• Courtesy Patisserie Coralie
  • Paris on My Lips at Patisserie Coralie

For a little while, life was perfect at Patisserie Coralie, the new French bakery/cafe in Evanston where Cafe Mozart used to be. There was a pain au chocolat on the marble counter in front of me, a cup of hot Julius Meinl coffee off to the side. The pastry was crisp and flaky. The coffee was rich and dark. Behind all that, downtown Evanston turning all fuzzy and blue in the December twilight. A couple chatted on the deep leather sofa, where I was afraid to sit because I knew I would get pastry crumbs all down my front. Judy Garland was singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” over the sound system. All was calm, all was bright. It was a perfect way to wallow in interholiday melancholy.

The best Christmas songs, like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (but only Judy’s tremulous rendition from Meet Me in St. Louis, not Frank Sinatra’s or anybody else’s), are the sad ones, the ones that remind us that this is actually a cold, dark, shitty time of year and that our desire for light and warmth and sugar and carbs is not just a commercial event invented by Charles Dickens and department stores but a deep, biological imperative to counteract an overwhelming desire to sleep and avoid thoughts of decay and death and lost friends and all the rest of our failings over the past year (and, OK, that the Messianic child whose birth most Americans will be celebrating was destined to die a horrible death to atone for the sins of all humankind). But there’s always a glimmer of hope. On December 21, the days will start getting longer again by infinitesimally tiny increments. Spring will come, eventually. Like Judy, we know we’ll just have to muddle through somehow. And there’s Christmas. Or Hanukkah. Or winter break.

And then there are songs like “Frosty the Snowman,” which I’m sure gets played on infinite loop in hell. Even though the message of the lyrics—such as it is—of “Frosty” is that he and his little kid friends need to skip and run and have some fun before he melts away, the song doesn’t really mean it. It’s all frenetic sweetness, like a particularly odious sugar rush.

Which brings me back to pastry, particularly the pastries at Patisserie Coralie. Owner Pascal Berthoumieux (who also owns Bistro Bordeaux and Crêperie Saint Germain) imported a genuine Parisian pastry chef, Manuel Bouillet, to run the kitchen. Bouillet understands that good pastry, like a good Christmas song, should never be all sweetness. It should have an element of complexity. And so he runs threads of lavender and citrus through Paris on My Lips, a lipstick-colored, creme-filled bis, and uses citrus again to cut the buttery sweetness of his madeleine. Even his èclair, the most ostentatious confection in the pastry case, is smaller and thinner than its American cousins, and its decadence is tempered by a sturdy pate a choux and a bittersweet chocolate wafer on top (albeit one decorated with a dab of real gold). Berthoumieux furnished the space with cafe tables and a couple of deep couches and armchairs. It’s a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

The only real disappointments were the plain croissant, which was soggy and tough, and the music. After “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” ended, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” came on, and after that, it was nonstop holiday cheer at an unnecessarily loud volume. (I guess “Grandma” also has some underlying melancholy in that the family’s Christmas celebration is transformed into a wake and there’s debate about whether there should be presents, but really.) I just couldn’t take it. I suppose I’ll go back to Patisserie Coralie eventually, but not until the holidays are over.

A note: Some may argue that a Jew has no business whining about Christmas music. But I feel that, as a lifelong observer of Christmas and unattached to any particular customs of my own, I am impartial enough to be able to judge accurately. Also it should be noted that some of the world’s most enduring Christmas music (“White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” I’ll Be Home for Christmas”) has been written by Jews.

Patisserie Coralie, 600 Davis, Evanston, 847-905-0491, facebook.com/PatisserieCoralie.