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A Taste of Europe

By Juliet McShannon
Staff Writer

September 10 -- A whistlestop culinary tour of Europe now takes just a short stroll around the Third Street Promenade.

Within a matter of blocks, you can breakfast in a Belgium country farmhouse, enjoying a baker’s basket of organic artisan bread with a decadent Belgian praline spread, and then sink your teeth into a French Grand Marnier crepe as you lunch in a Moulin Rouge kaleidoscope of red, black and white.

Finally, after a little window shopping, you can step into the cool marine blue and white interior of an authentic Italian gelati parlor and sample a scoop or two of Blueberry Ripple, Mandorla Toastata or sweet Lemon Death.

No plane ticket is required to enjoy the tri-European eating experience offered by Le Pain Quotidien Bakery, Angeleto Café and Café Crepe – all of which have opened their doors in the last month on or near the Promenade.

The Belgian-owned Le Pain Quotidien Bakery, translated as The Daily Bread, has just opened its fourth Los Angeles branch on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Third Street. The café/bakery beckons with its window display of organic loaves and wooden shelves filled with jars of dark chocolate spreads, wafers and poiret.

"We want this to be a healthy addition to Santa Monica," says Belgian Operations Manager Mathieu Devaux, former manager of one of the successful New York branches. "All ingredients are organic – from the coffee to the milk to the sugar."

The interior country farmhouse décor is refreshingly uncluttered with the artwork limited to an eclectic arrangement of tractor seats hanging on the walls. The dining area includes a large communal table seating 24 people. "Its all about the sharing experience," says Devaux.

The café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu that is a mixture of country French with a Belgian twist. "We want this to be a place where you can buy your organic bread as well as have a nice breakfast or a quick bite among friends, perhaps before catching a movie," Devaux says.

Devaux feels certain that the new Santa Monica branch will soon be as popular as the others.

"We are starting to build our customer base here. We are used to a faster pace with our branches in New York. Los Angeles is a little slower, but Santa Monica is a great city with great people, and in time we will be discovered. We are the kind of place which has loyal regulars."

Angelato Cafe, located on the corner of Arizona and Third, boasts an impossibly long winding display case of over a hundred flavors of Italian ice cream, or gelato. Sounds fattening? Apparently not. Gelato, has 70 percent less fat than normal ice-cream, according to spokesman Paul Gor.

The Italian owned ice-cream parlor is the largest in California with partner locations in Europe and Canada. "We want to serve the community with a fine dessert place," says Gor. "There are no gelato places in Santa Monica, and being so near the beach and the Promenade, this is a perfect location."

The café also serves Italian panini sandwiches, pastries and an assortment of beverages, although both indoor and outdoor seating is limited. "If we do well here, and we already are, then we see no reason why we shouldn’t expand," says Gor.

Café Crepe, located directly on the Promenade is dramatically decorated with large Follies Bergere posters lining the walls.

"We wanted to bring the European Grand Café to Santa Monica,” says owner Kerry Bonnis. “We have used the highest quality of materials in our décor. Nothing but solid cherrywood, granite and marble."

Bonnis, who used to live in Paris and own eateries there, has brought his French partner, who is a chef, to Santa Monica to create the authentic culinary experience.

"Apart from Paris, we have branches in Vancouver and Toronto,” Bonnis said. “We got such positive feedback from Angelenos visiting us there, that it seemed to make sense to open in Los Angeles."

The menu offers sweet and savory crepes from emmenthal cheese and ham, decadent sweet crepes such as hazelnut and banana, as well as a variety of sandwiches and beverages.

The process of landing a spot on the Promenade has taken two and a half years, but was worth the wait, according to Bonnis. "People today work hard and want value for money. They are also more sophisticated and presentation is equally important. Café Crepe offers both."

Bonnis’ only gripe is sleep deprivation, as the lines outside the café continue to snake around the corner.

"We are very, very busy, but I don’t want our success to just be seasonal,” he said. “We hope that people in the suburbs will pinpoint us and make the journey specifically to come and enjoy a European experience in a European setting.

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