Sunday, December 10, 2006

Café Utopia in Mrs. London's

If I could have my way in the world without the restraints of reality, I would eat every day at Mrs. London's in Saratoga. In fact, I would live there. I can't think of enough good things to say about it. In every way it is the ideal café, with the highest quality European style pastries, cakes, espresso drinks and teas. Even their chinaware is of the best quality. And their almond croissants are as good as the best almond croissants in Paris (and I've tasted lots of them both in Paris, and here).

But that doesn't even begin to explain why I love Mrs. London's. Here is a photo of their famed chocolate nebula, a cake of chocolate mousse of such featherweight chocolate heaven and ethereal beauty it approximates the ideal afterlife in chocolate. I've been to Mrs. London's many times, and each time it seems to be even better than what I had remembered. Last week I went there after an incredible spa experience at esthetiques-- my birthday present to myself. I would recommend esthetiques, although they don't have the mineral waters of the Lincoln Baths or Crystal Spa nearby. Anyway, I was already on cloud nine, but eating at Mrs. London's was in itself a transformative healing experience.
I went hoping that they would have my favorite soup, a simple cream of tomato served with grated cheddar that is out of this world. They didn't have it, but they did have a white bean pureé soup that was so good I can't stop thinking about it. It was flavored with rosemary and had a blush of tomato coloring in it, and was just so simple yet so delicious that I became determined to learn how to cook it at home myself.

See how they drizzle top-quality olive oil on the top of the soup? Doing that really enhances the flavor, which was just sublime. I was lucky enough to be in the café at the same time as Mrs. London herself, who explained to me that the soup was actually quite easy, and she makes it with dry beans that need to be soaked, but in a pinch one can make it with canned. Although the dry really are so much better. Beans, some tomato-- a little, not too much-- rosemary, and sage were the ingredients, and some stock.

They have sandwiches and salads at Mrs. London's as well as those stupendous soups, and I am thrilled to announce that they are in the process of expanding to become more of a restaurant. Along with the soup, they serve toothsome fresh bread and a generous pat of butter that is always at the exact right temperature for spreading, and not at all salty or unctuous. I suspect it is European butter.

Here is my full meal, including a pot of jasmine tea and a dessert:

My dessert, called Night and Day, uses the same airy chocolate mousse as the Nebula, but is swirled with fine, light layers of white cake, and topped with dark chocolate. It is just not possible to enter Mrs. London's and go without ordering a dessert. They are works of art-- some of them small domes decorated with tiny sugary honeybees, some of them elegant swirls of chocolate, and yet others classic tarts with perfect berries perched on top.

I swear, when I enter Mrs. London's, my heart rate relaxes and I feel I can breathe again knowing that the world is civilized and there is time for beautiful pastries and real espresso drinks and tea. Their decor is so classy and warm and just right, too. I usually find myself having enlightened thoughts about the state of the world. It is really food satori. But I do not consider Mrs. London's to be 'above and beyond' or 'only for special occasions.' Foods that take time and love to create are essential to life. Granted, it would be pretty unrealistic to eat at Mrs. London's every day (who knows, though? Maybe someone exists out there who does! If you are out there, write me and tell me what it's like to be in heaven, okay?), especially considering that I don't even live in Saratoga. But when I need to be reminded of perfection, I know where I to go.

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