Monday, May 31, 2010

Do You Remember…

when Julia Child introduced us to French cooking through her television program The French Chef which premiered in 1963?

It wasn’t too long after that America, including yours truly, discovered the crepe. In fact, Child's recipe for seafood crepes in a cream and Swiss cheese sauce with a vermouth reduction became my “go to” recipe for entertaining. Soon I learned that crepes were great for feeding a crowd. The pancakes could be made ahead and frozen (O.K., a purist would say that they get somewhat rubbery), and small cubes of poached chicken made an economical substitute for seafood. And, if one of my guests was a vegetarian, sautéed mushrooms and asparagus could replace the meat or seafood.

So I was intrigued when I read about Le Crepe Michel in Albuquerque on Gil Garduno’s blog (Gil’s Thrilling [and Filling] blog). After a quick check of the menu on the Internet, I was sold. Crepes it would be on our return to Albuquerque.

This small cafe is hidden away in a secluded walkway not far from the plaza in Old Town. Run by Chef Claudie Zamet-Wilcox, it is small (seating six on the outdoor patio, twelve in the front room, and another twenty-six in what Chuck calls the Garden Room), and the Garden Room has a tree growing in the center and through the roof. Off a small corridor leading to the kitchen is another small room normally used for special events and business meetings. We were seated in the Garden Room.

We each decided to order a crepe and to share an appetizer and dessert. For the appetizer, we chose a plate with three small servings of French paté, three cheeses, hard salami, cornichons, olives, grainy mustard, and a small dish of salad. Two of the patés were coarse ground and rustic, and one had an aspic top and was studded with peppercorns. The third was creamy and tasted as if it had a chicken liver base. The cheeses included a blue vein cheese, a brie style, and gourmandize—a soft cheese studded with walnuts. The salad was tossed with vinaigrette made with the same grainy mustard that accompanied the meats and cheeses.

Among the entrée choices were: Poulet Basquaise—chicken breast, mixed bell peppers, white wine, and tomatoes served with rice and Cote de Porc "Forestiere"—a pork chop with wild mushrooms, parsley, garlic, and white wine and served with French fries.

All of the crepes sounded delicious. There was, to list just a few: the Crêpe au Boeuf Bourguignon—chunks of beef braised in red wine, onion, and spices; the Crêpe aux Fruits de Mer—sea scallops, bay scallops, and shrimp in a velouté sauce with mushrooms; the Crepe au Porc Dijonnaise—pork tenderloin, Dijon mustard, white wine, and cream sauce; and the Crêpe au Saumon et Asperges—broiled salmon, asparagus, dill-bechamel sauce, and melted Swiss cheese. For me, it would be the seafood crepes (right) as I embraced my inner Julia Child. For Chuck it would be the pork tenderloin crepe.

Both were extraordinary. The pancakes themselves were lace thin and were the perfect means of transferring the filling from plate to mouth. And both crepes were rich with filling. Not just a piece of pork or seafood here and there. The sauces perfectly melded with the meat and seafood.

Chuck’s mustard wine sauce was the perfect complement to the meat, and my slightly sweet velouté enhanced rather than overwhelmed the seafood. Both plates came with a small serving of sautéed string bean and carrots that were lightly seasoned with garlic. Now I normally won’t touch a cooked carrot, but these departed my plate in rapid order.

It was time to order dessert, and one item on the menu piqued my interest—the Crêpe Au Poivre. Yes, you read that right—pepper. This was a sweet crepe folded around vanilla ice cream, studded with cracked black pepper over which was poured the hazelnut liqueur Frangelico.

We had no sooner ordered our dessert than we heard this disembodied voice coming from the kitchen. “Something’s burning back here. I think we’ve had a plastic meltdown.” Soon smoke began to drift from the back of the restaurant into the dining area. At that point, we decided to eat our dessert on the outdoor patio, which, fortunately, was empty at that time.

And, fortunately, the fire wasn’t serious, and we still had our dessert. The contrast between the sweet and spice and the soft and hard was amazing. This may be one of the best desserts of the year, and we’ve eaten a lot of great desserts.

Great French food in the land of the green chile? You bet. Even with the plastic meltdown (adding a little excitement to our lives), this was a 5.0 Addie experience.

NOTE: Our return to Albuquerque was a bit stressful, because Kate had two appointments scheduled related to her surgery follow-up and a general check-up with another physician. The news was very good, and we will talk about this in a couple of days, but our short stay focused on food stops as a way to work around these two appointments.

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