A neon-pink sign beckons diners into the Sweet Spot shop, where a counter stocked with colorful treats and toppings awaits. The staffers behind the counter adorn ice cream and frozen yogurt with fruit and candy as they keep an eye on the sweet and savory crepes that sizzle on grills. They also top off cups with boba tea and smoothies. Tabletops are scattered across the shop?s interior, where cheerful, checkered decor and an absence of wild boars squealing and knocking over chairs create a warm, comfortable atmosphere.
Some years ago, Muriel Loubiere was building an enviable career around New York City as the creator of a menu that had received the New York Times's coveted "Excellent" rating. And though she uprooted everything to relocate to California, one can't really blame her?she was in search of warmer climes, and Aptos's location beside Soquel Cove was a welcome reminder of her upbringing on the French Riviera. It was there that she opened her own restaurant, Au Midi, where she prepares dishes that elegantly fuse French and Californian flavors.
Parts of Au Midi's menu are steadfastly French, including a cassoulet made from Toulouse sausage and duck confit. But other dishes balance Pacific and Mediterranean elements, such as Californian mussels cooked with fresh tomatoes, brandy, cream, and garlic. Many of the dishes are made with organic produce from local farmers. Naturally, the wine list is split between French and Californian varietals.
Even after swapping coasts, Muriel's hardly lost any steam. She's currently listed in the Best Chefs America directory, a list that's compiled from interviews with other chefs and nominations by various culinary professionals and the raccoons that eat from the restaurants' dumpsters.
Forget the days of using crêpes as tea cozies and pogs. Today's Groupon finds a new use for them—food. For $7, you get $15 worth of quality crêpes and treats at Bonjour Crepe Company in Cupertino. These francophone foodstuffs are served inside an accurate simulacrum of a French café, making it a great place to wear your beret, introduce your wife to your various mistresses, and ruefully observe how le mort adds a deliciously bittersweet edge to even the most sugary crêpe.
The expert crêpe-rollers at K's Crêpes & Café ladle organic batter onto the griddle, sizzle until golden brown, and adorn the ensuing concoction with savory toppings or house-made whipped cream. Delight a savory-toothed uncle with naturally gluten-free buckwheat crêpes such as the Chelsea, a delectable mound of chewy swiss cheese, sautéed zucchini, and crisp spinach ($6.95). Morning-time diners can wash down a whole-wheat sweet crêpe with a cup of Mr. Espresso and a dash of powdered sugar, or bite into the New England Revolution, which arrives laden with peaches, vanilla gelato, and chocolate sauce like a camel being ridden by Santa Claus ($6.75). Omelets ($4.50+), lunch-friendly sandwiches ($5.25+), and house-made soups ($3.50+) are also available throughout the day.
Most people don't expect to identify their career path at the age of five. Jared Gallagher, Chez TJ's executive chef, is not most people. A second-generation chef, Jared started working in his father's kitchen at the age of five, and he knew he wanted to stay there. A sous chef at 19 and an executive chef by the age of 21, Chef Gallagher pursued a passion for French food by training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and London, an experience he parlayed into a stint in the kitchen of acclaimed chef Michele Bras. Jared was also raised to appreciate farming, fishing, and hunting, and Chez TJ—a Michelin Guide-rated establishment—reflects his early communion with nature. Each morning, Jared walks through the restaurant's 30'x50' edible garden, combing through beds of currant tomatoes, zucchini, leeks, arugula, and other fresh produce for ingredients to use on the custom, chef-prepared menu du jour. When possible, Chez TJ also relies on local farms and markets to supply their meat and other ingredients. Housed in an elegant Victorian home originally built in 1894, Chez TJ boasts four distinct, cozy dining rooms that can be closed off for more intimate occasions. Guests are also free to roam through the garden to enjoy the scenery or brush up on their pollination skills.