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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Tiny Place for Great Crepes

Chef conversation floated about the closet-sized kitchen in fluid French. (Yes, that's the kitchen.)

Autumnal sun lightly baked customers eating al fresco along the sea. Authentic buckwheat crepe batter sizzled, its savory scent all sensorial seduction.

It was Friday afternoon. On Fisherman’s Wharf front deck. At a semi-hidden new place—tucked inside an ice cream-coffee shop—called Vive La Crepe (601-4847).

One of the chefs, Thierry Crocquet (above), is a recovering tile contractor.

“I work twice as much and make half as much,” he says. “But I’m 10 times as happy.”

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 (above), meanwhile, has a distinct French lilt, but was born in New York City to Brittany-born parents.

Make no mistake, though. Both have Old World flavor beyond the imported striped French shirts and berets. They know what they are doing, as foodie citizens and industry pros alike—including spies from other creperias—are picking up on.

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. This is better.’”

He mentioned his aspirations to owner-chef Peron, who was eyeing his own change of scenery. Today, now that Peron has moved to Monterey to help launch the endeavor, even this imperfect Yankee palate can identify the collaborative excellence here.

Journo-of-the-future Janet “Up and Up” Upadhye and me tried three on that afternoon, 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 for up to 90 minutes.

The sweet one is a little hard to eat with plastic forks, but enjoys an unmistakable slow-cooked quality born of batter that isn’t doughy or eggy and housemade salted caramel.

My only beef with these dudes: Lose the all-disposable plastic flatware. Kills the buckwheat-beautiful buzz, brothers.

Should they shape up on that front, I’ll be back for the crepe Crocquet says he favors: the brie-caramelized onion-and-salmon special ($9.50). It's not on the menu, but it's on my mind like a mo fo.

Vive la Crepe indeed.