Restaurant News & Reviews

Le Petit Marcel in Paso Robles offers a little bit of Laurent at lunch

Lunchtime desserts, like this rice pudding with sliced strawberries, come from Bistro Laurent’s dinner menu.
Lunchtime desserts, like this rice pudding with sliced strawberries, come from Bistro Laurent’s dinner menu.

Le Petit Marcel and Bistro Laurent have many things in common, but vive la différence! Both serve enticing French cuisine created by owner/chef Laurent Grangien, but one serves only lunch, the other only dinner.

Grangien hails from Brittany, France, and began his culinary career at 16 as a chef’s apprentice. He earned his toque in kitchens in Brittany, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nice and ultimately Paris, where he became head chef of Michel Rostang’s lauded restaurant and a partner and chef at the Rostang Group’s Bistro d’a Cote.

The chance to help open their Fennel restaurant in Los Angeles brought Grangien stateside in 1991, and he hasn’t looked back.

Lured to the Central Coast by the family-friendly environment and the emerging wine industry, Grangien and his wife moved to Paso Robles with the ultimate intent of opening their own restaurant. Fittingly, Bistro Laurent opened on Wine Festival Weekend in May 1997, proving the area was hungry for fresh French fare.

“After about a year we thought about opening another restaurant in another location, but simpler, more casual and just for lunch,” remembered Grangien. “That’s why we started it under a different name — Petit Marcel, which is the name of our son. We thought, though, that first we’d just try it out on the patio.”

Le Petit Marcel quietly opened as such, with a festive sandwich board beckoning diners to enjoy an al fresco lunch just outside Bistro Laurent. (During wintertime, seating is available inside as the weather dictates.) The setup seemed to work fine for both patrons and staff, so “after thinking about it, we realized we really didn’t want a second restaurant.”

Le Petit Marcel offers all the compelling flavors and attentive service of Bistro Laurent, because “it’s the same kitchen, the same people and the same ingredients.”

Indeed, the daily lunch special is usually “something from dinner, like a fish with a gratin vegetable,” said Grangien.

He makes seasonal changes to the menu, but you can always count on certain signature French dishes, such as a classic ham and cheese Croque Monsieur sandwich, hearty French onion soup, and true pommes frites — light, crispy, hand-cut, twice-cooked fries with just the right amount of salt.

In addition, Grangien tries to use as much local food as possible in keeping with the French approach of fresh, market cuisine.

As a result, the from-scratch soups may range from tomato basil to cream of wild mushroom, salads can include a silky blue crab and avocado salad or a plate of baby spinach and mushrooms, and sandwiches are typically topped with a cheese complement such as pork tenderloin with a local goat cheese.

Other entree options might run the gamut from a sausage and Kalamata olive pizza to penne pasta with sausage, or from fettuccini with shrimp to a flatiron steak with peppercorn sauce.

Desserts are “the same that we do for dinner,” said Grangien, “rice pudding, beignets, maybe something with fresh berries. We always have a nice cheese plate, and we make our own ice cream and sorbet.”

Though the vast majority of Le Petit Marcel’s dishes are accessible to any diner, Grangien will often introduce some intriguing gourmet ingredients — rabbit, escargot, sweetbreads — that are de rigueur on French menus, but still foreign to many American palates.

“We try to offer something for everyone,” he said, “whether you want to come in a for simple lunch of just soup or salad, or whether you want a special occasion, or maybe you’re visiting the wine country and want something elaborate. We believed in this area, in the wine country — that’s why we came here.”

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune