Albuquerque’s little bit of Paris, La Crêpe Michel, is not a moveable feast.
Rather, the Old Town building that houses the restaurant of 28 years is more than two centuries old, and neither the building nor the restaurant are going anywhere anytime soon.
A tree trunk is rooted into the brick floor, branches touching the ceiling, and time stands still here.
Like a true Parisian, La Crêpe Michel wears her age with charm and grace.
Enter through the red velvet curtain and find an intimate little room simply furnished, with a good, crackling fire going, the hum of diners engaged in animated conversation, and delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen.
The imagination easily roves to an era far more romantic than our own, decades before the invention of the cell phone and the digital watch, when a leisurely dinner out with a special companion counted as one of life’s great pleasures. We love to read about those bygone days; and, at La Crêpe Michel, we may still pay them a visit.
On the menu are essential dishes of the French café repertoire: Steak frites ($20.95), moules (mussels) ($10.95), escargots ($6.50), pate de campagne maison ($6.95), and long-simmered, savory soupe a l’oignon ($5.50), classics prepared with a light touch by chef-owner Claudie Zamet-Wilcox. Daily specials, including a vegetarian soup offering, are chalked on the blackboard.
She arrived in Albuquerque with the intention of pursuing a post-doctorate in biochemistry at University of New Mexico but could not resist the opportunity presented by the vacant French restaurant in Old Town.
The restaurant, as the name indicates, serves an array of both savory and sweet crêpes, the thin French pancakes that originated in Brittany. Here, they may be made either with white flour or, like the rustic original, with buckwheat, resulting in a somewhat denser, browner and chewier, though no less tasty, crêpe.
Although I was cautioned by the intuitive young waitress, on my first visit I ordered the Crêpe a la Volaille, a chicken crêpe that was blander than I would like, although my 93-year-old mother who likes food served “plain” would have found it suited to her taste.
My companion’s Crêpe au Boeuf Bourguignon, a braised red wine beef stew, was much more lively with flavor, and I would like to give others a try. Crêpes with mushrooms, spinach and artichokes, seafood, and ratatouille all sound appealing ($12-$15). Indeed, there is something for everyone.
The star of the evening was the delectable dessert, Crêpe Poire Belle-Helene, which enfolded poached pear, vanilla ice cream and was finished with swirls of dark Belgian chocolate sauce ($5.50). The sweetness of the charlotte, a slice of chocolate mousse studded with orange zest layered between ladyfingers, was a bit overwhelming.
La Crêpe Michel transcends its genre with the specials, such as the tender filet mignon, ($33) served with a choice of either Roquefort (highly recommended) or peppercorn cream sauce, savory and creamy scalloped potatoes and delicate steamed green beans and carrots, or the wild king salmon poached in champagne and embellished with shallot-mushroom cream sauce ($27).
One need not be an aficionado of French cuisine to enjoy them thoroughly. The light sauces do not overwhelm, rather, they enhance these two exceptional dishes. A bit of crusty fresh bread will do the job of mopping up any leftover sauce.
The young waiter provided excellent advice on wine, advice that is especially helpful as the regional wines featured are not generally found elsewhere. At about $9 a glass, the list stimulates exploration. More familiar vintages, such as Beaujolais Nouveau, are available.
Reservations strongly recommended.