A taste of France has found its way to our shores.
In taking vacations from the restaurant they owned and operated in the Alps, Sylvie and Stephane Cellier were frequent travelers to the United States. However, when they discovered the Central Coast, “we fell in love with it it’s paradise,” said Stephane.
They sold their ski resort restaurant, moved here and began the process of opening for business — no easy task when you are brand new to a country.
“We were almost ready to give up,” the Celliers admit, “But some people here really helped us. Without them, there would be no restaurant.”
After about a year in the works, Le Petit Café quietly opened in Arroyo Grande in mid-May. What was a Mexican restaurant had been transformed into “a real Parisian café” with a crisp black, white and red palette playing off dozens of photographs of the City of Light.
During their travels here, the Celliers had noticed that many French restaurants tended to be “upscale and expensive.” They wanted to create a place that was “simple and affordable, with quality ingredients,” much like the places that everyday French people would patronize on a regular basis.
In developing the menu, the couple turned to the traditional French recipes they knew, which should be a clue that you’ll find lots of freshly baked breads and a hearty sprinkling of dairy products throughout.
Sandwiches include Le Jambon-Brie-Salade (Black Forest ham, Brie cheese, lettuce and tomatoes on half of a baguette), Le Pan Bagnat (tuna, tomatoes, olives, onions, hard boiled egg and mayo on brioche bread), and Le Fromage (a grilled sandwich that lives up to its name with goat cheese, blue cheese and Swiss cheese).
The house-made breads are also used in “fougasses” (akin to Italian focaccia bread) and “tartines” (think grilled open-faced sandwich). Favorites include the La Cote D’Azur tartine with garlic, tomatoes, smoked ham, Swiss cheese and herbs, and the fougasse topped with goat cheese, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, honey and walnuts is a fun combination of taste and texture.
Other classics such as Quiche Lorraine, Croque-Monsieur and Oignon Soup (Stephane makes his with white wine instead of red) are available, as are refreshing salads and several pizzas.Though not typically thought of as French fare, pizza is widely available, especially in casual bistros and brasseries. Of course, there’s a four-cheese version available here, and even a La Pigalle with pepperoni, but a surprise gem is La Normande with fried chicken breast, onions and basil.
Of course, dessert is not given short shrift here. Sylvie handles the café’s pastry chef duties (Stephane spearheads the kitchen’s savory dishes), and in addition to all those from-scratch breads, she turns out temptations such as éclairs, fresh fruit tartlets and Trianon, a classic French cake with velvety chocolate and crunchy hazelnuts.
Each weekend evening, Le Petit Café has also been featuring a prix fixe showcasing dishes from different French regions; one recent menu featured a traditional savory tart pie from Alsace known as Flammenküche. In addition, the restaurant will soon be opening for breakfast, offering either a simple option — a croissant, orange juice, coffee — or heartier fare such as omelettes and French toast.
The Celliers hope to impart a bit of France not only with their food, but also with the ambiance of their eatery. Their aim is for Le Petit Café to become like its many counterparts in Paris, “where people come to gather and share conversation, or just relax and take a peaceful moment in the day,” Sylvie said.