Los Angeles, CA: Pursuing Prosciutto at DTLA’s Charming French Cafe
I have a love-hate relationship with Downtown Los Angeles. I don’t mind admitting that. If you watch my stories on Instagram, you’ll often see me prancing around the city on the weekends, trying to find the best spot for brunch or coffee while constantly craning my neck and admiring the architecture. I love old, historic buildings—in case you haven’t noticed—and downtown is full of just that. There are days when it’s just so nice and sunny out, and strolling around feels like my version of architecture nirvana.
There are bad days, however. Days when it’s just cold, and the whole city is draped in a shade of angry and hopeless gray that temporarily transforms it into Gotham. Today is one of those days. It’s not like I didn’t know it was going to rain furiously. It’s just that I didn’t believe it was actually going to happen. You see, weather forecasts in California are so wrong, they are almost always taken with a grain of salt. But you know what they say: even a broken clock is right twice a day.
So, yeah, I was wrong. It rained this morning, and now, Kristin and I are wandering through the aftermath. The air is heavy with a musty, sooty odor, and the sky is so dark I find myself forgetting it’s still early afternoon. But I keep hoping there’s an end in sight. I tell Kristin as much while trudging through DTLA’s jewelry district, trying to make it to the Spring Arcade building. “It’s nothing like the Pasadena Arcade,” she tells me. (In case you haven’t read my post about Pasadena’s Burlington Arcade, click here!) I ask her what she means. “Well, it’s a little more industrial,” she says.
She’s right. We finally get to the Spring Arcade, which boasts a beautiful, ornate Spanish baroque archway from the outside. On the inside, however, that historic charm fades a little, and things begin to look a little, well … ordinary? Originally built in 1924, the arcade was built on the site of a strip of stores called the Mercantile Place, and it connected two buildings (one facing Spring, the other Broadway). Despite the initial buzz around this new development, by 1977, the Broadway-Spring Arcade had turned into a ghost town.
It took a few decades and several owners to shake things back up again. Sort of. In 2012, we began to see signs of a major transformation, and it happened in chapters. The grimey floors were replaced, the glass roof cleaned and a handful of top-notch (Gelateria Uli, Kai Japanese Roots and Don Francisco’s Coffee Casa Cubana) eateries were brought in.
There was a lot more to this effort, of course, and the narrative is still not complete. But that’s a story for another day. We didn’t really trek all the way here for the arcade itself. On the left, is what we came for: Garçons de Café. I’d seen photos of this little French wine-and-charcuterie heaven on social media, but in person, it looks even more like something out of a French film.
You’ll notice this exquisite, foreign charm in every little corner of this eatery—the rattan chairs, the oversized Mona Lisa reproduction, the antique tile floor and hanging pendant lighting. The entire interior is awash in rich hues of dark wood, and studded with rows of wine bottles. So many wine bottles! There are also smatterings of other products on display, like t-shirts, candles, and paper goods. It almost feels like you’ve walked into a friend’s living room (y’know, a friend who’s all in on investing in a proper bar).
As we settle into a table all the way in the back of the cafe where it’s significantly cozier, I’m transported to a very specific moment from my past. In 2011, I was one of the 178 women selected to participate in Avon Voices, an online talent search that covered 62 countries. I was 17—and I was flown out to Paris for a makeover, a photo shoot and a video shoot.
It was my first trip to the city of love, and, as you can imagine, I was on cloud nine. The minute my mom and I arrived at our hotel, we dropped our luggage off and ventured out and into the first cafe we stumbled upon. I remember that moment so vividly. My mom with her glass of wine, and I with my orange juice, breathing in this new French air while waiting for dinner. This cafe reminds me of that happy day, but I’m pretty sure it also reminds everyone of something. This is that sort of place.
Before I completely disappear into my reverie, co-founder Sofian Ketfi (the place is owned by three expat Frenchmen) materializes by our table to take our orders. Kristin opts for a brunch staple: the humble avocado toast. I, on the other hand, order the “Christian,” which is described as a “typical Parisian sandwich with prosciutto, brie and cornichons.” Because when in Paris, you do as the Parisians do. I also spring for something else that goes perfectly with a relaxing weekend brunch—a mimosa.
Five-ish minutes later, Sofian ushers in my sandwich. I stare down at the two triangles balanced on one another artfully before I pick one up and take my first bite. Boasting just three ingredients, it sounds so minimalist, and yet it tastes anything but. The prosciutto is first to leap forward with its nuance, saltiness and fat that melts instantly on my tongue. The cornichons (aka tiny sour French pickles) lends it a surprising tang, and the brie’s slight funk strengthens their intimate connection.
The whole affair is classy, marvelous, impeccable. To be quite frank, I didn’t expect for all the sandwiches I had in France (or my memories of them, at least) to be bested today. But here we are. This is a sandwich worth braving bad weather for, and I’d come back for it—through LA’s hellish traffic, through rain and through mud. Over and over.