Cafe Reviews

Plumb Tasty

Now this is a bummer: I've just spent $1.25 for a squat plastic bottle of Glaceau Smart Water, and nothing is happening. My 500 milliliters of snazzy-sounding liquid are almost gone, and I still can't understand a thing my friend is saying.

We're sitting at a cute little table at the cute little Vie de France bistro and bakery next to Kierland, talking about this home-improvement project he's helping me with. And he's trying to explain -- for the 10th time -- why the new tile I picked out for my bathroom won't work, no way, no how. He's got specific reasons, involving things like the size (wrong), the material (completely wrong) and the installation (impossible). But he's not making much headway with me.

The bottle is empty now, and this is still all I hear: Blah blah more money, blah blah a lot more money, blah blah big delays, blah blah much, much more money. He's not impressed with the science of my defense -- that the tile is pretty.

I'd thought that taking away his home-court advantage would help him regain faith in my brain skills. I've lured him away from the pile of rubble and pipe stubs that used to be my guest bath to a place I do understand -- this new Vie de France restaurant, a Parisian playground of delectables such as crepes, quiche, panini, coffee and pastries. The Smart Water, one of many premium bottled beverages this place stocks, was extra insurance.

But then I read the label and discover that, rather than improving my cognitive skills, the brand name is rewarding me just for selecting it. Its manufacturer thinks I'm already mighty bright for choosing this water, which is "specially formulated for superior purity, rapid hydration, maximum detoxification and delicious taste."

Well, if I were intelligent enough to have known all that, I'd also know how to put in my own tile. I picked this bottle because it's pretty.

That's okay, though. Even if my friend thinks I'm home-improvement challenged, I'm all over him with aioli. I take snippy pleasure in telling him that it's not mayo on his LK sandwich, a crusty baguette stuffed with tender roasted Boar's Head turkey, mild Havarti, leaf lettuce and tomato. Aioli -- duh -- is mayonnaise flavored with raw garlic. Can't believe Mr. Know-It-All doesn't know that.

I also get to imply that he's the knothead for not knowing what the tapenade on my Uncle D sandwich is; it tops a hefty mouthful of creamy albacore salad sparked with apple chunks and red onion in a baguette. Tapenade, I explain as easily as extolling the different PSI values of copper tubing, is a thin paste of black olive, anchovy and capers. Without it, the tuna sandwich is fine; with it, it's great.

And I'm not embarrassed to admit that I wanted to try Vie de France -- opened with a whisper the other month, hidden behind the Sapporo sushi hot spot -- because it's pretty. This place is casual and chic, with breads and desserts made from scratch daily, and it smells really good, even from the outside.

Vie de France imported the special bricks used in its ovens, I'm told, something about re-creating the heat and humidity levels essential to turning out the golden, perfectly crisp crust and inner texture that characterizes authentic French breads. My building buddy is fascinated with the construction details. All I hear, though, is Blah blah French boule, blah blah Italian focaccia, blah blah challah, blah blah pumpernickel, multigrain, sourdough and rye. The bread is way too good for me to care about bricks and mortar; I'd rather slather a sourdough baguette with the homemade jams, jellies and spoon fruit jars that line Vie's gourmet grocery shelves.

Vie de France makes its own croissants, big buttery gems that demand great restraint to stop me from working through multiple flavors: strawberry or raspberry cream cheese, raisin cream, apple, chocolate, almond and cinnamon swirl. Little is more life-affirming than a croissant served flaky, fresh and moist. They serve an alternate purpose, too -- when my friend starts spouting about my incorrect choice in commodes, I can stuff a roll in his mouth and he happily shuts up.

The croissants are stunning when stuffed themselves, too, served warm and rich around savory deli meats and cheeses, spinach and feta, broccoli-mushroom-Cheddar, Cheddar omelet or sausage-Cheddar omelet.

The bright store, with its polished, green concrete floors, lemon-colored walls and funky chrome snake lights, has become my happy place of late, cheerful and convenient in its proximity to the circus of home-improvement stores in and around the Airpark. One day begins with challah French toast, a fluffy pile topped with sweet cheese, maple syrup and powdered sugar, rounded out by golden-edged morning potatoes and bacon or sausage. Then it's on to Lowe's, to learn that the drainage system for my new tub costs almost as much as the tub, must be custom ordered and won't be available for weeks.

At lunch, I drown my sorrows in a superb chicken-tortilla soup, slurping hot spoonfuls of hearty broth studded with corn and capped with Cheddar. Alongside I've chosen a crepe, dainty thin but the size of a small throw rug, packed with tangy Swiss, thin sliced tomatoes, shaved turkey and aioli. Then, it's back into the trenches, with my construction cohort shaking his head as I struggle to understand why replacing a vanity with a pedestal sink requires completely new plumbing fittings.

But hey, I'm expert enough at food to tell just by looking that his lunch choice of ham-and-asparagus quiche won't make him happy. The double-wide slice suffers from dry crust, and bitter vegetables ruin an otherwise commendable custard of egg laced with lots of deli-sliced meat. I'm right; he grouses until he switches to a Papa Don, a hefty sandwich of roast beef, Havarti, herb cream cheese, mayo and veggies on a sourdough baguette.

By dinner, I've slashed my arm on chicken wire, stuck my fingers together with Super Glue and coated my entire house in drywall dust. I've got strength only for a meal to-go, focusing on a big but mediocre salad (limp leaf lettuce, carrot, tomato, red onion, cucumber, sprouts, bell pepper, egg, bleu cheese, avocado, black olives and nasty, old-tasting bacon). And I'd be more pleased with my side of chicken salad, a healthy scoop of good bird, if it weren't masked by too much harsh onion.

But I reward myself with dessert and finally realize just how brilliant I actually am. My building buddy has gone home, disgusted that I'm having second thoughts about the tile we finally picked out earlier in the day. That means I'm alone with a fantasy of picture- and palate-perfect pastries, at one with fresh-from-the-oven apple crumble tart, peanut butter-chocolate fudge cake, black-and-white espresso cake, chocolate-almond brioche, lemon strudel and chocolate tordu (a pastry twist).

Or maybe I can't take all the credit. Maybe it's that bottle of Republic of Tea Blackberry Sage iced tea I just finished, cold from the display case at Vie de France. There it says, right on the label: Tea of Wisdom. Whatever. Until I survive the renovation of my guest bath, I'm drinking it. I can use all the help I can get.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet