LITTLE NEXT DOOR: The Boulangerie-Cafe That Made My Cheeks Blush
I have eaten at Little Next Door twice now. The first time, was the last time me and an ex-boyfriend ever ate a dinner together. Needless to say, the company was rather tense, but good food has always been the one thing guaranteed to make me smile. At least for an hour in the midst of emotional limbo. The second time, with my mother visiting from Colorado, I was able to further appreciate this fetching cafe-deli. It is often overshadowed by its equally hard-to-find sister restaurant, the enchanting Little Door. Both are on Third Street, and both have accolades galore that merit each for their distinctive specialness in Los Angeles. But I will focus on the more casual of the two, Little Next Door (although when I say casual, I mean that in the most French way possible, as it is a French establishment).
To charm you right off the bat, the hanging sign that lets you know you have found the right place has a depiction of the most adorable black cat on it. Like a child’s painting, it adds a whimsical informality to an otherwise chic atmousphere. Copper-paned glass walls define the outdoor seating area, and there is an overall feel of lavishly cluttered gourmet coziness. Once Mom and I were seated, we both exclaimed over the stunning cobalt blue walls. Gilded chalkboards informed us of today’s specialties, and both our eyes strayed back to the glass-guarded pastries that looked photo shoot ready. I definitely inherited my sweet tooth from my mother.
And now for the food… First off, the ingredients are locally farmed and organic. So aside from basking in how tasty everything is, one can also rest in the comfort of knowing their chances of food-related cancer and their carbon footprint have both been reduced by eating here. I believe a good meal should engage all of one’s senses at rapturous attention, and this one certainly did. The Croque Madam (a fancy version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with a sunny-side-up egg), looked too vulnerable and cute to eat. Once I took a bite, my mouth was bursting with salty, gooey piquancy . It was the epitome of comfort food. The “Hambourgeois” with harissa mayonnaise had a spicey earthiness I’ve never found before in a simple burger. The pomme frites were super thin, crispy and fluffy. The Wild Mushroom Chicken Breast was free-range, and I tried not to let a single drop of the creamy sauce go to waste. The chicken was tender, the mashed potatoes simple and divine.
The only thing that disappointed me was the French Onion Soup. While the broth was rich, a deep, flavorful brown, I kept detecting the barely mistakable pungency of goat cheese in the bubbly topping. Now, I am not a fan of goat cheese. In fact, I find it gag-worthy, and I know many connoiseurs will be horrified by that comment. I asked the very European waiter if there was perhaps Chevre in the blend, and he assured me in his sexy accent that there was not. Hm. I wanted to believe him, his eyes were so sincere, and so very blue… But I wasn’t quite convinced. If it wasn’t goat cheese, it was something else very similar. My mother loved it, regardless.
But it was a piece of dessert that sent both Mom and I into pure TBO bliss. A friend of mine, Cindy, will exclaim, “TBO! TBO!” whenever something is rocking her mouth. “It stands for Taste Bud Orgasm,” she once breathlessly told me between bites of an eclair. TBO indeed. Whatever this dessert was, and I could shoot myself in the foot for not remembering the name of it, was sending me into an eyes-closed, hand-gripping-the-table, time-stopped-moving ecstacy. The chocolate was like ganache, and so soft. The crust was made of black chocolate crumbles, saturated in sticky caramel. Unexpected traces of sea salt surprised my tongue in the most heart-racing way. After sucking on a fudge-like mouthful until it melted, I swallowed reluctantly, only to urgently take bite after bite until it was gone. And yes, I moaned.
Post-TBO, my face was probably glowing and my eyes were half-closed in peaceful gratification. The candles flickered sleepily, and I noticed the bossa nova music for the first time. Mom left the table to use the restroom, and I leaned back and luxuriated in the utter satisfaction I felt. Then, the European waiter, who had been speaking French to his colleagues, approached my table. Now, I dread being approached, even by blue-eyed Frenchmen. Was he going to drop some cheesy line about how he’d never seen me here before? Did he recognize me from a TV show or a film I’d done? Was he possibly going to say that dessert was on the house…? To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded the latter so much. But he did none of those things. He knelt down to my eye level, smiled, and said very humbly, “I just had to tell you, you are very elegant.” Not beautiful, not pretty. Elegant. I was taken aback. No man had ever told me something like that, and I liked it. “American girls,” he continued, “… they have nothing refined, there is no elegance. But you remind me of European girls. It’s refreshing.” He bashfully stood, gave a slight bow with his palms pressed together, and ducked back into the kitchen. He didn’t even ask for my number, I realized, which made me want to give it to him.
I was so caught off guard and flattered that it made me shy. And I’m the girl oft-accused of being brazen! Here I was, too shy to give him my number, or to even look in his direction again. Damn these Frenchmen and their tongue-tying spells. I hadn’t felt a blush cross my cheeks since I was thirteen years old. I was like a European girl… I giggled inside. Was it my diamond earrings? The fact I’d worn my hair up? My posture? Whatever it was, he had noticed, and in a town where aesthetics are noticed first and valued far more than refinement–even talent– he’d complimented my elegance.
The Little Next Door. Harboring pain au chocolate, fancy entrees that taste of everything fresh and flavorful, racks of fine wine, jars of marmalade and caramel, and authentic French-made macaroons. All at tres reasonable prices and with valet parking to boot. And if you’re like me, a handsome Frenchman will approach your table and compliment you on your refreshing un-Americanness.
Photo of Alice Greczyn by Theo Greczyn