Hungerdome! The Battle of the Hip Right Bank Crêperies
March 31, 2011 § 1 Comment
Hey peeps! It appears that spring has finally sprung in Paris and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve resumed my loose-skinned, loping runs at the Promenade Plantée, which should officially be filed under “one of the most awesome things about Paris that nobody seems to really use.” Not that I’m complaining. But FYI, dearest reader, the flower beds on the elevated section are filled with daffodils right now, so if you are looking to get a springy fix, get to it. I’ll be the one shuffling along in a sad, out-of-shape, half-run, half rich-Orange-County-lady power walk.
But who cares about my fitness! This website is all about exercising your inner fat kid! To those very ends, our NUMBER ONE FAN has established a FAN PAGE on Facebook. Our dearest M has created a “Incarnations of Clarence” group where she is posting various guises that Clarence has assumed through the ages. Even better, friends of Clarence are now beginning to post delightful chronicles of delicious things they have eaten lately. We’ll use Incarnations of Clarence as a way of posting new updates to the blargh and foodie meet-ups over the next few months in Paris. So please join the fun, if wasting time on Facebook is your bag (and if you are a reader of this blargh, I strongly suspect it might be).
Okay, I know you’ve been waiting around for a HUNGERDOME! That’s right, today we have another installment of everyone’s favorite segment here at The Beargarden (We’re thinking of shortening it! What do you think?!). Two restaurants enter, only one leaves. Need a refresher course?
Okay, now that your day has immeasurably improved from a dose of Tina, let’s get to it. Today, we pit two mega-bobo Breton crèpe joints in town in a head to head battle. If you read food blogs—or design blogs, or Paris blogs, or any of the other kinds of blogs that make you look around your own sad apartment wistfully and wish that you had some truffle oil or midcentury Danish furniture—you’ve likely heard about Breizh Cafe (109 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75003 Paris, Métro Saint-Sébastien Froissart) and West Country Girl (6 Passage Saint-Ambroise, 75011 Paris, Métro Saint Maur). If you want a greasy, drippy street vendor crèpe filled with supermarket cheese and salty lunchmeat for less than five euros, these are not the establishments where you should be headed. But if you want a full meal of inventive crèpes of spot-on consistency, a fantastic cider list, oysters in season, and a bit of see-and-be-seen, then these are the restaurants for you.
Breizh Cafe, with additional locations in Cancale and Japan, is on quite possibly the most bobo street in all of Paris. John Galliano’s anti-Semetic fiesta at La Perle took place just a few blocks down the road. Rue Vielle du Temple is chock-a-block with achingly hip bars, interesting restaurants, and the kind of clothing stores that are so expensive that they give you a tote bag when you manage to buy something (Surface to Air, I’m looking at you). Oh, and the perpetually-under-renovation Picasso Museum. It’s cool, Paris. I didn’t expect that in living here for two years I might be able to visit. No worries.
Breizh, which has a suprisingly warm and comfy interior full of bright paintings and wood furniture, is right in the thick of it all. There can be quite a crowd come brunch or lunchtime, but late afternoons and early evenings it’s a great place to take a load off if you’ve been doing some consumerist combing of the streets in the Marais. At the center of this enterprise is chef/restauranteur Bertrand Larcher, winner of a 2010 Prix Fooding d’Honneur.
Larcher’s concept is Brittany and Japan by way of Paris, focusing on the best artisinal products from around France. Le Fooding informs us (I’ll translate for those of you who wish that Le Fooding should hire me as their English-language correspondent) that the andouille sausage at Breizh is from Guémené, cheese and salted butter by Bordier, jams and preserves by Raphaël de Saint-Malo, and the oysters by Saint Kerber of Cancale. If this means anything to you, I suggest that you check out a more sophisticated food blog. In addition, various Japanese ingredients find their way into the Breton crèpes at Breizh, including a variety of mushrooms, green tea ice cream, red bean paste, and kuromitsu, a revelatory (to me) bitter-sweet Japanese black sugar syrup. The cider list is extensive and the tea is properly brewed, as you would expect.
