When people ask me to recommend a French restaurant in the area, I never think of Crepe du Jour. I didn't realize until I ate there recently how much the Mount Washington creperie, which started as a cart in the Village Square at Cross Keys, had turned into a serious restaurant. OK, not serious, but a French restaurant with good food, not just a place dishing out crepes.
Like the other eating places located on this block of Sulgrave Avenue, Crepe du Jour is loaded with lively charm. On a damp, dreary evening, the dining room's vivid colors, tangerine and pumpkin predominantly, immediately cheered us up. The tables are close together, bistro style, with bright tomato-red paisley tablecloths under glass. The seating is simple: cushioned benches and wooden chairs.
Owner Mustapha Snoussi is a constant presence in the dining room, but his attentive servers leave him very little to worry about.
On a summer evening a little less drippy than this one, I'd opt for one of the tables out front or on the deck in back. This is a good spot for alfresco meals.
Most of the food that isn't crepes would be perfectly at home at a French bistro. Plump, grit-free mussels, a special that evening, arrived in a generous amount of white wine, chopped tomato and garlic broth. Luckily, there was plenty of baguette for dipping. A large plate of excellent crisp pommes frites came with the mussels. I used the aioli that accompanied the calamari as a condiment for the fries; the calamari, unfortunately, was tender but not fried long enough, so it was neither golden nor crisp.
A steak frites, made with a hanger cut, was char-grilled and juicy pink, one of the better versions of this bistro standard you'll find. There was some disagreement over the restaurant's snails - should the sauce be quite so lemony? I didn't mind it, but it did detract from the simplicity of butter and garlic.
The kitchen does ordinary, classic French food like a vegetable soup very well. This was one of the best, unfussed-with soups I've had in quite a while. It can also turn out some pretty elaborate concoctions, like tilapia fillet stuffed with crab and spinach, with a bechamel and a buerre blanc.
But I wouldn't be surprised if most folks still come to Crepe du Jour for the crepes. They make a satisfying, relatively inexpensive meal; and there are 16 savory crepes to choose from, plus too many sweet ones to count. (You can add toppings to any sweet crepe, effectively creating your own.)
As for the savory ones, there are so many appealing choices it's hard to narrow them down. Crepe Lorraine - pencil-thin stalks of crisp asparagus with prosciutto and brie - is one good one, although I'd like it even better with the cheese more melted and without the rind. That's a matter of personal taste, though.
I'd also recommend La Provencale: perfectly cooked shrimp and scallops in a tender crepe with tomatoes and cream. It's very rich, but not huge.
By the time we got to dessert, I was sort of creped out, but to paraphrase Henry Ford, you can have anything for dessert as long as it's a crepe. While the savory crepes show some restraint, the dessert crepes are almost too much of a good thing. A crepe suzette swims in a lake of orange-butter sauce, and it's one of the more modest ones. The servers aren't allowed to flambe the Crepe Flambe at the table, our waiter told us, although I didn't quite understand why. This is the crepe version of Bananas Foster, involving lots of brown sugar, Grand Marnier and butter, as well as vanilla ice cream.
There's not much for chocolate lovers unless you love Nutella, the chocolate and hazelnut spread, but Crepe Royale does have chocolate sauce as well as bananas and strawberries, and an inordinate amount of whipped cream on top.
One area that could be improved on at Crepe du Jour is the wine list and wine service. The first wine on the list, for instance, is white zinfandel, $4.99 a glass or $19 a bottle. End of information. (No, we didn't try it.) The small stemmed glasses are from the Mount Washington Jazz Festival. No ice bucket was offered.
Dinner ended with freshly brewed coffee and a check that wouldn't break the bank. Crepe du Jour is a pleasant spot that may have fallen off your radar. It deserves to get back on, especially as the June weather makes eating outside the thing to do.
Crepe du Jour Address: 1609 Sulgrave Ave., Mount Washington
Hours: Open every day for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
Prices: appetizers: $2.99-$10.99, entrees: $8.99-$26.99.
[Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *]