Monday, September 7, 2009

Canelé: A love to last a lifetime

“So this is what it feels like,” I think as I drive down to Orange County to visit my parents on Saturday afternoon. I turn up the volume on Hall & Oates “You Make My Dreams,” and sing along with passion courtesy of my newly acquired understanding of the lyrics.

“Well, well, well you, you make my dreams come true! Oou oou!” I belt out. A sheepish grin extends across my face as I replay the morning in my head.

The anticipation wondering, “Is this it? Have I found… the one?’”

The coy glances exchanged across the table at Canelé restaurant in Atwater Village.

And then the moment of truth.

A whisper across my lips. A sensuous feel against my tongue. A memory made in an instant.

It felt like I’d come home.

I smile again, readjusting my hands on the steering wheel that is perpetually sticky due to my pesky snacking while driving habit.

Finally, I think. Finally, it’s my turn to experience true love. I push down on the gas – even more eager than before to get to “the OC” to share the news with my parents. I can’t wait to tell them. Can’t wait to show them the pictures. I can’t wait to say the words, “Mom, Dad, I’ve found it. I’ve found the perfect French toast.”

People constantly told me that love would happen to me when I least expected it – when I wasn’t looking for it. I always rolled my eyes at their weak attempt to console my war-torn heart. I thought they were only trolling off that line because they were happily partnered off with their soul mate forever and ever, amen. They couldn’t actually believe that hogwash, could they? That love would find me while I was comparing jars of curry in the spice aisle of Whole Foods?

On the way over to Canelé earlier that day, I had been a little skeptical that the French toast could be as good as Matt of Mattouille described. As I drove by Square One on Fountain Ave., one of my favorite destinations for brunch (and, coincidentally, French toast), I told myself, “Now Diana, don’t go in with too high of expectations. Remember the Hangover? Everyone kept going on and on about how funny it was and then… not so much. Funny, but not best comedy ever funny. Just be realistic. You need to protect your heart a little, you big sentimental goof! Life is not like Jerry Maguire!”

From the outside, Canelé certainly didn’t look like the place where I’d find the love of my life. Not that it was ugly and/or sporting a unibrow and beer belly – it was just understated. And situated along a stretch of Glendale Blvd. that looked primed for a fleet of unrelenting tumbleweeds.

The inside of the restaurant was more to my liking. Still simple, but pleasant. It felt instantly familiar -- like I’d been coming there my whole life. Small details like the centerpieces of quinces and crab apples, and tiny silver bowls of sea salt and freshly ground pepper brought warmth into the minimalist space.

Okay, I thought. Love might be possible here. (Or, at the very least, a decent fling.)

Things started off auspiciously. The iced tea, a tropical cinnamon blend from Chado in Pasadena, was revelatory to my parched palate. I drank three glasses and then forced Matt and Cathy, “the Gastronomer,” to sample it as well.

“You have to try the iced tea!” I gushed, high on all the caffeine and friendly vibes circulating through the happily smoke-free air. “It’s the best ever.”

Matt nodded in appreciation and offered me a taste of his iced LA Mill coffee. I continued on in the spirit of over-the top dramatization and declared it “the best ever” too. It wasn’t a complete exaggeration (I’ve never actually had a plain iced coffee before).

By the time the French toast made its way to the table, I was more than ready to put my heart out there. I’d been burned in the past, but this time, yes, this time, I was ready to let love have its way with me. What I wasn’t ready for was the pure size of that love.

The three 3-inch tall slices of country white bread drizzled with fig compote and marscapone ($10) stood like proud skyscrapers on my plate. The steaming hot rounds of sinewy substance were daring in their composition, and I couldn’t help but gawk in appreciation.

At last, I thought. A specimen that doesn’t look like a fetus next to my 5’10’’ frame.

Matt had told me the inside would be custardy, but nothing could have prepared me for the lush interior of the mighty fine slabs of toast. The soufflé-like texture left me speechless – a state that only exists for me when I’m sleeping or watching Patrick Dempsey on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

With just one bite I knew. This wasn’t just a fling or one time affair. I’d found my French toast soul mate. Not too sweet (I hate a pushover), not bald of the fruity condiments I love, and, most importantly, there for my stomach when I needed it most.

My side of scrambled eggs were a fine (yet unnecessary) companion. I ate some of the silky kernels that were redolent with the kiss of butter, but ultimately deemed them a distraction to the main event. I only had eyes for the French toast. Nothing else could compare. It… yes, I’ll say it, completed me.

“Mom!” I shout when I finally arrive in Newport Beach later that day. “Come quick!” I continue, as I frantically rummage through my bag for my camera.

She rushes over, her eyes a cauldron of motherly concern. “Is something wrong? Did someone hit your car again?”

I shake my head, the same sheepish grin returning to my face once again. “No, nothing’s wrong.” I hold out the screen of my camera for her to see. “It’s so right, it scares me.”

Canelé Restaurant
3219 Glendale Blvd. (in Atwater Village)
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 666-7133


Gastronomer said...

Isn't love splendid? Love for me is eating brunch with great friends and capturing memories with a big fat camera. Love!

Anna A. said...

Congrats on finding your Labor Day love. I'll (french) toast to that!

Jenn said...

Holy Moly!!!! Those are some big french toast!!! I love it!!! I'm definitely going to have to hit up this place. Just for that alone, I'm sold!

Happy Labor day!!

Sam said...

glad to see that you've founnd the one!

yutjangsah said...

Holy moly. That's the most obscene french toast I've ever laid eyes on. Yummers.

weezermonkey said...

Ooh. Yummy.

When we finally meet, I will be like a bowling ball next to your bowling pin frame.

Diana said...

Cathy - Brunch is great by itself, but brunch with great friends is like the frosting on a cupcake. :)

Anna - Thanks TALF! Glad I got some Pazzo love in too.

Jenn - It's amazing -- my new favorite brunch place in LA.

Sam - Not just the one - the one in three HUGE pieces!

Sook - I'd love to see you go to war on the French toast. I'm not sure if even your iron belly could take it down in its entirety.

Sharon - Bowling ball, schmowling bowl. I think I met you at Cathy's Indonesian feast and you were nothing of the sort! But I do agree that we need to find an excuse to eat together soon!

Cafe Pasadena said...

So, is this in your Top 10 list of LA restaurants?

Cinnamon Girl aka Reeni♥ said...

I see a cat fight coming! I'm in love too! Fig and mascarpone? How heavenly!

Diana said...

Cafe Pasadena - I've only been there for brunch, but I'm thinking, YES! :)

Reeni - I wish you could fly out here and taste it! I'd split an order with you any day!

The Duo Dishes said...

Glad you enjoyed! It was cool to run into you on Sat. We'll definitely have to try that French toast.