Two Meals in Vancouver: Both Crepes
There’s a place here in Vancouver that makes great crepes. So much so that they call themselves Café Crepe. Last night after I arrived I decided to visit Café Crepe for dinner. One thing I have always liked about crepe places is that they divide their menu into two sections: savory and sweet. We don’t seem to have savory things in America. I mean, we do, but nobody talks about them. I’m not sure why. Savory is to American cuisine what hermaphrodites are to our culture at large. Occasionally referenced, sure, but basically ignored. I think America needs to rethink its relationship with savory. Okay, so I walk into Café Crepe alone and get a table for one.
I have always loved eating alone at restaurants. There are many people, I know, who feel embarrassed about flying solo for meals. Not me. I love it. “Table for one!” I yell upon entering any dining establishment. I even like when they clear away the unused cutlery. Sometimes I encourage them if they are slow about it. “Clear these extra forks and knives, my good man!” I might say to the busboy. “I’m eating alone tonight!” Inevitably I say these things too loudly, no doubt causing other diners to think, “That gentleman is overcompensating.” But I simply do not care.
So after I take my table for one and the superfluous dining implements have been disposed of I immediately face a dilemma; savory or sweet. On the way over I was thinking I might like a banana and Nutella crepe, but now that I am sitting there surrounded by attractive young Asians taking on their twenty-third century cell phones and inexplicably eating non-crepe items like hamburgers, I am struck with the thought that a banana and Nutella crepe isn’t really a good dinner, especially considering the last thing I ate was several hours before while sitting behind John Cusack on my flight. The thing I ate? A cookie. Did I really want to follow up a cookie with a sweet crepe? No I did not. So I decided on a ham and Swiss cheese crepe and an organic side salad. I also get a cup of tea because I really wanted a cup of tea on the flight but John Cusack ordered one right before I was about to and then I felt like I couldn’t because everybody would think I was copying John Cusack, provoking the following thought which I had never had before up until that very moment: “Fucking John Cusack!”
For some reason at the Café Crepe, separate people seated me, took my order, and brought my food. It seemed like there were a lot of people involved with what should have been a rather simple transaction. The waitress who took my order was a perky blonde girl who seemed genuinely interested in what I wanted to eat. At first I thought this was because she liked me, or found me attractive or something, but then I remembered that I was in Canada and that Canadians are just like that, which made me feel good about humanity in general but bad about myself specifically.
The salad was unimpressive. A bunch of greens which I immediately identified as “mesclun,” and chopped up tomatoes tossed together in a small bowl. There might have been carrot shavings in there too, I don’t know, but I reflected that they must be making a tremendous amount of money off their three dollar organic side salads because in my grocery store at home you can get an entire plastic tub of mesclun salad like that for that same three dollars. I calculated that you could probably squeeze about ten of their salads out of one of those tubs, which means that their profit margin on the salads is a million percent (rough calculation). The only reason I even got the salad was guilt, a similar guilt to the guilt I experienced when ordering a side salad at the Chicago O’Hare Chili’s where I ate lunch about ten hours before. That guilt was precipitated by the fact that I also ordered their boneless Buffalo chicken wings. I ordered that salad because I felt like the greens would somehow offset the damage I was about to inflict on my body with the chicken wings, the same way people sometimes eat a lot of bread before they get shit-faced drunk. Both are examples of delusional thinking.
Even though I was hoping the same perky blonde waitress would bring out my crepe, she did not. As I indicated they have a surplus of workers at Café Crepe, and so my food was brought by an officious young man who was very polite but who did not express nearly the same interest in my well-being as the waitress. The crepe, when it came, was perfect. If you’ve ever tried to make crepe at home, you know how difficult it is to get the thing right. Crepes are quite thin and difficult to brown evenly. My ham and cheese crepe was not only uniformly golden, it was also folded perfectly into a handsome little triangle that would have equally been at home tucked into my suit jacket as it was on the plate. After asking for and receiving some mustard, (“American or Dijon” was the response, which made me worry that they pegged me as an American, even though I was wearing my “I love Canada” fanny pack. I, of course, chose Dijon.) I got to work on my crepe. The ratio of ham to Swiss cheese was just right, although I forgot to mention that I also got some mushrooms with it and there were perhaps a few too many of those. I deliberately ate the crepe slowly both because it was so tasty and because I was afraid that if I ate it too quickly I would still be hungry, but I would be too embarrassed to ask for another because that would make seem piggish, which would definitely peg me as an American, and even though my country just elected a black guy to be president, I didn’t want everybody knowing my nationality. So I alternated eating my crepe and sipping my tea, which was annoyingly served in a clear glass mug. I don’t like hot beverages are served in a clear glass mug because I am always concerned they will shatter from the heat. This never happens, of course, but it still seems unnecessarily risky and kind of European in a bad way. Some European things are fine and should be emulated (like building castles) but some European things are gimmicky. Drinking hot beverages from a clear glass mug falls into the latter category.
