La Salette

Apparently one piece of local news went entirely unreported in ye olde IT: the Chunnel, that subterranean thoroughfare that links Paris to London beneath the English Channel, now has a stop in Sonoma. Well sort of. If you want a bit of Parisian sidewalk fare take a step into La Salette, nestled just a brisk walk off the square on East First Street. No, you won’t be teleported to Paris (to strain my metaphor) but you can certainly have some crepes worthy of a fistful of francs.

Nearly every culture that boasts any sort of culinary awareness has devised a means of containing foodstuffs inside of an edible wrap. Burritos, of course, spring immediately to mind, as do shwarma, both of which have evolved into convenience foods due to their easy handling. Likewise, in Paris, crepe vendors dot the sidewalks, creating savory items on demand for passersby who carry them off in paper cones. Stateside, crepes have yet to be emancipated from the plate, but their burgeoning presence in cafés suggests that American crepes will also soon be handheld.

Now you may ask yourself how a restaurant that purports to specialize in contemporary Portuguese cuisine with an emphasis on seafood could muster the talent necessary to make a quality crepe. Admittedly, I did the same, but Chef Manuel Azevedo convinces and throws in a few creations that recall his commendable seafood menu as well. Consider, for example, the house smoked salmon and cream cheese with dill sauce crepe or the Dungeness crab and corn with shrimp sauce crepe.

On a recent mid-morning visit, I personally enjoyed a handful of different crepes recommended by proprietress Kimberly Azevedo. Among them was a traditional Crepes Suzette, a kitchen flambéed citrus crepe executed with aplomb. The crepe is allegedly named after French actress Suzanne Reichenberg, who reigned the Gallic stage until her death in the 1920s. Her ghost must lurk in LaSalette’s kitchen, overseeing the quotidian recreation of her delectable namesake.

In an entirely different direction is the bacon and egg crepe with a mild Piri Piri sauce. The traditional condiment is made from minced a volatile African pepper of the same name, mixed with oil and vinegar and is a prerequisite on Portuguese table settings. Moreover, it makes for an effective spin on the old Americana standby of bacon and eggs. Wrap it all in a crepe and your morning has a multicultural kick.

The Nutella and banana crepe topped with whipped crème is a crowd pleaser at LaSalette (when it was brought to my table, it came accompanied by oohs and awes from surrounding diners). Nutella, the popular Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread has grown in popularity since first being imported to the states 20 years ago and is a wonderfully sweet way to breakfast. Nutella crepes have been a favorite in Paris since World War II, but Chef Manuel’s inclusion of the bananas bolsters the confection making for a heartier experience.

In Paris, of course, crepe stands are as ubiquitous as telephone booths prior to the advent of the cellular phone. I mention this only to dovetail into an oft-quoted Parisian aphorism: “The telephone killed Montparnasse,” the district in Paris where artists once congregated, in large part, to retrieve their messages. The telephone may have made the cafés irrelevant, but at LaSalette, however, conversation was abuzz and thriving – people were actually talking to each other without some order of technological intermediary. This increasingly rare phenomenon must be applauded and LaSalette’s ability to foster such bon homme among its patrons is one of its best assets. On one weekday morning, twenty-something hipsters sipped coffee, a pair of middle-aged women gabbed about their love lives, a cadre of young men poured over a motorcycle magazine and a family of tourists planned their week’s itinerary. One could be sure it included a revisiting of LaSalette.