Swift Souffle Serenade

Photo by Tenaya HillsTime was running short. My dining partner had a concert to attend; a night of romance awaited me. We had finished our fabulous dinner at Savoie's Fare in Laguna Niguel and now eagerly awaited the Grand Marnier soufflé our charming waitress had recommended half an hour earlier.

We ordered big mugs of coffee and waited. And waited. Talk drifted to work, Spanish, films. We waited. Wasn't Robert Duvall fabulous in Apocalypse Now? Waited. Tienes que practicar más español. Waited. But did you see Hearts of Darkness? Waited.

“This is so like a European café—they take their sweet time,” my companion said apologetically but with a hint of frustration. I, though, wouldn't take any further delays: I balanced a spoon on my ear.

The waitress noticed. “Did you get your soufflé yet?” she asked sweetly before exclaiming, “Oh dear!” when our soft-lit scowls replied. She rushed into the kitchen. My partner and I worried—time was running short. There had been other delays through the evening, but we attributed those to the attempt at continental ambiance my partner described, a way to subtly enhance Savoie's Fare's cocoon of relaxation. Tardiness was one thing; forgetting our dessert made us ponder whether we should play dine-and-ditch.

Until the soufflé mix-up, our Savoie's Fare experience had been one of Gallic charm, lengthy waits and all. The tiny bistro makes its home in one of those small shopping plazas so common to South County—an impeccable oasis of commerce in the midst of rolling hills and post-apocalypse quiet. The main dining room seems like and is just a bit bigger than someone's living room—in one corner, a bookcase holds books and a stereo system that quietly spins jazz or other soothing aural delights—and the lighting is low, the kind of illumination you use before falling asleep with the television on. Or love.

Savoie's Fare is primarily known for its bakery, where rows of French pastries and cookies fight with wondrous cakes for counter space—photos on the walls display cakes designed to appear like cars, champagne bottles and even golf bags complete with frosting in the shape of dimpled balls. The bakery also produces the quartet of house breads that appeared once my dining partner and I found a table: crunchy flatbreads rejoined with a thick pesto, toasty bread sticks, whole-wheat loaves and a cracker baked with Cheddar cheese and some powerful herbs.

As Parisian as the setting and breads may be, namesake owner/chef Jacques Savoie limits his menu to a mash-up of American supper-club favorites—moist rack of lamb, Chilean sea bass, a big cheese steak—coupled with Italian pastas and a smattering of French dishes. He also includes some fusion attempts, and we started with one of them—butternut squash soup drizzled with coconut milk. The butternut squash's smoky, soothing candor pleased us, but the coconut milk proved too fleeting to make much of an impact other than teasing droplets of sweet.

The service was slow between the soup and the arrival of my entrée, black and white linguine snaking around tiger shrimp and chunks of lobster tails. I further fretted once I bit into one of the massive shrimps—it possessed no flavor. None. I tried another one. Flavorless. A disaster, I feared—until I nibbled on the moist, silky lobster tails hidden beneath the weave of linguine noodle strains. Even better was the superb sauce atop the black and white linguine: pink, creamy, heavy with tomato chunks, then unveiling a cheesy savor before sneaking into the back of your palate with a spicy pepper smack. In the grand summation of things, the black and white linguine was yummers.

My partner similarly enjoyed her salmon en papillotte. I'm still not sure what the parchment paper that encased the salmon does for the fish—something about steaming the contents to embolden the flavors—but the tomato relish on the meat accentuated the flavor, while the accompanying risotto and chunks of bell peppers glistened with butter.

The meals were grand—but we wanted that soufflé. We had places to go, people to love. After some more dorkish banter—what's the darker Stones song, “Mother's Little Helper” or “Paint It Black”?—the waitress arrived with our dessert. “This is my favorite,” she said as the soufflé gently collapsed within itself. It was delicate and airy but heavy with its sumptuous crumbs. The chilled Grand Marnier sauce cooled the steaming soufflé, tempering it to something warm. It's amazing how quickly anger and resentment disappear under the scent of a grand dessert. And it's even more amazing how fast a Camry can drive the streets of South County under the darkness of night.


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