The last time I was in Paris, I took a long walking tour of Le Marais and afterward wandered up and down little streets until I just ran out of steam. I was famished in a city where hunger is an absurdity. Little cafes dotted the neighborhood's major avenue but which to choose? I finally just chose one, the name of which I don't remember, but I sank onto a chair at an outdoor table, and wearily ordered a cheese omelet and café décaféiné. It was a sublime meal.
I remembered those simple, delicious flavors and my happy settled feeling as I was eating not an omelet but a smoked salmon crepe at South Park's new Cafe Madeleine, owned by Mistral chef de cuisine Patrick Ponsaty and Christine Perez (who owns nearby Vagabond with husband Jerome Gombert). Ponsaty, who recently joined Mistral after being at Bernard'O, had been planning this spot before he took the new job. The cafe, which opened in June, is still getting some finishing touches, like sweet Toulouse-Lautrec-like decorative paintings on the Juniper St. side of the building that were being painted this week by Ponsaty's friend Alexandra Pastorino, a French artist now living in Los Angeles.
But, let's get back to the crepe, which was filled with bite-sized slices of the salmon, along with capers, creme fraiche, little bits of red onion and confit pepper -- and surprising little chunks of lemon. Topped with a small green salad, almost as a garnish, the crepe was light and with popping flavors. Like that omelet in the Marais, the crepe was an easy, sophisticated, and satisfying dish. The perfect black dress of meals.
Of course, like any good French cafe--in San Diego--the little black dress itself would be far too much for this casual neighborhood eatery. It's a tiny spot on the corner of 30th and Juniper with a sidewalk wide enough to sit several tables comfortably--Ponsaty points out that they're dog friendly, by the way. Inside, are just a few tables and a counter behind which most of the food--crepes, paninis, and salads--is made.
The other savory crepes on the menu include chicken with bechamel, blue cheese, pear, and walnut; beef with horseradish, caramlized onion, and tomato, and vegetarian with tomato, mozzarella, pesto, and balsamic. The paninis mimic the crepes--vegetarian, chicken, ham, proscuitto, beef, and the smoked salmon. And there are two distinctive salads--Baked Goat Cheese Crouton with honey, green salad, and dijon vinaigrette and Arugula, blue cheese, chicken, walnut, fresh pear and balsamic vinegar.
Then there are the sweets. With such a small kitchen, Ponsaty brings in some pastries from his friends Thierry Cahiz and Vincent Garcia at Opera Patisserie. But many are made in house, like madeleines, of course, and several crepes "sucrees," including one with nutella and an intriguing sounding orange and grapefruit with pastry cream. Ponsaty presented me with a lemon crepe that's not on the menu. It reminded me of Dutch pancakes I had grown up with--thin pancakes that are folded up and topped with a swipe of melted butter, a squeeze of lemon juice, and dusting of powder sugar. This crepe had the lemon juice and powder sugar and the perfect flavor combination of sweet and tart.
Also try the house-made comfort food dessert that is Gateau Basque. Made with a yeasty butter crust that envelopes pastry cream, Gateau Basque is a confection that Ponsaty grew up with in Toulousse, France. Another variation of the pastry is made with black cherry jam, but I enjoyed every creamy spoonful of this version with a decaf espresso.
Along with the food, which Ponsaty describes as "French Fast Good," the owners pride themselves on the Illy coffee and a line of Damman Frères teas they serve. And, as you're thinking about the upcoming holidays, so are they--Ponsaty is planning on making a variety of holiday cookies and, of course, Buche de Noel.
Cafe Madeleine is open daily at 7:30 a.m. and closes Monday - Thursday at 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 5 p.m. It's located at 2248 30th St. at Juniper St. The phone number is (619) 544-1735.