Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Dining

Restaurant review: Cafe Soleil quietly serving up quality French fare on the beach

ST. PETE BEACH AND TIERRA VERDE

There's Tinder. There's Match.com. But sometimes, love is found via Google.

Lauren Chezaud-Diot, born and raised in Paris, was tired of the French rat race, tired of working for American Express in advertising. The American economy was still shaky, the currency exchange favored France, so many French folks were considering investing in American beachfront real estate. Chezaud-Diot wasn't keen on Florida's other coast, so she Googled:

America's most beautiful beach.

That year the answer was St. Pete Beach. She bought a plane ticket and came to check it out, fell in love and bought a house. With a 2-year-old son and a husband with a more "serious" job in the health care industry, Chezaud-Diot cast about for what to do. Her friends told her to do what she enjoys doing. (Friends always say that, right?) She decided to open a small cafe, and so the first Café Soleil debuted in Dolphin Village in St. Pete Beach in 2013. In 2015, an outpost in Tierra Verde's Marina Plaza opened, and a third Pinellas County deal is already inked. (The ink is still wet, so she declines to say where.)

The cafes have taken off. During high season, they may serve 800 people a day at the St. Pete Beach location. Both spots have a pretty, breezy aesthetic with a long ordering counter strewn with platters of croissants, fruit tarts and baguettes, nicely lettered chalkboards giving the rundown of salads, sandwiches and quiches.

This is familiar food; you have seen this menu before. But what makes it notable is the quality of the finished product. Whether chocolate hazelnut croissant ($2.95) or cherry cheese plait ($3.65), you'll wonder when you last had one so good as you pull apart the tectonic plates of buttery, flaky pastry. (Chezaud-Diot says they bake every hour or two because the humidity gets to the breads and pastries quickly.)

In a couple of visits I worked through most of the menu at both locations. The Amour salad ($7.75) was the most vivacious of three, with a fan of cukes on one side, a fan of crisp apple on the other, the center mounded with mesclun mix, Roquefort crumbles, candied walnuts and a generous flurry of bacon. My only complaint is that the lovely vinaigrette was served on the side and it's too small a bowl to toss effectively.

Sandwiches are offered on toasted croissants or elegant, crusty house-made baguettes — can't go wrong either way. On the latter side, I was most taken by the Simone ($7.95) with swaths of velvety smoked salmon, a big swipe of cucumber cream cheese, dill, lemon and planks of grilled squash. With the croissant offerings, I made a satisfying lunch of one heaped with roast beef, Muenster and zingy mustard ($5.95).

The Café Soleil team, which includes a new kitchen manager who went to Le Cordon Bleu and Chezaud-Diot's brother, Alex Chezaud, who came to help for two weeks and never left, is exacting about ingredients. They're using Kahwa coffee, imported Italian prosciutto and mozzarella and a whole bunch of French cheeses. They roast their own chickens, and all vegetables are organic. They're not loud about any of this; you just taste it in the food.

One morning at the St. Pete Beach location, it seemed like half the dining room was camped out (free Wi-Fi!), reading, sipping lattes, chatting and happily ambling from a midmorning almond croissant ($3.25) to a satisfying lunch of Oh La La quiche with bacon, caramelized onion and cheese ($6.95 and perhaps the most delicious classic on the short menu). I'm sure in high season the place is more frenetic, with a long line snaking down the order counter, but in September, before the crowds, Café Soleil seemed like a little gem that Google brought us.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

   
Comments
This Florida burger joint is one of the 10 best in America, travel website says

This Florida burger joint is one of the 10 best in America, travel website says

A 2˝-hour drive south could land Tampa residents at one of America’s best burger joints, according the review and travel website TripAdvisor.com.The website released a list of the "10 Most Delectable Burger Joints" in America on Wednesday, placing Na...
Published: 07/14/18
Friday is National French Fry Day. Find (free!) fries in Tampa Bay.

Friday is National French Fry Day. Find (free!) fries in Tampa Bay.

Guess what Friday is? It’s National Fry Day (#FRYdayThe13th, see what they did there?). Fun fact: Their origin story may not lie in France but in Belgium. So why do we credit France? Thomas Jefferson is said to have introduced deep-fried potatoes at ...
Published: 07/11/18
We got a preview of the food at Osteria, the new Tampa restaurant from Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani

We got a preview of the food at Osteria, the new Tampa restaurant from Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani

TAMPA — The evening began with chef Fabio Viviani telling the group to fork the fluffy coccoli in front of us, break it open then stuff it with the cold smoked prosciutto de Parma and stracchino cheese delicately laid out on wooden boards. "Stracchin...
Published: 07/10/18
Restaurant openings: The Donut Experiment, Oak and Stone, new offerings at Disney Springs

Restaurant openings: The Donut Experiment, Oak and Stone, new offerings at Disney Springs

NOW OPEN: DONUT EXPERIMENTDebbie Waldecker has just opened the Donut Experiment in Indian Shores. Things start with a fresh-made, warm cake doughnut and then you pick from a huge selection of icings and toppings. Yours can be as simple as plain or gl...
Published: 07/05/18
Updated: 07/06/18
Restaurant review: At the new Getaway in south St. Petersburg, you’re mostly paying for the tiki beach vibe

Restaurant review: At the new Getaway in south St. Petersburg, you’re mostly paying for the tiki beach vibe

ST. PETERSBURG - When the original Getaway opened in 2014 at the old Banana Boat spot, two huge-beamed open-sided tikis flanked by waterside tables, fire pits in the sand surrounded by low-slung Adirondack chairs, and a whole bunch of palm trees, the...
Published: 07/02/18
New restaurants: Taco spots in Tampa, a World Cup St. Pete pop-up

New restaurants: Taco spots in Tampa, a World Cup St. Pete pop-up

COMING SOON: NUEVA CANTINA It’s getting eerie how many taco spots are popping up in the Gandy Boulevard to Ballast Point area of South Tampa. Just a sampler: An outpost of Taco Bus opened recently at 4308 W Gandy Blvd., the owners of Big Ray&#...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant review: Viva Napoli lovingly recreates Italian cuisine’s greatest hits

Restaurant review: Viva Napoli lovingly recreates Italian cuisine’s greatest hits

TAMPA According to Nation’s Restaurant News, Italian continues to be the country’s most beloved ethnic cuisine. I’ve fallen out of love and then gotten moony-eyed again several times over the past decade or so. It’s a cuisine...
Updated one month ago
See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

When Alicia Wolding joined Datz as the new executive pastry chef last year her hair was rainbow — pretty much the whole ROY G BIV spectrum in cascading tresses. More recently, it’s bright purple, somewhere between iris and lilac. This is the color yo...
Updated one month ago
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

ST. PETERSBURGThere are a lot of decommissioned gas stations across the country. Some have been reinvented, cleverly made over as upscale restaurants. There’s Big Star in Chicago, Elaia & Olio in St. Louis, Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Va., even Bi...
Updated one month ago