By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Until a few months ago, there was only one window of opportunity each day to savor a meal at La Bonne Table, the small and beloved French restaurant that has teased its followers with dinner-only service since opening in 2014.
Now, if you’re looking to spend some intimate mealtime with friends, lovers or family members on your day of rest, and before sundown, La Bonne accommodates with a noteworthy under-the-radar Sunday brunch.
Held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the weekly affair was put on the table — so to speak — by Sandra Tristan, wife of Parisian transplant Renaud Tristan, who founded the restaurant before the couple met and married.
Sandra is from Rome and worked in the food industry since moving to the U.S. more than 20 years ago. Insisting to her chef-husband the time was ripe for introducing brunch, he concurred and put her in charge of it.
Like Renaud’s concise dinner menu, Sandra’s brunch options are focused and French with about a dozen dishes for the choosing. There’s also a full bar that awakens when the doors open.
Although the best part is, you don’t have to linger outside in flocks before scoring a cocktail, espresso or plate of food, because people still generally view the place as an evening restaurant.
But that could change soon, per a light but steady stream of customers hubby and I witnessed moseying in on a recent morning visit, some of whom I’m guessing were victims of long wait lists from eateries down the street.
La Bonne feels as though you’ve stepped into somebody’s quaint living room. Tables are tightly arranged, though not uncomfortably so. And the interior is adorned with small lamps and numerous black-and-white images of Paris from the 1930s, all lifted and framed from a photography book by late photojournalist Robert Doisneau.
We started with an elegant salad called salade haricot, meaning thin, blanched green beans played a starring role in the mix of fresh lettuces, roasted pecans and sliced egg. Dressed in gentle vinaigrette, the salad also comes with crumbled goat cheese, which we requested on the side because of my inexplicable aversion to goat milk curds.
Hubby had a taste for something creamy and ordered the crepe forestiere, which uses cream to tie together wine-braised mushrooms, Gruyere cheese, shallots and bacon for what turned out to be a fantastically plump crepe. Sharing the plate were scrumptious, cubed potatoes stained yellow from turmeric.
Never one to pass up a Croque Madame, especially in seriously French restaurants such as this, I dove into the sandwich’s generous layer of smoked ham and melty Gruyere with wild abandon. On top was a fried egg basking in a mantle of mornay sauce, a richer departure from classic béchamel because grated Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese goes into it.
The sandwich came with excellent french fries, which might be cooked in beef tallow, as Renaud admitted to using when I visited for dinner a couple years ago. If that’s still the case, I’m all for it.
We ordered Nutella-stuffed French toast for dessert, but towed most it home for later. I’m glad we did because it allowed the Nutella and slightly mushy brioche to set a bit more. Draped in pecans and sliced bananas, the flavors were nonetheless in decadent harmony.
Other brunch options include roasted root vegetables with poached eggs and herb pesto; asparagus with poached eggs and melted Gruyere; a three-egg omelet with chives, goat cheese and asparagus; and a steak burger crowned with a fried egg and Morbier cheese.
Although if a hankering strikes for seared foie gras or streak frites or trout amandine, come back at 5 p.m. (or 4 p.m. on Sundays) when La Bonne Table performs its nightly dinner magic. It’s an experience that potentially ends with one of the dreamiest chocolate mousses to ever pass your lips.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.