Wednesday, July 13, 2011 | 5:06 p.m.
When word got out that a French boulangerie (bakery), patisserie (pastry shop) and bistro was coming to the outskirts of Summerlin, you could almost hear a “Vive la France!” go up among lovers of great baked goods. The buzz started late last year when Jean-Paul and Rachel Layden started renovating the space on West Charleston previously home to the Bleu Gourmet. Francophiles and other lovers of crusty bread and delicate pastries were rejoicing because, in Las Vegas, such finery had been almost exclusively the province of world-renowned chefs like François Payard and Jean-Philippe Maury—icons happy to sell you the pastries that made them famous, as long as you don’t mind coming to the Strip to sample their wares.
But even the most ardent Vegas foodie has been known to blanche at the thought of fighting the tourist throngs for a chausson aux pommes (apple turnover) in Caesars Palace or Aria, and truth be told, the inconvenience of getting to all that goodness is daunting to all but the most intrepid gourmet. So it was exciting to hear there would finally be a neighborhood outlet for lovers of the finest in butter, eggs, sugar and dough, because no matter what an American, Italian or German baker will tell you, no one understands these ingredients like the French. And no one can weave so few ingredients into something so magical as a true patissier.
The Laydens are patissiers by trade and as French as “La Marseillaise,” but they arrived in our humble burg not from Paris or Nice, but from French Polynesia—Tahiti to be exact, where they ran two patisseries before moving to Boulder City to open the original Manon (it’s their daughter’s nickname) and then expanding to the second, larger store last November. Due to a licensing snafu (the prior owner had been running a restaurant on the premises without authorization), the Laydens were delayed in bringing savory food and sit-down service to the new location. The space still suffers from its past incarnation—it being too long and large for the intimacy of a true cafe/bistro—but the 50 or so seats are comfortable enough whether you’re seeking sweet or savory sustenance.
If savory is what you’re after, look no further than the ham and cheese croissant. I’m no fan of oversized croissants, where buttery, flaky taste is usually sacrificed on the oooh and aaah altar, but if you’re going to make them the size of an adult’s forearm, the best use is to stuff them with that lightly cured ham the French are so fond of and then cover the whole appendage with melted, nutty Gruyère. Here, they do this to great effect, making it a ham and cheese sandwich from another planet. Equally lip-smacking are the custard-y quiches ... with one exception. The jalapeño/chili quiche is proof positive that chefs should cook within their vernacular, i.e. it tastes like something you’d expect when a French chef goes Tex-Mex—a savory custard, filled with a few pinto beans, sliced chiles and the mere hint of chili con carne—all of which makes about as much sense as stuffing a burrito with coq au vin. Stick with any of the other quiches (the goat cheese and tomato is a favorite) and you won’t be disappointed. Each is generously studded with the advertised ingredients, and at $4.75 apiece is a steal.
Most of the menu is limited to sandwiches, quiches and a decent soup or two, but they are simply a prelude to the main event: two pastry cases groaning with éclairs, Napoleons, tartes, cakes, macarons and dessert pastries of all shapes and colors. Ranking these in any kind of order of excellence is impossible, since one person’s preference for a gorgeous mini-tarte bulging with blackberries may yield to another’s preference for an almond-marzipan-stuffed croissant or pastel-colored meringue. Having tried about half of the vast selection, it’s hard to find a clinker in the bunch. Some of them may not be quite as finely tuned as Payard at his best, but for a neighborhood bakery/pastry/cake shop, you’re never going to find a better place when you need a sugar fix.