The fashionista dictum that you should ignore anything you wore the first time when it comes around again may hold true for elephant bell-bottoms and Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses. But in the culinary realm the second time around is often more fun. With a miniskirt, you have to fit into it; with fondue, it fits into you. Such is certainly the case with the crepe resurgence.
Several decades back, when La Crepe restaurants selling Brittany's crepes were perfuming block after block with the fragrance of batter on hot griddles, I savored crepes' ability to evoke chilly Parisian days with one bite. They were an easy way for me to indulge my Francophilia. Fast-forward a few decades. My area code is now 718, I can find copies of Marie Claire and purchase pâtés de fruits without taking a plane, and the Greenwich Avenue La Crepe is long gone. But crepes still live in the Village, as I discovered when my inability to get into the ever crowded 'ino forced me into the newest outpost of the downtown Le Gamin chain.
It was mid evening; my friend and I needed a snack, a glass of wine, and a spot to rest and chat without a huge dinner tab. So the café-cum-crêperie suited us perfectly. It's not much larger than an unfurled metro map, with Gallic touches including enameled signs, huge crockery bowls for café au lait and chocolat, and a shelf filled with the latest magazines to encourage lingering. There's evidence of a decidedly un-Gallic sense of humor in the hanging lamps concocted from rusted metal steamer baskets as well as a sign in French that proclaims the whole place a smoking zone. We snagged a window table and ordered: a crepe au beurre et sucre for me ($3.25) and a crepe au chocolat for him ($4.50). They arrived: for him light thin folds of pancake wrapped around a melt of dark, dense Valhrona (sic) chocolate and drizzled with more of the same, for me a plain crepe flavored with the creamy warmth of melted butter and lightly dusted with granulated sugar. I nibbled the crisp edges and soft middle and was transported.
Shrove Tuesday, France's traditional day for crepes, had come and gone by the time I returned with some friends on a Saturday. Last time the place had been empty; this time we just made it in before the line snaked out onto the street. Even so, we waited for 10 minutes before we could grab a tiny three-top, feeling that it was better to be seated than to worry about the smokers puffing away at the next table. Crepes prevailed: a vegetarian chèvre and leek ($8.50) for one friend and a coq au vin special for me ($12). Carolyn, though, held out for a quiche lorraine ($6.50), then regretted her decision, as it was a bit dry. The chèvre-and-leek mix hit the spot, a plication of crepe filled with the tang of melted cheese punctuated by the slip of mild leek. It and the accompanying toss of mesclun disappeared in a twinkling. Mine proved to be a crepe pouf in a puddle of rich wine sauce with an underhint of bacon. A slice revealed more delicious sauce and a mix of tender fowl, rice, and more fungi, and the crepe was perfect for sopping.
By dessert time Carolyn had come back into the fold, and we introduced her to the wonders of a wrap filled with the French nursery treat known as Nutella ($6). The mix of hazelnuts and chocolate is the stuff of obsession, as she understood at first bite. My friend settled on the chocolate, which was as sinfully rich as recalled. I went for broke and had a crepe flambéed with Grand Marnier. The ceremony of the lighting and pouring of the small glass of warmed alcohol seemed somehow appropriate to the remembrance of things past. Proust can keep his madeleine.
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