April 14, 2011
Lunch with Curtis Popp at La Bonne Soupe

La Bonne Soupe.JPGI recently had the pleasure of joining Curtis Popp for lunch at La Bonne Soupe, the near-legendary soup and sandwich spot on 8th Street.

The lunch came about after Curtis noticed I had failed to include La Bonne Soupe on my list of favorite places for sandwiches. I suggested we re-visit and perhaps I would reconsider.

In addition to being a nice guy, Curtis has a degree in interior architecture from the California College of the Arts and is a highly regarded interior designer in the Sacramento area. Check out the slide show of the recent remodel of his family home in Land Park, as featured on Dwell Magazine's website.

On top of all that, Curtis is a big fan of eating out, and he grew up in a household in which his dad was a devoted gourmet cook.

The La Bonne Soupe experience begins with a plan: what time shall we meet to deal with the inevitable wait? No one goes to lunch at 11:20 a.m. - unless you're going here. The wait is usually 30 minutes. But that's part of the charm, standing in line, soaking up the feel of the place and watching Daniel Pont at work. Monsieur Pont is the chef, the server, the cashier, the host, the dishwasher and, really, the focal point. On top of all that, he is a true gentleman.

Watching the chef in action is a real treat. He is the only one behind the counter and he stubbornly refuses to hire anyone. Despite the long line, he never rushes. Everything is done smoothly, at the same rhythm. Watch his hands, the way he grips the knife, the way he slices the sandwich, the elegance of how he ladles the soup.

It was a chilly weekday. We both ordered soups and Curtis had the pate sandwich. I had the braised pork sandwich with a small bottle of champagne. Curtis and I talked about food, restaurants and, one of my favorite topics, design.

By the time we polished off those sandwiches, appreciating the crunch of the bread and the balanced flavors of the soups, I was ready to revise my list.

La Bonne Soupe made a splash when Zagat's Sacramento restaurant guide came out two years ago because this humble little spot scored highest in the food category out of all places in town. I won't insult M. Pont by saying that is ridiculous. The food is certainly good (but not great), and always consistent. But it's really the overall experience and the charm of the proprietor that make it all taste so much better.

OK Curtis, La Bonne Soupe is, indeed, on my list now. I certainly enjoyed the lunch. I even enjoyed waiting in line. Let's do it again soon.

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