Sleepy downtown Menlo Park has woken up with the arrival of Mademoiselle Colette, an elegant French patisserie that has sold out every day since opening last month.
Owner Debora Ferrand, who was born in Brazil but raised in France, has successfully imported some of the best elements of Parisian dining to the Peninsula. She opened the pastry shop at 816 Santa Cruz Ave., the former home of Sugar Shack, in early October.
Mademoiselle Colette (named after a late family member) serves classic French pastries, brunch and lunch menu items, coffee, tea and wine. The patisserie was packed on a recent weekday morning, with the indoor tables full and a line in front of the gorgeous glass pastry case. Delicate pastries -- lemon and chocolate tarts, merveilleux, moelleux au chocolat, raspberry eclairs -- sat atop white marble counters. Employees were replenishing the diminishing stock as I left later that morning.
One of Mademoiselle Colette's most popular menu items, the pain au chocolat ($4), is small but satisfyingly crisp, and the chocolate on the inside packs a rich punch. Ferrand said the patisserie's pastry chef, a young French man named Orphee Fouano, makes two to three kinds of chocolate that become the innards of the pain au chocolat, often referred to as a chocolate croissant in English.
Hiding inside the merveilleux ($5.50), a ball-shaped cake that originated in Belgium, is cream and a meringue so light it dissolves in the mouth. The exterior is covered in chocolate shavings and topped with a small chocolate sphere stamped with the name of the shop.
Mademoiselle Colette doesn't stoop to using American butter. Instead, they bake and cook with French butter that Ferrand said has "much more fat" than its American counterpart.
All the pastries are served on charming mix-and-match plates -- some with delicate designs, others scalloped with thin gold rims -- that make you feel like you're visiting a Parisian apartment. Espresso is served in beautiful gold-rimmed black cups. Sugar cubes are available in small silver buckets.
Inside, the space is thoughtfully decorated. Framed French drawings adorn the walls, and there's a display of black-and-white French postcards and books penned by French novelist Colette.
If you're going for lunch, don't miss the croque madame sandwich ($11.50): a slice of chewy, fresh bread topped with Parma ham, Emmental cheese and a perfectly fried egg. A generous side salad of arugula and cherry tomatoes is the perfect complement to the sandwich's rich flavors.
The Colette Parisian salad ($12), with arugula, ham, cubes of Gruyere cheese, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, green beans and hard-boiled egg, was refreshing and heaped with the ingredients. Though pleasing any time of year, it would be best enjoyed on a hot summer day in the outdoor back patio with a glass of French wine.
Other lunch items include the classic nicoise salad ($14), a burrata salad ($13.50), chicken salad ($13) and soup of the day ($9). Brunch on the weekends includes items like eggs Benedict. Portions are large.
There's also happy hour, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with cheese and charcuterie plates, foie gras and wine. The wine menu ranges from an $8 glass of French rose to a $22 glass of Barnaut Grande Reserve champagne.
Ferrand, an Atherton resident, said she was excited by the high demand for her new shop, but wholly unprepared to meet it. She had been searching for a place to open a pastry shop since moving to the area about a year ago. Previously, she lived for several years in Texas, where she attended Le Cordon Bleu with an emphasis on baking and pastries. She also studied at famed chef Alain Ducasse's cooking school in France.
Given Mademoiselle Colette's popularity, Ferrand explained, they recently bought a machine that will help them double the production of the pain au chocolat and croissants, but they're still strapped on the rest of the pastries.
"We were really, really not expecting the craziness," she said. "It's very exciting and it's cool, but it's hard to manage because we never imagined being sold out every day like that."
She said she wants the patisserie to be a piece of Paris in Menlo Park -- a place where customers relax over a pastry or cup of coffee. Mademoiselle Colette is not meant to be a place for a quick bite, nor a full-service restaurant.
"We'd like to be a place (where) people come, take their time, have a cup of coffee or tea or glass of wine, eat some food," Ferrand said, adding that the "very efficient American way" is not what she's trying to cater to.
It's fitting that she found a home for Mademoiselle Colette in Menlo Park, where things move a bit slower and customers seem more than happy to linger over a high-quality pastry.
Bienvenue a Menlo Park, Mademoiselle Colette.
816 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park