Batter the Devil You Know
Crepestudio lends an international flavor to one of France’s best-known culinary chef d’oeuvres.
By Bradley Tuck 12/02/2010
Perhaps nothing defines the difference between British cooking and French cuisine better than the humble pancake. The French have elevated theirs to the level of the crêpe Suzette, a lacy pancake with a sauce of caramelized sugar and butter, orange zest, tangerine juice and Grand Marnier, which is flambéed tableside with a mixture of ceremony and, no doubt, Gallic arrogance, before being placed with a knowing smile on the plate. According to legend, it was invented by a 14-year-old waiter, Henri Charpentier, at Monte Carlo’s Café de Paris in 1895. The hapless teenager inadvertently set a crêpe alight at the table of the Prince of Wales, tasted the resulting mess and deemed it a creation that would “reform a cannibal into a civilized gentleman.”
The British, for their part, have Pancake Day. A form of self-flagellation that approximates the Mardi Gras that more enlightened nations celebrate, Pancake Day involves the consumption of piles of leaden pancakes — many of which I was forced to eat as a child in the U.K. — plus pancake races. In this dubious entertainment, the contestants run toward a finish line while tossing a pancake in a frying pan. The pancake frequently ends up on the ground and must be returned to the pan if one is to finish the race. The result is a mixture of ignominy and inedibility, two thoroughly British specialties.
Estonia isn’t exactly famous for its crêpes, but it certainly has a brand ambassador in Sona Guloyan, the cheery owner of the recently opened CRÊPEstudio on Union Street in Old Pasadena. Using a batter recipe passed down from her grandmother, Guloyan stuffs 18-inch discs of golden batter with all manner of savory and sweet fillings.
A big seller at lunchtime is the Pesto Heaven, stuffed with grilled chicken breast, mozzarella cheese, oven-roasted peppers, tomatoes, fresh baby spinach and dollops of emerald-green pesto. Heaven it certainly is. Similarly delicious is the Southwestern. While I can’t imagine cowboys, spurs a-clinking, delicately swirling molten batter over a hot plate in the way that Guloyan does, they’d certainly approve of the subtly spicy homemade chipotle that dresses the fresh and crunchy filling of chicken or beef, cheese, black beans, corn, romaine lettuce, tomato and red onion. The fillings here are all super fresh and healthy. The spinach looks as though it was picked half an hour earlier, and Guloyan says that “healthy and fresh” was her mantra while coming up with the menu.
After all that healthy and fresh, you might feel you’ve earned some decadent and naughty, and who are we to argue? This is where the crêpe really comes into its own as a gift wrap for five minutes of indulgence. The Italians may have given us Fiat and Mussolini, but they also invented Nutella, and for that they are assured a place in heaven. For the uninitiated, Nutella is a spread of cocoa and hazelnut that mysteriously works with anything. At CRÊPEstudio it is slathered onto a pancake stuffed with fresh strawberries, banana and whipped cream, dubbed The Classic. Add coffee or vanilla ice cream to the mix, take out the banana and you get the Classic à La Mode. My favorite was the Berry Bean — Nutella, blueberries, coffee ice cream and whipped cream. You had me at Nutella, but let’s do go on.
CRÊPEstudio gets busy at lunchtime, when hungry office workers make a beeline for the batter. It’s worth the short wait. The crêpes are all cooked to order, so patience is the virtue that will justify the indulgence a few moments later. I’d really love to see Guloyan expand the menu in a foodie direction. Maybe a weekly special of a barbecued short rib or some other experimental surprise. But she’s off to a great start, and I for one will be going back. There are eight more Nutella variations left to try!