Friday, April 1, 2011

The Crepe Cellar

TFB + The Charlotte Burger Bloggers!
The Food Baby Bottom Line:
  • The Charlotte Burger Bloggers rock our world.
  • Crêpe Cellar has a sexy and cozy atmosphere that never fails to seduce me.
  • A little salt helps…and a little to the left?
Oh, Crêpe Cellar…where do I begin?  First, let me say that I am pleased to present you with The Food Baby’s first joint blog/review.  We had been envious admirers of the work of the amazing guys behind the Charlotte Burger Blog, Patrick (aka “Hereford”) and Gio (aka “Angus”), for some time.  So when they suggested we dine together and do a joint review, we were jazzed.  Next, let me say that this has been one of the hardest reviews I have written to date.  Perhaps most daunting is the sheer awesomeness of the Charlotte Burger Bloggers – these guys have such a legit and systematic method – they each order the same dishes at every restaurant (a simple cheeseburger, perhaps with bacon and a house specialty burger), they use the exact same criteria/categories each time to assign ratings on a 5 point scale, and, perhaps most epic, these guys weigh and measure their burgers (see their "Burger Manifesto" for more detail).  AND, as we learned at dinner, they also record their dining experiences on a professional-grade recording device.  I wish to publicly apologize to CBB for having to listen to our crude, inappropriate and overly-blonde ramblings more than once.  And I will take this opportunity to request that you destroy the tapes.  THANKS AND SORRY.  All kidding aside, these guys are genius – go immediately to their site and check it out!

You might say our system, or lack thereof, at The Food Baby is the antithesis of everything the CBB does.  We don’t take notes (minds like rusty steel traps!), we sometimes forget to take pictures (we see food and our first instinct is to devour, not memorialize), we get drunk and we don’t have clever theme names…at least not that we are willing to publicly disclose.  But, we do have a few things in common with the CBBs.  Among other things, we obsessively love food, we appreciate good beer and we might love meat just as much as the CBBs do (yeah, we really do).  However, this experience did force Lauren and I to ask ourselves several important philosophical questions...should we have a more well-defined system for our reviews? (eh, maybe, but that sounds strenuous), should we focus more on a single theme? (bacon perhaps?) and should we record audio of our meals to better remember our tipsy experiences? (dear God no…the humanity…).  What do you guys think?

The other factor at play is the historical significance of the Crêpe Cellar in the lustful conception of TFB – I was dining there with my husband late last year when he encouraged me to stop talking about TFB and DO IT already (thanks, babe).  A tipsy text sent to Lauren while sitting at a corner Crêpe Cellar booth followed, and the rest is history. 

There is one final reason why this review was hard to write, but I will get to that later. For now…on with the show!

We arrived early on a Friday evening at Crêpe Cellar.  Clearly I am clueless as to the art of the rendezvous, because I forgot to ask the CBBs to carry a yellow flower or a red umbrella, or whatever the hell you’re supposed to do.  Luckily, they were heads up and recognized us from our pics online.  After the pleasantries were exchanged, we made our way inside.

As you can surmise from most of the online reviews, the Crêpe Cellar is tiny (maybe 10-12 tables), and they do not take reservations.  We had 7 in our party (me and Lauren + our hubs and Hereford + Mr. and Mrs. Angus), and were pleased that they were able to seat us at 6:30PM with no wait.  Had we shown up much later, it would have been a different story.  It seems public opinion on the space is very binary – people either love the cozy, almost European atmosphere, while others have described it as “dark and drab” “too loud” and “cold”.  I happen to love the atmosphere.  I love the spacious wooden booths along the wall of large windows, the dark wood, the exposed brick…its sexy.  And the crowd is sexy.  And the people that work there are sexy.  The place is just dead sexy.  Period.  I’ve been a number of times and only once did I suffer from space/noise issues (my husband and I were seated so close to another two top that we overheard things that NO strangers should have…ew…but they were rude loud talkers).  There are a few elements in the dining room that seem out of place – the chalkboard for the specials is nice, but the neon chalk is a bit cheesy.  Plus the modern lighting situation near the bathrooms seems contradictory to the rest of the décor.  But overall, still a sexy spot in my book.

