Talk about your déjà vu all over again. When I heard that a crêperie had opened in Smyrna, I became immediately nostalgic.
Not for Paris, but for Lenox Square in the 1970s. Back then, one of the mall's most popular spots was the Magic Pan, where I got my first taste of crepes. The place, part of a chain that went bankrupt in the '80s but was recently revived, featured a weird machine that automatically dipped the backside of hot "magic" pans into crepe batter. I vaguely remember the machine but I clearly remember my favorite crepe there – the one made with a heavily sherried Coquilles St. Jacques.
So, I headed to Crepe Revolution (4600 West Village Place, 770-485-7440) in Smyrna under a cloud of heavy nostalgia. Nostalgia is sweet, yes? Read on.
The new restaurant is in one of those ubiquitous developments, West Village, that's like a Florida retirement village but not for literally retired folks. People of all ages can retire from urban life here. They can shop, eat, sleep, loll in the park and go swimming without ever leaving the 'hood.
Crepe Revolution, open about three weeks when I visited, is tucked away in front of the development. It's an odd-looking spot, kind of gloomy inside, with dark furniture and erratic lighting. There is, however, a colorful, cozy bar area. The most cheerful aspect of the dining room itself is the open kitchen, which is fronted by a small counter. We made a beeline for the counter so we could watch the kitchen drama and I could catch enough light to take some pictures.
The staff here is super-friendly, from our server Thomas to the cook George and one of the owners, Neil, who immediately asked us what had prompted our visit. I confessed it was my nostalgia for Magic Pan, and Neil rattled off facts about the company, making me feel like a dinosaur come to feed on my favorite French snack.
I asked Neil to explain the restaurant's name. Without skipping a beat he mentioned three reasons: the circular motion of making crepes on the hot grill, "the revolutionary flavors" from all over the planet, and the owners' achievement of their own destiny. Hey, hey! It's a revolution!
The menu includes a few unwrapped entrees, salads and sandwiches (for lunch), but we dined entirely on crepes. In fact, we ate eight varieties of crepes, beginning with an appetizer sampler of four. Do not even consider ordering this enormous portion for yourself, unless you plan to make an entree of it, which is not a bad idea, considering that you get a variety.
The sampler included ratatouille in a buckwheat crepe, Mexican-seasoned chicken in a cornmeal crepe, smoked salmon and goat cheese in an herb-seasoned crepe, and chopped pork with caramelized apples and asparagus tips in a classic crepe with brie.
Neil praised us for eating the "subtle" ratatouille first and asked us to name our favorites. Wayne preferred the smoked salmon, which also included cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. I chose the pork but then switched to the ratatouille. The only one I really disliked was the "chicken pico," which was overwhelmed with the usual faux-Mexican seasonings. Despite its alleged jalapeños, it had no bite at all.
For an entree crepe, Wayne chose a take on Steak Oscar, made with beef tenderloin, crabmeat, asparagus tips and béarnaise sauce in a classic crepe. The beef was tender and medium rare, as ordered. Honestly, though, to my palate this had an obnoxiously oily, retro taste and, suddenly, I realized my nostalgia was giving away to irritation.
Most of the food tasted bland and seemed more inspired by safe classics than exotic global flavors. When I selected chipotle pork for my entree, I asked for opinions. Our server Thomas warned that it was bland, that I'd be happier with the pork that was on the starter plate. Then I asked George, the cook, and he said the chipotle had a spicy kick.
Thomas was right. The pork was as bland as everything else. Understand, I'm not saying I found it bad, just bland and dated.
The latter effect was true of the recommended Bananas Foster dessert crepe, too. By this time in the meal, I'd decided I might as well surrender fully to the retro and I was cursing my memories of Magic Pan. There's nothing to hate about bananas, brown sugar, rum, cinnamon, candied pecans and vanilla ice cream, but there's nothing novel about it, either. Wayne made the better choice of a crepe lathered with Nutella and topped with some raspberries.
I wanted to like Crepe Revolution, I really did. I don't hate it, but there is absolutely nothing revolutionary about its flavors. It's not a bad concept – we need a break from tortillas – but the menu needs serious work.
Meanwhile, though, both Eclipse di Luna and Pura Vida have revised their menus to demonstrate that there seems to be no end to the way tapas are imagined.
A recent dinner at Pura Vida turned up a "mini-terrine" of mango, molasses and foie gras; chicharrones of duck with cabbage rolls and pomegranate seeds; and red-wine ice-cream with salty, caramelized feta. There's more, much more. The tapas' edgy quality was amplified by eating there on Halloween night, not far from the door greeter with a syringe stuck into her chest.
Eclipse has introduced a lot of new tapas, too. They are not as adventurous as Pura Vida's but in some ways the power of their flavors is even stronger because of their comparative simplicity. Examples include lamb meatballs with a mint-almond chimichurri and a chicken empanada with poblano peppers, manchego cheese and tomato marmalade.
The tapas revolution is no longer a revolution. It's completely institutionalized and, while the profusion of mediocre tapas was predictable, a few, like these two restaurants, still hit the mark.
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