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Anisette Brasserie: The Gift of Living Well

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Alain Giraud is a charismatic guy. He is the picture of a merry chef, walking through his restaurant in his whites, with a warm smile, raking his fingers through a pristine silver hairdo that only a Frenchman can pull off. And even when he whispered (politely) to me, "Madame, please don't take pictures of the restaurant", I could not help but smile and say, alright then. He is just that, how do you say... geniale.

Perhaps it is his personality, not just his food, which LA has been missing. Unlike many of the new restaurants that have opened in recent months, the service at Giraud's latest offering, Anisette Brasserie in Santa Monica, is friendly, efficient and not holier-than-thou. They seem genuinely honored to see you there, as opposed to the m-o of most LA restaurants where they expect you to feel honored to be there.

What to order at Anisette after the jump!

Anisette opened for breakfast last week, and so we hopped in the car, dodged the Saturday morning Farmers Market traffic, and sauntered in. The room is breathtaking. Ceilings so high, it gives you a neck crick. Gorgeous two-bladed fans. Rustic yet polished tiles carpet the floor, bearing a pretty red flower pattern. The tall wall behind the bar is lined with bottles seemingly stretching to the ceiling. Having never been to Paris, I can only imagine that this is a homage to brasseries there. You instantly feel transported to a place where you are chic just the way you are, even when you're slurping your coffee out of a bowl.

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Giraud was in the corner, trying to talk a little girl sitting at the table next to us into trying something from the pastry basket. "You don't scare me. I have a daughter just like you!" he says, before she shyly acquiesced and pawed the basket for a tasty baked delight.

The menu is a careful offering of Breakfasts (French, English, American) and egg dishes from what I can remember. Turn it over, and you'll find a rather wide array of teas and coffees for you to choose from, including the Anisette tea, a flowery fennel-laced bouquet steeped and poured at the table. They also offer a number of riffs on bloody marys. My husband ordered the sake-laden Japon version, whose myriad additions made for a muddy, busy concoction. Not my favorite, but Brendan seemed to like it.

Bren ordered the English breakfast: blood sausage, bangers, English bacon (the best kind!), grilled tomato and two eggs. It was the most elegant presentation we've ever seen of what is certainly a brutish breakfast! And certainly the most delicious, made with a measured hand - even the blood sausage, which in other hands gets bogged down in whatever it is that goes in there, was light and flavorful.

Given that I now felt like a chic French lady, I had no choice but to sample the French breakfast, which consists of a bowl of either hot chocolate (made with a dark chocolate ganache!) or coffee, some orange juice, and 4 pastries of your choice. I chose the pain au chocolate, the pain au raisin, the pain au lait and the brioche. They're accompanied by a small tub of delicate seed-speckled vanilla butter, alongside some marmalade and boysenberry jams. All of the pastries were delicious, with a crackling, papery exterior and a creamy, (not greasy) interior. They are made fresh everyday apparently. Now, if you can only have one pastry, then try the pain au raisin, a real surprise to me since I am normally a chocolate fiend. But the pain au raisin was outstanding, each swirl coming apart like a cloud, studded with just the right number of dark raisins and revealing a touch of custard-like glue holding it together. It reminded me of bread pudding. Unbelievable.

I was a bit disappointed with the hot chocolate, but I'm just going to put that down to first-morning jitters. When it arrived, it was a pale brown hue, not the dark, suck-you-in shade of brown I was expecting. It was also lukewarm. And if I'm going to be really picky, it wasn't in a bowl, but in a cup. And even the cup wasn't as big as the word "bowl" suggests. However, they were happy to replenish it when I was nearly done, and the second batch was much better: a dark, creamy, bittersweet hug that was the perfect end to my meal.

While we didn't get to try any of the omlettes, they certainly looked great as they arrived at a table next to us. They were decidedly French, delicate, not the honking ones you might find at Omlette Parlour, with a small pile of spring vegetables in the middle (if that was what you ordered). Both of the customers seemed to like them - they ate without talking until they had finished 'em.

Go check it out. Each breakfast was about $15, which in these parts, has become the standard. If you go on Saturday, you can walk off the buttery pastries at the Farmers Market. I wish they had allowed us to take more photos (the manager later told there are absolutely no cameras allowed in the restaurant, an odd declaration when the place seems the perfect backdrop to memorable family gatherings that beg for photographic preservation). I assume they fear a slew of negative blogger press, although I can't imagine why. Perhaps that edict will disappear once Anisette has been open for a while. Either way, it's a wonderful addition to LA's food-laden landscape, a delightful response to the Voltaire quote on the restaurant's website: "God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well."

Anisette Brasserie
225 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
ph: 310-395-3200

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