Snarky jokes about the French aside, there are few among us who've traveled to France and haven't been awed by their joie de vivre , especially when it comes to food. So much of "good living" in France comes from good food. And, no, it's not fussy, fancy, gourmet food. It's the best bread, cheese and in-season, organic produce you can find. It's not rocket science, but it's taking awhile for our own food culture to see that good eating doesn't come from fads or large quantities. Retraining our tummies to eat smaller portions of better food (yes, for possibly a few dollars more) is an uphill battle, but one that we might just be catching onto.
French Corner Café & Bakery in Leucadia (1200 N. Coast Hwy. 101), helmed by chef / owner Alexandra Long, is trying to bring a little bit of that authentic French eating experience to our everyday lives.
Long insists she's not trying to educate or preach that her way is better, but, like most French people, she's passionate about good, quality food and believes the bit of extra effort it takes to produce it is absolutely essential. She makes almost everything in-house, right down to the fruit preserves and the Dijon mustard.
Maybe it's because one of my first experiences with a crêpe was from a little cart in Paris on a chilly January morning, but there are few food delights more magical in their simplicity. There are both sweet and savory options at French Corner, but go humble and opt for one filled with just preserves (apricot was fresh when I visited).
Grab a baguette for something a bit more toothsome. The bread is like what you'd find in any European bakery: one-day bread. It's crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and only at its perfect freshness for one, preservative-free day. I loved the jambon et beurre , a French classic with tender, thinly sliced ham, sliced-to-order gruyere and delicately tangy cornichons. Ask for it heated a bit to melt the cheese, but they'll make it for you hot or cold.
Although Long's tiny little outpost isn't big enough to do all of the bread baking (that's done by a local French baker who meets Long's rigorous standards), she does manage to crank out some extraordinary pastries. The orange-scented madeleines are spongy and moist and utterly perfect. They make the plastic-wrapped versions at your local coffee shop taste like baking abominations.
And please try the macarons . You've probably seen pictures of perfect, hyper-colored ones in trendy New York bakeries, but know those are probably machine-made. Macarons are temperamental and challenging to bake, so a few cracks and imperfections (and you'll see them at French Corner) are usually a sign of being handmade just for you. The outer cookies are puffy and crisp, sandwiching a rich, delicate swipe of ganache. I'll take just one of these elegant, sweet treats over any cloying cupcake any day.
"Authentic" is the watchword at French Corner, and that joy and passion for good food, eating simply and living well is infectious.