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French Corner creates pastries, sandwiches, desserts with authentic flair

Alexandra Palombi-Long opened The French Corner on Highway 101 in late May.
Alexandra Palombi-Long opened The French Corner on Highway 101 in late May.
( / Karen Billing)

The kitchen space inside the newly opened French Corner in Encinitas is truly a tiny corner. French chef and owner Alexandra Palombi-Long works on full display behind the countertop, a multi-tasking blur slathering a baguette with her homemade pâté, taking a fragrant quiche crust out of the oven and picking apart organic herbs to grind together for her homemade pesto.

She tops a fruit and yogurt parfait with some of her homemade granola and carries it out to a customer enjoying one of the café’s outside tables.

“That’s how I like it. The best food comes from the smallest kitchen,” Palombi-Long said.

Her classic, authentic French pâtisserie training results in a daily selection of madeleines and meringues and macarons. There are light financier cakes and cylinder-shaped, custard-filled cannelés, a specialty cake from Bordeaux that is very difficult to find in San Diego. Crême brûlée and mousse au chocolat are two of her specialties, and she whips up crepes both sweet and savory.

In baskets along the countertop are crisp pastries drizzled in cream and croissants sprinkled in powdered sugar and slivered almonds.

Fresh ingredients are stored on baskets on the walls, all manner of utensils are packed together in canisters, and pans are stacked on shelves and hanging from hooks over Palombi-Long’s stove and panini press.

Like her cousin, who owns the well-known La Note restaurant in Berkeley, she only pours Mr. Espresso coffee from a Bay-area based roaster that oak-roasts the coffee beans. The coffee menu is pure Paris — try a café au lait or order up a “noisette” (nuh-wah-zet), an espresso with a tiny bit of milk.

Palombi-Long was born and raised in Paris in a food family — they’ve been involved in the art of French cuisine since 1920.

“For us, it really is a family thing; we love food, it’s what we do. I have a passion for good food,” Palombi-Long said. “I started to love cooking by cooking with my mother. I was helping her in the kitchen as young as I can remember.”

She recalls visiting Paris markets with her mother, gathering all of the fresh ingredients they would need in the kitchen that day. Working alongside her mother, she picked up all of her techniques.

Her parents owned an antique shop and they also instilled in her a love of art. Along with studying art history, she started taking cooking classes.

“Cooking comes natural to me — if you give me one ingredient, I can come up with 100 recipes,” Palombi-Long said. “But I needed help to understand different techniques, skills and cuisines” from different countries.

So 15 years ago as a 19-year-old, she moved to New York City, because she had heard it was a “fantastic” and “magical” city. It was, and she became immersed in the city’s food scene, doing everything from bartending to cooking in high-end restaurants to catering private events.

“It was a wonderful experience, because I learned so much,” Palombi-Long said.

In New York, she also met her future husband, a military physician with the U.S. Navy.

Three years ago, the couple and their three sons decided to pack up and move to California.

“We think it’s a fantastic place to raise a family,” Palombi-Long said, who has lived in Carlsbad for the past three years.

Palombi-Long started the French Corner two years ago, selling her goods at the Leucadia Farmers Market. As she grew more successful at the market, she started looking for her own brick-and-mortar shop. When the space opened up on the corner of Highway 101 and Phoebe Street, it could not have worked out more perfectly.

The space had been a hair salon, so a complete renovation was necessary. Palombi-Long is thrilled with the comfortably cozy result.

As she says, good food does not have to be complicated; it just takes simple, fresh, organic ingredients.

“The key is, I do everything I can,” said Palombi-Long.

Indeed, her hand is in nearly everything in the café —she makes the pesto and the vinagrettes, and while the bread comes from a local French bakery, she sits down with the baker to be sure she gets exactly what she wants.

The results are beautiful baguettes for her sandwiches, like Le Saucisson with salami, French brie and French pickles, or Le Jambon-Buerre, with French ham, gruyere cheese and European butter.

Typically, Palombi-Long and one other employee staff the café, but she hopes to bring in someone soon to help in her kitchen. She will train them, of course, but the No. 1 qualification will be a love of food — the passion she hopes to share fresh daily with the entire community.

Visit The French Corner at 1200 N. Coast Highway 101. Call 760-809-9120 or visit frenchcorner101.com.


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