French Dip

Ease into the Gallic café-bakery scene of Le Delice.

During your busy holiday schedule, perhaps you yearn for a moment's peace. Wouldn't it be nice to find yourself lost in a French café, a bit of Edith Piaf warbling in the background, the aroma from a wall of freshly baked pastries and breads wafting in and settling down around you? Perhaps just closing your hands around a steaming hot café americano or latte to savor for a few moments might bring you some small comfort. Wouldn't it be nice to close your eyes and lose yourself in the happy babble of French voices calling out that the buche is just finished? Welcome to a little slice of heaven.

There is something bright and festive about a patisserie at any time of the year, but at Christmas the ante gets upped. The Cochards at Le Delice have a special relationship with doughs of all sorts. Marvelous things rise from their hands and take whimsical form. Long lizards and raisin-eyed tortoises form loaves and hang capriciously on the shelves. The glass-lined counters are stuffed to the brim with éclairs, madeleines, small bright fruit tarts, napoleons, brioches, palmiers and truffles. Happy marzipan piggies and jaunty snowmen line up in trays. One particular showstopper is the fabulous solid chocolate high heel stuffed with goodies and flaunting an outrageous chocolate ribbon. Naturally, the line of eager customers snakes the length of the counter, but don't overlook the opportunity to sit with the menu and treat yourself to some true French fare.

At the end of the pastry counter is a smaller counter devoted to meats and cheeses. While these items certainly aren't as glorious as their sporty pastry siblings, they are top quality. The cheeses alone are worth swooning over. If you don't already know, France leads the world in making cheese. Even though artisan cheeses are all the rage at the moment, no other nation on earth takes pride in producing more than 650 different types of cheese.

While the selection at Le Delice is slim, it is select. The buttery, nutty, smooth-as-satin emmental (excellent for cooking), raclette, crottin and brie are all found here. Don't forget the morbier, a hearty, truffly, mushroomy cheese, traditionally made from one layer of the morning milking, spread with a thin layer of ash, then topped with the evening's milking. Here, the morbier is aged, the line of ash visible, the texture tender. The English Stilton is worth taking a gander at, and certainly worth bringing home. Crumbly, feathered green, with a deep brown crust, if nothing else, this is worth the drive from wherever you are. Served after dinner with a glass of wine before you move into dessert (or in lieu of dessert), this is a taste sensation guaranteed to make your evening, eclipse your companion and possibly make your whole life more memorable.

In addition, Le Delice has an array of meats and sausages: fresh rabbit, headcheese, select hams and sausages are all hung and ready to go. An entire wall of condiments is there for your perusal, but perhaps best of all, a menu is available should you actually have the time to sit and soak in a bit of the atmosphere.

The menu offers up the best of what Le Delice has to offer. You could choose to browse your way through a quiche Lorraine, a small tartlet stuffed full of eggs, cheeses, ham and bits of mushroom. Served with a side of salad and a baguette, this is a hearty way to restore yourself.

The paté and cheese plate presents a delightful platter to sit and nibble from while you catch up with an old friend. Wedges of morbier, Port Salut and brie are served with a wedge of paté, punctuated with cornichon and garnished with fresh fruit, some berries, plum and melon. There is easily enough here to happily feed two.

An assortment of salads and sandwiches is also available. The Ensalade Mediterraine offers a mélange of cold salads: tabouleh, lentils, artichoke, tomatoes, hardboiled egg and onions. A tangy dressing, heavy with dill, rounds out the plate.

But if you want to pull out the stops, there are many more traditional French dishes available: coq au vin, braised lamb shanks, the French classic of steak, fries and green salad. An array of sandwiches made from the available items in the deli is also available.

Our server stopped by with a pastry tray laden with at least 15 different mouth-watering pastries and delicacies. Cream puffs, tiny éclairs stuffed with chocolate or vanilla crème, a hazelnut torte sublime with its delicate nut flavors and pale green icing, chocolate tortes and nut cakes ... the tray alone was worth sitting and staring at.

Naturally we sampled a few of them. The raspberry chocolate torte was dense and lush. Chocolate and raspberry are a classic combination, but the textures that are present (and this applies uniformly to all the pastries we sampled) indicate a professional and accomplished hand has turned them out. Every pastry we sampled at Le Delice rose to the occasion: These are bakers who know what they are doing, practicing an ancient craft with a well-trained eye and hand.

While service is available, things can get pretty hectic. Our server certainly complied with the pace we set to our meal, but she was also clearly a busy woman. Le Delice is, appropriately, a busy venue. Should you find yourself with the time to indulge in the wonderful world of French pastry, then you should be patient and wait for good things to come to you.

For surely they shall. If you haven't yet managed to pop into Le Delice, now is the time to fill up Santa's goodie bag with all the cookies, pastries and marvelously magical confections that fill the shelves. Orders are still being taken for the Buche Noel ... and really, what's Christmas without some of the holiday cheer found in freshly made pastry, turned out by a skilled hand other than your own?

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