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Bistros in Paris are strictly mom & pop affairs. Small cafes that can be found in every neighborhood, they serve affordable meals for the working class. In addition to simple, hearty soups, sandwiches, croissants, and coffee, each bistro will offer several specialty dishes, such as Coq au Vin, Poulet a l'Ail, Rouget a la Provencal, Steak au Pauvre, and Steak Frites, often rotating availability depending on the day and what's fresh in the market. For soul food, this is where the French go.
If you live in the States, finding places like these are difficult, to say the least. If you're not eyeing the few restaurants in your area attempting to peddle haute cuisine, you're braving the rash of pretentious chain cafes/boulangeries like Grain d'Or or *twitch* Panera that have fungally infested high-end shopping malls across the country. Luckily for me, there's a bistro a few blocks from my office where I can get a less-filtered taste of France. It’s called, amusingly enough, Taste of France.
Taste of France offers a number of baked goods and desserts, made off-site in a nearby bakery also owned by the same family. Most of their offerings are simple sandwiches containing meat and/or cheese, made using the large bread rolls from their bakery. They also offer quiche, crepes, and a few soups. There are three specials; Rotisserie Chicken, Tomato Wine Chicken, and Mustard chicken. Only one is available on any given day. The specials are classic French bistro dishes, but the owners haven't bothered to include the French names in the menu listings.
Dishes I've tried at the Taste of France include:
* Rotisserie Chicken special - Half of a small, roasted chicken, a mound of parsley mashed potatoes wrapped in a crepe, a mixed greens and apple salad with a side of vinaigrette, and three slices of soft, white bread. The chicken was perfectly seasoned, crusted with herbs, and roasted until tender and juicy. It practically fell apart when I applied my fork and melted in my mouth. The parsley mashed potatoes were good, but not as impressive. The salad was nice and fresh. The tart sweetness of the apples paired very nicely with the vinaigrette.
* Split Pea with Ham - Warm and unctuous, the salty bits of ham speckling the soup added a nice body.
* French Onion Soup - The caramelized richness of the onion really shone through. It was closer to authentic French Onion Soup than the flavor-blasted versions I've tried elsewhere.
* Leek & Potato Quiche - Very good, with thin slices of potato and large pieces of buttery leek. The curd was flavorful and firm without being dry. The crust was tender and flaky, just the way I like it.
* Ham & Cheese Quiche - Very good. Large chunks of ham, thinly sliced potato, and melted tendrils of some white cheese threaded their way through the savory curd.
Taste of France
7304 Center Drive
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
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