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Into the Fold

Wednesday, Jun 20 2001
It may be impossible to eat a crepe in this town without thinking of Ti Couz. For example, as my friends Barrie, Misty, and I prepared to dine at Fillmore Street's quaint new Galette, Barrie predicted there was no way this latest addition to co-owner Pascal Rigo's burgeoning food empire (Bay Bread, Chez Nous, and La Boulange de Polk, among other ventures) would outshine the titan of San Francisco crepe-making. I try to view each restaurant on its own terms, but soon found myself making the same inevitable comparisons. Galette serves Brittany-style buckwheat crepes ("galettes"), as does Ti Couz. Dropping by either place will probably involve a wait, though the lines are shorter at Galette. Meanwhile, Galette's chairs have backs, whereas at Ti Couz one normally sits on a stool. Since I prefer back support and don't like waiting, Galette already had a leg up.

Just about everyone seems to love crepes, those simple, eminently versatile French pancakes. They're rarely spectacular but generally quite good, and San Francisco may always have room for fine new creperies. Galette hasn't quite reached its potential yet, but it's close: Chef François Bernaudin practices a slightly more ambitious style of crepe-making than you find at Ti Couz, which led to some smashing successes but also to the occasional miscue. Still, we could have pinned Galette's menu to the wall and thrown darts at it without much risk of hitting a bad choice.

Galette opened in late March and is already drawing one of those clean-cut, Fillmore Street crowds that expects a certain sophistication from its victuals but doesn't mind when the manager wears shorts (as Galette's did the night we were there). It's a tiny space that, like Chez Nous, manages to be homey and chic at the same time: high ceilings and rough, pale wood walls adorned with funky, cartoonish paintings and framed French sports pages. The operation isn't as polished as it could be: Barrie's knife was dirty, but not as dirty as mine, and the service lagged on occasion. On a brighter note, every time I glanced at either of the two waitresses, I got a smile. Either Galette is a friendly place or I was looking mighty fine in my baggy jeans and bright orange sweater.

If you've ever wanted to sample a restaurant's entire wine list in one sitting, Galette is a good place to do it. By the time dinner was over we'd ordered all three choices -- one white (a Loire sauvignon blanc) and two reds (Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône) -- all of which were about as good as wine gets without a named vintner (which is to say not bad, but not too great, either). The Kir Breton ("a must," according to the menu) also found its way to our table, and proved a pleasantly tart blend of artisan cider and wild strawberry liqueur. Our waitress recommended the Bière du Démon, so we tried that as well, enjoying a light, crisp brew whose 12 percent alcohol content more than lived up to the label's printed slogan ("plaisir diabolique").

Galette's dinner menu is a brief, one-page document -- four appetizers, four salads, and 10 savory crepes -- with only one choice (the galette with foie gras) priced higher than $10. The combinations are hearty, rustic, and for the most part deeply satisfying -- call it comfort food with a refined, Gallic sensibility. Fans of fromage will do well to begin with the cheesemaker salad -- mesclun (mixed greens) dressed with a superbly delicate mustard vinaigrette, piled high with grated Gruyère, soft chunks of brie, and wickedly pungent blue cheese. The eponymous Galette's salad achieved a similar classic flawlessness, pairing the same mixed greens with ham, Gruyère, hard-boiled eggs, tomato, asparagus, and the wonderful smokiness of toasted pine nuts.

The Brittany fish soup was another hit -- a divinely clear, elegant fish stock served with mussels, a fillet of rock cod, and sides of roasted garlic, shredded Gruyère, croutons, and a delicate rouille that exuded a mere innuendo of heat. The selection of mussels changes daily -- it keeps things interesting, according to chef Bernaudin -- which is fine, except that I'm saddened knowing the version we tried might not be waiting for me if I return. A hulking bowl of exquisitely juicy bivalves came with a decadent white wine-cream sauce dotted with pancetta, onions, and Italian parsley, one of those addictive ambrosias that make you realize your waitress forgot to offer bread. (Once we reminded her, hardly a molecule of that wonderful sauce escaped.)

Oddly enough, the crepes at Galette didn't quite live up to the appetizers and salads. The savory pancakes are made with earthy organic buckwheat and come accompanied by mixed greens, with choices ranging from ham and cheese to a crepe with shrimp, scallops, mussels, mushrooms, and a calvados flambé. Our first choice, with carrot and zucchini in a light cream sauce, proved entirely sublime, pairing a subtle richness with the light crunch of fresh vegetables. The second -- chorizo, tomato, and Gruyère -- looked good on paper, but was both topped and filled with far too much ketchup-tasting tomato sauce, while a smoked salmon and crème fraîche crepe was good, if a bit dry. But it was our fourth galette -- chicken and spinach in a creamy mustard sauce -- that I found better than anything I'd ever had at Ti Couz. Barrie disagreed (she's quite fond of Ti Couz's mushroom crepe), and Misty offered no opinion. To settle the matter, I dropped by Ti Couz a few days later. My take: Ti Couz's largely one- and two-element crepes are more buttery and have a slightly springier texture, but I'd still choose Galette's chicken and spinach filling any day.

But that's enough comparison. For dessert at Galette, try the excellent house-made ice creams and sorbets -- perhaps a dense, cocoa-rich, gelatolike chocolate ice cream, Nutella ice cream streaked with everyone's favorite hazelnut-chocolate spread, or a delicate, refreshing coconut sorbet. Or have some crepes, which range from humble versions with Nutella, jam, or chocolate to a classic crêpe suzette. A vanilla-sugar and salted-butter crepe was scintillatingly crisp and quite fabulous, while the crepe belle Hélène was a sprawling, gooey mass of poached pear, caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce, Chantilly, and toasted almonds. But as Misty pointed out, it was a good gooey mass -- one of those satisfying choices that, like most dishes at Galette, few will be able to resist.

About The Author

Greg Hugunin


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