I don’t make a habit out of eating two crepes for lunch, but if a near-stranger with a gift card for a restaurant across the street from my office offers to share their bounty, I don’t say no. I’m up for food blog blind dates.
I enjoyed a buckwheat crepe similar to what they serve at Bar Breton. The grains add heft to the soft pancakes and make the meal feel healthy even though it’s filling. I feel the same way about soba; even though I prefer udon the brown pleasingly gritty noodles just seem more angelic nutritionally. Mine was served open-faced, filled with ricotta and topped with a handful of arugula and slices of prosciutto. Though a few dollars more than I normally allow myself for lunch (this one was $11 but many are $8-$9) a savory crepe could make a nice sandwich alternative and certainly beats a BMT (yes, I’ve been known to frequent the Subway, a few storefronts down the street).
Since I was double-creping it, I went simple with a triangular (these are not buckwheat, as you can probably see) pancake drizzled with a cloudberry syrup and a dollop of cream. Lingonberries, cloudberries, gooseberries…all foreign and indiscernible to me. Of course, I can tell a raspberry from a blackberry from a blueberry by taste, but cloudberries in this form? I could only describe the flavor as sweet with the smallest amount of tartness.
A sweet crepe filled with chocolate, probably Nutella, was the first thing I ever ate in France so I always associate the folded-like-a-napkin treats strongly with the cuisine (never mind that Crêpes du Nord is billed as French-Scandinavian). And that sounds far more pretentious than intended.
Whenever someone mentions going to France as a kid, it shifts my opinion of them, and not always for the better. Tony Bourdain, who I’m lukewarm on anyway, loses me when he drops childhood visits to France into his shows. I’m currently reading Rob Sheffield’s Talking to Girls About Duran Duran and I was like “what?!” when I hit the chapter where his family takes a road trip across Europe. It’s hard to paint yourself as an awkward teen with crappy jobs when you get to go to France, Italy and Spain for the summer. And sure, European Vacation was about rubes abroad, but in reality with only about 30% percent of Americans owning passports, traveling to France with kids is not only a luxury, it’s a rarity. I can only think, “Wow, you had a charmed childhood and wealthy, open-minded parents.” I feel the same about where-to-take-the-parents round-ups that suggest Daniel and Minetta Tavern. Sorry, you're getting Totonno's and East Buffet.
I did stay with a family in Nerac, France, so-called melon (the only food I won’t eat) capital of the world in July 1989. I couldn’t swing a full year or even a semester abroad, but I was serious about saving up for my month and got my first job, bussing tables for $3.35 an hour at Hunan Garden, on the same strip as Skate World and Donut Barn. Even though I ended up being kind of bored and miserable in the countryside (I wanted the romance of Paris, duh) and ultimately getting parental financial assistance (which I’m still surprised happened) the 31-day-trip was one of the wisest things I did in the ‘80s. And despite numerous trips to Asia and other parts of Europe I’ve never returned to France and currently have no inclination to (right now, I’m toying with San Sebastian or Lima) because I hate idealized Cartier-Bresson/Amelie stereotypes. The Japanese have learned not to idealize (seriously, you have to read about “Paris Syndrome”) and so should we all.
As to Crepes du Nord, I would return if I could sneak out of the office for a late lunch and take advantage of their two-for-one 4-7pm happy hour. Drinking during the work day is a luxury I’ve managed to resist so far, but 2011 may be the year I cave. There’s nothing uncivilized about an occasional midday glass (or two) or wine, right? Oh dear, now I’m starting to sound French or something.
Crêpes du Nord * 17 S. William St., New York, NY