Brittany is a region in northwest France that is home to simple cuisine. When Anthony Bourdain visited the area, all he wanted was a shellfish tower. Since the famous Belon oyster hails from this area, it is often the focus of this large looming feast. Lobsters, cockles, mussels, head-on shrimp and clams are piled high and served with lemon wedges.
The region also has given us crepes. Buckwheat flour is used to prepare sweet-and-savory crepes. I have loved these thin, tasty pancakes since childhood and was delighted to discover that Cafe L’Aube, just off Rittenhouse Square, features them.
The simple menu includes crepes, sandwiches, croissants, baguettes, salads, strong coffee and assorted beverages.
The French are not big on breakfast. A roll and coffee will suffice. Cafe L’Aube, has some of the finest coffee you will ever taste. The beans are roasted for the café and produce a deep, dark, rich color and flavor. It is served in oversized café au lait cups.
On my first visit, I immediately got big eyes because I was not sure what type of savory crepe I wanted. The chef and I spoke in French, and he said “let me make you something special.”
I sat down at a table, listened to jazz and French music softly playing on the sound system and read a magazine. I sipped my coffee ($2.50) and was in for a tasty surprise. The chef prepared a savory buckwheat crepe ($9.95) made with buttery, sautéed mushrooms and leeks. Anyone who prepares a dish with mushrooms and leeks for me has made a friend for life. He also added thinly-sliced prosciutto and Emmentaler, which imparted a buttery, nutlike flavor. The saltiness of the ham married beautifully with the natural sweetness of the leeks while the mushrooms added a rich headiness.
I wanted to sample a sandwich, specifically a croque monsieur because I have fond memories of this French version of a grilled cheese, which I loved so much with a glass of house wine in moderately-priced bistros throughout Paris.
The croque monsieur ($8.50) is lovingly prepared on oversized sandwich bread baked daily at The Art of Bread, Georges Perrier’s bakery in Narberth. It was layered with prosciutto and Emmentaler, which melted beautifully, before it met a gentle bath of crème fraîche and delicate béchamel. Once the bread soaked up these sauces, it spent time on the grill and was plated piping hot.
You should eat a croque monsieur with a knife and fork. My first bite proved what a fine idea the use of béchamel was in its preparation. It imparted a slightly sweet flavor which I liked, especially when paired with the ham and cheese. I usually nap bread with butter when I make grilled cheese at home. This was a distinctly different flavor. A mound of fresh greens including red oak, romaine, frisee and spinach was served on the plate. Homemade oil and vinegar dressing was placed in a tiny cute pitcher that I poured on and enjoyed.
Although Cafe L’Aube brews marvelous coffee, I wanted something cool. A bottle of San Pellegrino lemonade ($1.95) hit the spot. It was fizzy and refreshing.
Cafe L’Aube serves light fare. In another era, it might have been called a ladies’ lunch place. I purchased a pain au chocolate ($2.60) to go to enjoy at tea time. Later in the day, I brewed a cup of tea and tucked into the best chocolate croissant you can buy anywhere in the city.
The breads and vegetables come from local purveyors, but the meats and cheeses are international and very French with a nod to Italy and Switzerland.
Cafe L’Aube is the perfect place for an inexpensive breakfast, lunch or weekend brunch. It is a nice change of pace from all the eggs Benedict or nova and bagels that I usually order when the urge to brunch keeps me from my kitchen.
Three tips of the toque to Cafe L’Aube.
222 W. Rittenhouse Square
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