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French Delights

At Frogs Organic Bakery, the pastries will amaze you

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At Frogs Organic Bakery, owned by authentic French bakers, the wholesome breakfast and lunch fare is simple—perhaps even plain—while the pastries manage a superb balance of flavors, some of them subtle, without the slightest trace of French pastry-chef arrogance.

Chef Jean-Luc Labat's attitude toward food is neatly reflected in the bakery's physical environment. It's in Casas Adobes Plaza, an elegant, old-fashioned, true brick-and-mortar shopping center (rather than a stick-and-stucco strip mall). The bakery's interior is defined by the simple brick walls and well-lacquered wood. The décor is free of French kitsch; only along one wall will you notice a few tastefully framed black-and-white movie stills from the early Godard era and before, most of them identified only by a slip of paper on which someone has typed: "France as it used to be."

I doubt Frogs truly represents France "as it used to be," partly because Jean-Paul Belmondo would never have had to stub out his Gauloise before coming in to pay $9 for a slice of quiche. Nor would an old French bakery have found it necessary or desirable to declare, as this one does, that "all of the food prepared at Frogs is 100 percent natural ... no chemicals, no preservatives, no artificial colors, and no trans fats. ... We even have a gluten-free menu available. Everything on our moderately priced menu consists of fresh, local, organic ingredients from area farms."

So, you enter Frogs, peruse the somewhat limited range of offerings (a good thing; a small family business can't sustain quality across an overly ambitious menu), and order and pay at the counter. Then you select a seat at an indoor or outdoor table—small for privacy, large for communal noshing with groups or strangers—and wait for your order to be delivered.

Our first visit was midmorning on the Sunday before Christmas; although there was a pleasant buzz of conversation in the room, Frogs was hardly overcrowded. Basic coffee and tea ($2.30 and $3, respectively—frankly, overpriced) were delivered in traditional large, white cups; food came on wide, oval white plates that made the servings seem a bit small—but they turned out to be filling.

It was a cold morning, and the cup of puréed vegetable soup that accompanied the quiche of the day ($11 as a pair) seemed a necessity. The soup included the usual root vegetables—carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, leeks—with garlic and celery and a bit of sour cream, blended to a thick, creamy consistency. Frogs applies accent items like garlic with a very light touch, and in this case also goes easy on the herbs; the flavor was mild, and I'm sure some people would think it bland. The tall slice of quiche—which featured goat cheese, and green and yellow peppers—was light and fluffy, and had something of a nutmeg flavor.

The omelet ($9) was a two-egger, from the look of it, and extraordinarily pale in the traditional French manner. For the price, you get your choice of two items from a list of seven standards; additional items would cost another 50 cents each. I was satisfied with just Swiss cheese, and red and green peppers. The Swiss did not overpower the eggs, and the flavor was, again, very mild. (I rarely add salt to anything I'm served, but I found during my visits that just a dash of fresh-ground salt and pepper really opened up the flavors of the omelet and the soups.) My omelet came with two modest slices of perfectly crisped whole-wheat toast, cut from what looks like an Italian loaf, and a helping of absolutely superb potatoes—diced, given a savory seasoning and sautéed in plenty of what I assume to be clarified butter.

A subsequent lunch visit found Frogs, again, doing decent business but still offering patrons plenty of open tables. We tried the quiche Lorraine—again, fluffy and nicely eggy, and not overpowered by the well-distributed bits of ham—along with a cup of wonderfully rich, creamy tomato soup with just the right touch of basil ($9 for the combo), and a vegetable tartine ($10 with the cup of soup or field greens), or open-faced sandwich. Oil and balsamic vinegar were drizzled on the plate, upon which was set one slice of the toasted whole wheat bread (you could instead order a slice of French baguette, or basic white), topped with a pile of sautéed zucchini, eggplant and peppers, all glazed with Swiss cheese and a bit of pesto. Everything came together very nicely, the veggies tender but not mushy, the cheese a topping rather than a glop, the small amount of pesto and balsamic vinegar providing the intense flavor that many of the other dishes lacked.

Of course, this being a bakery, it was necessary to raid the pastry case and take a sampling of goodies to a party where we forced friends to help us evaluate them. Two macarons (in English, macaroons, $1.60 each) never made it across town. One of the cookies was almond-vanilla, the other pistachio, and both were a delicate balance of cream and crunch.

The lemon meringue ($4.80) was freshly lemony and tart, with the meringue forming a bit of a crust, as it should. The berry tart ($4.80) was a little dry, in a good way—not dripping with some sticky-sweet glaze, but allowing the berries to make their natural statement atop a flaky pastry base. Similarly, the pecan pie ($4.80) featured nicely caramelized pecans without becoming overly sweet. Neither was the tasty Normandy tart ($4)—with almond flour and raisins—super-sweet. Are you detecting the pattern? All these items carry a very slightly enhanced sweetness without becoming cloying.

You probably won't be able to order this again until December, but remember to try the slices of bûche de Noël (Christmas log, $4.80 per slice; also available as whole logs for $18 and $36). Of the three varieties, the dark-chocolate mousse was rich but not overpowering; the raspberry mousse was subtle and free of the bitter aftertaste these berries sometimes leave; the hazelnut butter cream, like the others, involved springy, moist sponge cake, and in this case was topped with what resembled a big chunk of apricot. I want more of all of these.

So: You must definitely visit Frogs Organic Bakery for the terrific pastries. While you're there, you might as well have a bit of lunch.

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