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Romina Rasmussen has given up her hectic, international corporate life for the opportunity to roll her own dough in a little piece of French real estate on Salt Lake City's State Street.

It's not what she envisioned when she left Utah in 1988, embarking on a career in telephone marketing and sales that would take her for several years to Asia, and later back to Miami.

But then she made a dramatic change in course, enrolling at the French Culinary Institute in New York to study classic pastry baking. Once completed, Rasmussen returned to Salt Lake and outfitted the small building at 660 S. State St. with huge ovens and baking counters, a commercial espresso machine, a half-dozen small tables and a lime-green awning over the front door imprinted with "Les Madeleines" to advertise her new venture.

Her aptitude for making flaky croissants, luscious cheesecakes and a case full of beautiful cookies and fruit jellies is on display inside. Simply looking is a pleasure: the coconut macaroons are perfect little mounds with a swish of decorative icing; the individual charlottes, with tiny ladyfingers encircling the creamy filling, are almost too pretty to eat; and just looking at the shortbread starts the mouth watering.

I first spotted Les Madeleines while driving down State Street between appointments, and dropped in to grab something for lunch. There isn't a huge variety: several sandwiches on croissants, beef or cheese empanadas and salads. (Rasmussen said soups will be added in the next month or so.)

Turkey and cheese sounded good and tasted even better. The croissant, fresh out of the oven, was the best I've had. Even with something as simple as peanut butter on it, it would have ranked in the "definitely memorable" category. The couple of cookies I ordered on the side cinched it; I've been back several times to try one thing or another.

Rasmussen makes all of the pastries -- even the graham crackers for graham-cracker crusts -- from scratch, using only the best ingredients, such as Pelugra butter and Valrhona chocolate. And the items baked each day vary, depending on what's fresh on the market, or what sounds intriguing.

She looks forward to the upcoming Meyer lemon season, when the fruit -- a lemon-orange hybrid "with a lovely floral quality," she says -- will be featured in tarts, eclairs, jelly candies and, of course, madeleines.

The café's namesake, for example, changes frequently, from the more common lemon or orange madeleines, to green tea, lavender or jasmine-flavored. In any case, the shell-shaped sponge cakes are terrific with a cup of coffee or tea. So are the many varieties of shortbread, though Rasmussen has learned during more than 10 months in business to always have her butter toffee shortbread on hand.

Another cookie that Rasmussen said is fast becoming a customer favorite, and to which I add my vote, is the rosemary butter cookie. It is a dainty, melt-in-your-mouth delight, with the herb's unique, clean flavor wrapped in rich butter.

It will still take several more visits, interspersed between lots of calorie-burning workouts, to sample all of Les Madeleine's beautiful muffins, danish, tarts, the intriguing "braso de reina" -- sponge cake rolled around jam and dulce de leche -- and lovely layered panna cotta parfaits.

On the savory side, Rasmussen's empanadas are also a treat. Rasmussen makes them as her mother, of Chilean descent, taught her, with a delicious mixture of ground beef, raisins and hard-cooked eggs in a pastry pocket. She also makes an empanada filled with extra sharp cheddar cheese, which her mother says is much like the kind of cheese traditionally used in Chile.

Besides baking for the cafe's daily business, Rasmussen does a lot of special order baking -- of very special items. She makes full-size charlottes, a hazelnut Paris-brest (a ring-shaped cream puff filled with hazelnut cream), an Austrian spice cake, soaked in a spiced orange and white wine syrup, and a traditional Linzer torte, with almond cream and raspberries.

One precaution when dining at Les Madeleines: most of the meters on that block of State Street are two-hour meters, as were the ones directly in front of her cafe -- until two weeks before she opened for business. Suddenly, and without any explanation that Rasmussen been able to uncover, the two meters outside her front door were changed to 32 minutes. In order to enjoy a more leisurely visit, she suggests parking slightly north or south of her door. In the meantime, she is trying to get the two-hour meters reinstalled.

Grand pizza opening

The new California Pizza Kitchen at University Mall, 575 E. University Parkway, Orem, is celebrating its grand opening Tuesday by donating proceeds from all of its pizza sales on that day to the Children's Justice Center of Utah County.

Market Street wine dinner

The fall's harvest and spectacular autumn leaves will be highlighted Wednesday at 7 p.m., at a four-course dinner and wine pairing at Market Street Grill/Cottonwood, 2985 E. 6580 South. The dinner, which includes a bruschetta appetizer, acorn squash soup, filet mignon Wellington with foie gras and truffle sauce, and poached pears in pinot, is $40 per person. Optional wine pairings, selected by Gastronomy's wine director, Wendy Caron, are an additional $20. Prices do not include tax or tip. Call 801-947-0542 for reservations or information. Reservations also may be made online at


Nancy Hobbs is The Tribune's restaurant reviewer. The newspaper covers the cost of meals at restaurants reviewed and there is no connection between reviews and restaurant advertising. Hobbs welcomes food and wine news, comments and suggestions at

Les Madeleines Patisserie & Café

Where: 660 S. State St., Salt Lake City; 801-355-2294

Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Closed Sunday.

Prices: Entrees from $3.25-$6.50; pastries, 45 cents to $4

Liquor: No

Reservations: No

Child's menu: No

Takeout: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Outdoor dining: Sidewalk tables

Parking: Metered parking

Credit cards: All major