St. Tropez Bakery & Bistro
3805 Fifth Ave.
Additional locations in Rancho Bernardo, Encinitas, Sorrento Valley and Downtown (twice)
This column has ruined a lot of my relationships. Not my relationships with women (I ruin those on my own, thanks), but my relationships with restaurants. First, there are the places with great or colorful reputations-Parallel 33, Buon Appetito, Turf Supper Club, et al-I will probably never visit, because they were reviewed by someone else on this page, at some other point in time. But even worse, from my perspective, is the constant pressure to find a spot, eat a few meals, write up a review and move on. After all, there are only so many meals in the week, especially if you not only mock the service industry, you also work in it.
Sometimes, two or three meals is enough. But other times, cutting the cord isn't that easy. To date, I've eaten at the new St. Tropez Bakery & Bistro a dozen times. Ostensibly, I was gathering material for this review, but really I was stalling as long as possible. Even as I sat down to draft this review, I thought, what would really help is a brie sandwich. And I was out the door.
The décor is just this side of cutesy, with wrought-iron fences winding around irregular tables and a small fountain. Blue sky murals on the ceiling add to the courtyard feel. Either the staff was somewhat authentic, or they had been trained extensively in the art of the French accent. The best part of the décor, of course, is the glass bakery case beside the register (and if you visited in the last few weeks, sorry about those greasy fingerprints).
Desserts run from $1.60 to $3.75, and tend to favor the airy, creamy and fluffy. The custard brioche had just the right amount of moistness, not decadent yet not dry, the twisted pastry liberally coated with an intensely sweet coarse sugar. The layered tortes-opera cakes, napoleons and so on-were covered in shaved white and milk chocolate, built from light mousses and spongy layers of cake or puff pastry. The fruit tarts came in single-serve small and medium, or party-sized large and extra-large. (Indulge in at least a medium. The tiny single-berry tarts are too disproportionately crusty.)
And that simple brie sandwich had large, generous slabs of cheese over lettuce and tomato. My brie and sausage omelet had what must have been an entire dozen eggs liberally interspersed with thick slices of real sausage and somehow folded over several large slabs of cheese. The accompanying rosemary-garlic home fries were sautéed to crisp perfection. (Note to the owners: in light of recent developments, maybe you should change the name of your potatoes to "Where's-your-goddamn-freedom-fries-now-you-shortsighted-xenophobic-cowboy-bastards potatoes." Just a thought.)
Happily, St. Tropez all but ignored the low-carb craze. Omelets and salads came with a handful of baguette slices, and the salads had liberal doses of crisp croutonage, as well. My hefty Monaco panini was grilled inside a large baguette with a thick, chewy crust. Inside, pesto with a satisfying garlic twang covered moist, tender strips of chicken. The nearly decadent chicken curry croissant covered that same moist and tender chicken with melted cheese, and stuffed it inside a buttery and exceedingly flaky pastry. The only mild disappointment I encountered at St. Tropez were the thick crepes. The chicken and mushroom crepe reminded me of a casserole, while the ham and cheese crepe was so... hot-pocket.
The menu has deals like $7.50 for a sandwich, cup of soup and small green salad, giving me flashbacks of spending $5.95 for a JBX chicken avocado club (my version of post-traumatic stress disorder.) By comparison, the St. Tropez menu tops out at $9.50 for a worth-every-penny goat cheese salad-a half-dozen goat cheese dumplings atop fresh peppers, onions, cucumbers and olive. But it is the aptly-named sweet and savory salad-grilled chicken, caramelized pecans, thinly-sliced apples and grated gouda-that might be my new favorite.
Throw in the extended hours and wonderful desserts, and I was reminded of another one of my neighborhood favorites just around the corner, Crest Café. Of course, I think St. Tropez could be even better. How? First, free samples on the bakery case. Second... well, I'm not sure. Maybe they should open the next location under an assumed name, so we could have another little fling.
On to our next doomed relationship. Play matchmaker at cityeat @SDcitybeat.com.