Crêpes Of Wrath

These crêpes need to learn to live up to their name

When we think of crêpes we think of France -- the tantimolles of Champagne, the landimolles of Picardy, the chialades of Argonne, the sanciaux of Limousin and Berry. Well, all right, maybe we don't think of that, but it is true that all of the really interesting crêpe traditions are French. In rural society, for instance, farmers have historically offered crêpes to landowners as a symbol of allegiance. It is also customary to serve crêpes during holidays as a means of celebrating renewal, family life, and hopes for good fortune and happiness.

The longest quotation concerning crêpes likewise comes from France -- Anatole France, who wrote in Le Temps: "Sprinkled with sugar and eaten hot, they form an exquisite dish. They have a golden hue and are tempting to eat. Thin and transparent like muslin, their edges are trimmed to resemble fine lace. Served with white wine, they take pride of place on all joyful occasions. They are so light that after a good dinner, a man from Agen is still willing to sample three or four dozen of them."

The crêpes of South Beach, like those in France, are round. That's where the similarities end. Crêpes & Co., recently opened in the narrow space on Washington Avenue that was formerly La Molienda (now located up the block), offers a fairly extensive menu for such a tiny kitchen. You can indulge in everything from soups to salads to subs to shrimp cocktail and fried calamari appetizers -- more than 50 items in all, half of which are crêpe variations. Crêpes are what we came for.

The fillings were varied, but rather than make the crêpes fresh to order, they're prepared early in the day, kept in the fridge, and reheated. The owners seem well-intentioned enough, but before you open a place called "Crêpes & Co." you really should perform the requisite amount of research to at least ensure that your crêpes are great -- why else would anyone ever return to a crêperie?

The chicken and mushroom crêpes we had were not great at all. A graceless, cream-based chicken sauce with semitender pieces of breast drowned the skinny pancakes to such an extent that it was difficult to see how dark brown and overcooked they were.

Crêpe combos with Spanish names include the Picasso with beef tenderloin and mushrooms; the Don Quixote of garlic shrimp; and a chicken-tarragon Guernica ($7.95 to $12.95). The only two sweet crêpes available are the Old Guitarist, which features vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, bananas, and strawberry sauce; and the Femme, with coffee ice cream, caramel and chocolate sauces, and toasted almonds (both $5.95). We chose the latter, but there was no coffee ice cream; a cheap brand of vanilla substituted instead. Canned whipped cream with a paper parasol popping out topped the tolerable treat.

Our waiter was an earnest, polite kid, capable of preparing a mean cappuccino but not at all versed in even the basics of waiting tables. Again, regardless of where you're from or how humble a restaurant you're trying to run, and especially in the case where food isn't a strong suit, your staff should be trained to serve people as efficiently as possible.

Café Olé is another local crêperie, this one situated at the base of Lincoln Road's Regal cinema complex. The emphasis here is solely on crêpes, eight savory and nineteen sweet. The interior of the "café" is just an ice-cream-store kiosk with a counter and a freezer display filled with Häagen-Dazs flavors; the seats are all outside, under orange umbrellas. Behind the counter are two crêpe makers, the big iron type where the batter gets poured on and smoothed over with a wooden stick. Yet while this crêperie at least prepares real crêpes, which are thicker, fresher, and better than at Crêpes & Co., Olé has other problems. One would be that absentee management ensures the staff of sullen minimum-wage workers couldn't care less if your time spent here is pleasant. After noticing that the blackboard outside Olé touted turkey crêpe and Crêpe Olé as the daily specials, I asked our waitress what made them specials. She didn't understand the question, so I elaborated: Do they come with a salad and beverage at a special price? Are they the "chef's" recommendation? She informed us that there was nothing at all special about the two dishes: "We just wrote them on the blackboard." Crêpes & Co. is equally clueless, but much friendlier.

Another drawback is the lack of stove or oven or pot or pan on premises, so the chicken, mushroom, and cheese filling of the "crêpe du chef," as well as all savory crêpes, is reheated via microwave. I've already spilled more than enough ink on my general distaste for zapped foods, but the more intriguing question here regards not the reheating of the chicken and mushrooms, but how they managed to cook the ingredients to begin with.

The front page of Crêpes & Co.'s menu proclaims "A New Style on the Beach." Unfortunately both these crêperies represent a lazy, lousy South Beach restaurant style that's getting very old.

 
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