Consider this a gentle reminder – Valentine’s Day is next Tuesday. Whether you are married, partnered or flying solo, I have a wonderful way for you to celebrate the day of love that won’t put you in debt, doesn’t require an airplane or reservations, and promises to dazzle you and your guest with an exquisite French café experience in the heart of downtown Santa Fe.
Since most of us won’t be traveling to the City of Lights for authentic French croissants, crêpes, mussels and fries, salad niçoise or cassoulet, it’s comforting to know that Mille French Café and Crêperie awaits. Located on West Alameda Street, Mille recently celebrated their first anniversary in Santa Fe. Marcel Remillieux and his wife, Stephanie, started Fleur de Lys in Los Alamos in 2017 where they enjoyed great success in the small scientific town. But when their lease was not renewed, they decided to take a leap of faith and relocate to the big city. And what a smart move it was – for them and us.
I have been to Mille many times but returned on a bright and sunny winter Sunday morning for brunch to find it hopping with a line of at least 10 people in front of me – and a mostly full house of diners. Looking around, I quickly felt we could be anywhere as there were people speaking French, Spanish and English. The indoor space and covered outdoor patio was filled with couples, young adults and families. Everyone was basking in the casual French atmosphere and glorious brunch smells of butter, eggs and bread.
The menu is simple and straightforward, but with plenty of decadent French items you know and love including Croque Madame ($13.95) and Croissants. With menu headings of Brunch, Crepes (Savory and Sweet), Lunch and Cold Sandwiches, you will also find a case of baked goods and a variety of beverages including a wide array of excellent coffee drinks made using a special blend from 35° North, teas, hot chocolate, matcha latte, chai latte and a short but serious list of 100% French wines which pair well with the dishes on the menu. Of the exquisite coffee, Remillieux says, “When I was a LANL scientist, one of my colleagues was the father of the 35° North roaster. His coffee is consistent and it’s an amazing partnership for us.” Hint – don’t miss the coffee.
Having previously tried the Quiche Lorraine ($11.25), I opted for the Quiche Florentine ($11.25) and was smitten. The kitchen graciously heated the quiche and it was extra! Let’s start with the crust. Buttery and tender but sturdy, it has heft and weight for the soft eggs, ricotta and spinach. All quiches are served with a side of mixed greens and a delicious Dijon vinaigrette, made with only five ingredients – spicy French mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
One dining companion was in the mood for a crêpe. When her Nordic Crêpe ($12.50) arrived, she was reveling in the generous serving of smoked salmon. A perfect crêpe was filled with Swiss cheese and a schmear of sour cream, and topped with plenty of smoked salmon and briny capers. My friend proclaimed this dish reminds her of “a traditional Sunday bagel with smoked salmon in a crêpe.”
My other companion opted for the Hungry Man Special and dove into the Monte Cristo sandwich ($13.35). This monster of a sandwich is filled with ham, turkey and Gruyere cheese, dipped in egg batter and then pan-fried for the perfect combination of ooey-gooey deliciousness. But that’s not all. Then they douse the sandwich with raspberry jam and a dusting of powdered sugar. Just because. And a side of greens. He loved the savory and sweet combination and how the jam really complemented the cheese. Needless to say, there was nothing left on his plate.
In previous visits, I have enjoyed a Salade Niçoise ($14.35), a French favorite. Mixed greens are topped with haricot verts, hard-boiled egg, baby potatoes, tomatoes, anchovies, Niçoise olives and seared tuna, with a side of Dijon vinaigrette. The salad is substantial but feels totally wholesome because it is. What’s next on my list of items to try is the Salade Roquefort ($13.95) that features spring mix and arugula, Roquefort cheese, walnuts, sliced apples and pears and a balsamic vinaigrette.
More hearty appetites will fall hard for the Moules (mussels) Marinières with Fries ($19). Called sailor’s mussels, the broth is made with wine, butter, garlic, shallots, parsley and lemon, and it’s succulent. I had this one day when lunching with a new friend. Served with a side of fries and toasted baguette, you will love dipping both into the savory broth once the mussels have disappeared. True Francophiles will not be able to pass up the Cassoulet ($21.50), Raclette ($16.50) and Escargots ($8.50). These seriously French dishes are some of the best in town.
And let’s not forget about the sandwiches which can easily be enjoyed on the run or not. Each of the five sandwiches ($8.75-$9.85) feature Mille’s homemade French baguette with assorted fillings including classic Jambon-Beurre (ham and butter), Campagnard (pork pâté and cornichons), and other recognizable French sandwiches.
Bread lovers will be happy to know that the artisan baguettes and whole sourdough loafs are available for preordering, but with a limited supply. Remillieux says, “Everything is preorder. People know this and send me an email to place an order. While we are not a bakery, we make eight loaves of sourdough bread each day so I have time for making cakes for special orders. We have the capacity to sell five loaves. When we sell out, we sell out, and then we start fresh the next day.”
Upon arrival, you will be entranced with the bounty of French pastries and desserts that stare at you from the refrigerated case – begging you to “pick me.” Eclairs, tarts, macarons, cream puffs, lemon and chocolate tarts, and more. The most popular item is the Almond Croissant ($4.45) and it is light in color and absolutely amazing, slightly crisp exterior and delightfully moist interior. Simply divine. The Almond-Pear Cake ($5.95) is naturally gluten-free and made with the same almond cream used in the almond croissants, which makes it dense, sweet and delicious. We also sampled the Fruit Tart ($5.95) with vanilla custard and topped with gorgeous assorted berries making you feel like as though you are eating a healthy dessert. And then there are the classic French macarons ($2.25 each). These bite-sized, melt-in-your-mouth morsels will tantalize your tastebuds with plenty of flavors including mango, passion fruit, mocha and lemon.
For the historians and genealogists reading this, you’ll appreciate Remillieux’s choice of naming the café Mille. Yes, it seems like it is taken from his last name, but this name is homage to his grandparents’ bakery in Ajaccio, Corsica, a French island, Mille Pâtisserie. He says, “The original name is my anchor because I grew up in the bakery.”
Remillieux knew this tribute would both honor his grandparents and provide an avenue to rebirth this French café for Santa Fe residents and tourists. And, in short time, they have built a café that consistently provides authentic French cuisine at seriously affordable prices. The next time you are craving a taste of France, you know where to go.