Friday, December 24, 2010

Julienne Cafe, San Marino CA

A Kings win, the first I’d seen live in nearly 6 years, ended December 23, 2010 on a very happy note and waking up early on Christmas Eve we’d be departing Los Angeles en route for Las Vegas bright and early. Staying east of the city and having been made aware of a unique spot in San Marino, essentially a five minute detour to our morning, we checkout out and made our way through the quaint little city arriving at Julienne shortly after 7:30am – the patio would already be full and the inside bustling with patrons to both the restaurant and the attached gourmet restaurant. With folks clad in everything from Rudolph sweaters to USC Trojans athletic wear the crowd was a mixed group but everyone was smiling and happy as Christmas tunes piped in overhead.

Seated without delay, our server Herbert would show up rather quickly with menus and drink orders were placed. Browsing the menu – eclectic but delicious sounding – we waited for a rather long time before drinks would arrive, however water was filled quite rapidly by an ancillary server. When drinks arrived – two coffees and two teas – they were in pretty glass mugs…mugs that would sit empty for substantial periods of time despite repeated requests for refills throughout the meal. While I cannot comment as to how many tables he was serving, I will note that all in all Herbert was quite sub-par and his interaction with our table was essentially the same as a runner – dropping off plates, collecting empty plates, but never checking in or offering refills unless prompted.
With orders placed we were told it would be approximately twenty minutes before plates would arrive and took the opportunity to browse the store – a unique collection of artisan goods and house made items to go. Clearly catering to the Christmas crowd there were innumerable cookies and confections being picked up from the counter and all in all everything looked excellent. Returning to our table it would be only a few moments before our first item would arrive – well before our drink refills.
For our appetizer the decision was made to split a scone because the hostess who sat us specifically noted “if they have any scones left you have to try them – so good.” With my mom skeptical of scones and my experiences mixed I will have to tip my hat – this was the best scone I’ve ever tasted. Slightly dry but punctuated with pockets of lemon butter, the Lemon Crème Brulee Scone clocked in at $5 and likely a full pound of weight. Easily half the size of a football the scone was more than enough to share and as good as it was on its own the addition of a crackling lemon cream and dried currants only made the dish better. This is absolutely a must order to anyone who takes the opportunity to visit Julienne – it is worth the trip from Los Angeles.
With such an excellent start it would admittedly be difficult for our entrees to keep pace with the scone, but the effort was valiant. Beginning first with my mother’s seasonal pancakes - Pumpkin Pancakes with candied quince, crystallized ginger Butter, Pure Maple Syrup, dried currants – the pancakes were a tad heavy due to the ample amount of pumpkin within, but the lovely tender quince and ample notes of ginger worked to add some spice and levity to the dish. Almost savory on their own, the maple syrup was certainly necessary to this dish and served warm it accomplished its purpose admirably.
My sister’s selection, Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Waffles with Honey Vanilla Crème Fraiche, Shaved Chocolate, Fruit was a disappointment in my opinion, though I’ll note she enjoyed it. With small and largely bland waffles – literally Eggo size, and not much more nuanced in flavor – serving as the base the best aspect of this dish was the impressive fresh fruit. Topped with grated milk chocolate and ripe strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries that balanced nicely with the mildly sweet crème fraiche it is a shame that the waffle itself didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
My aunt’s selection would prove to be the best option of the breakfast by a long distance – it was Griddle Café quality and perhaps better. Titled Baked Crème Brulee French Toast with Fresh Strawberry Sauce and Creme Anglaise the French toast itself was a large wedge of brioche, clearly premade given its level of custardization. Subsequently baked in the oven and then bruleed on each side to form a crackling sugar shell the toast was then doused in rich crème Anglaise, light maple syrup, and warm Strawberry compote. Dazzling in texture and taste, this dish along with the scone indicates that perhaps Julienne should brulee everything.
My choice, obvious to anyone who knows me, was the Bread Pudding French Toast with Fresh Peach Sauce, dried currants. While I still cannot distinguish what made the “Bread Pudding” different from the “Baked” version of French Toast at Julienne, that isn’t a bad thing since my dish featured the same lovely custard toast baked to a golden crisp, but instead topped with the very essence of pureed peach and currants. While I must say I was a tad disappointed that my strawberries were less ripe and tasty than those provided to the others, they certainly weren’t bad – just a bit bitter. Left with one choice I’d go with the Crème Brulee French Toast, but that is largely represents my love of Crème Anglaise moreso than anything being wrong with my dish.
Sitting and waiting with dirty plates on the table for some time before our waiter would finally return we watched a small line grow outside Julienne – clearly they are not hurting for business. Figuring that if we paid a dollar for every word uttered by our waiter the tip would only be about 7%, we settled for slightly more than that and made our way to the street having spent approximately $20 each on breakfast. Driving back through the quaint town and seeing all the Latin inspired architecture I can’t say I’d rush back to Julienne as a tourist across the country, but if I lived in Los Angeles I’d make the trek…but I’d avoid Herbert’s section at all costs.

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