Monday, November 27, 2006

C&C: La Maison du Pain

Knowing how I stalk the Wilshire Vista neighborhood, someone turned me on to an LA Times article* about a year ago: two Filipino (Filipina?) sisters had opened a French bakery on Pico, just east of Hauser. Their experience was in accounting and bookkeeping, so this certainly wasn't the obvious path, but they had a dream and wanted badly to make it happen. The article was interesting because as it was written, they were in the thick of the struggle. They juggled debts while scrambling to fill orders for Beverly Hills hotels; they had nephews and cousins helping out in the kitchen; they lost sleep and hoped and prayed, but they were not out of the woods. It was almost like the author was using the article as a plea, to get people to go to the bakery and make sure they thrive.

It appears to have worked. A year later, I (finally!) made it into this friendly bake shop, and I must say, you are pleasantly knocked out by the sweet smell of the place the minute you walk in. Its style is minimalistic, but the gorgeous baguettes, financiers, tarts, and fresh loaves of all sizes, coupled with the smiling faces behind the counter, are decoration enough. One wall is a large window on the shop's prep area, revealing a pair of Kitchen-Aids standing side-by-side, one black, one white, like the bride and groom atop a wedding cake. Beside them sat a cast-iron pan filled with apples, waiting eagerly to become a tarte tatin.

Although there is no coffee on the menu (in fact there is no menu, other than the display case itself), cappuccino is indeed available. Mine came presweetened, and I took it and my croissant to one of the small tables outside. The croissant was a hefty thing, and this concerned me: large ones are often reminiscent of the Costco variety. It had a little dampness going on inside, but the crust had some body, and it definitely had that taste, the subtle but amazing flavor of browned butter that, in the world of croissants, separates the hommes from the garçons.

The cappuccino was similarly virtuosic. The espresso was strong, but not bitter, and the milky foam tasted straight off the farm. People go to fancy avant garde restaurants in Barcelona, make reservations 2 years in advance, to experience foams flavored like carrots or nutmeg. But here it was on Pico, sitting scooped on a rusk of croissant: airy froth with just a mellow afterthought of coffee flavor.

As I sat and had my breakfast, a steady stream of people walked in and out of La Maison du Pain. It's inspiring to know that with a lot of hard work and a loving support, and a generous nod from the local paper, the sweetest of dreams can come true.

La Maison du Pain is at 5373 West Pico Boulevard, 1 1/2 blocks east of Hauser.

* That article is no longer available for free, but here is another one from the about same time from the Phillipine News Online.

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