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Savor the Day 

A world of crepes in Noe Valley

Wednesday, Sep 11 1996
Babies growing up elsewhere might still be stuck with a jar of Gerber's pureed carrots for dinner, but on a recent evening at Savor, a new creperie in stroller-choked Noe Valley, the highchair set joined their parents in devouring a parade of the French pancakes in multicultural drag. Savor (accent on the second syllable) may have hit upon the perfect "family restaurant" formula for a neighborhood colloquially known as the Baby Belt; while it's been decorated with real style (walls washed in off-white under high, airy ceilings; a smashing kitchen out front; a spacious, brick-paved patio in the rear), and the food strikes a sophisticated international tone, it's also cheap and unpretentious. And ravenous infants don't seem out of place.

Neither do ravenous adults. Despite the low prices, servings are of formidable proportions, and most of the main courses include a large pile of rosemary roasted potatoes (nice consistency: wrinkly crisp outside and buttery within, but desperately in need of salt). And $2.95 buys a crock of soup du jour (mushroom-spinach, say, or split pea with sun-dried tomatoes), which with the accompanying slices of house-made focaccia would make a decent light lunch. (For $3.25 you can splurge on the black-bean chili. It was undersalted for my taste and would have benefited from a dab of sour cream or a sprig of cilantro -- something to relieve the rubbly expanse of shoe-polish brown -- but it was satisfyingly thick and creamy, like good risotto.)

Although Savor occupies the former space of the Courtyard Cafe (which has moved into Rami's old spot on Church Street), so complete is the physical transformation of the interior that the Boss and I had a hard time imagining what used to be there. The weary old magazine rack has been replaced by a glamorous kitchen: Shiny copper whipping bowls and zabaglione pans hang from the ceiling, while natty chefs hurry about. Savor has cranked up the Courtyard Cafe's languor into a clamorous energy; there's even overflow onto the street, adding to the baby stroller gridlock.

The menu's world of crepes reads like a tour of famous gastronomic destinations. The Mazatlan ($6.75), for instance, features chipotle chiles and avocado, among other Mexican ingredients; the Cyprus ($6.75) includes such Greek delicacies as feta cheese and kalamata olives. The Boss, apparently for nostalgic reasons, drifted to the Tuscany ($6.75) -- tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomato pesto, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese. I wanted something with a little more heft, and that turned out to be the Singapore ($7.95), one of the few non-vegetarian choices on the menu. It was filled with stir-fried vegetables and cubes of chicken breast and topped with a suave ginger-curry sauce.

Savor's staff are still finding their sea legs, and we did notice some problems in communication between chefs and servers.

"Do you mind if everything comes at once?" our server asked us. In fact we did mind, but not much, and at least she asked us instead of just unloading. Since I am chronically impatient anyway, it bothered me less to have food arriving too rapidly than too slowly (as happened at the end of the meal, when after a 20-minute wait we gave up on our dessert crepe). Still, it was awkward struggling to finish our bowls of soup while our main plates sat cooling at the side of the table; it made dinner seem like a race.

An irony of crepe culture is that the pancake itself is usually almost invisible. It's just an envelope containing the real goodies. I've had soggy crepes and spongy crepes, but I've never had better crepes than Savor's. They were very thin, tender-crisp, gently blistered, and fresh like good bread.

The restaurant, not surprisingly, bakes its own breads, too, and offers them (as slices of toast) in sandwiches and French toast and with the non-crepe main courses. These last items, as my friend the Wag and I discovered at lunch, are very substantial.

"Two weeks' worth of fat!" the Wag exclaimed as the New Orleans ($7.95) -- a version of eggs Benedict made with crab cakes and slathered with an electric Cajun hollandaise sauce -- was set before him. He's had astounding success with a low-fat diet, although he mentioned with pleasure that since he started eating ice cream again recently, he's lost five more pounds. The American paradox?

The New Orleans met with the Wag's hearty approval. But even with its fortnight's supply of fat, it was dwarfed by my El Paso ($7.25), a knee-buckling plate of corned-beef hash with a medley of sauteed bell peppers and onions and a touchingly modest dollop of melted cheddar cheese. The dish would hardly have been inadequate without its topping of two scrambled eggs, or the slices of molasses-wheat toast on the side (which, combined with what seemed like a pound of roasted potatoes, added up to a critical mass of starch). The bread had a lovely chewy texture, but it seemed a little dry to me, as did the Wag's white buttermilk slices.

The soups, on the other hand, were superior. A mushroom-infused broth gave the mushroom-spinach soup a penetratingly pure flavor, and a chunky split pea lost nothing by substituting sun-dried tomatoes (which have a meaty, almost sausagelike flavor) for the traditional ham. (Ham lovers, incidentally, will be relieved to know about the Costa del Sol [$7.50], a saute of ham, spinach, and onions.)

There have been rumblings for several years now about an excess of restaurants on 24th Street, but the reality seems to be that Noe Valley's demand for imaginative, fairly priced food is insatiable. Although Savor has been open only a month, its entrance always seems to be clotted by people waiting for a table -- perhaps on the lovely patio in the rear, where Junior can take the evening airs. The people are voting with their knives and forks -- and baby strollers.

Savor, at 3913 24th St., is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until 11 p.m., Sunday until 10 p.m. Call 282-0344.

About The Author

Paul Reidinger

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