In the charming village of Sierra Madre, a new French cafe has popped up with an atmosphere as fresh as the food they serve. Monsieur Crêpe is a light-filled space with easy counter service, making it a top choice for local workers, shoppers and residents wanting a place to read the paper or chat over coffee. Monsieur Crêpe offers sweet or savory crêpes, nutritious salads and unique sandwiches with a West Coast flair. West coast of France as well as America.
Owner Aurelien (Tony) Mosconi is from Paris but his crêpes are made in the French Brittany style. As such, I figured the La Normande ($11.95) would be a good choice. I must admit I was a tad disappointed at first. I expected something like what I'd had on the streets of Paris, a piping hot triangle of melted cheese and French ham wrapped in a thin splotchy brown pancake handed to me in a paper sleeve. If not that, I thought it might be like my mother's rolled and baked crêpes covered in a mushroom-Marsala sauce. What was presented to me was an artistic square of lightly cooked crêpe, shaved French ham peeking out of the center, a dollop of creme fraiche on the side. Bite one surprised me with its interior of room temperature brie and sliced apple. Bite two had me exploring the complex flavor of imported ham and caramelized onion. By bite three I was a convert. These were not just any old ingredients thrown inside. They were planned and arranged for the greatest chemistry.
This same chemistry exists in other dishes too. Seemingly incongruous combinations magically work together. The La Savoyarde crêpe($12.95), for instance, features baked potato, aged prosciutto, gutsy Swiss cheese and spinach, rendering a heady, satisfying meal. The savory crêpes are normally made with whole wheat flour but the optional (gluten-free) buckwheat flour would be good on the Savoyarde. The sweet crêpe La Suzette ($7.95) is close to the original Crêpe Suzette recipe but with the chef's own flair. Julia Child would have us dip the orange- and brandy-engorged pancakes in a flame, setting them afire. Mosconi's are lighter, more Californian with a thin, aromatic marmalade sauce and homemade Chantilly (whipped cream) with strawberries and mandarins.
Salads are fresh and unusual at Monsieur Crêpe. The Chicken Manchego Salad ($11.95) has the surprising mix of sun-dried tomatoes, cranberries, asparagus and raspberry vinaigrette on top of chicken, spinach and Spanish cheese. We polished off every last morsel. The biggest revelation to me were the sandwiches. The outstanding tuna salad on croissant ($6.95) is robust with layers of olive tapenade, Swiss and balsamic aioli. The saucisson baguette ($8.75) is not your standard few slices of salami falling out of hard bread. This creation has buffalo mozzarella, pesto, artichokes, caramelized onions, French and Spanish sausage and a beautiful lemon vinaigrette. It's now on my top 10 list of hand-held foods.
Most items come with a salad of field greens, sliced strawberries and a nicely paired balsamic vinaigrette. The lattes, cappuccinos and plain black mugfuls are very good at Monsieur Crêpe. No self-respecting French cafe would offer less. There are beautiful big hunks of homemade quiche as well as plain and chocolate croissants for quick bites.
Tables are available inside or out on the pleasant sidewalk with a view of the mountains. An hour or two in lovely Sierra Madre village is vacation enough. Add Monsieur Crêpe to your itinerary and it's like having a mini trip to France.
Where: 54 W. Sierra Madre Blvd, Sierra Madre
When: Sunday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Prices: crêpes, savory or sweet $4.75 to $12.95; sandwiches and salads $6.50 to $13.95
More info: (626)355-1508, monsieurcrepe.com
LISA DUPUY has written about food, travel, and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times Community News, Pasadena Star-News and Westways.