Crepes Cest Bon!

Photo by Tenaya HillsMy fellow study-abroaders and I arrived in Paris in 1998 sleep-deprived, famished and smelly. We staggered toward a little café on the Champs-Elysées that first night, where I settled on a tall glass of Guinness in an attempt to hang onto the familiar. A friend—more felicitous than I en Français—ordered a fabulous-looking crêpe avec Nutella: chewy, rich, dripping with a chocolate and hazelnut spread. I never dared touched another non-French food product in France again.

Crêpes nourished me during my wonderful sojourn in the City of Lights. Daily, on the way to phonetics at the Sorbonne, just past the Pathéon, I would find a lunch of pure self-indulgence at a different crêpe stand. Each was manned by a stout, dated man (always a man) dutifully making round, flat, trés thin treats out of a basic flour/egg/milk batter with an impossible variety of fillings. As the months passed and I gorged on salty crêpes, sweet crêpes, any crêpe, I entertained the idea that my regular visits to a crêperie, a pack of Gauloise and my new black sweater had truly transformed me into a mademoiselle Parisienne.

I grudgingly came back to the States when Cal State Fullerton could no longer subsidize my French fantasy. Part of me didn't want to leave Paris' techno-tastic clubs forever, but I was even more afraid of leaving behind those magnificent crêpes. I've since found numerous California crêperies to rival those by the Seine.

The most traditional and authentic of these is Café Pascal (3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714- 751-4911). The outdoor-only seating, snooty staff, high prices and serene snacks of this South Coast Plaza bistro transport you to the Champs-Elysées better than a screening of Amelie and a bottle of absinthe. The orange liqueur-flavored crêpe suzette is a steep $6.25—and worth it.

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Boba Joe's (5557 E. Santa Ana Canyon Rd., Anaheim Hills, 714-998-8123) ambiance—plush velour couches, MTV2 and boba tea—ensures its safety from a boycott by troglodytic French-haters. The crêpes, however, remain true to the blu, blanc et rouge. The first bite of Joe's veggie crêpe is a taste-bud conundrum because of its sugary wrap. Subsequent nibbles of the kinda crunchy, kinda pancakey, but definitely piquant interior reveal melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and avocado. The hearty paradox is fun for the tummy and mind—and wallet, for that matter, at $3.25.

Dosas are not French. I understand that. But it's possible, isn't it, that they descended from crêpes during France's attempt to colonize the Indian port town of Pondicherry? Udupi Palace (18635 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, 562-860-1950) offers thin rice-flour dosas that are larger than their plates and put the entire Franco-world to shame—the masala dosa in particular, hefty with spiced potatoes and onions; it's $5.50 and big enough to feed half of Mumbai.

The Swedish pancakes at the very good chain Original Pancake House (18453 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, 714-693-1390) are really just glorified little crêpes drowned in a tart, yummy lingonberry sauce. Add butter, watery coffee and a truck-stop atmosphere rare in the Land of Gracious Living (as Yorba Lindans refer to their burb) and you have a working-class breakfast for $6.50.

Someone once said, "Simplicity is the spice of life." Snicker all you want, but they must have been referring to the Bolero crêpe at La Crêperie Café (5110 E. Second St., Long Beach, 562-434-8499). This sorta-Provençal café offers perfection drenched in butter and sugar with a twist of lemon. C'est bon!

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