamed Prince Edward Island mussels with wine and herbs, rotisserie chicken or a splendid cote de boeuf for two. Hard to believe you're at South Coast Plaza.

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