I started with the Sweet Chili Shrimp appetizer, which was very good.  The shrimp were cooked properly (no rubbery business here) and were swimming in a spicy and sweet broth that had a nice pop of lemongrass flavor.  The dish almost reminded me of Thom Yum soup.  I used all of the bread that came with the dish to sop up the fragrant and tasty broth, carbs be damned!     
Sweet Chili Shrimp
Lauren ordered the Queen City Crêpe as a starter, which has roasted chicken, bacon, cheddar cheese and an oven-roasted tomato dressing.  I have to say that we were both underwhelmed by the dish.  The crêpe itself was a bit dense and thicker than I would have liked, and the overall flavor of the dish seemed a bit pedestrian.  Mrs. Angus ordered the same crêpe as an entrée and may or may not have used the word “Applebee’s” to describe it.  Sorry Crêpe Cellar, but the crêpe kind of made us sad. 
The Queen City

For my entrée, I couldn’t resist the Fish and Chips given the dish had received the illustrious “Best of the Best” award from Charlotte Magazine.  Pros – perfectly cooked fish that was flaky and tender with a beautiful crust that was light, airy and crispy.  Cons – absolute lack of flavor.  I tried to resuscitate the flavorless fish with varied combinations of the purple slaw, malt vinegar and tartar sauce that accompanied it, but to no avail.  What it really needed was a little salt…ok, more like a copious amount of salt.  I will openly admit to being a sodium whore, so I had Lauren and my husband (who claims I will die from my salt abuse some day) try the fish.  It wasn’t just me.  The fries were good, but not outstanding – a bit greasy, and also lacking salt.  To be fair, I may have gotten a slightly off batch… I have had their Brie and Pesto fries before and they were sinfully orgasm inducing. 
Fish and Chips

Lauren ordered the Beef Short Ribs.  This dish stole the show visually when our entrées arrived and I instantly had strong feelings of jealous food envy.  I creepily watched as Lauren took her first bite and was alarmed when her face registered a blank expression.  I was expecting a gushing stream of overly-descriptive expletives that would push me over the edge into full blown entrée coveting mode.  She pushed the plate towards me and just said, “You try it”.  And I did.  Pros – meat cooked to perfection that was absolutely falling off the bone plus nice hints of flavor from the proscuitto.  Cons – similar to my fish, the meat itself was shockingly void of flavor and the gnocchi were dense and gummy.  Wah.  All in all, a bit of a boner kill. 
Beef Short Ribs

Meanwhile, we watched as the CBBs weighed, measured and professionally photographed their burgers.  It may have been 5-10 minutes before they started to devour the burgers.  Wow, what discipline.  We are truly not worthy.  I will defer to their review (click here) for the full scoop, but they seemed to really dig their food. 

Lastly, Lauren and I decided to share the Butter Sugar Dessert Crêpe.  It seemed like the Crêpe Suzette and the Banana and Nutella Crêpes have been written about ad nauseum (with overwhelmingly positive reviews), so we decided to go with something else.  The flavors of the Butter Sugar Crêpe were nice (please tell me how butter and sugar can be bad) but very subtle, and again, the crêpe itself didn’t wow us.  It just wasn’t as delicate as I would have liked.  Perhaps the batter was over-worked or it was poured too thick?  If food-left-on-plate can be used as a barometer for dish enjoyment, we were at about 50%.  Ergh, sorry.   

I would like to give special recognition to our server, who was amazing. She was very friendly, and was extremely knowledgeable about the food as well as the slamming craft beer selection.  She definitely gets a shout out for going the extra mile.  Lauren’s husband had sampled a few beers and asked her to recommend his next.  She asked some questions about what he wanted and then disappeared for a few moments, returning with a draft that was not on the Crêpe Cellar menu.  She had actually gone next door to Growler’s to get Shawn the perfect brew based on what he was eating, what he had already tried, etc.  Incredible!

So back to the final reason why this review was hard to write…  I generally love the Crêpe Cellar, I always have a good time at the Crêpe Cellar, and I will absolutely continue to patronize the Crêpe Cellar. I’ve had some very tasty food at the Crêpe Cellar.  However, on this particular occasion, we (The Food Babies) were generally let down by the food.   I think if the namesake of your restaurant is the crêpe, then the crêpes should be consistently amazing.  If not…what’s the point?  I don’t go to Cabo Fish Taco to get a crappy fish taco.  I don’t go to Good Food on Montford to eat bad food on Montford.  Right??  I was also saddened that the proteins on both the Fish and Chips and Short Ribs dishes were so well cooked, but then completely fell short on flavor.  So close, yet so far away.  That bit of overly-blunty critique out of the way, we had a great time at dinner that evening.  The service was stellar, the atmosphere was fun and hip and the company was top-notch.  I’ve coined a new food baby for this particular review – the “a little to the left” baby – its great, you’ve enjoyed the overall experience before, but its not quite getting you to the blissful place it normally does.  So here’s to next time…a little more salt and a little to the left, please!

- Brianna  

Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub on Urbanspoon

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