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French Twist

Written by , published January 20, 2011

In the past few months, I've had the good fortune to dine at a handful of French-inspired brasseries and bistros in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. And I just got wind of a new spot—Lüke, the first Texas restaurant by New Orleans chef John Besh—that is winning raves in San Antonio for such French favorites as mussels and seafood meunière, all rendered with a Louisiana twist. Then, as I wondered whether this new infusion of French cuisine is a trend or simply a coincidence, I learned of a new spot in Austin that focuses on French pastries and those jewel-like cookies known as macarons, which are giving cupcakes a run for their money nationwide as 2011's hottest dessert treat.

La Pâtisserie, which occupies a small clapboard house on Austin's Annie Street, not far from the shops, restaurants, and nightclubs of South Congress Avenue, offers a small but well-conceived menu of such classic French pastries as chocolate éclairs, almond brioche buns, croissants, lemon sable cookies, pear galettes, and delicately flavored madeleines. Owner and Cordon Bleu-educated baker Soraiya Nagree, whose love affair with France (and French pastry) was born on her first trip the country at age 10, plans to start serving lunch here soon.

And what about those macarons? I know it's a cliché, but they're almost too pretty to eat—think delicately colored buttons of meringue and almonds, flavored with hints of exotic ingredients like cardamom and rose. On a recent visit to La Patisserie, I sampled chocolate and raspberry versions and savored every crunchy-chewy nibble. The bakery case tempted me with gorgeously displayed pastries, so I took a few home to enjoy with coffee the next morning. Or at least that was the plan. The pear “morning bun”—a flaky, fruity, cinnamon-y pastry that reminded me of an elegant sweet roll—disappeared before midnight.

But the pain au chocolate—a beautiful pastry made with croissant dough encasing a whorl of dark chocolate—added a sophisticated touch to my breakfast the next morning. With that jaunty song “Les Champs-Elysees” by the late French-American pop star Joe Dassin as my soundtrack, I sipped a cup of stout coffee (avec lait!) and thought of my French teacher from high school, Dodie Cheek, who liked to tell her students how Parisians never felt guilty about eating desserts (or drinking wine at lunchtime, for that matter). Here's to you, Mrs. Cheek. Visit La Pâtisserie at 602 West Annie; call 512/912-0033; www.lpaustin.com.

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