Les Madeleines Patisserie & Cafe
216 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-355-2294
The house pastry, "kouing aman," made its debut on the Food Network in 2008. "Addicts" love the pastry for its myriad textures.
Cuisine: Bakery, Cafe
Hours: T-F, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; S, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: Kouing aman, shortbread, sesame chicken salad wrap, wild boar BLT.
November 27, 2008
Cozy cafes offer a holiday respite: Four bakeries that will raise your spirits
By Vanessa Chang
First will come the recovery from today's food-induced coma, then the holiday season will be in full swing, complete with the frenetic anxiety of holiday shopping, merry-making and eating. What should I have on the table for my guests? What can I eat to keep myself sane?
Should we forget the fundamental virtues of the holiday season -- appreciating loved ones, spending meaningful time together, etc. -- I offer the following cozy cafes to revive your spirits and, if you need it, save you from having to make dessert.
Diva's Cupcakes & Coffee » The coffee at this Millcreek café is fierce. Black and strongly brewed, it infuses me with more than the right amount of caffeine to start or survive the day. The space itself -- a dining area, a library sitting room and a summer patio -- is a lovely transformation of a building that's gone through many incarnations. Now, as a neighborhood café, it's become quite popular. Sandwiches aren't its forte. Instead I opt for the not-so-nutritious, but oh-so-good sticky bun ($2.50). Pastry chef Disa Cuellar's pastries make a good light breakfast or midday treat, like the eponymous cupcake ($1.25; $2.50) with flavors such as red velvet or ginger, topped with buttercream or cream cheese frosting. Holiday specials include cranberry upside-down cake ($2.50 individual tartlets) and pomegranate chocolate torte ($2.50; $30), which should be ordered up to 48 hours in advance. For on-the-spot shopping, keep an eye out for gift baskets ($15 to $45), fashioned with everything for that tea, coffee or cupcake aficionado.
Tulie Bakery & Cafe » This stylish new bakery makes croissants ($3.25) that are burnished to a deep golden tone and are massive in size. Though lovely in appearance and enticing in their heft, I can't say they're the best offering when measured against their filled cousins (frangipane or ham and cheese) or the case that's lush with savory square pucks of quiche with crumbly crusts, sultry Scharffen Berger brownies ($3; $3.25 with walnuts) or "morning buns" ($3.25).
The latter -- popularized by San Francisco's Tartine Bakery -- looks like a cross between a muffin and a sticky bun. But within the swirled layers of buttery dough, there's a healthy dose of aromatic cinnamon and wintry citrus. Try one, along with a fine cappuccino ($2.50, 8-ounce; $3, 12-ounce; $3.50, 16-ounce).
Seasonal specialties such as gingerbread cake ($26 for 9-inch), pumpkin cheesecake ($28 for 6-inch; $52 for 9-inch), cranberry-almond and maple-pecan tarts ($36 for 6-inch) and gingerbread tiles ($2), prepared by pastry chef-owner Leslie Seggar, make lovely to-go offerings for the holiday table.
Les Madeleines Patisserie and Café » The place is known as the home of "kouing aman." Fans of this pastry, originally from Bretagne, France, refer to it endearingly as "crack" for its addictive contrasting textures of the caramelized fleur de sel dough. The Food Network even recently featured it on "Road Tasted with the Neelys."Holiday 4-packs cost $24 -- whether or not you share it is up to you. Those more generous, can rely on pastry chef-owner Romina Rasmussen's elegant line of cookies and shortbreads (butter toffee, pistachio, vanilla, Valrhona chocolate; 3 dozen for $29), traditional buche de Noel ($20; $42) and s'mores kits ($28) complete with homemade marshmallows, graham crackers from scratch and three Guittard chocolate bars. All that ordering is bound to make you hungry; it would be a good time to have lunch. Try the sesame chicken salad wrap ($8.95), wild boar BLT ($8.95) or open-faced Madrid sandwich with Serrano ham, a poached egg, Manchego cheese and roasted asparagus ($8.95). Each comes with a salad or pommes frites; I recommend the latter.
Food for Thought » Good hot cocoa is more a salve than a beverage. At Food for Thought, a small bakery/café tucked in the heart of historic Draper (yes, there is one), the house cocoa is topped with a block of homemade marshmallow that slowly erodes, like a melting iceberg, as you sip the hot substance.
