In the landscape of adobe, enchiladas and luminarias, it can be a bit of a shock to walk into a traditional European café and suddenly feel as though you’re just a stone’s throw from the center of Paris. But when you step in the unassuming doorway of
, Santa Fe’s own French bistro, that’s exactly what you get.
Judging by the way in which the eatery is constantly bursting with customers, it would appear that the shock is pretty pleasant. It always feels like a triumph when I get a parking spot, and the bustling atmosphere of the bistro adds to its warm, rustic vibe. I was greeted at the door by a welcoming "Bonjour!" and never feel rushed despite the many customers.
The bistro is owned and operated by the Ligiers, a French family who have been involved with the food industry for over 20 years—first in their home country and, for the last six in Santa Fe. Anne- Laure Ligier works at the front, serving pastries and ringing up customers, while her husband Philippe bakes incredible bread and pastries in the back, no small feat at this altitude.
"After all these years, my husband is still the one who bakes everything," Anne-Laure says. "He starts at 3 am every morning. And we're lucky to have our daughter Charlotte; she has worked with us since the beginning. Today she is managing the restaurant and it is a big help to us," she continues. "She was born in the food business and knows everything about it. When the holidays come our other daughter Marylou comes to help. Clafoutis is really a family affair."
It certainly feels like a home—the kind of place you'd pay to sit in and enjoy the atmosphere. The pastry case is loaded with colorful, mouth-watering treats, including their namesake fruit dessert, Clafoutis, that draws you right in. Beyond it are whitewashed rafters, walls covered in cooking accoutrements, sheaves of wheat, and a well-used chalkboard. It's the kind of comfortable, laid-back environment to curl up in and neglect time with a pastry, some coffee and a chatty friend. It can be a bit shoulder-to-shoulder at times—perhaps not the place to go if you suffer from any kind of claustrophobia—but it tends to just come across as cozy.
With a full range of coffee options, including bowls of cappuccino for $3.50 (the unit that cappuccino should always be served in from now on); hot chocolate and tea; freshly squeezed orange juice and fizzy French lemonade (I grabbed a blood orange flavored bottle for $2.90), it's easy to find something to suit your tastes.
Food-wise, this is a place that does the basics, and knocks 'em out of the park.
I'm usually not the type to fill up on bread before a meal, but the bread is so fluffy and perfect that it would be fighting words to consider it "filler."
The salads are refreshing and tossed with just the right amount of vinaigrette, and even the butter seems better than usual. The menu has all the classics—quiche ($7-$9), waffles and crêpes— including a Nutella-filled version I will have to go back for ($2-$7), croissants and omelets ($5-$8), and sandwiches, including the traditional croques (monsieur or madame, $7) and my personal favorite, the cagettes (French for "crate") which provide a combination of delicious fresh foods to mix and match to your heart's content.
The "Country," for example ($12.50, pictured) includes ham, two kinds of cheese, a fresh salad, homemade bread, the day's desert, and a large slice of some truly life-altering pâté. I had to exert some mental effort not to steal the pâté at the neighboring table. It's nice to know that you can get top-notch French food in the middle of the Southwest—like a delicious European security blanket.
What's more, you can tell that genuine, personal care goes into the experience. "We've always worked together" Ligier says, "and we really love what we're doing."
402 N Guadalupe St., 988-1809
Open Monday-Saturday, 7 am-4 pm