La Crêpe Michel
Where fine dining is a snap
I cannot make a decent crêpe. And it’s not for lack of trying, let me assure you. I remember being 19 years old, standing in the industrial kitchen of my culinary school in a starchy white jacket and houndstooth pants, staring at the cracks in the mahogany-tiled floor. My least favorite instructor was publicly humiliating me for forgetting to “snap” my wrist when I flipped the pan. My lack of snap had resulted in yet another charcoal doily instead of the mouth-watering, lacy brown creation we all coveted.
I tried. I swore. I even burned the inside of my hand. Cooking crêpes is an awful lot like ice skating—it only looks effortless.
I've cultivated a healthy respect for those who can bust out a perfect crêpe, and after tasting the crêpe aux trois crèmes ($4.50) at La Crêpe Michel, I knew I was home. The tempting triple threat of heavy cream, cream cheese and sour cream was accented with minuscule shavings of lemon rind. The filling was perfectly tart, the consistency creamy (albeit a bit runnier than I like) and the crêpe itself a masterpiece of thin-yet-elastic eloquence in a shade of russet with those fine, lacy edges.
This was only part of the dessert. There was also an appetizer, soup, sandwich and quiche plate before it, and since I couldn't decide between the lemon cream and chocolate fillings, I got both.
My server Eli was spotless, charming and a model of efficiency. He said he’d been working for the restaurant since he was 15 (he is now 23), so obviously he’d had some time to get used to the place.
Unfortunately, they were fresh out of the soupe de poissons (fish soup) I wanted, but Eli recommended soupe à l’oignon (onion soup, $4.50 for a bowl, $3.25 for a cup) and I enthusiastically acquiesced. He was right to praise it. The contents of the searing-hot ceramic cup were substantial and excellent. The broth was imbued with sweet, caramelized onion and red wine, and crowned with a spongy, soaked crouton, which was slathered with melted Swiss cheese—not the fanciest version I’ve ever tried, but it was downright proper. And delicious.
Les escargots (snails, $5.95) equated to a half-dozen snails in garlic-butter sauce with mushrooms, served in a small, traditional serving dish with an indentation for each snail. The diminutive-but-palatable snails were broiled to perfection, not rubbery or greasy, and had a pleasant coating of minced garlic and fresh parsley.
The quiche du jour ($7.95) was another of Eli’s suggestions, and today’s selection was salmon and asparagus served with a side of vegetables—carrot coins with fresh string beans, not at all shy of butter. Yum. The quiche was served in two smallish slices, but the egg was fluffy and there was plenty of meaty, poached salmon and bright green asparagus to satisfy my quiche craving.
The sandwich du jour was a nice grilled ham and warm Brie with mustard and sliced cornichons (darling little French pickles) on a toasted baguette. It was served with a side salad of butter lettuce, spinach, Roma tomatoes and matchstick carrots, dressed in a pungent mustard vinaigrette. I was happy with the sandwich, but as I was also aware that the tiniest additional dab of mustard would have overshadowed the delicate taste of the earthy Brie cheese.
Between my entrée and dessert I took a walk around the small building. La Crêpe Michel doesn’t differ much from the dozens of other structures around it in Old Town (modest, old adobe buildings with rough wood beams and brick floors), but the dining room I was seated in was more like a sun porch, complete with a live tree in the middle of the room.
“We have a hard time watering it,” said Eli.
Dessert was just plain decadent, and the crêpe au chocolat ($3.95) was filled with melted Belgian Callebaut chocolate (known for being high in fat content vis-à-vis cocoa butter) and chantilly cream (or crème chantilly, which is whipped with vanilla or brandy) so rich I could feel my arteries crystallize and my cholesterol level hitting critical mass.
Owner/Chef Claudie Zamet-Wilcox deserves praise for such wonderful food, and her superb crêpe-producing skills are bankable. If you’ve got the patience to deal with the pottery- and turquoise-laden labyrinth that is Old Town (and its parking woes), stop in for lunch at La Crêpe Michel.
The Alibi Recommends:
Soupe à l’oignon
Quiche du jour
Crêpe aux trois crèmes
La Crêpe Michel, 400 San Felipe, Suite C2, 242-1251. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. lunch; 6-9 p.m. dinner. Closed Sun night and Mon. Price range: Moderate to expensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, booze, patio, website at lacrepemichel.com.