At Newport Beach’s Moulin, owner Laurent Vrignaud serves up a slice of his French childhood
Flaky puff pastry snaps between your teeth as creamy vanilla custard engulfed between each layer jubilantly squishes out. This divine creation is the mille-feuille, better known as the Napoleon, at Moulin in Newport Beach. The quintessentially French dessert is not only delicious but also extremely fitting once you learn that Moulin’s owner Laurent Vrignaud was raised in Montmarte, Paris. Each sweet, flaky bite transports you back to the cobblestone paths that wind through Vrignaud’s home village in the city’s 18th arrondissement. At Moulin, the mille-feuille is a dessert not to miss. But, there are several other dishes that evoke this same blissful feeling.
A rustic vegetarian omelet arrives at our table one morning. The eggs are perfectly soft scrambled with a ratatouille stuffing of roasted bell peppers, zucchini and eggplant. The omelet is one of those plates that you often see at bistros. However, at Moulin, this dish is perfectly done. Executing French classics is where the bistro’s cooks excel. Sandwiches arrive on freshly baked baguettes that crunch upon first bite. Succulent chickens spin round-and-round for hours on the rotisserie like plump pirouetting ballerinas. Vrignaud takes great care to ensure that his Moulin restaurant reflects the favorite parts of his Parisian childhood. Breads and croissants are baked continuously throughout the day. Pastries are lined up like toy soldiers and decorate the café’s glass display case like edible jewels. The space melds three distinct French dining experiences under one roof: part bistro, part café, part market. Moulin first opened in 2014 and was unlike anything else in the vicinity. The time of the opening marked another monumental period in Vrignaud’s life: his 50th birthday.
In so many ways, Moulin is Vrignaud’s fondest Parisian memories brought to fruition. As a 12-year-old boy, he spent afternoons and weekends working in his grandparents’ market. His time there gave him an affinity for pastries and croissants. His wife Sophie’s favorite thing to order when the couple frequents cafés in France is dessert and espresso. So, Vrignaud took that special activity and coined it for her at Moulin. Patrons who order the Café Gourmand, a flight of three mini desserts served with a shot of espresso, are unknowingly nodding to Sophie. The name “Moulin” is a subtle reference to Vrignaud’s birthplace. The word itself means “windmill,” and Vrignaud harnessed it to evoke the windmills twirling near his birthplace in Montmarte. The second, and slightly more sentimental reference, is to Vrignaud’s mother who was named “Moulin.”
While Vrignaud created a space to recreate his life in France, the Newport Beach bistro transports me back to Paris with each visit. Upon my first trip to Moulin, I ordered a mille-feuille and coffee. That first bite triggered my fondest memory of Paris. As a young woman in my mid-20s, I met my godparents for a long weekend in France. It was spring and my godfather, an artist and art historian, gave us a private tour of Paris and its galleries. It was that special time of year, when the cold layers of the city began to peel away and the streets were alive with farmers’ market stalls and couples perched at cafés, deep in conversation. After we finished a day meandering around the Museo d’Orsay, we took a taxi to Montmarte. There, we encountered a procession of women as they headed to the church at the top of the hill. We followed them up and as they finished their prayers, we left the group and stumbled on a small café. Once inside, we ordered a mille-feuille and spent hours reconnecting with one another. True bliss.
Moulin, 1000 N. Bristol Street, Newport Beach 949.474.0920 :: MoulinBistro.com