Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Chef conversation floated about the closet-sized kitchen in fluid French. Autumnal sun lightly baked customers eating al fresco along the sea. Authentic buckwheat crepe batter sizzled, its savory scent all sensorial seduction.
This wasn’t France. This was Friday. On Fisherman’s Wharf front deck. At a semi-hidden new spot inside an ice cream-coffee shop called Vive La Crepe (601-4847).
One of the chefs, Thierry Crocquet, is a recovering tile contractor.
“I work twice as much and make half as much,” he says. “But I’m 10 times happier.”
He’s also the undercover Frenchie of the two principals – even though he’s the one born across the pond and can speak fluently, Crocquet has no detectable accent. Daniel Peron, meanwhile, has a distinct French lilt, but was hatched in New York City to Brittany-born parents.
Make no mistake, though. Both own Old World flavor beyond the imported striped French shirts and berets. Foodie citizens and industry pros alike – including spies from other crepe joints – are noticing they know what they’re doing.
My favorite element of this story might be its genesis: crepes as familial comfort in tough times. At least that’s how Crocquet tells it. He lost his mom not long ago, and realized he had a way to hold on – through the food that defined her family. So he started cooking more crepes for his kids, using the recipe he knew from summers in Brittany, the birthplace of crepes, with his grandma, and began incubating an idea to make something more of his affection.
The next steps came serendipitously. Crocquet’s then-sweetie took him to her favorite crepe place in Stockton. He was intrigued by the undeniably authentic photos on the walls from Brittany and ceremoniously wowed by what he ate.
“I thought my grandma’s were the best in the world,” he says. “Then I thought, ‘Sorry grandma.’”
He mentioned his aspirations to owner-chef Peron, who was eyeing his own change of scenery. Now that Peron has moved here to help launch the endeavor, even this imperfect Yankee palate can identify their collaborative excellence.
Journo-of-the-future Janet “Up and Up” Upadhye and I tried three on that Friday, a brie and caramelized onion number ($8.50), a seasonal veggie-cheddar-jack ($5.50) and a caramel-apple sweet one ($6.50) from a chalkboard list that includes strawberry-cream cheese ($6.50) and turkey-jack-cheddar ($6.50).
It was all systems “whoah.” I sensed genius seasoning, then realized that flavor came not from salts and spices but from the perfectly thin and rustic buckwheat skin – or in French, galette – and the onions they stir to sauteed superiority over 90 minutes. The sweet one is a little hard to eat with plastic forks, but enjoys an unmistakeable slow-cooked quality born of housemade salted caramel and batter that isn’t doughy or eggy.
My only free range beef with these dudes: Lose the all-disposable flatware. Kills the beautiful buckwheat buzz.
Should they shape up on that front, I’ll be back for the crepe Crocquet says he favors: the off-menu brie-caramelized onion-and-salmon special ($9.50).
Vive la Crepe indeed.
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They lurk among us, these fiends for Chopstix (899-2622) fare. I work with several. And, in the interests of full disclosure, I love their super affordable banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches ($3.25). They recently took home Seaside’s business of the quarter award from the Neighborhood Improvement Program Commission and added a website where you can place orders and check out nutrition info: www.chopstixboba.com.
But those fiends will be happier to hear Chopstix number two is “go” for the old Wendy’s/La Giostra space near Del Monte Center.
“We’ll try to do it the same as Seaside,” owner Mikey Nguyen says. “Same menu, same set-up, same color; we’re trying to keep it really good.”
Looks like there’ll be another addition to the family beyond that. Nguyen’s predicting an opening “somewhere in February” once his wife and collaborator Hoc gives birth. (Don’t worry: Hoc’s mom’s coming to help out.)
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Things to be thankful for: 1) A new deal at Kula Ranch (883-9479): Tuesdays are two-for-one on house wine, mai tais and margaritas (and the fat Monday Night Football offerings – a whole spit-roasted hog, drink bargains and raffle prizes – rolls on)… 2) A debut happy hour at Cannery Row Brewing Company (643-2722): select drafts and spirits and snacks are half off 3-6pm weekdays (they’re also doing a nice $24.99 Thanksgiving spread by Mark Ayers)… and 3) HER Helmet Thursdays is celebrating a year extending discounts to bikers at participating Hospitality, Entertainment/Education and Restaurant venues (HER, get it?) every, yes, Thursday. Check out the website for a new clickable map… Pebble Beach Food and Wine Advisory Board Member Thomas Keller made his debut on South Park, along with other chefs like Alton Brown, a perennial at the Aquarium’s Cooking For Solutions, and Gordon Ramsay… As Ramsay says, “It’s wake up, move your ass, or piss off home.”