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The French Gourmet

960 Turquoise Street, Pacific Beach

“This is on me,” says Carla. “I’ve been saving. True! Ever since you didn’t take me out on my birthday. You forgot, remember?”

Sigh. Yes, I remember. I forgot.

“Where?” I say. “And how much?”

“Place Eva took me. Best hollandaise sauce in the world. It’s French.”

She knows she has me on the ropes with that one, because, confession: I like the French. So many ways, they just get it. Cafés, food, wine, Piaf, and did I mention cafés?

So here we are, Carla, me, and our neighbor Linda. Linda’s the expert. She went to chef school, wore the tall toque hat. We’re waiting for a table, sitting amongst a bunch of people who look like they all came over in their Miatas and Z4s. It’s nice in here, cozy, in a sunny, French Côte d’Azur way. Conversation burbles against a background of dreamy French pop songs.

“Aah,” Carla sighs. “That’s Françoise Hardy, ‘Comment Te Dire Adieu’ — ‘How to Say Goodbye to You.’”

Me, I’ve got hold of the menu, wondering How to Say Goodbye to here without applying for Chapter 11. Duo of duck, $26.95; scaloppini de veau, $29.95. Filet mignon, $28.95; with shrimp scampi, $33.95. Be still, my thumpin’ heart. I spot a sign, painted on the wall above the cash register, brown letters on a yellow banner: “It’s always a delicious day at the French Gourmet.”

“‘It’s always a delicious debt at the French Gourmet,’ ” I mutter.

“Now, Bedford, settle down,” Carla says. “You’re looking at the wrong pages.”

Oh, right…sure ’nuff, the menu’s front pages are a different kettle of poisson. Here, we’re talking 10, 13 euros for a main dish. I see breakfast and lunch are both served until 3:00.

Our name is called. “Let’s sit in one of those salmon-colored booths,” I say.

“Terra cotta,” Linda says.

“Banquettes,” says Carla.

Seated, I ask the ladies, “What’ll we have? Breakfast or lunch?”

“Breakfast,” Linda says.

“Petit déjeuner,” says Carla. “This is why we’re here. The hollandaise. The eggs Benedict.”

I check the menu. Eggs Benedict is $12.95. “Piperade,” an eggy thing with serrano ham, is $12.95 too. The florentine omelet ($11.95) is stuffed with creamed spinach, ham, and hollandaise. The brie cheese omelet ($12.95) sounds pretty wicked. Or, hey a three-egg omelet filled with sautéed apples ($11.95)? A definite starter.

They also have crêpes. The seafood’s $12.95, the ham and cheese with béchamel is $10.95, and the florentine runs $11.95.

But drinks first. The waiter, Miguel, gets Carla a glass of water, Linda an iced tea ($1.95), and me a cawfee ($1.95, but no refills).

And now I’m thinking lunch. Bunch of panini, of course, around $10–$11, soups…hmm… I spot soupe à l’onion gratinée ($4.95). Or soup of the day and half a panino for $9.95. Or croque monsieur and mixed greens salad (also $9.95). This croque’s ham, melted Swiss, and béchamel between “white canapé bread,” whatever “canapé” is.

Here’s what really interests me: A $9.50 pâté sampler, a salade niçoise ($12.95), steamed mussels ($12.95), or the ratatouille, a mix of mostly eggplant, which I love, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes, over couscous ($12.95).

Miguel’s back. “Ready?” he asks.

“Absolutely,” says Carla. “Eggs Benedict.”

“Florentine crepes,” says Linda.

“Hey, why don’t we share that pâté sampler,” I say, “and then I’ll have the ratatouille. And…do you have wine by the glass?” Miguel says yes, including a nice French burgundy. L’Abbaye de Saint-Ferme, 2004. It’s $9.95 per glass. “Okay,” I say. Can’t believe it. Just blown 30-some-odd bucks in one breath.

“Could have been worse,” Carla says. “See? She points to a bottle of Chateau Margaux. Eighteen hundred buckeroos.

The food is served. Miguel pours me my burgundy. Is it worth a Hamilton? Honest truth, I never know how good a wine is. This has flavor, and a peppery finish. But combine it with the pâtés — the chicken liver, which has port wine in it, the rougher “country” pork pâté, and, ’specially, the duck pâté (flavored up with pepper and cognac) — plus the onion chutney and olives you can add, and you’ve got one mouth-warming taste explosion. Same when you take a glug with the garlic potatoes.

Linda gives me a taste of her hollandaise-spinach-ham crepe. What I like is the lightness. Carla’s eggs Benedict are fresh too, and the hollandaise sure feels as if it has just been whipped up.

“Benedictine monks invented this?” I ask Linda.

“No way,” she says. “It came from Delmonico’s in New York.”

Huh. Think I’ll stick with the monk picture I’ve always had.

My ratatouille? It’s fine, with all these other veggies swirling around the eggplant bits, couscous in the middle, and a square plate of home fries. But it’s the pâtés and the burgundy that really hit the spot. Just before we leave, Michel Malécot, the affable owner, comes up to check on his guests. Turns out he makes his own pâtés. And breads. And hollandaise sauces. He’s been open for 30 years.

The bill ends up being $74.99, say $25 each, but that includes four ten-buck-type dishes and the soup. And the wine/coffee/tea. You come out feeling you’ve, well, lived a little. Next time though, I’ll keep it simple: pâtés and burgundy, period.

The Place: French Gourmet, 960 Turquoise Street, Pacific Beach, 858-488-1725
Type of Food: French
Prices: Eggs Benedict, $12.95; Pipérade with serrano ham, $12.95; florentine omelet, $11.95; brie cheese omelet, $12.95; omelet filled with sautéed apples, $11.95; ham and cheese crepe, $10.95; spinach and goat cheese crepe, $12.95; French onion soup, $4.95 (cup), $6.95 (bowl); soup, half panino, $9.95; croque monsieur, mixed greens, $9.95; pâté sampler, $9.50; salade niçoise, $12.95; steamed mussels, fries, salad, $12.95; ratatouille, couscous, $12.95
Hours: Breakfast and lunch, 8:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. seven days; dinner, 4:00–9:00 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday; closed for dinner on Sundays and Mondays
Bus: 30
Nearest Bus Stops: Mission Boulevard and Turquoise Street

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