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The Baltimore Sun

CAFÉ CULTURE: Watching the world go by

Times Staff Writer

At Urth Caffé pooches and their owners meet over some of the best caffe latte in all of L.A. The tables spill out the door and onto the sidewalk along Melrose. The coffee and tea are both organic; the speedy and skilled espresso makers draw hearts in the foam. And now that the café makes its own morning pastries, they're well worth ordering, especially the flaky croissants. The crowd is a mix of young Hollywood, with the occasional incognito star, neighborhood coffee hounds, scruffy scriptwriters and cops.

Outside, Casbah Café in Silver Lake is a riot of café tables, potted roses and lavender. Inside, local writers and dreamers set up for a long stay at the marble-topped tables, sipping café au lait from gold-rimmed bistro cups or a tall glass of iced mint tea. The food is French Mediterranean: feta salads, pita sandwiches and, for sweet tooths, baklava. The café also is home to an exotic bazaar selling all manner of irresistible goods, from beaded Indian genie slippers to Vietnamese silk comforters.

Café Tartine takes over an entire Los Angeles street corner with its spread of sidewalk tables. The tartines, open-face sandwiches made on bread flown in from the famous Paris bakery Poilane, include the "regime" (low-fat cream cheese with herbs and sliced tomatoes), prosciutto and cheese, and smoked salmon.

In France, pooches snooze under restaurant tables or perch on owners' laps in restaurants and cafés. In L.A., dogs are forbidden inside restaurants. But for a taste of la vie en rose and some world-class people watching, take your honey and your dog out for an aperitif at Le Petit Four's sidewalk terrace. Have a glass of Champagne or a Lillet and watch the world roll by on the Sunset Strip.

The pastry cases at Susina Bakery and Cafe (the former Sugarplum) in Los Angeles are stuffed with morning pastries — croissants, cheese Danish and cinnamon twists — along with glistening fruit tarts and pretty buttercream cakes. At lunch, the café has ready-made sandwiches — the kind you'd get on the autostrada in Italy or the autoroute in France.

A dog would be happy for a handout at Porto's Bakery, a happening spot in Glendale. At lunch, especially on Saturdays, a crowd lines up for the Cuban-style sandwiches made on the bakery's own bread. Cubano and Medianoche are big sellers, but the Pan con Lechón — slow-roasted pork with mojo garlic sauce — may be the best of all.

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