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Dining out: Les Madeleines

As my friend Brenda and I were leaving Les Madeleines on a recent stormy, rain-turning-to-snow afternoon, an SUV pulled up out front, spilling out a smiling dark-haired woman and two exuberant little girls.

The girls rushed to the door, laughing and shouting, and as we opened it, we heard what they were saying: "Cupcakes! Cupcakes! Cupcakes!"

After tasting the cupcakes at Les Madeleines, I'm surprised more adults aren't running in yelling for them. In fact, any place with the skill to turn out cupcakes this good, plus such excellent pommes frites (real good french fries), qualifies as a local treasure.

Brenda and I scurried into Les Madeleines on that cold Saturday, dodging raindrops and looking for some warm nourishment for lunch.

Boy, did we get it. Regular readers of this column know that, for me, walking into a good bakery is therapy: soothing, enticing and aromatic with all those smells of cooked sugar, pastry and brewing coffee. The subdued decor at Les Madeleines sort of fades into the background, leaving the pastry cases at the center of everyone's attention, as they should be.

Brenda had the cool and satisfying sesame-chicken wrap, pure-white chicken in creamy dressing wrapped first in tender greens, then in a rice wrapper. It came with a nice little dish of fresh edamame and a pot of sour-salty miso dressing for dipping.

I had thick, chili-like white bean-and-chicken soup with fresh cilantro on top, plus just about the best BLT out there. It's on slices of Les Madeleines' golden-rich, eggy brioche, which held up excellently to its filling of sliced red-and-yellow tomatoes, butter lettuce and Wild Boar bacon, which was, magically, both thick-cut and crisp.

With my sandwich came a pile of golden pommes frites, fried just to the edge of crispness, with tender, fluffy insides; with it I had a glass of aromatic house-made lavender lemonade.

Of course I went wild at dessert time. I defy you to do differently, given the choices on offer: spot-on shortbread given extra richness with the addition of dark chocolate or pistachio; tiny, scallop-edged alfajores, Chilean sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche; cardamom cookies that taste of sugar frosting and India.

And the queen of the store, the kouing aman (you say it kind of like "queen ah-man"). This singular pastry, hard to find anywhere else in this country, is difficult to describe. Picture the best croissant you've had, flaky and tender, then imagine it so moist inside that it's almost creamy. Then add a crunchy pastry crust overlaid with a shining caramel, cut with sea salt to keep it interesting. If nothing else I've said makes you want to visit Les Madeleines, this should.

But I've forgotten one thing: "Cupcakes! Cupcakes! Cupcakes!" There are 23 varieties listed on the menu, with regulars on hand every day while others rotate in and out (and are, of course, available by special order). We tried the imposing New York, a Valrhona chocolate cupcake frosted with Valrhona chocolate icing, more dark and rich than sweet; and the awfully cute Madagascar, a vanilla cupcake flecked with bits of real vanilla, frosted with sweet-and-mild vanilla cream cheese and dipped in white chocolate sprinkles.

There are more exotic varieties, too: the Bali, a moist cupcake full of tender grated coconut and topped with tart, fruity passion fruit buttercream, and, my favorite that day, the Jaipur, a cardamom cupcake infused with fragrant rose syrup and topped with light-green pistachio butter cream.

Sandwiches and salads $7.95-$8.95, sides $1.05-$4.95, cupcakes $1.75-$2.75; cookies, cakes, pastries and tarts 95 cents-$39.

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News.