Customers have been lining up at Clafoutis since it opened in 2007, the loyal local following undeterred by the tiny, tightly packed dining room, the long wait for seating, or the totally inadequate parking at the bakery’s original location on Guadalupe Street. The restaurant’s move to Body’s former café space on West Cordova Road last spring resolved two of those decade-old problems: The seating has almost doubled, and the parking is now easy and abundant. The lines, however, remain at prime times — although they are shorter and move much faster now.
Part of Clafoutis’ ongoing popularity may be because it really is a family business, and the family really is French — Philippe Ligier is the baker; the lovely Anne-Laure Ligier greets arriving guests with a cheerful “Bonjour!” and runs the kitchen; and their equally lovely daughter Charlotte Kolkmeyer adds her own welcomes to the mix as she fills orders at the pastry counter and manages the establishment.
Clafoutis, in turn, appears to have embraced local families. Customers range from twenty- or thirty-somethings to cane-toting grayhairs, with more parents, grandparents, and children dining together than are usually seen in Santa Fe’s frequently self-segregating restaurants.
The menu is divided between breakfast and lunch, with separate offerings for each service, although many of the most popular breakfast dishes — sweet and savory crêpes, gaufres (waffles), and les croques — are available all day. The croques — generously portioned sandwiches of grilled ham on thick, crusty house-made bread, draped with melted Swiss cheese and anointed with rich béchamel sauce — are the stars of the breakfast menu. Madame is topped with an egg; monsieur arrives bare-headed. The eggs are served sunny-side up — fried on one side only, with a liquid yolk and sometimes not-quite-cooked white — so tell the server if you prefer your eggs more done.
The three-egg Provençale omelet is equally satisfying, filled with savory herbs, tomatoes, garlic, oil-cured black olives, ham, and cheese. The accompanying basket of fresh bread and butter was perhaps more chilled than we would have liked, but not to the point that we left it on the table.
Our least successful breakfast order was the buckwheat crêpe of the day. The bountiful turkey, avocado, and Swiss cheese filling may have played better between two slices of bread then it did folded into the earthy, nutty crêpe. But the combination of ingredients, which I found without flavor or textural interest, appeared again on the specials menu a week later, so others may be more fond of it than I.
At lunch, the French onion soup also failed to meet expectations. The onions appeared to be chopped rather than sliced and showed no obvious sign of deep caramelization. The resulting broth was pale, lacking in depth, and in need of salt — perhaps in a nod to Santa Fe’s health-conscious diners. The luncheon special of the day was also, sadly, anything but special. The overcooked and underseasoned gratin of cauliflower and salmon did not include enough cheese to moisten and hold it all together. The small puddle of accompanying green sauce was equally flavorless.
We fared far better with the salade chèvre, one of six salads on the menu. Composed of crisp greens, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and two kinds of radish, the salad was dotted with dollops of a lightly breaded and sautéed goat cheese that melted deliciously into the herby vinaigrette. Bruschetta Marylou — a large slice of country-style bread topped with finely chopped marinated artichokes, roasted red and yellow bell peppers, and mushrooms layered over a savory tomato sauce and topped with that ubiquitous Swiss cheese — was an excellent accompaniment to the salad, more than making up for the gratin.
We ended our long and leisurely lunch with — what else? — the pastry that lends the restaurant its name. Our clafoutis arrived warm, as is traditional. With fat, juicy, scattered apricots baked into the firm, eggy batter, it was sweet, soothing, and satisfying — nursery food in the best sense of the word.
It’s impossible to visit Clafoutis without taking note of the beautifully lit, jewel-like pastry counters on the way out. The expanded space has allowed the bakery to exponentially expand the number and range of its offerings. We found some of the pastries, including the plain and almond croissants, dry and crumbly — victims, perhaps, of Santa Fe’s equally high, dry atmosphere. The yeasty cake doughnut filled with vanilla pastry cream and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar was our favorite. In this best of all Clafoutis worlds, the beignets, once available only on Saturdays, are now a daily treat — if you get there before they sell out. ◀