Dining on a budget: Cafe Massilia in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

Things were going so well at Cafe Massilia until I made a terrible mistake.

I chose to visit this fairly new French restaurant in Monrovia early on a Sunday morning, which happened to coincide with the only day the restaurant serves breakfast, but opted to sample dishes from the lunch menu instead.

I decided to begin with the $7 Soupe de la Corniche, the restaurant’s onion soup (In a French restaurant, French Onion Soup is simply called onion soup) and it arrived in a ramekin with toasted French bread and parmesan cheese.

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This style of soup is one of my favorites and what I generally look for is the right type of cheese, which, for me, is the kind that doesn’t turn into a mile-long, unbreakable strand when eating it with a spoon.

Cafe Massilia’s version had the right amount of sweetness, and the cheese and French bread.

My lunch companion – the best part about doing reviews like this – chose the vegetable soup of the day, cauliflower soup, which I have to admit was very good.

Now I should probably point out that cauliflower is my second-favorite vegetable. My favorite? Every other one. 

I’m happy to report that this soup was seasoned so well that I wouldn’t have had any qualms about ordering a portion for myself on my next visit.

Before I get to the main course, and my grand error, I’ll tell you about the restaurant itself. Located near the corner of Myrtle and Lemon avenues, it has occupied the site of another, now-defunct French restaurant for the past six months.

The maitre d’/co-owner Chris Giovanelli keeps French music playing – everything from “La Mer,” to the French version of “How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” called “Le Chien Dans La Vitrine” – and during the course of the meal played a couple of classic French DVDs to show us, and the other patrons, his homeland and famous French actors.

I found it humorous that the table water was served without ice – exactly the same as my dining experiences in Europe – except that Giovanelli gladly gave us a couple of hi-ball glasses full of the stuff instead of turning his nose up at us and giving us one cube, like they do across the Atlantic.

For my lunch entree, I chose the $11 Baguette Pan Bagnat, a sandwich made with white tuna, a boiled egg and bell pepper, with a Caesar salad.

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The Caesar dressing was the best I’ve ever had. I thought there was a hint of horseradish, or cayenne pepper, because it had a degree of spiciness that I really loved, but after asking the chef, he told me that it was just a very large amount of garlic and anchovies.

I started eating my sandwich, which was made with chopped tuna and was enjoying it until I made the mistake of sampling my fiance’s $11 Crepe de la Mer.

It was this cheesy, creamy, buttery mix of smoked salmon and asparagus that was sauteed in white wine which made my sandwich pale in comparison.

And unfortunately I could only finagle a couple of forkfulls, so I’m going to be itching to go back and get my own crepe.

Cafe Massilia is located at 110 E. Lemon Ave., Monrovia, (626) 471-3588 or visit www.cafemassilia.com

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