It's the weekend, you're hungry for brunch, and you're in Encino: what do you do?
A few years ago, that question may have been answered with either a promise of a really long line (I still love you, The Nook, I just really hate lines), defaulting to a chain restaurant (gasp, not IHOP!), or a trek over the hill. Luckily, a shift in the culinary landscape is taking place, and it's worked its way over to Encino.
Founded by locals Lea Newton and Anthony Jacquet, Claudine is an effort to offer excellent food that reflects the diverse community that they hail from. The founders aim to tell a story with their food, and a part of that effort is to ensure that their ingredients have a story, too - which they accomplish by sourcing seasonal and sustainable produce from local suppliers. Claudine offers up three meals a day, including that rarest of birds, weekday breakfast, as well as family picnic boxes to go. They've got a killer beverage selection that includes boozy brunch options, craft beer and wine on tap, and locally roasted Verve coffee.
Like so many places in the Valley, Claudine is tucked in a strip mall on a busy street. There's plenty of parking below grounds in their parking garage, with a surprising number of spots reserved for restaurant patrons only - complete with little signs that build anticipation for your meal ("you're one step closer to sweets and eats!"). The restaurant space is charming and bright, with a large open kitchen and bakery that allows you to watch the masters at work as they create gorgeous cakes and pastries. The back wall is adorned with a colorful cake stand collection, and the counters are covered in plates of tempting baked goods from cinnamon rolls and homemade pop tarts to cakes, cookies, and scones.
The brunch menu is substantial and diverse, offering twists on the classes like malted milk pancakes or the Breakfast "Naan-za," as well as healthy choices like Lea's Lightened Quiche and Mexican-inspired dishes like Chilaquiles. We struggled to choose as we waited in the short line to order, especially with all those gorgeous pastries staring us in the face, begging us to skip real food and binge on sweets.
The malted milk pancakes are a generous size, offered with a side of bacon, salted honey butter, and maple syrup, and topped with cinnamon-berry compote to offer some extra sweetness. Fluffy and creamy, these are a must-try for any pancake fan.
The Chilaquiles were definitely a winner, especially if you're a fan of an especially tangy salsa verde like I am. The chips were soaked in sauce (quite generously so) but still a bit crisp, and the egg on top was perfectly cooked. I especially enjoyed the addition of the stewed chicken, and the cotija cheese and crema drizzled on top were a perfect finishing touch.
Since avocado toast is all the rage of 2016, we were not surprised to find it on the menu here as well. Claudine's "Avocado Toast, Nikki's Way" did not disappoint, and in fact was a piquant and unique take on the dish. The crunchy baguette was topped with Serrano Ham, a perfectly fried egg, cayenne pepper, and a flavorful chimichurri sauce that really helped to set this dish apart.
We also enjoyed the breakfast tacos, a hearty and satisfying dish with scrambled eggs, turkey chorizo, black beans, and avocado. The tacos were tasty, but the potato wedges they were served with really stole the show - they were fantastic: super crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. You should definitely try these.
And of course, because no self-respecting brunch would leave out dessert, we tried a few of those tempting sweets from the bakeshop as well. The chocolate pot de creme lived up to its good looks; it was creamy, rich, and flavorful without being overly sweet.
Christmas season hadn't yet set in when we visited Claudine, so many autumnal treats were still available to us, including a deliciously moist and dense pumpkin cake donut that paired perfectly with their robust Verve coffee.
We even took a box of goodies home with us to give to friends, including those squirrel sugar cookies that were absolutely too cute to resist. By around two in the afternoon when we left, we realized we weren't the only ones who couldn't resist their treats - many of the pretty trays of baked goods were nearly empty!
Between the delicious food, great coffee, comfortable environment, and friendly atmosphere, this was certainly some of the best brunch we've had in the Valley. The entire experience was pleasant, with plenty of seating for everyone, inside and out, with enough space for large groups and families with kids. We love how comfortable and community-centered Claudine feels; even after almost two hours of relaxing and enjoying each others' company, we didn't feel rushed to leave or give up our table. And the icing on the proverbial (artisanal) cake? Not having to wait in line for hours to get a table on a Sunday morning.
Claudine Artisan Kitchen + Bakeshop; 16350 Ventura Blvd., Suite F, Encino, CA 91436