Forget the expensive airfare and 11-hour flight to France when all things French can soon be found at Laurent Vrignaud's Moulin Bistro. The epicerie and cafe is expected to open Sept.18 in Plaza Newport.
"Everything I miss in France I will bring to Orange County under one roof," Vrignaud said.
Food was a big part of his life growing up in Montmartre, north of Paris. Vrignaud served customers at his grandparents' market at age 12, and after school, he and his classmates would stop by caterers' shops and pick up croissants, fruit tarts and other pastries.
Then his parents moved the family to San Francisco when Vrignaud was a teenager. And though later, while working as a representative for brands in the action sport business, he thought of opening a cafe, the timing never seemed right.
Ten years ago he settled in Newport Beach with his wife, Sophie, and their daughter, Kaya.
"As you get older, it gets harder to get out of habits," he said.
But now that Vrignaud has lived in America for more than 30 years, that dream of re-creating the bistros he loved as child is coming to life. A milestone birthday for Vrignaud and his undying love of French food and culture prompted him to start the business in Orange County.
As he stood recently before the 2,300-square-foot restaurant off Bristol Street, the man who refers to himself as the cafe's proprietaire proudly opened the double doors and presented the cafe's features as his wife and daughter stood nearby.
With walls decorated in vintage French posters, and imported wooden bistro tables and chairs able to seat a total of 36 people, the concept is to represent a caterer in France where high-end food is displayed, selected and taken home.
Guests may pick up a sandwich from the grab-and-go display or wait in line and have a chef prepare a menu item. The menu will feature an item called Cafe Gourmand, which includes three mini desserts and an espresso. The guest will not know what the desserts will be, since Vrignaud wanted a surprise element. Vrignaud added the treat to the menu, because it's his wife's favorite thing to order in Paris.
The other family touch on the menu is Kaya's favorite French lunch. The plate features coquillettes pasta, Parisian ham and Emmental cheese.
Moulin's wine list will include Champagne, roses, reds, whites and two French beers on tap.
Vrignaud hired French-trained chef Anthony Bar and baker-pastry chef Patrick Sigaud to prepare family recipes and French favorites.
As Vrignaud noted, when people think of France, they think of bread, so the bakery will prepare baguettes, croissants and turnovers throughout the day.
The name Moulin, which means windmill, was chosen by Vrignaud's mother in tribute to "les moulins" of their hometown.
Outside the cafe will be a terrace modeled after the outdoor cafes in France. The space will be shaded with red umbrellas, and the landscape design will feature a Provencal stone fountain and a trellis hanging above hedges.
Moulin will not be a place to browse web addresses or chat on a cellphone. Vrignaud intentionally avoided selecting a fast Internet speed, because he wants his guests to slow down, have an espresso, eat a strawberry tart and listen to French music.
"When you go to Paris, everything there is cool today, yesterday and tomorrow," Vrignaud said. "Certain things never go out of style. I'm anti-trend."
As he pointed to the pair of Converse sneakers on his feet, he glanced at his daughter's All-Stars. "We're 40 years apart and we're in the same shoes," he said.
Vrignaud said he plans to pass down the value of hard work to 12-year-old Kaya and wants her to appreciate the food industry — as he did when he was her age.
"I'm hoping to learn how French people serve food," she said.
Vrignaud said people seeking authentic French food are stopping by and anticipating the restaurant's opening.