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Crêpe Expectations
By B.A. Nilsson

Ravenous
21 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 581-0560. Serving Tue-Thu 11:30-8, Fri 11:30-9, Sat 10-9, brunch Sat-Sun 10-3. MC, V. (Closing Tuesdays for the winter beginning Oct. 29.)

Food:* * * *
Service: Eager
Ambience: Pleasant

If we as a nation had a better crêpe consciousness, we might not be so besotted with the likes of McDonald’s. Crepes are the original fast-food items, and probably the best. Many cultures boast some variation on the theme—except this country, where white-bread sandwiches grew to be mistaken for food.

Crêpes are among the simplest of items to prepare: An easy-to-make batter is cooked quickly; the resultant leavening-free pancakes can be sweetened for breakfast or dessert, or filled with ingredients savory or sweet. They offer a great way to polish off leftovers.

Not surprisingly, crêpes have long been a staple of streetside fare in Europe. They enjoyed a vogue in this country thanks to the Magic Pan chain started by a pair of transplanted Hungarians—but after the chain was acquired by Quaker Oats in the mid 1980s, it soon went under.

“We lived in Seattle for a while,” says Lauren Wickizer, “and enjoyed the Magic Pan. We even saw a recent resurgence of interest in crêperies, so when my husband and I decided to start a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, this was one of the possibilities.”

Ravenous opened three years ago with crêpes the unusual specialty. “It was a little slow the first year,” Wickizer noted, “but it’s been steadily getting better. At first people were only thinking about us for brunch, but now they’re discovering you can have a dinner here, too.”

There was no lack of business on a recent Wednesday, although we arrived early enough in the evening to have a choice of seats—a choice that would vanish by the time we left. My daughter immediately decided that we should sit on stools that face a counter by the front window, allowing us to eat while on display to passersby (who, interestingly, avoided my gaze as I regaled them with look-
how-much-I’m-enjoying-this-food facial expressions).

Your other options are to eat at a counter inside the restaurant, facing the open kitchen, or to choose one of the few tables.

The menu couldn’t be simpler. Dinner crêpes. Dessert crêpes. Fries.

A word about the last-named. They’re the Belgian variety, pommes frites, which means that they’re cooked properly: two trips through the hot oil (and it’s the more costly, but tastier peanut oil) before the fries are served in a paper cone with a choice of dipping sauces. And the dipping sauces are good enough that my daughter totally forgot to ask for ketchup. We selected aioli, a garlic mayo with a little spiciness, and a blue-cheese sauce that would seem an unlikely pairing but which, thanks to chicken wings, seems to be welcome in more places.

The potatoes themselves are hand-chosen by chef Francesco D’Amico (Wickizer’s husband), who prefers Idaho russets but selects according to a magical balance of seasonal availability and ability to turn crisp enough in the oil.

Pommes frites are priced at $2.50 for a small order, $3.50 for medium, $4.75 for large. For the three of us—my friend Liz also joined us—we polished off a small and a medium with little effort.

Back to the crêpes. The savory selection includes traditional fillings like ham and cheese; the more imaginative combos have curry, leeks or chili con carne. The leek-based crêpe, dubbed Dr. Leekie ($8), may soon be bounced from the new menu: Apparently there is a fear of leeks among some customers. “We’re not going to abandon it entirely, however,” says Wickizer. “There are some who really enjoy it. But we want to try a new crêpe we’re calling La Sorbonne, which will have goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh asparagus inside it.”

Most dinner crêpes run about $8; the Upper West-Sider, with a filling of salmon and cream cheese, is $8.50. I chose a Gruyère-mushroom-spinach combo called the Crêpe Marcel, which arrived alongside fresh salad greens nicely dressed with a bit of balsamic vinaigrette—just the right proportions. The crêpes themselves, looking like little purses, yielded to a forkside incision with a puff of steam and a rich aroma, promising a flavor that wasn’t disappointing. But Gruyère makes almost anything into a tasty meal.

More of a challenge was Liz’s crêpe, with a ratatouille filling (eggplant, peppers, green and yellow squash, a touch of tomato, fresh basil). This side dish deserves to be a meal in itself, and it worked wonderfully in the crêpe context.

Beverages include a zesty iced Moroccan mint tea that Liz enjoyed; I kept the Belgian theme going with an Ommegang Abbey Ale ($4.25).

With a child in tow, we couldn’t forego dessert crêpes, which run in the $4-to-$5 range. My daughter selected a French kiss, chocolate-hazelnut spread wrapped in crêpes and topped with whipped cream, while Liz went for a berry mix that featured blueberries and, of course, more fresh whipped cream.

Portion size, fortunately, isn’t too onerous. We were able to ease into the evening with sense of well-being undimmed by all those sweets. Service throughout was eager and prompt, and we felt like welcome members of this still somewhat exclusive crêpe society by the time we left.

Dinner for three, with tax and tip, desserts and a beer, was $53.


TABLE SCRAPS


Carney’s Tavern (17 Main Street, or Route 146A, Ballston Lake) celebrates its 20th anniversary with an open-house anniversary celebration Sun., Oct 20 starting at 2 PM. For entertainment, Carney’s will bring back several musicians who have played at the tavern throughout the years, including Kevin McKrell, the Coopers and Dennis D’Saro. The restaurant has a heritage that stretches back to the early days of the railroad, when it was a busy hotel-based eatery and welcomed Teddy Roosevelt, among other illustrious guests. Owners Rosemary and Bob Carney stress that much of their success is due to their emphasis on being a community-based entity. “We’re a part of our customers’ daily lives,” says Rosemary. “Our customers at Carney’s are our friends and neighbors and a part of our lives. Our family has been a part of this community for more than 35 years, and for us Carney’s Tavern is a natural extension of our own home.” They point out that two key employees, bartenders Kathy Stanco and Dan Ward, have been with the restaurant since the doors opened, and that the location, in a historic building, also distinguishes it from the chain restaurants. For more info, call the restaurant at 399-9926. . . . Seven Finger Lakes wineries have joined to form the Finger Lakes Wine Guild, to promote the production of food-oriented wine from the classic European grape varieties grown in what has become the largest wine district in the east. The wineries are Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Standing Stone Vineyards, Shalestone Vineyards, Silver Thread Vineyard, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars and Sheldrake Point Vineyard. The grapes on which they’re focusing their efforts are Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Gamay. As these efforts continue, more area wineries are expected to join. You can get more info on this venture at the consortium’s
Web site: www.fingerlakeswineguild.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland, which you also can do by e-mailing food@banilsson.com

—B.A.N.

 

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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