No matter how slowly I sipped and ate, though, the crepe was soon gone and I was depressed the way I often get when something is delicious and I have eaten all of it. It is a profound sense of loss. In the past I have found the best way to deal with this depression is to keep eating more until I am sick. That way, I can focus on my regret instead of my desire. Regret is far easier to deal with, I find. After contemplating my sadness at my vanished crepe, the following thought occurred to me: could I order a sweet crepe for dessert? Or would that be gauche? Did one order a second crepe? Was that done? I became immediately aware, for the first time in my life, of my utter and complete lack of crepe etiquette. The wait staff already had me marked as an American. Did I want to confirm their suspicions by ordering a second crepe? No, I did not. I couldn’t do that to them or me. Instead I finished my tea and asked for my cheque (which is how they probably spell it there), asking for it with a subtle “q” sound to dispel their assumptions about my American-ness.
This morning I was up early due to the time difference. After working in bed for a little while, I realized I still had some time before work. Just enough time, in fact, to go down to Café Crepe to get my long-pined-for banana Nutella crepe. So I took a quick shower and made my way over there. I had a fleeting fear that the same wait staff would still be on duty from the night before and they would recognize me and think that I was a loser for going there two meals in a row, but then I thought the odds of the same people being there twelve hours later were remote. And indeed they were not, although the waitress was another perky blonde girl who seemed interested in my order in a way that American waitresses never are. I took another table for one and there was a different set of young Asians sitting next to me. They also had an Indian guy with them, but then I remembered that India is East Asia, so he counts. Again, they weren’t eating crepes. They were eating eggs and other stuff. Why do these Asians insist on not ordering crepes at Café Crepe? I was more than a little annoyed. When the waitress came I didn’t waste any time: “Yes I’m ready to order. I’d like a cup of tea and a banana crepe Nutella.” I immediately realized I had screwed up the order by reversing the words “crepe” and “Nutella.” I knew exactly what the waitress was thinking even before she corrected me: “American.” That’s what she was thinking. I wanted to tell her that I voted for Barack Obama and would have voted against Prop 8 if I lived in California, but she was already gone before I could tell her how much I like gay people.
Incidentally I did not feel the need to order a side salad because it was breakfast and because I was going to be eating banana which is kind of like eating a salad.
The crepe came much quicker this morning than last night, probably because the place was less crowded. But it was no less perfect. Again, a hue the color of new honey folded into a happy little wedge. The chef even drizzled a little extra chocolate on top and placed a tiny slice of banana on top of that for garnish. I should have taken a picture of it, but I find that pictures of food, unless styled by a professional food stylist, always make the food look gross. So it’s probably better that you just imagine whatever you imagine a perfect crepe looking like – that was my crepe this morning.
It’s probably not even worth describing the taste because whenever food involves Nutella you already know how it tastes – fantastic. Nutella is some sort of wonder food. It’s so good that I suspect it wasn’t invented so much as discovered, much like the way e=mc2 was discovered. Some things simply are: Nutella is one such thing.
Of course one would think that adding banana to perfection would only diminish the whole. Not so. For whatever reason, banana + Nutella = state of being that is even more perfect than perfect. Now we’re entering the realm of the metaphysical. After all, how can something be more perfect than perfect? Eat one of these crepes and then you tell me. You tell me. But it can. I did something very smart this morning while eating my crepe. Instead of adding sweetener to my tea as I normally do, I left it unsweetened, reasoning that the sweet taste of the crepe combined with the bitter tea would make both taste even more delicious. Was I correct? I was. Before long, though, my worst fear was confirmed. Even before I was halfway through, I knew that the crepe was only going to leave me yearning for more crepe. It simply wasn’t even crepe. Was I going to order another banana Nutella crepe? I didn’t know. To buy myself some time, when the waitress asked me I wanted anything else, I said, “Not right this second.” What I wanted her to do was lean close and whisper into my ear, “Have another crepe, Michael.” (In my fantasy, she knew my name.) But she didn’t. Instead she brought me my check! This was the first time in my life that the waitress brought the check before I asked for it. Normally I have to “flag down” the help. Normally I have to chase them across the restaurant to get my check. But today, for some reason, she brought it unbidden even after I specifically said, “Not right this second!” I took this providentially. Clearly somebody did not want me to have another crepe. God? Perhaps. But I was still hungry, so I decided to get a second cup of tea. When I ordered it, the waitress asked if I wanted “more hot water.” I told her I wanted another tea bag, and I know this must have annoyed her because it required her taking away the cheque, and adding another tea to the bill. I wanted to tell her that that was the price of presumptuousness on her part, but I did not want to scold her, particularly after she seemed so interested in my order earlier in our encounter.
One benefit of tea in a clear glass mug: when you put the teabag into the hot water, you can watch as they interact, allowing you to see the water slowly turn from clear to brown. I watched this transformation for a good long while until I started to feel like I was acting weird. Then I put some Splenda into there and watched that mix itself up with the tea and then I added cream, which just kind of slopped over everything like an avalanche. I took my time drinking the tea, hoping to feel full the way you sometimes do fifteen minutes after eating. By the end of the tea, I felt satiated enough to ask for the cheque, which she brought, and which now reflected the second tea I had ordered. I tipped her well and said goodbye. But she was already busy with another table of young Asians. In a table in the back, sitting by himself, I saw John Cusack. We did not speak.