As a self-identified Francophile, I’m often admonished for my general aversion to traditional crêpes. Given a short list of things to eat, I will never, ever choose a crêpe. This is a fact. It’s somewhat perplexing and even a little embarrassing, given the disproportionate number of dedicated crêpe kitchens in Seattle. Maybe it’s the ambiguity of the crêpe that makes me wary – is it breakfast? Dessert? A meal? A snack? Or maybe it’s the inherent simplicity of the dish? An earnest flour batter, straightforward fillings. In any case, here I was, revisiting La Côte Crêperie for the fourth time in as many weeks in the hopes of better understanding the source of my reticence.
La Côte occupies a tiny, well-lit space adjunct to Voilà! Bistrot at the bottom of the hill in Madison Valley (Laurent Gabrel, l’homme génial, owns them both). There’s a retro Breton nautical motif in full effect here, all blue and white stripes from the walls to the waitstaff. An interesting throwback, albeit unsurprising when one learns that the savory buckwheat galettes at La Côte originally herald from the coastal region of Brittany (as does the hard apple cider customarily paired with the thin pancakes). The music is all appropriately French, ranging from contemporary chansons to bouncy 1960′s pop (ladies and gentlemen – on behalf of the internet, I give you, Radio Yé-Yé. Yay?) There are maybe six marble-topped tables total, lots of hardwood, and a colossal chalkboard stretching all the way to the ceiling which lists all manner of crêpe for your perusal. Shall we then?
I begin with savory, acknowledging that sweet is very likely responsible for 75% of my decades-long dismissal of the crêpe as a “proper” food. I am very fond of raclette, and am thrilled to see that the pungent Swiss cheese forms the base of the Savoyarde (in addition to yukon potatoes, prosciutto and crème fraîche). That sounds pretty, um, delicious, I think to myself. The shockingly large buckwheat galette arrives, corners folded over in a square, like a gift. The raclette is used sparingly, but to great effect, complementing the salty cured ham and soft potatoes. It’s generously seasoned with black pepper, which makes me infinitely happy. The crème fraîche being of the squeeze bottle variety makes me far less so. Still – paired with a smooth, dry glass of Cabernet Franc from Saumur, or an earthy, bittersweet cup of Cidre Bouché Dupont, I have to call this a win. Additional wins can found in the definitive La Complète and the eponymous La Côte. “The Complete” being a hearty Emmenthal and ham-filled galette topped with a fried egg served sunny side up, and “The Coast” being comprised of a rich, seafood sauce filled with chunks of fresh shrimp and scallop.
All of the above has led me to reluctantly admit that one of my chief grievances about crêpes couldn’t be farther from the truth – their presumed insubstantiality. In fact, these galettes are exceedingly filling. They can and do constitute a complete meal (especially if you split a bowl of Vichyssoise or onion gratinée soup). The same cannot be said about the sweet crêpes, I’m afraid. Duty-bound to at least try one, I let my partner choose, and she goes for La Citronée. The filling is a simple, sweet, lemony syrup, and the whole pancake is sprinkled with granulated sugar. If such a thing is possible, the dessert crêpes are so light as to be practically ephemeral. They hardly exist on the space-time continuum. For all the world I still can’t imagine myself seeking something like this out on purpose, but as a dessert, I guess it does the job.
There are a handful of other items on the menu besides the crêpes, including the aforementioned soups and a handful of salads, as well as assorted fruits de mer served as appetizers after 5:00 o’clock. That’s all well and good, but I do believe I’m going to keep exploring the rest of this list… Another misconception successfully replaced with appreciation (or at least comprehension). Go, Go, Gastronaut!