Bonjour mes Amies,

Paris ... the ... City of Lights -- better yet, the City of Appetites. Croissants for breakfast; baguettes with goat cheese, foie gras, honey (Franche-Comte' product) or jam for lunch and some more baguette soaked in red wine alongside dinner. Yes, those were the days of problem-free bread gluttony.

I must apologize for my never-ending rambles about my deep love for France. You see ... Paris brings out the dreamers in us all and sparks our imagination. I loved every moment and lived shamelessly in the unabashed pursuit of pleasure (love affair with French food). I also had the opportunity to stuff myself with good breads. Paris is, without doubt, the world capital of pastry-making.

In France you are either a pastry chef or a baker, rarely both. Pastry chefs are precise perfectionists. Bakers are more instinctive types who sense the need to adjust the amount of flour in their pain au levain to the humidity outside.

Now, let me focus on the Rio Grande Valley. I like a lot of bakeries. But I love very few. Breads are similar to friends in that manner. Olivier's French Bakery has been the talk of the town ... in a tres bon way. The newly-opened country style boulangerie - patisserie has brought more diversity to the choice of freshly made products in McAllen.

I've often heard that one should pursue their passions and find a way to make a living from them. Olivier Nicol (owner/baker) is extremely passionate about his Parisian baked goods and it shows - you can't go wrong with anything in the pastry case. I promise you won't find frozen dough delivered in the middle of the night at this bakery.

The magical artistry would not be possible without Pastry Chef James Blake. Oui ... un Francais avec un Americain - take it to the next level. Together they have put together a menu offering traditional French pastries as well as breads, viennoiseries and a light lunch fare.

Pastry Chef Blake (native Oregonian) attended Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Ore. and The American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kans. He has tons (25 years) of international experience (several five-star and five-diamond hotels and resorts worldwide) when it comes to the "Art of Baking." He will dazzle your eyes and tempt your appetite with handcrafted breads, delectable pastries and yummy sandwiches (Croque Monsieurs).

Like an authentic bakery in the heart of Paris, it is quiet and unassuming. The main focus is ... your pastry du jour! Olivier's French Bakery is a fete du pain (bread festival). I'm a huge lover of French pastries, especially Pain au Chocolat (chocolate croissants). The combination of buttery, yeasty sweet dough and luscious dark chocolate, baked together, is completely irresistible. The glossy seasonal fruit tarts (pear/raspberry) and almond tarts are divine- but, if you're in the mood for a sweet-tart dessert...order the Lemon Meringue Tart. The amazing citrus flavor is not overly intense.

Their scrumptious millefeuille -- or what we call Napoleons has the requisite three layers of puff pastry and two layers of vanilla cream. Croissant Amande (almond) is a delightful treat filled with almond paste; the result is a crispy, nutty, yet soft in the middle treat that will make you slip into a dream-like state. Another French classic is the "Opera," a chocolate-covered rectangular cake composed of layers of biscuit soaked in coffee syrup and garnished with butter cream and chocolate ganache ... c'est si bon! Some women buy jewels. I buy pastries.

There's nothing like a crispy, cracked French baguette from Olivier's. Instead of baker's yeast, they use a mother starter, or levain. The long, slow rise of fermenting dough gives flavor and longevity. Important steps for a perfect baguette: hydration, minimal mixing and kneading and long, cool fermentation or "pointage." They defiantly pay a lot of attention to quality and detail.

So, you need to buy a special cadeaux? I have found a great alternative that is always a crowd-pleaser ... food. I like to buy gourmet food items that they may not know about or even think to buy on their own. You can find Parisian food products lining the shelves waiting for you to discover them. For example: Foie Gras with Port Wine /Truffle and Foie Gras (whole duck) flavored with Armagnac Brandy -smooth and sumptuous and synonymous with culinary decadence. The Lavender Honey is wonderful with scones, biscuits, and toast.

Les Confitures a l ‘Ancienne products such as Cerise Griotte (morello dark cherry jam) - fruit at the peak of their ripeness, pure cane sugar and pectin, all cooked in copper cauldrons. Herbes de Provence, Brittany Butter Cookies, Nougat, Moutarde Dijon and more. Whether you crave something sweet or something savory (or even a bit of both), Olivier's French Bakery is there to please. Fresh salads and quiches with extraordinarily flaky crust and ingredients are available. I highly recommend the broccoli with goat cheese ($4.91) or spinach with salmon ($5.71) quiche.

Celebrate the moments of your life with a cup of Segafredo Italian Coffee (Italy's largest coffee roaster). Slowly savor the original Italian blend of Arabica and Robusta ... great way to start your day. "Vive la difference" Olivier's!

Merci beaucoup,

Madame Gourmande

Olivier's French Bakery, 1126 Pecan Blvd., McAllen. 956-562-4075. Open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays.