Though we have lots of great ethnic food in Orange County, great French food is hard to come by. Spurred by the dirth of worthwhile French breads in these Orange Acres, Raffi and Tiffany Sepetjian decided to open a bakery and make their own. Pandor Artisan Boulangerie & Café opened Monday in Newport Beach's Westcliff Plaza.
Click here to see yesterday's slideshow of Pandor's beautiful pastries and café menu.
The Sepetijians went about it in a big way. They first opened a wholesale bakery in Tustin last year that supplies parbaked breads to many of the high-dollar hotel restaurants like the Ritz Carlton and the St. Regis, to name but two. Their wholesale bakery is called RTR Artisan Bakery, and you may have seen them vending at the Sunday farmer's market at Irvine's Great Park.
Pandor's baking is done off-site at RTR and delivered to Newport Beach. Some of the more fragile items like the croissants are finished-baked at Pandor to ensure the crusts are as crisp and fresh as possible.
The Sepetijians hired a solid team of bakers to deliver on their promise of great French bread. The rustic, hard-crusted baguettes, notably the multi-grain bread, had the aroma and flavor that only slow, cool, mult-stage fermentation of dough can achieve.
Where we have only the one word in English for bakery, the French distinguish between boulangerie and pâtisserie, because breads and pastries require two separate skillsets, and traditionally, a baker doesn't excel at both. French Master Baker Julien Pietravalle oversees breads production, while Pastry Chef Serge Bertrand consults on the delicate pastries. Chef Eric Cuenin runs the café menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner items.
Pandor invited local food bloggers last week to preview their menu of breads, pastries, salads, and sandwiches last week, and we tagged along for the comped meal. Besides the baguettes, my favorite things were the salad of Baby spinach, arugula, baby frisée, turkey and Niman Ranch bacon finished with just enough of dressing made of Bac-O's. I kid you not – Bac-O's. It sounds kind of white-trashy, or maybe it's Euro-trashy, but whatever the case, that dressing is amazingly delicious with that salad.
So too was the salad of steamed vegetables: perfectly tender haricot verts, cauliflower, baby asparagus, Haas avocado, sprouted beans, alfalfa sprouts with a fresh mint and lemon dressing.
On the sandwich front, some items were better than others. The least favorite of mine is the Habano, a medianoche-inspired creation that used the wrong kind of bread. A hard-crusted baguette used for a panini is hard to eat – its sharp-eared edges can tear up the roof of your mouth, and keeps one from eating an otherwise tasty sandwich with the abandon it deserves.
But the vegetarian Portabello melt? The multigrain bread absorbs the juices of roasted mushroom, oil-packed piquillo peppers, smoked mozzarella, and pesto and softens up just right.
The efforts so far seem focused on the bread and the sandwiches from which they're made. Time will tell how the pastry side of the business will fare. So far, they have a fairly ambitious selection of pastries, and some are better than others. The tarts built on a too-thick shell of pate sucree could have been more delicately executed. The chestnut macaron on the other hand, is a fabulous, if unorthodox take on macarons, and instantly rockets to my favorite French macaron in Southern California.
The take-away? It's a new bakery still working out the kinks. Hopefully, the chefs and owners can throttle back their enthusiasm to make such a large selection and instead focus on raising all the items to the quality of the outstanding macaron, the baguettes, and the better sandwiches. We'll give them a few months to work things out, and we'll report back with a full review.
Pandor Artisan Boulangerie and Café. 1126 Irvine Ave, Newport Beach. (949) 209-5099.
Open 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily