Sweet and savory are wrapped up at Crepe Cafe

EATS

Dining For $25 Or Less

March 22, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Cafe de Paris, the nine-year-old French restaurant that moved from Laurel to Columbia in 2002, used to have a little deli on one side, for people who didn't want to sit down for a big meal.

The problem, said restaurant owner Erik Rochard, was that delis were plentiful in Howard County, and serving his sandwiches on French bread wasn't enough to set himself apart from the competition.

Then came the cartoon light bulb over his head, and he decided to convert the deli to a Crepe Cafe. As far as he knows, his creperie, which opened in November, is the only one in Howard County.

Though the cafe is next to the restaurant, it is separate and has its own mood and menu. While the restaurant serves things like escargot and beef burgundy, the cafe serves only crepes - 13 savory ones and 10 sweet.

While the restaurant seats about 100 in a fairly formal setting, the cafe is much smaller and has a sunny, romantic feel. A wire wall sculpture of a bicycle, complete with artificial flowers in its basket, adds whimsy, and a couch and coffee table add coziness.

Recently, we saw a young man sitting on that couch, tapping away on a laptop and nursing a cup of coffee. Rochard said there's no wireless connection yet. His focus seems to be on the old-fashioned virtue of serving good, uncomplicated food.

The crepes are made in the cafe, and if you peek behind the counter, you can see the simple process in action.

The thin pancakes are little more than flour (buckwheat for savory pancakes, wheat for sweet), milk and eggs. The batter is spread on one of two circular crepe-making machines, then filled with ingredients that are as simple as a drizzle of honey ($4.50) and as complex as a combination of turkey, pesto, eggplant and goat cheese ($8.95).

Once the batter has cooked through and the ingredients are hot, the crepes are quickly folded. The sweet ones are dusted with sugar, the savory ones share a plate with a mound of greens. Then they're brought to the table. Since the crepes are made one at a time, they won't all arrive together, but that's a small price to pay for these treats and the relaxed pleasure of eating at the cafe.

The savory crepes, wrapped in slightly tart pancakes, range from delicate to robust. A vegetarian ($8.95) was mild, with thin slices of portobello mushroom, eggplant and tomato held together with melting mozzarella.

A more flavorful offering was the Basquaise ($8.50), which combined small pieces of chicken with a rich ratatouille. Bolder still was the crepe du chef ($9.95), with its generous slice of salty prosciutto balanced by the richness of mozzarella and goat cheeses and lightened, just a little, with tomato and eggplant. This almost worked for me, but I found the large slice of prosciutto too chewy with the delicate textures of the other ingredients.

I particularly liked the little salad that accompanied these crepes. Made with beautiful dark greens, they were lightly dressed with a vinaigrette that tasted just slightly of soy sauce.

But for sheer gotta-have-it cravings, it's the sweet crepes that are most irresistible. Ever since I discovered Nutella as a teen, I've had a weakness for that gooey-sweet chocolate-hazelnut combination. Put it in a warm pocket of dough, dust it with sugar and top the whole thing with whipped cream ($6.50), and you've got a lick-the-plate-clean situation on your hands.

A crepe with berries ($6.50) arrived with better-than-decent raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, a real feat this time of year, and another, with an apple compote and raisins ($4.50), tasted of warm apple pie topped with cool whipped cream, though presumably with fewer calories.

The Crepe Cafe isn't the place for an all-out romantic meal or birthday celebration. Cafe de Paris fills that role. But for a casual lunch or dinner - with a glass of wine if you want - it's a nice alternative to delis.

Crepe Cafe at Cafe de Paris

Where:

8808 Centre Park Drive, Columbia

Call:

410-997-3904

Open:

For lunch Sunday-Friday, for dinner Tuesday-Saturday

Credit cards:

All major

Prices:

$4.50-$9.95

Food:

*** (3 stars)

Service:

*** (3 stars)

Atmosphere:

*** (3 stars)

[Outstanding: Good: Fair or uneven:

star> Poor:]

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