I have plenty of fond memories of dining solo — routinely splurging on pierogi in Manhattan, cozying up to a six-seat sushi bar in Kyoto, running rampant in a Singapore food court as I filled my plastic tray with as many dishes as would fit. In the middle of a bustling city, solitary pleasures are sometimes underrated.
But without a doubt, some places are simply better with a gang of hungry friends.
Much as I'd impulsively go to Glendale's Le Chalet all by my lonesome, just to eat a crêpe or some fondue when the craving strikes, the experience is much more fun with companionship. Crêpes here are big enough to share, and fondue is one of those do-it-yourself treats best enjoyed in a happy huddle around a heated tabletop pot. Dueling fondue forks, decadent food, and a little wine make a blissful combination.
Michele Laudig Cafe
5626 West Bell Road, Glendale
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
The food here is luscious, with a lovely, old-school European touch. Executive chef Anthony Ferré has been cooking since age 15, and since he attended culinary school in Paris, his career has given him the opportunity to cook for an elite group of discerning palates: the French prime minister, French, Swiss, and Canadian consulates, and representatives from the U.S. Embassy. He later went on to run a catering company in Georgia.
It's delightful that Ferré's now cooking for the masses at this charming spot, which he co-owns with longtime friend Alain Keller. They've created a space that's got the rustic feel of an old Swiss lodge, with handsome wooden tables, a fireplace, and stone masonry throughout. There's also a massive white blob carved out of the front dining room that looks suspiciously like a snow cave — complete with a pair of old snowshoes nearby — that's actually a small stage.
Besides live music, entertainment also comes via live video feed behind the bar, where you can see what's going on in the kitchen. So in case you weren't already hungry, you can get an up-close glimpse of your crêpes being prepared.
Just as fun to watch was Le Chalet's bartender, Robbie, who was also my server. When he wasn't doting on me and my dining companions, carefully explaining each dish in a very gracious, unpretentious manner, we'd see him behind the bar, nonchalantly slinging bottles of booze as if pouring a cocktail were a Cirque du Soleil feat.
Our mouths were watering just from the rich smell of melted butter that permeates the air here, so a complimentary Swiss tartine appetizer — gooey, golden melted cheese on a toasted slice of bread, cut into small strips — only intensified our lust for fondue.
Two slices of peppercorn-studded pork pâté de campagne were appealing in their presentation, arranged with three herb-dusted toasts, pearl onions, gherkins, and a tomato fashioned into a rose on a wooden platter. I would've loved some more toast to go with the portion of pâté, but was otherwise pleased with how the earthy meat flavor was perked up with those tiny pickles.
We also shared an order of tartiflette, a deceptively decadent casserole of potatoes, onions, bacon, heavy cream, and Raclette cheese layered into a small cast iron skillet. It arrived at the table, still bubbling from the oven, oozing cream. Smoky bacon flavor infused each bite.
There were two kinds of savory fondue to try, and both were scrumptious. White wine gave the Swiss cheese version a tangy, aromatic dimension. Soaked into chunks of baguette, it was irresistibly comforting — the kind of thing that you can't stop eating even when reason tells you there's more food on the way. Dishes started to fill the table, and I finally took a hint.
Chunks of beef fondue cooked in hot oil were outstanding on their own — I cooked them for a bit less than the recommended time, and they turned out so tender and juicy. A quartet of dips (sweet curry, creamy "Bourgignon" cocktail sauce, Dijon mustard, and homemade tartar, flecked with pickle, caper, and onion) was perfect for mixing and matching.
It was tough to choose from among several different entrée crêpes — not many restaurants serve them, so I wanted to try them all. I went with the Bergère and the Méditerranée. The former was filled with sweet, kicky, homemade ratatouille, with roasted slices of chèvre on top for a creamy contrast. The latter had sautéed leeks wrapped into a neat square, with a few sea scallops on top. Although the scallops needed a bit less cooking time and the leeks a little more, velvety saffron sauce made the dish quite tasty.
Fondue and crêpes make up the majority of the menu, but the house specialty is neither one. "La Potence," nicknamed "The Hanging Man," turned out to be one of the best beef-eating experiences I've had in a long time, and quite a performance.
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Picture this: A cook in a black beret wheels out a table bearing a plate of wild rice and a spiked metal cylinder suspended above it. Chunks of beef and a slice of roasted pineapple are stuck to the spikes, enough for two people to share. Before you know it, the cook has set the whole thing aflame with a dousing of whisky, and the juices drip all over the rice. Once the flambé is finished, you mix herbed butter into the rice, and nibble on the beef with more of those dipping sauces.
It was simultaneously contrived, primal, and deliriously good.
And yes, even the sweets can be an amusement. Along with various cream and chocolate-filled crêpes, there's dessert fondue that should not be missed. I went with salted butter caramel — an old family recipe — served with mounds of strawberries, apples, brownie cubes, and cream puffs. After eating all that meat, the rush of warm, silky, sugary caramel gave me a satiated buzz. Mmm.
I have a feeling I won't have trouble getting friends to join me the next time I want some.