Gone this weekend
Gone this weekend

This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

PETITE CAFE is so new that its marquee is a plastic banner. It's so new that a public notice for a liquor license competes for window space with overlit pictures of entrées. It's so new the owners haven't removed the sushi bar or buffet table abandoned by the last tenant.

Eat there while you can: it's closing this weekend, victim to slow business. This is the saddest restaurant news you'll hear all year.

Petite Café is a fast-food joint, decorated sparingly, with just a couple of tables and a counter. But the entrées warrant maitre d's and sommeliers—instead, you get two Japanese guys who take orders, cook and deliver the food to your table.

Each meal begins with a soup or salad, and I flip-flop between each with every visit. The salad is basic—lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers—but refreshing, small and glistening with a dressing slightly zestier than Italian. Soups are supposed to vary by the day, but all I ever seem to get is split pea. I'm not complaining: the cream-green soup is earthy, and the small croutons add crunch and comfort.

The menu is equally spare: chicken, beef, pork and salmon, most prepared in the same style—you can try a creamy paprika sauce on the chicken or pork, or enjoy salmon, chicken and beef teriyaki. But where else can you feast on a trio of juicy beef fillets, cooked medium-rare and glazed with a sauce studded with gnarled, crunchy peppercorns, for eight bucks? Or a sublime salmon à la Provencal for $7.25? There are more rustic dishes as well—slices of pork topped with a Cajun-style rub, or chicken Parmesan, a deep-fried delight topped with the crumbly cheese. Nevertheless, each meal is exquisite, paired with hand-made sauces that hint at Escoffier training. The accompanying veggies—steamed broccoli, carrots and a cylinder of butter rice—are perfect.

Because Petite Café is new, there are a few kinks. No house bread yet. The only menus are takeout and tired chalkboards. And they never did get that liquor license: dinner here deserves wine. All the nervous flaps of a beginner. If we gave it a couple of months, I'm sure Petite Café would've soared. Alas, Orange County, we never did.

PETITE CAFE, 270 S. BRISTOL ST., STE. 108, COSTA MESA, (714) 966-0117.


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