On a recent visit, we split a bottle of cider that the carte described as “supple and fleshy” (Le P’tit Fausset brut, Paul et Gilles Barbe, Merdringac 22) and each ordered a savory gallette de sarrasin and a sweet crêpe. Standouts from the savory end of things included the Normande (camembert au lait cru, jambon de Savoie, salade verte) and the Savoyarde (Reblochon au lait cru, poitrine grillée, pomme de terre, salade verte). While the cheese was especially lovely and molten, the gallette themselves at Breizh aren’t my favorite consistency, as they verge on chewy and tough. Perhaps this is a real Breton thing and I am just missing the boat, but I like things on the less fleshy side. The sweet crêpes are really where Breizh shines, in my opinion. We ordered a classic citron (lemon and sugar), a green tea ice cream and kuromitsu, and a salted caramel with vanilla ice cream. Holy mother of caramel, Batman. I could eat that last one all day long and never be satisfied. And the slightly-smoky, slightly-bitter combination of kuromitsu with creamy green tea was positively genius. If this battle were totally dessert-based, we would have a winner.
West Country Girl, a (relative) newcomer to the scene, is in a bit more up-and-coming area of town. I like it now, and suspect it will become increasingly chic over the next ten years. Right now, it’s a bit out of the way for this Maraisienne, but well worth the trip. The cozy interior, friendly staff, and well-priced menu all make for a lovely experience, but the real draw is owner/chef Sophie Le Floc’h gorgeous, perfect-consistency gallettes and crêpes. When we visited, we were given a table that allowed for me to gawk at her industry in the kitchen. The woman is a machine. We started—as per David Lebowitz’s blog’s recommendation—with the sardine rillettes, a creamy, fishy, citrusey concoction that we devoured like hungry wolves.
It provoked a sardines rillettes mania around our house for nearly a week, as I experimented with fromage frais / canned sardine / lemon juice proportions. Let’s just say we got more Omega-3 that week than we have in our entire lives previously. I settled on something I like (which includes raw shallots and chives), but it is nothing compared to the light, fluffy perfection at West Country Girl. So make sure and get it, okay? Paired with their house AOC cider (Manoir and Kinkiz Cornouaille), it was a great way to start a meal.
Next came our savory gallettes, which included bacon/mushroom/Camembert and egg/spinach/Mimolette combinations, both expertly cooked and delicious.
But, far and away, the winner of the evening was my gallette topped with boudin noir (blood sausage) and a whole roasted apple. I’m going to completely out myself as a competitive only child here, but isn’t it the best feeling when you order the best dish of the meal and everyone is envious? I used to do it all the time, but when I priggishly declared it aloud about six months ago, karma came around and bit me on the ass and I’ve been on a losing streak ever since. But me and boudin noir, we go waaaay back. I knew it would be amazing. One bite of the creamy, crumbly sausage paired with the sweet, earthy apple and I was dunzo. West Country Girl, with your crooked smile and heart-shaped face, you’ve won my heart.
For dessert, we split a classic citron and an amazing whole roasted apple, salted caramel, and vanilla ice cream extravaganza. I’d read in numerous foodie blogs about the beauty of Le Floc’h’s salted caramel, which is apparently stored in a giant bucket in the kitchen. I’d like to steal it and eat all that caramel out back with a giant ladle. It’s that good. I know that salted caramel is sort of like what sundried tomatos were in 1992 to the foodie landscape, but man oh man, what a bandwagon to hop on.
So without further ado, let’s tally up the Hungerdome results:
1) Restaurant ambiance. A close call, but I have to say this one goes to West Country Girl, which feels like the house of that super-cool older artist girl who you can’t believe actually wants to hang out with you. She lives a bit out of the way, but in a neighborhood you know is going to be super-cool in a couple of years.
2) Cider list. This one goes to Breizh, which has a far more extensive selection of ciders and very knowledgeable servers on this subject. The servers at West Country Girl are far more knowledgable about other things, including movies by the Cohen brothers. I’d take the latter anytime, but that isn’t the category, now is it?
3) Staff and servers. West Country Girl. They are really sweet and know about all-night screenings of classic Cohen brothers films.
4) Gallette and crêpe consistency. West Country Girl. The ones at Breizh—while delicious!—are a bit too tough for my taste. Purists and/or French Provincials should feel free to school me in the comments section.
5) Ingredient quality and creativity. A tie. Both have a far more inventive selection of ingredients and clever combinations than you see at most run-of-the-mill crêperies in town, and both have boudin noir on the menu. They both also obviously prioritize finding the freshest and most ecologically responsible sources possible for their food, which is something you can taste.
It was a close race, but if we make those sardine rillettes into a lightning round, West Country Girl is our clear winner. I can’t wait to go back, and hopefully this time M will order her own damn apple and boudin noir gallette and keep her dirty mitts off of mine. Clarence isn’t a big fan of sharing.
LEAVING THE HUNGERDOME: WEST COUNTRY GIRL!