Parisian Paradise 

Or Something Close

Saint Honore Boulangerie

2335 NW Thurman

445-4342

Everything is better in Europe. The men are hotter, the air is cleaner, public transportation is convenient and efficient, hotels are affordable, the food is fantastic, and in most cases you can't understand what anyone is saying, which I like.

If you feel similarly--which is to say you like Europe better than America, then it's time to get happy, because now there's a little slice of Paris right in Northwest Portland. The newly opened Saint Honore Boulangerie mimics a French café, serving up impeccable coffee, deliciously creative pastries, baguettes, panini, and more. The space is charming, with a huge open-air kitchen and bakery, an impressive display of artisan breads and mouth-watering pastries, floor to ceiling windows, intimate café tables, high ceilings, and classy stone-tile floors.

After a few months of operation, the place is already a hit, hosting a crowd of older folks and professionals, especially during the lunch rush. This can be annoying because you have to wait in line to order and then dive for a table (the café only seats about 30), so plan on going mid-morning or in the late afternoon if you'd rather read a book than eavesdrop.

Saint Honore's food is seductive but simple, with a menu that changes daily. Popular panini ingredients include olive oil, proscuitto, brie, and spinach, or tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and Kalamata olives. I had the decadent Croque Monsieur, made with a couple slices of ham, Dijon mustard, and creamy bechamel sauce on a brioche with gruyere Swiss cheese melted on top of the bread. This unconventional construction made the sandwich slightly difficult to eat, but nonetheless more intriguing than a baguette from the deli case. I also tried their puréed garden vegetable soup, which was salty and fresh, but could have been a little heartier for the $5.50 price tag.

Don't leave Saint Honore without treating yourself to an éclair, torte, or brioche. The Eclair Café is highly recommended, a tender dough filled with smooth, velvety whipped espresso custard, that goes beautifully with a strong shot of espresso. (Curiously, the cafe serves Umbria coffee from Seattle, rather than a French or Italian brand, but the taste doesn't suffer.) Also, try any of their fruit desserts. The Valentine inspired pastry they offered had a heart shaped flaky crust, filled with a delicate custard and sliced strawberries so fresh and delicious I thought of ordering a second one.

In fact, if you're on a budget, Saint Honore is best suited for breakfast (petit dejuner) or a three o'clock dose of coffee and almond croissant. After eating lunch there, plus dessert and coffee, you'll find yourself dropping nearly $20, which you might find better spent on a salmon filet and some fine dining, a nice bottle of wine, or the electric bill.

Regardless of what you sample at Saint Honore, however, rest assured it will be fresh tasting, smartly constructed, and enjoyed in a refined ambiance that will calm your nerves even when things get crowded. Plus there's the beautiful French woman working behind the counter, whose sultry accent alone had my male lunch buddies talking for days.

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