With vision unstoppable by foliage, Mudpie saw the sign above hidden behind rows of trees as we were roaming Menlo Park for a lunch spot on a Friday afternoon one month ago. Question asked, “should we go there or keep looking for something else?”, as we drove past another block. It should be noted that we missed a turn once, chose direction by random illogical preference (as I had no idea where which direction led to). We also passed a bunch of places with clarity and apparent popularity, or places that Mudpie has tried before. But we were out for a food hunt, not chicken shopping at grocery stores, and this place fits the adventure. Answer made, “let’s go there.” So turn we did, a parking spot was not too hard to find on the side of the place, passing by the nonchalant gaze of customers sitting outdoor and in we went.
I can’t quite call it a restaurant. Some call every eating stop with chairs and tables a restaurant, but this is an example of one that doesn’t fit into the category. A restaurant is brisk. The bistro is relaxing. Paintings on the wall for sale, empty wooden seats painted blue, wooden tables with a filled glass water jug to help yourself and a trifling vase of fresh flowers. The usual small box of sweetener and salt, which I play with while waiting. I can’t remember if there was AC, but it was comfortable. The menu says it’s a family business, and it sure looks like it. A friendly but quiet young lady greeted us at the counter, and as we stumbled around the menu overhead, a stocky man in his 30s, who turned out to be the chef, cordially invited us to seat ourselves and gave us two menus in print. We felt better as we were no longer blocking the narrow entrance to the counter. There was no customer inside.
Normally I like to plunge right into something weird catchy on the menu, but since I had such a hot wonderful savourastic chicken crepe one wintry night on the street right outside the WSCTC, I couldn’t resist the memory and ordered Chicken & Creamy Dijon Sauce savory crepe this time. With a little persuasion, Mudpie overcame the American disgust distrust for pâté, and ordered Duck Rillettes (duck meat pate with cornichon on baguette). (I felt elevated as if I could speak French.)
A peek inside.
It is so simple, just like the atmosphere of the bistro itself. A layer of rillettes, a few cornichons (pickled gherkins), sandwiched between two pieces of bread. As Mudpie noted, it’s something you can make at home, if you know where to get or how to make rillettes. The additional quirky cornichons were perhaps supposed to be a contrast to the smooth, tender, savory rillettes, but sometimes contradiction doesn’t really enhance things. I took them out and nibbled them by themselves. (Had to drink a lot of water after each nibble). Meat pate is a little different from liver pate and a little similar to spam. It is not at all bitter, a little crumblier than spam, and far tastier. I’m getting hungry… For me pate is ranked right up there with marinated cha lua and a real brown crispy cha gio. I never grow tired of them. I even had rice mixed with pate. Mudpie, once muttered “… gross pate…”, also agreed that the sandwich was good.
It’s Crepes Cafe, so how’s the crepe? Looks big and fantastic. Not to mention a really good salad tuft. I usually cringe every time I fork in my mouth some leafy bundle dripping with some sour salad dressing, but this time I didn’t. I finished every leaf and twig. It was creamy and gentle. Next I cut the crepe, folded each half so that they covered the embarrassingly exposed chicken cuts, and forked in. The chicken was tender, but not flavorful enough to excite the crepe. It was good. It satisfied every requirement of a standard crepe. Was it memorably good? I’m not sure. Maybe the lack of a cold, wet, wintry Seattle night makes it less desirable than my first steamy encounter outside the WSCTC. I’m a wanderer, I like wind and rain in my food. (A little butter might do just as well.) Was it a filling lunch? You bet. Even the young lady at the counter said so. We couldn’t go for dessert.
Would I come here again given the chance? Yes, if it’s just for an escape from the busy life. The air of this place is French. Bring your laptop here, or a newspaper. Who knows, you may even find your soulmate under one of those parasols. It’s casual and relaxing.
…Maybe not so relaxing for the chef. Those pancakes were being made right behind the counter, isn’t that neat? For such a quiet emollient lunch hideout, I was hoping they didn’t have a website, but here it is. Can you ever escape the internet these days?
Address: Crepes Cafe
1195 Merrill Street (at the corner of Oak Grove Ave)
Menlo Park, CA 94025