SANTA FE, N.M. — If you have been around Santa Fe long enough to remember Cafe Paris, a pleasant French restaurant that sat along Burro Alley for many years, you have probably tasted the cooking of chef Paul Perrier.
Well, Chef Paul is back. He is baking up a storm at Chez Mamou, a French bakery and cafe on East Palace, a couple blocks east of the Plaza.
This little cafe, which is now open for dinner as well as breakfast and lunch, offers a limited but ample menu of French-style choices. The food reminds me of the cuisine at the old Cafe Paris, but with breakfast-brunch choices as well as lunch. Dinner features specials including rack of lamb.
The ambiance is simple and welcoming with some small tables with chairs and a second group of tables with seating on a padded banco, a bench built into wall. (The cafe shares a storefront with a jewelry store.) The large windows facing Palace Avenue catch the sun, and a glass wall separates the dining area from the kitchen space, adding more light. You can’t miss the large glasses cases filled with a mouth-watering display of p astries, breads, cookies and other treats. The selections are large and beautiful.
My friend and I started with coffee and a selection from the bakery cafe. He opted for the almond croissant, a luscious creation of pastry, almond paste, sugar nuts, butter and culinary magic. It was tender and not overly sweet, an ideal companion for a morning coffee. The server asked if he wanted it warmed.
I had a hard time deciding. The apricot Danish looked almost too good to eat. The chocolate croissants were golden brown, and I could see the chocolate on the edges. The cheese Danish had received rave reviews from a friend who knows her pastries.
In the end, I picked a croissant, a beautiful, flaky golden, buttery delight. When asked, I requested butter and jam. I didn’t use the butter, but the jam was great, a homemade strawberry puree that tasted like fresh fruit with the smallest touch of sugar. When the bill came, I was surprised to see a separate $1.25 charge for it, puzzled that it was not included with the pastry. The waiter said it’s because they make it in-house.
The table next to us enjoyed beautiful lattes served in oversize coffee cups. And, like us, complained about the butter and jam charge.
We also ordered an egg dish and a sandwich from the menu. Again, both were excellent, fresh and well prepared. Unlike the oversize pastries, the main dishes are modest. You get all the food you need here, but you won’t have to ask for the “to go” box. The only bad news at Chez Mamou was the bill – $39.75 before the tip for breakfast for the two of us.
My eggs Florentine ($13.95) were marked by a fresh, delicious Hollandaise with just a touch of lemon. The dish, a version of the classic Eggs Benedict which substitutes spinach for Canadian bacon, features poached eggs. These were perfect, neither too runny nor too hard. The English muffins which served as the base were toasted but grew soft from the moisture in the fresh spinach and the egg and sauce. The dish came with a lovely fresh salad of tossed greens with a mustard-flavored dressing and some potatoes with a bit of parsley.
My friend’s Croque Madame ($11.45) came with the same accompaniments. This classic French take on the basic ham and cheese sandwich is first-rate here, right down to the fried egg on top. The ingredients are deceptively simple: two pieces of buttered white bread with several thin slices of ham and Gruyère cheese in between and a bit of sauce on top to moisten and add character. The Bechemel had a subtle touch of garlic. The combination of nutty, stringy Gruyère; soft, salty ham and buttery bread topped with an egg makes a lovely meal. The bread here was especially good, sturdy enough to hold its own despite the fillings.
The day we visited, our waiter had two other tables, and service was friendly and relaxed. There’s no pressure to move on here. In fact, this isn’t the place to come for more than a pastry and coffee if you’re in a hurry..