By Frank Sabatini Jr.
The notion that French brunches are heavier than their American counterparts simply isn’t true. Granted, they may be pricier because of higher quality ingredients used in some dishes. But by the time you slug down your last mimosa, you’ve pretty much ingested the same amount of calories, carbs and cholesterol that attracted you to the early-midday meal in the first place — actually, maybe less.
Bleu Bohéme in Kensington presents a menu of savory waffles, elegant egg dishes, rich sandwiches and refined “petits plats” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Black Mediterranean mussels are also available in four different preparations, a carryover from the daily dinner menu that seemed too delicate a choice on a recent Sunday morning. We instead gravitated to dishes involving fuller blasts of energy while relaxing somewhat bleary-eyed within the restaurant’s medieval-like design.
Ultra-creamy Roquefort cheese and cubed red beets resembling sparkling rubies graced a sizable salad of butter lettuce that I’d normally reserve for late-day eating. But such rules are meant to be broken at brunch, especially when the salad is clenched by fresh green-apple slices, olive tapenade crostini and herby Dijon dressing.
The menu’s predictable inclusion of French onion soup proved a fine warm up to the breakfast-type fare that followed. Served in a small ceramic urn nestled in white linen, and capped by toasted Gruyere cheese, the sweet broth was beautifully underscored by tarragon and herbs de Provence. It wasn’t the salty, one-dimensional version of untrained cooks.
Ken Irvine is chef and owner. He grew up in Montreal and lived an epicurean lifestyle with parents who exposed him to fine-dining establishments all over the world. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he headed top-rated kitchens in France and England.
He previously operated two Coronado restaurants: Chameleon Café & Lizard Lounge and Chez Loma French Bistro. And currently, he’s also a managing partner of Sea 180 Coastal Tavern in Imperial Beach.
If you’ve never experienced the triple-cream rush of St. Andre cheese, Irvine folds it into an omelet with fresh asparagus. Fluffy and shaped so precisely into a half moon; we assumed the eggs were cooked in one of those folding omelet pans you buy at Bed Bath & Beyond. But they weren’t. Irvine and his kitchen cronies show off crafty handwork at the griddle.
The omelet was accompanied by delicious, barely dressed salad greens and soft, fried potatoes strewn with rosemary and caramelized onions, a decent step above your everyday brunch variety.
From the waffles category, two sunny-side-up eggs with their yolks rising flawlessly from the whites draped a layer of house-smoked salmon, thick mascarpone cheese and cucumbers. The waffle sitting beneath the smiley arrangement was slightly sweet, but not enough to interfere with the savory scheme. Other toppings include prosciutto with fig jam; house bacon with St. Andre cheese; or smoked ham with Gruyere, with the latter two waffles hiding sinful smears of mayonnaise.
Several sandwiches of the hearty French ilk are also available. It took everything in me to resist the ham-Gruyere-egg croque Madame, which is my favorite sandwich on the planet. With approval from my companion, we instead shared the “sandwiche au jambon fume,” which translates to smoked ham.
In this case it’s actually pork loin, cured and smoked rather intensely in-house. Served on a commendable baguette with the additions of balsamic-spiked fig jam and oozy brie cheese, the construct tasted too hectic for our liking. In hindsight, I would have preferred the marinated New York steak sandwich with Dijon as my croque alternative.
Fortunately, the super-effervescent pomegranate mimosa I ordered became an effective power washer to the palate as I jumped from the smoky pork loin to our other dishes.
If you arrive with a sweet tooth, the menu obliges with vanilla-mascarpone crepes drizzled in blueberry sauce; crème brulee waffles with berries; or a Nutella waffle crowned with bananas and caramel sauce. A diehard fan of Bleu Bohéme sitting at a nearby table ordered the latter, and described it to us as tasting like “unbelievably good banana pudding on a Belgian waffle.”
Much to our satisfaction and bewilderment, we breezed into the restaurant without wait lines or loud commotion inside. Even the pretty sidewalk patio was fairly underpopulated. It was 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday, just when the first wave of brunchers throughout Uptown normally begin exhibiting their dominance.
Perhaps Comic-Con had sucked the life out of Kensington that morning, since parking was easy to land. Or maybe cost is a factor since many of the dishes are priced a few notches above to what other brunch spots charge.
But if you don’t mind forking into Parisian-style salads and egg dishes laced with decadent cheeses before the clock strikes noon, Bleu Bohéme is a fine and worthy place to kick-start weekend days of leisure.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.