Oh là là! A Flurry of French Cafes
| Written and photography by Cheryl Alters Jamison |
Santa Fe has, for years, enjoyed a few much-loved French-style cafés, in particular, Clafoutis in Midtown and The French Pastry Shop & Creperie at La Fonda on the Plaza. A slightly more recent addition, Chez Mamou, near the Plaza is closed currently for renovations and expansion, but should be back offering croissants and cappuccinos and other café favorites before long. Madame Matisse, the newish kid on the block, welcomes guests to a Midtown locale too.
Like morels popping up in a French spring, though, a trio of nouveaux cafes, sprouted in recent months to join these venerable spots. The three share a casual Gallic vibe and a tempting focus on coffee, breads, pastries, and other baked goods. All are open most days until mid-afternoon, and one has recently begun dinner service.
I was among the folks who, for years, looked for reasons to head north on weekend mornings to the late Fleur de Lys in Los Alamos. I would plan a scenic drive, a hike, or at least a saunter around the town’s duck pond, so I could rationalize my food craving. My goal, always, was to score an ethereal almond croissant, a swirl of almond paste, flaky pastry, and crunchy nuts, topped with enough powdered sugar to douse me in a blanc haze. It has always left me astonished, when I enjoy one of these pinnacles of French pastry, that it developed as a way to re-purpose and use up day-old croissants. Invariably, I would pick up a classic jambon beurre (ham and butter) baguette sandwich to eat later in the day. Fleur de Lys proprietors Marcel Remillieux and wife Stephanie lost their lease up there late last year, so decided to relocate their business to Santa Fe, and call the new venture Mille. The name honors a restaurant owned by Marcel’s French father back in the Old World.
Mille now occupies the space of the shuttered Bouche, straddling Alameda and West Water Streets. Light streams into the daytime café, where you order at the counter after being tempted by all manner of tarts and cakes, cream puffs and quiches, eclairs and a rainbow assortment of macarons to devour there or take away. Those treats might derail your plans for other items from the menu, but at least consider the croque monsieur, salade niçoise, charcuterie platter, hand-cut French fries, or this time a year, a duck confit- and pork-enriched cassoulet. I managed to grab a couple of bites of my friend’s crêpe, a creamy spinach-artichoke-filled little package, one of a dozen or so options, both savory and sweet. In a nod to local tastes, one of the flaky croissants is stuffed with ham, cheese, and green chile. And of course, I didn’t forget about the aforementioned almond croissants and classic ham sandwiches. Grab an espresso made with beans supplied by local fave 35° North, or maybe hot chocolate or freshly squeezed OJ.
If you’re dining there, sit at one of the handful of booths lining two walls, a high communal table, or on the patio. Part of it is covered and dotted with outdoor heaters for an extra measure of social distancing right now. What a welcome reinvention.
415 West Alameda; 505-930-5492: Millenm.com
Le Pommier opened in Eldorado’s La Tienda during the fall and has now expanded from just daytime hours to evenings as well. Owners Alain and Suzanne Jorand will have a beer and wine license soon. For now, the café/bistro has a tasty array of creative mocktails, including a kir with Amarena cherry juice and non-alcoholic sparkler St. Regis that felt suitably festive for a special Saturday evening supper. Chef Alain oversees the kitchen, while Suzanne offers guests a warm welcome in the front of the house.
Le Pommier has the baguettes, croissants, gateaus, and brioches one expects from a café, to take out or enjoy in the Provencal-inspired dining room, but also a fully ambitious menu of lunch and dinner classics. Among the several daytime green offerings are a pair of my French favorites, salade frisee aux lardons, a combo of frilly frisee with a poached egg, strips of bacon, and crunchy croutons, and salade d’endive et chèvre chaud, which tops Belgian endive with fried goat cheese and a shower of walnuts. At lunch you can opt for a croque monsieur, or the madame, which adds a sunny fried egg to the traditional bechamel-glossed ham and cheese, as well as Alain’s version of my beloved jambon beurre on a toasted baguette. Other possibilities include steak tartare from local Beck & Bulow bison, steak frites, lamb with rosemary sauce, buttery escargots or frog’s legs, crepes, or rabbit in mustard sauce, as well as an impressive silken foie gras torchon to slather over brioche and top with the sweet touch of quince paste. Dinner service adds seafood such as petrale sole with lobster mousse and some luscious sea scallops with saffron butter balanced well with slightly bitter sautéed endive. Expect a full array of French sweets from tarte Tatin to Paris Brest to hazelnut ice cream.
7 Caliente Road in Eldorado; 505-466-3235; Lepommierbistro.com
La Tour Experience
La Tour Experience is in its soft opening stage right now, in the space that briefly housed Lucky Goat. The Tour Eiffel inspires its charming theme. The owners here are a couple as well, and she hails from Normandy. They’ve not owned a café or restaurant before, but obviously have some serious cooking chops. As with both other places described here, there’s a lovely case of pastries to catch your eye on the way in. The macarons here are a Technicolor delight. A friend and I were very pleased to share petite beggar’s purses, a one-bite delight of crisp filo encasing a bit of brie and pear. The other item I sampled was a ham and cheese croissant, which had the creamiest of fillings to contrast with the shattering laminated pastry dough. Right now, the lunch offerings are a handful of quiches or soups with salad, but this will be expanding. Of course, there’s the expected array of coffee preparations. I was thrilled, though, that they offer Palais des Thés, a premier brand of full-bodied teas from Paris, including Des Lords, a strongly scented Earl Grey with saffron petals. La Tour has a moderate selection of French grocery items too, from which I delightedly snatched a can of Alziari extra-virgin olive oil, a French cult favorite. I look forward to more here.
500 Sandoval; 505-780-5890
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating it Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.