Little bakery, big ambition
The Little French Bakery has a remarkably wide selection of sweets and savories, but don’t get your heart set on a particular item
Among my thousands of vacation pictures, there are probably hundreds of images of bakeries all over the world. I’m notorious among my travel companions for not being able to pass one without at least slowing down, and preferably stopping to admire the breads, pies, pastries, and whatever else came out of that oven. If we’re not coming straight from a meal I’ll want to try some, but at least I need to look.
Naturally, when a bakery opens in the South Bay, I’m usually on the doorstep the next day to see what they do. Are they making sweets, savories, or both, do they bring some regional or traditional style, is there something wonderful, strange, or innovative?
The Little French Bakery in Riviera Village has been a challenge for me. The pastry case in their tiny space next to Coffee Cartel has a constantly changing selection, which shifts over the course of the day as more items come out of the oven and are pillaged from the display case. Master baker Guillaume Sabbadin, who runs the bakery with his wife Deborah, apparently wants to demonstrate his skills at the entire variety of French baking. As you look at the array it’s hard to believe that all those pastries and come out of the almost comically small oven in the corner. The chocolate croissants, eclairs, danishes, fruit-filled brioches, macarons, and other items use many different techniques. It’s a flamboyant demonstration of skill for a tiny operation.
Many small bakeries would offer this selection of desserts and call it a day, but that apparently isn’t sufficient for Guillaume. They make classic baguettes and occasionally brioche, and the menu lists crepes and quiches along with occasional specials like French-style pizza.
What, you haven‘t heard of French pizza? Think of a regular pizza but with a light, flaky crust that’s almost puff pastry, topped with cheeses from several countries. The mix I experienced was artichoke, red bell pepper, tomato sauce, and goat cheese with a dusting of green herbs. It was luscious. Some days they offer a five cheese pizza that includes blue and brie. On other days, there are no pizzas offered at all, though savory tarts with a similar character may be found in the display case.
You won’t know about the French pizza, or about anything else on the menu for that matter, until you’re at the front door, because they have no online menu and the information is on a chalkboard that you can’t see from outside. It would probably be better to have this menu also posted outdoors for the people in line, but since the selection can change during the course of the day the logistics could be challenging. What can be said with certainty is that they always have sandwiches and crepes, plus a rotating selection of other items. I advise going inside with an open mind. You might be all set to order something, suddenly see one of their rich, buttery quiches coming out of the kitchen, and that could change your mind in a flash.
On the other hand, sometimes you just want a sandwich on one of their baguettes, which has the crisp crust and spongy interior that is the perfect platform for a French-style sandwich. I’ll mention what selections are offered, but first, a word about the aesthetics of French sandwiches.
The classic American deli sandwich is usually stacked high with meat and cheese and sometimes exuberantly sauced, while the French generally prefer thinner layers of fillings and a thin spread of mayonnaise, aioli, or butter, if there’s any dressing at all. The French sandwich accents the baguette, while the American deli sandwich uses the bread as a way to not be seen cramming deli meats into your mouth. As much as I enjoy a stacked pastrami or corned beef, the French sandwich has a winning range of textures and flavors. Little French Bakery has the classics, like French ham and swiss with cornichon pickles, roast beef with arugula and tomato, and a vegetarian caprese, and also some American flavors presented the French way. The roast turkey with bacon, avocado, pepper jack, and arugula had a chipotle sauce with a nice kick, and the salmon and avocado with cream cheese was enlivened with a lemon sauce.
Little French Bakery makes crepes, too, though they’re currently using a white flour batter for all crepes rather than the traditional buckwheat for the savory, and white for dessert items. They plan to start making buckwheat batter soon, which has a nutty flavor and crisper texture, but even without it the flavors are fine. I ordered a ham, Emmenthal cheese, and tomato crepe that turned out quite nicely and was a fine lunch for nine bucks.
The Little French Bakery started as a farmers market stall and only transitioned to a permanent location early this year. So as small as the place is, it’s a step up from setting up and tearing down every day. Now that their fans can find them on a regular schedule, there’s a line almost all the time (don’t worry, it usually moves fast). However this popularity has its downside: the place sometimes closes early because they have run out of everything. That’s a problem a lot of business owners would love to have, but Deborah seems pained as she has to disappoint would-be customers. In the last month they have added staff, so perhaps an even greater supply of goodness may be wrung from some corner of the kitchen. For now, go as early as you can and be flexible, because whatever you get, it’s going to have the authentic taste of France.
The Little French Bakery is at 1820 S. Catalina in Riviera Village. Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wed. through Mon. Parking lot. Some outdoor tables. No alcohol. (310) 504-0245.
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