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French Elegance Comes to Swarthmore

On sunny days, crowds fill the outdoor patio at Maison Giraud. In the evening, the dining room is full. Palisadians have welcomed the new comer restaurant to Swarthmore with open arms.

Chef and restaurant owner Alain Giraud wants to be a hub for Village life. So the doors to his new Pacific Palisades restaurant and bakery are open seven days a week.

Along with Noubar Yessayan, his fellow baker and pastry chef, Giraud makes sure the bakery fires up early in the morning to keep the restaurant well supplied with breads and baked goods, including the very popular croissants. Although the bakery is open until 5 p.m. daily, rumor has it that the daily production of 450 croissants sells out by 9 a.m.

Opening at 7:30 a.m. Monday-Friday, the restaurant focuses on light morning fare, offering beverages, baked goods, cereals, yogurt and freshly-squeezed organic fruit juices.

When the bakery closes at 11:30 a.m., Giraud and his sous chef Jackie Mazzuca turn their attention to lunch with soups, salads, quiches, pasta, seafood, poultry and meat, all served with farmers market fresh produce, sculpted and presented exquisitely. Carrots, fingerling potatoes, radishes, basil, parsley and leeks never looked so good, nor tasted so crisp and fresh.

A full brunch is available from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Breakfast is served on the weekends until 10 a.m.

Maison Giraud: A Balancing Act

One might say the concept for the restaurant required mastering a balancing act. Giraud's challenge was creating an elegant French restaurant that would comfortably fit with the casual feel of Swarthmore Avenue.

The first step, for Giraud, was to create a visually inviting exterior. With a glass wall looking into the dining room and outdoor seating on the covered patio and sidewalk, the restaurant has an open, airy feeling.

Inside, the dining room is defined by textured concrete walls and subdued lighting. Photographs of Giraud as a kitchen apprentice and as a young chef greet diners entering the restaurant.

In the morning, the bakery's sweet aromas envelop customers as they study the pastries laid out on trays in the glass case, looking every bit like jewels in a Rodeo Drive boutique.

The knowledgeable waitstaff serves diners attentively at tables in the center of the room and along the wall. After the bakery is closed, servers also tend to guests at the glass topped counter facing the kitchen.

The Menu

For a fine dining restaurant, Maison Giraud is priced moderately. Lunch costs around $10-$18, dinner appetizers are about $8-$14 and entrees range from $18-$25. There is also a seasonal, three course prix frixe menu offered at $32.

Over the course of several visits, I had the opportunity to sample a selection of dishes, including the delicately flavored au pistou soup, flavored with almond and basil pistou, or pesto. I have tried the charcuterie plate with Giraud's homemade terrine of foie gras, duck and pistachio, as well as the pan-roasted baby squid with finely chopped pine nuts and a basil-garlic emulsion.

I have also ordered the seared scallops, which my wife declared were "the best I've ever had." Floating on a delicately flavored leek, lemon and pistachio sauce, the scallops were crusted on top and cooked perfectly.

We also tried a dish called farm eggs "town and country," in which two egg preparations shared one plate. Served with thick slices of toasted brioche, creamy herb chillity floated on top of porcini mushroom custard, secreted at the bottom of a plump egg shell. The other egg dish, the rustic egg cocotte, is "rustic" in name only. A topping of crisp bits of bacon (lardons), sauteed button mushrooms and a scattering of micro-greens entitled the dish to be aligned with the earth, while its sibling on the plate was an airy monarch of the egg kingdom. Clearly these are not your everyday breakfast eggs.

For dinner, in addition to sea bass with clams and chorizo, salmon in a red onion sauce, mushroom risotto, pan-roasted chicken, angus steak with a choice of Béarnaise, or pepper, sauce there is also roasted duck with root vegetables and the cocotte offering of the day. 

The cocotte, described on the menu as a classic French comfort dish, changes frequently. On the night I had dinner, the comfort dish was sweetbreads with a creamy mushroom sauce reduced with a mix of carrots, fingerling potatoes, mushrooms and cipollini onions.

The Wine

For a small restaurant, Maison Giraud has a well-developed wine list. More than two dozen wines and aperitifs are offered by the glass if you don't want to splurge on an entire bottle. 

With the scallops and squid, we had a light and fruity Sancerre, Pascal Jolivet, Lire, FR 2010, priced at $15. With the soup and eggs, we had a delightful Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux du Languedoc, FR 2009, a good buy at $8.

The Sweets

Leave room for dessert. You can choose from half a dozen expertly crafted pastries and ice creams, or indulge in a beautifully plated cheese selection accompanied with toasted slices of the bakery's fruit and nut bread.

On the other hand, if you've impulsively decided to throw caution to the wind and ordered the kitchen's signature dish, a chocolate souffle. Know that the souffle takes 20 minutes, so plan ahead. 

The restaurant has been very busy, so reservations are recommended. The last time I visited, on a Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m., the restaurant was three-quarters full. When we left at 10:30 p.m., there were still a dozen people finishing their meals. Amazing for the Village on a week night!

  • For more information about Maison Giraud, including hours, location and contact information, .

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