In the Sunday opinion pages of The New York Times this past weekend, an article appeared titled "How Hipsters Ruined Paris." It complains of how the once-grungy neighborhood of South Pigalle has lost much of its flavor to trendy boutiques and brunch spots. An alternate headline might have been "Hipster Moves To Paris, Complains About All The Hipsters." But Thomas Chatterton Williams, the article's author, might be heartened to know that at least on one block of Los Angeles' Highland Park neighborhood, the French are doing their best to French-ify us.
The stretch of North Figueroa St. where the newly opened Chez Antoine is located is otherwise home to bodegas, barber shops and gloomy mattress stores that set up card tables outside with various plastic toys, hair clips and belts for sale. Chez Antoine, with its Eiffel Tower signage in the window, curlicue wrought iron sign declaring "Bistro, Cafe & Crepes," and jaunty blue umbrellas over tables on the street, appears strangely out of place, a sliver of Paris in the heart of Highland Park.
Inside, you realize just how authentic Chez Antoine really is. Not in the sense that it exudes the utter cool and quaintness of Paris' better bistros, but in fact that it resembles the almost diner-like feel of France's stodgier family restaurants. Its menu, too, channels the simple cafe fare of France: crepes, salads, classic dishes like boeuf bourguignon and moules marinere. Your waitress is likely to be French, along with most of the staff.
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We arrived for breakfast to a mainly empty dining room on a late Saturday morning. My dining companion, a very small man or fairly large boy depending on your perspective, is a great lover of crepes, and ordered some sweet combination of berries and chocolate. The crepe-lover gave them the thumbs-up. Very thin, appropriately eggy and light, they were a vast improvement over the kind you get at farmers market vendors and the like around L.A.
A croque madame transported me, not to the experience of that fabulous crispy, bready, cheesy croque madame I had for breakfast on a misty Paris morning in a fabulous cafe, but instead to a passable one I had at a train station cafe in the French suburbs. It's mainly a matter of bread -- a little too spongey, perhaps. But still, the cheese was melty, the ham good quality, and a tangy mustard-dressed salad came on the side.
The crepe-lover declared himself still hungry. Once out on the street, we didn't have to look far for a taco truck to cure that hunger.
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