When Michele La Porta opened Thé Cool in Paris back in 1985, people — especially the socialite set — took notice. The tea salon was the first of its kind, serving hot tea, and light, healthy fare in the land of ham-and-butter sandwiches. As the story goes, one day Carla Bruni (France’s former first lady who was merely a famous fashion model at the time) tried La Porta’s Starlette Cake and fell in love. Soon, all of Bruni’s famous friends were after the low calorie dessert, making La Porta a sensation and eventually the host of a regular cooking segment on a popular French morning show.
Following a couple recent pop-ups around Los Angeles, La Porta decided the time was right to import her Thé Cool concept to the states. Her Beverly Drive iteration Pure is a grab-and-go affair set in a spa-like, white-on-white space outfitted with a few tables and refrigerated case stocked with salads, sandwiches, and gluten-free dishes. There are also soups, juices made to order, and teas.
Of course, she’s also offering the Starlette Cake, which is actually a cup of whipped, non-fat Greek yogurt with a mousse-like consistency that she sweetens with a touch of agave and tops with fresh berries. It’s not technically cake, but it does satisfy the sweet tooth without weighing you down, which has the potential to appeal to the ladies of Beverly Hills in the same way that it’s appealed to Parisian women for decades.
“I wanted to create a cake without [a lot of] calories, without sugar, without flour — there’s no butter, too, and no eggs,” says La Porta. “The cake became a big, big success. For 30 years, I’ve sold this cake in Paris, and the women have it for lunch and breakfast. Everybody loved it! It’s very fresh and tasty.”
La Porta also brought over her Veggie Cake (known to her French customers as Gateau de Legumes) an egg-based dish made with carrots, zucchini, and mozzarella reminiscent of a noodle-less lasagne, particularly after you pour on the tomato-basil sauce it comes with. La Porta says her new customers also compare it to a quiche.
“Here all the American people come and say, ‘Oh! It’s a quiche without crust.’ I say, ‘yes, if you want,” La Porta says laughing. “For French people it’s not quiche, but it’s okay.”
Aside from those two signature dishes, La Porta’s American menu is made up of mostly new items inspired by Southern California. Fish is big — there’s a rice and cucumber salad with chunks of house-cured gravlax or the very simple seared tuna served on a bed of red, brown, black rice that comes with a cup of soy-truffle sauce. There’s also her new savory take on the Starlette Cake that trades out the berries for salmon, fennel, and green apple.
“I made new recipes for the American market because look at the weather — in Paris it’s raining everyday, so we make more hot recipes, but always healthy,” says La Porta. “I created this new Starlette for the U.S. market because I always have for lunch something fresh, and I love to share that.”
All the produce is seasonal and organic, and La Porta loves the easy access to fresh vegetables and fruit here. She says that the abundance of local produce allows her to be more creative with her juice bar. Also, she says Angelenos are generally much more willing to drink green juices than Parisians — though she says that as L.A.’s influence goes more global, so too are “L.A.-style” juice concoctions.
“When I first started making juice in Paris, I made it very simple — orange and carrot, apple and carrot, apple and orange,” says La Porta. “Now, at my restaurant in France, I put the new menu from California with cucumber — I make juice with salads, romaine, spinach, and the women say, ‘Oh, it’s from California, it’s very good. And here, people love when things come from Paris.”
Pure, 252 South Beverly Drive, 310-248-4966