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Making the Leap Into The Brotherhood of Good Restaurants
It's been a year since owner Domenico Albano and partner Chef Andreina Protti have made a success of themselves among the lunch crowds with generous servings of delicate crêpes with unexpectedly delicious fillings, surprising salads, unusually good soups and sandwiches, at exceptionally reasonable prices. These two talented restaurateurs are on the verge of making a leap into the brotherhood of good restaurants.
By Simone Zarmati Diament
One block from the bustling Coral Gables Restaurant Belt, Crêpes & Company (in the space formerly occupied by Giramondo) is off the beaten track. You actually see the sign when your eyes wander from the crowded sidewalk of The Globe across the street.
It's been a year since owner Domenico Albano, an Italian-Venezuelan, and partner Chef Andreina Protti, an Argentine graduate from the Argentine Institute of Gastronomy in Buenos Aires, have made a success of themselves among the lunch crowds with beautifully prepared and generous servings of delicate crêpes with unexpectedly delicious fillings, fresh salads, unusually good soups and sandwiches, at exceptionally reasonable prices.
The ambiance is tasteful and sleek, a far-cry from the rustic proclivity one can expect from a creperie: twelve well-spaced softly-lit tables with flowers and candles, high ceiling, stained distressed cement, huge black and white photographs of Paris on one wall and orchid scones on another. There's plenty of parking space in the front.
These two talented restaurateurs seem to know in their gut that they have the makings of a good restaurant and have prudently extended their hours of operation to include dinner from Wednesday through Saturday.
The menu, akin to a great French bistro's, is pretty much the same for lunch and dinner. But dining in gives you a chance to order dishes that take longer to prepare such as the scrumptious spinach and ricotta crepe gratinée studded with whole sautéed mushrooms.
Chef Andreina only trusts good ingredients to cook the exquisite fillings of her crepes and insists on using fresh pumpkin and home made stock for her now legendary soups; she enhances the taste of tomatoes by roasting those three hours in the oven, and keeps the crunch of shrimp by steaming them herself and cooling them off right away.
Legendary soups and world-class crêpes
Everything on the menu is freshly made from scratch. You will rarely find anywhere else a pumpkin soup as velvety and tasty as this one, fragrant with just a touch of ginger and cream and sprinkled with crunchy pumpkin seeds, and served with a paper thin toast on the side.
Nor will you find a better onion soup. The genuine thing, with a perfectly balanced homemade stock rich with caramelized onions, topped with toast and a thick crust of gratinéed gruyère cheese is served in a crock.
The thin, supple crêpes alone, with a side of well-seasoned mesclun salad and sprouts, are worth several visits. But is it the fillings that are the life of the meal. There are only three meat offerings on the menu, each in a different style: an intriguing Moroccan veal with raisins, caramelized onions, fragrant with cumin, cinnamon and star anise; the filet mignon with mushrooms, a take on boeuf bourguignonne, steeped in a tasty Merlot-and-rosemary sauce; and sautéed beef with onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and roasted tomatoes.
The menu offers three chicken crêpes: huge soft pillows of fork-tender chicken dices with a lush white wine and four-cheese (pecorino, parmesan, Swiss and cheddar) sauce with carrots and green beans; or grilled chicken with broccoli, mushrooms and cheddar cheese, or even chicken teriyaki with orange.
Seafood crepes include a splendid marinara with fresh herbs that gently blankets a large serving of very fresh shrimp, tender bay scallops, seafaring mussels and squid. I dreamt of tagliolini-style strips of crepes soaking up the delicious sauce rather than the full crepe, and did that myself, feeling very innovative and saving up on the calories. I'll have to come back for the curried shrimp, the salmon with vodka-tomato sauce and the grouper with fennel and lemon and dill sauce.
Vegetarians can have a field day at Crêpes & Company with crepes filled with rich ratatouille; gorgonzola, brie, mozzarella and honey-glazed pear and walnut, caramelized onions, walnuts and four kinds of cheese; and eggplant parmiggiana, among other offerings
But at dinner time, don't miss the fresh spinach, mushrooms, ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino-gratin crepe hot from the oven, served in a crock large enough for two or more servings. You will want to come back for more.
Lusciously delicate salads and delightful lunch only sandwiches
For dinner our combined salad of citrusy and very fresh shrimp, avocado, corn, hearts of palm, tomato concassé and basil terrine, and caprese - skewers of sherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella bocconcini over a fragrant basil pesto topped with a fried basil leave was outstanding: beautiful as well as tasty.
If you can resist the call of crêpes, the salads -- to which you can add chicken, mushrooms, beef, shrimp or cheese -- are a meal in itself: Mesclun, endives, blue cheese, honey-glazed pears, oranges and walnuts; or spinach, mesclun, black olives, roasted tomatoes, mozzarella, pecorino flakes and caramelized onions, and sauteed veal with green beans, mesclun, radicchio, onions and parmesan flakes.
For lunch you can have soup and delightful sandwiches made with oven-fresh foccacia and filled with grilled thyme-olive-oil marinated vegetables with feta; Mozzarella, parmiggiano, prosciutto, tomato confit, buffalo milk mozzarella , basil and black olives; Filet mignon with black olives, capers and anchovies' tapenade, eggplant caviar, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and rosemary olive oil; or an exceptional tuna, eggs, celery, olives, capers, Spanish onions, lettuce filling drizzled with coriander, dill mayonnaise and fennel seeds oil.
High end desserts and dessert crepes
Can too much crêpe be too much of a good thing? Chef and partner are working out mitigating the use of crêpe in all of their dishes at dinner.
But skip lunch, skip dinner and just come for the surprisingly high-end desserts and dessert crêpes.
The same size as an entrée, dessert crêpes are filled with dulce de leche, Argentine-style, and crisped with burnt sugar; or with chocolate-hazelnut cream and caramel with a cooking scoop of sorbet. I would have had the exquisite semi-freddo Cointreau orange mousse with bittersweet chocolate sauce in a parfait glass rather than in a crêpe; but the feather-like batter absorbed divinely well the syrupy caramel of the mixed berries with black pepper-spiked mango-orange-banana-kiwi and strawberry almond filling.
You cannot leave without indulging in a serving of flan with dulce de leche served with croustillants of caramelized sugar and a flower, in a perfectly burnished caramel sauce, on the edge of bitterness. It is the best I've had this side of the Equator.
With a little step forward into the realm of wines and an adjustment at dinner time, one year-old Crêpes & Company is about to make a leap into the brotherhood of good restaurants.