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The Beach Gourmet: Champagne: French Bakery Café:

With over 16 locations in California, Champagne French Bakery and Café has fast developed a reputation as a first choice for affordable breakfasts, lunches and early dinners with a continental flair, and also some of the most attractive and delectable pastries and desserts available. I recently visited one of their locations, situated right on the border of Santa Monica and West L.A., at Colonial Corners, 11709 National Boulevard, and quickly realized that this chain was rather unique, inasmuch as it retains the quality of an independent family-owned affair, but affords the diner a reliable and trustworthy menu, a rarity these days.

The menu is large enough to allow a fickle diner to be satisfied, and small enough to not confuse. With a range of salads, sandwiches, tartines (open-faced sandwiches on organic bread with spring salad or French fries), French panini and quiche, this bistro is a convenient stop for an elegant but casual meal in a comfortable atmosphere. I would be tempted to describe Champagne as a kind of up-market fast food joint, but I think that it is more apropos to call it “le menu rapide,” given that the dishes are clearly more elegant but arrive without the wait.

Arriving at lunchtime on a Saturday, the cozy but spacious restaurant was bustling, with the petit patio appearing rather popular. I chose, given the cooler temperatures and my lack of suitable attire, to sit inside this comfortable eatery.

The protocol here is that one stands in line, orders and pre-pays at the checkout, and is given a table number marker, then chooses where to sit. A cool and efficient alternative, allowing one to enjoy the freedom of café seating style while allowing the servers to know exactly who ordered what, and where they are.

All of the menu items are splendidly affordable, with most dishes in the $6-8 range, making Champagne a place for the masses. With lunch choices ranging from Parisian Salad (candied pecans, apples, raisins, dried cranberries, gorgonzola, red onions and shallots tossed with mixed greens and hearts of romaine in a balsamic vinaigrette, $7.29) to Garlic Chicken Panini (chicken breast, Swiss cheese, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, onion and garlic mayo, $7.59), I settled on an old favorite of mine, and a classic French staple, the spinach and goat cheese quiche (creamed spinach, goat cheese and egg custard in a pastry shell served with French fries or salad, $7.59).

In reference to the “fast food” benefits of Champagne, this is how it went: I ordered, took a table, went to the beverage station and poured myself a cup of good, strong and hot French blend coffee, returned to said table, read one small paragraph of the Santa Monica Mirror and hey presto, my quiche was within reach!

This was a good-sized individual pie with a firm egg custard awash in a creamed spinach and goat cheese mix, with a subtle but satisfying flavor. The fries were perfect French style, and a more than sufficient portion was served.

I just could not resist sampling one of the cakes that were glistening temptingly in the large glass display cabinet, and after a quick scan, chose the “Princess.” This was a devilish recipe comprised of layers of chocolate mouse, almond sponge cake and praline crisp, topped with a chocolate ganache. How was it? Let’s just say if I had a passion for dieting I would either capitulate or campaign for this to be regulated! It was that good!

Champagne French bakery and Café… I propose a toast!

Champagne, 11709 National Blvd., LA 90064, 310.231.9700

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