The café is a popular spot for a quick lunch -- sandwiches, soups, quiche and salads -- but I prefer the astonishing range of handmade candies, cookies and gifts. One huge wall is dedicated to Erin Sugiyani's homemade marshmallows (toasted coconut, vanilla bean, etc.; bag of 6 for $6.50), chocolate-coated malt balls ($3.50), extravagantly dipped Honeycrisp apples ($10), fleur de sel or Hawaiian sea salt caramels (65 cents; $1) and their signature chocolate "mice" (a maraschino cherry coated in ganache with toasted almond ears; $2.75). It's a veritable Candyland for grown-ups. I've got my eye on their hot cocoa gift pack ($10) that includes cocoa for one serving, a marshmallow and a deep, colorful café-au-lait bowl.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
October 8, 2004
By Nancy Hobbs
Romina Rasmussen has given up her hectic, international corporate life for the opportunity to roll her own dough in a little piece of French real estate on Salt Lake City's State Street. It's not what she envisioned when she left Utah in 1988, embarking on a career in telephone marketing and sales that would take her for several years to Asia, and later back to Miami.
But then she made a dramatic change in course, enrolling at the French Culinary Institute in New York to study classic pastry baking. Once completed, Rasmussen returned to Salt Lake and outfitted the small building at 660 S. State St. with huge ovens and baking counters, a commercial espresso machine, a half-dozen small tables and a lime-green awning over the front door imprinted with "Les Madeleines" to advertise her new venture.
Her aptitude for making flaky croissants, luscious cheesecakes and a case full of beautiful cookies and fruit jellies is on display inside. Simply looking is a pleasure: the coconut macaroons are perfect little mounds with a swish of decorative icing; the individual charlottes, with tiny ladyfingers encircling the creamy filling, are almost too pretty to eat; and just looking at the shortbread starts the mouth watering.
I first spotted Les Madeleines while driving down State Street between appointments, and dropped in to grab something for lunch. There isn't a huge variety: several sandwiches on croissants, beef or cheese empanadas and salads. (Rasmussen said soups will be added in the next month or so.)
Turkey and cheese sounded good and tasted even better. The croissant, fresh out of the oven, was the best I've had. Even with something as simple as peanut butter on it, it would have ranked in the "definitely memorable" category. The couple of cookies I ordered on the side cinched it; I've been back several times to try one thing or another.
Rasmussen makes all of the pastries -- even the graham crackers for graham-cracker crusts -- from scratch, using only the best ingredients, such as Pelugra butter and Valrhona chocolate. And the items baked each day vary, depending on what's fresh on the market, or what sounds intriguing.
She looks forward to the upcoming Meyer lemon season, when the fruit -- a lemon-orange hybrid "with a lovely floral quality," she says -- will be featured in tarts, eclairs, jelly candies and, of course, madeleines.
The café's namesake, for example, changes frequently, from the more common lemon or orange madeleines, to green tea, lavender or jasmine-flavored. In any case, the shell-shaped sponge cakes are terrific with a cup of coffee or tea. So are the many varieties of shortbread, though Rasmussen has learned during more than 10 months in business to always have her butter toffee shortbread on hand.
Another cookie that Rasmussen said is fast becoming a customer favorite, and to which I add my vote, is the rosemary butter cookie. It is a dainty, melt-in-your-mouth delight, with the herb's unique, clean flavor wrapped in rich butter.
It will still take several more visits, interspersed between lots of calorie-burning workouts, to sample all of Les Madeleine's beautiful muffins, danish, tarts, the intriguing "braso de reina" -- sponge cake rolled around jam and dulce de leche -- and lovely layered panna cotta parfaits.
On the savory side, Rasmussen's empanadas are also a treat. Rasmussen makes them as her mother, of Chilean descent, taught her, with a delicious mixture of ground beef, raisins and hard-cooked eggs in a pastry pocket. She also makes an empanada filled with extra sharp cheddar cheese, which her mother says is much like the kind of cheese traditionally used in Chile.
Besides baking for the cafe's daily business, Rasmussen does a lot of special order baking -- of very special items. She makes full-size charlottes, a hazelnut Paris-brest (a ring-shaped cream puff filled with hazelnut cream), an Austrian spice cake, soaked in a spiced orange and white wine syrup, and a traditional Linzer torte, with almond cream and raspberries.