Laurent Pellet says he interviewed more than 40 of France's most pedigreed pastry chefs in his quest to find three who were eager to trade Paris' grand boulevards for Mountain View's Castro Street, home to his 7-month-old Maison Alyzee.
In luring these young guns away from their Michelin-starred restaurants, his goal, he said, was to find partners who share his passion for pastry perfection.
"We want to bring to the Bay Area the most refined French pastries and food, crafted with the best European-style ingredients," the Menlo Park resident said. "Maison Alyzee is also about creating for our customers a sense of intimacy, elegance and style."
Named for his 4-year-old daughter, the chic and sunny patisserie-boulangerie is indeed turning out gorgeous, authentic French pastries, creamy, dreamy works of culinary art. Maison Alyzee's Gallic breakfast and lunch standards -- omelettes, croques monsieurs, salads NiÃ§oises and the like -- rival anything I've enjoyed in France.
With chefs in place and ingredients, from flour to coffee, having been painstakingly sourced, the kitchen appears to have hit its stride. However, my three visits to Maison Alyzee would suggest that Pellet, a first-time restaurateur, is still working through some front-of-house challenges. During a phone interview, he admitted as much without my even asking. The former Sony executive, who also once ran a food distribution company in Eastern Europe, appears laser-focused on "building the brand" and elevating the customer service at his order-at-the-counter establishment.
This passion feels evident when Pellet is the one proudly bringing your order to your table. A Friday afternoon lunch was delightful, with Pellet checking back to be sure we were happy with our selections and refilling water glasses. Crisp white walls, a rustic wood-and-tile floor, elegant pendant lights and pastries displayed like jewels behind the glass counter invited happy memories of la belle France.
My croque madame ($15) was the full expression of France's version of comfort food: smoked ham, gruyere and a luxurious mornay sauce enfolded in house-baked pain de mie, baked to the melting point and topped with a sunny-side-up egg. A lightly dressed, simple green salad was an appropriate counterpoint to this iconic and decadent sandwich (fork and knife required).
The Club Nordique ($15), also served on pain de mie, was piled high with smoked salmon, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, hard-boiled egg, avocado mashed with chives and a slather of mayonnaise. At once crunchy and creamy, with the soft, sandwich bread yielding gently to the teeth, the Nordique embodied everything that makes a sandwich satisfying. The omelette Parisienne ($13) was a pretty yellow pillow stuffed with mushrooms, Emmental cheese, ham, tomatoes, onion and fines herbes.
Unfortunately, breakfast was less enjoyable on a moderately busy Friday morning. It wasn't just me. I could see other patrons were experiencing the same issues -- forgotten items, lukewarm coffee, un-bussed tables -- most of which appeared to be the result of understaffing. I'm sympathetic, and I see the "help wanted" signs in virtually every window of every restaurant in the Bay Area. But at Maison Alyzee's price point, and given Pellet's vision for a best-of-France experience, one is inclined to point out a few missteps.
I ordered the Vendome breakfast ($15.50) which comes with a choice of two viennoiseries (sweet breakfast breads), a specialty coffee and a glass of orange juice. I selected a croissant (buttery, crispy layers of perfection) and a kouign-amann, an extra-buttery puff pastry from Brittany made slightly sweet with a crust of caramelized sugar. A good kouign-amann makes a croissant seem like diet food in comparison. But no complaints here.
However, my orange juice was forgotten. We were initially brought the wrong coffees. The correct cups were eventually forthcoming, but my vanilla latte ($5) was barely warm. Patrons had to crowd around a single menu displayed on the countertop, jostling for space to read the offerings. Tables remained dirty and the bathroom was not in an acceptable state, also the situation on a later visit when Maison Alyzee was not at all busy.
I asked for jam to accompany my croissant ($4.50) and was told it would be $1.50 extra "because the jam is from France." Mon dieu, if memory serves, a small terrine of jam would be standard issue in France when you order a croissant at a sit-down breakfast. My dining companion's fruit salad ($6.50) was 75 percent chopped pineapple covered with a handful of berries.
I bought some of the gorgeous pastries to take with me, and that lifted my spirits. The wheel-shaped Paris-Brest ($10.50), named for a famous bicycle race between the two cities, has always been one of my favorite indulgences. Maison Alyzee's was magnifique, a choux pastry filled almost five inches high with a praline cream that was nutty but not overly sweet, as too many American confections tend to be. I brought a box of mille-feuilles ($9.50) to a soiree with some French friends and asked for their opinion. Delicious, if a little "flat" was the verdict, and I have to agree. They were delightfully creamy and flaky but lacking depth of flavor.
Despite some quibbles and the breakfast that was less than perfect, I appreciate Maison Alyzee's spirit and Pellet's enthusiasm for bringing not just French pastries but the full French experience to Mountain View. If you can create pastry art, you certainly can sort out a few service missteps. I have a lot of faith in Maison Alyzee. Bienvenue a Mountain View.
212 Castro St., Mountain View
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Closed Monday.
Credit cards: Yes
Outdoor seating: Yes
Alcohol: Champagne offered at lunch