There are about 10,000 people working in the majestic, vitally important hospital and offices of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Complex on Third Street in midtown Los Angeles. Three of my many doctors practice there (Drs. Samuels, Cinman and Cohen), so I do spend a good deal of time in the neighborhood. And that's how I first heard about the fabulous crêperie just a short stroll away from the complex; the manager of one medical office was savoring a luscious-looking crepe and said to me, "You should write about this crepe place...they are the best I've ever eaten!" No sooner said than I walked over to the southwest corner of Third Street and La Cienega Blvd.
The entrance to the tiny yellow crepe shop
There, tucked into the corner of a strip mall of food stores, was a tiny, bright yellow shop with a sign proclaiming Crepe Republic (8516 W. 3rd St., (310) 652-7772, parking at the mall.) And, yes, I discovered the very best crepes that I've ever eaten. Now, I have eaten crepes and pancakes all over the world...blinis in Russia, palacinka in the Balkans, krepas in Greece and pannkaka in Sweden. In India I have eaten dosas, and in Mexico there are sopas. But it is in France that they are acclaimed as the nation's most popular food. You see people walking in the street everywhere in the country eating crepes, and I've been in movie theatres there when it seems the entire audience was chomping on crepes while watching the picture. In fact, I can distinctly remember my first French crepe. In the early Fifties, I was doing publicity for a Fox movie called The Black Swan, starring Tyrone Power and Orson Welles. One day in Paris, while walking down Pigalle in the Latin Quarter with the picture's ingénue, Cecile Aubrey, she stopped at an umbrelled crepe cart and treated me to a sweet crepe made on the spot. It contained some mascerated fruit and custard, and was dusted with powdered sugar. I was thunderstruck it was so delicious..and have been hooked on crepes ever since. So there I am, this June, at a little store in a midtown mall, watching a breathtakingly beautiful young woman, Leana Aivazian, deftly pour some batter on the custom-built cast iron electric crepe machine, smooth it with a special wooden rake-like instrument, and after it was burnished golden brown on one side, deftly flipping it over, waiting a moment 'til it was crisped on the other side, and filling it with strawberries, mango, kiwi, and almonds tossed in dolce caramel sauce. She swiftly folded it four times and tucked it into a plate for a waiting customer.
Leana prepares a savory crepe for a customer
My mouth was open in admiration and hunger when her partner, Yana Baksharskaya, asked me in a slight Russian accent if I would like to take a seat in the corner. I was there almost two hours, ate bites of six crepes, and took them home to finish while watching the Lakers-Celtics playoff game. (They are excellent cold as well as hot... not the Lakers, the crepes).
Yana and Leana are partners in the creperie!
I came back the following day to begin this article... and to sample another half-dozen of their offerings. Crepe Republic offers about a dozen crepes in each of three categories, Breakfast, Savory, and Sweet. Leana told me that I could have my crepes in regular (white flour) or whole wheat, which I actually prefer. I asked her about her recipe for the batter, and she laughingly said it was a professional 'secret.' But she did admit that it was all-purpose flour, olive oil, eggs, milk, a pinch of salt and sugar. I mentioned that I heard the batter has to rest in the refrigerator for several hours to get rid of the bubbles and she just looked at me as if I was telling her something she didn't know. Thus far, no Crepes Suzette, with lightly-grated orange peel and Grand Marnier, which in fancy restaurants is flamed upon presentation. The fire laws would not allow it here, but Leana allowed she was working on an adaptation of them to be served shortly.
A savory crepe with vegetables for $8.95
I told her about visiting the ancestral home of French crepes, the craggy coast of Brittany in northwestern France, where buckwheat crepes called Galettese de Sarrasin, filled with ham and cheese, are eaten daily by everyone. Accompanied by hard apple cider and many cigarettes. (Buckwheat is gluten-free, which is of increasing importance today.) She promised to look into that as she has been experimenting with gluten-free ingredients. Her family has had a popular crepe restaurant in Sacramento for the past four years, where she learned her skills.
After a half-dozen visits in following days, I decided that my favorite savory crepe (all $8.95) was the Skinny Jeans (or Veggie Delight), filled with artichoke, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, mushrooms, onion, basil, zucchini, fresh leaf spinach, and jack cheese, all in a subtle pesto sauce. It is not only absolutely delicious but you feel healthy while eating it.
My favorite sweet crepe ($6.95) is the aptly-named Sinful Pleasure, strawberries, banana, custard cream, sprinkled with condensed milk, Nutella (chocolate and hazelnut cream), topped with light whipped cream and mixed nuts. Oh, my, so sinfully tasty! When I innocently asked if the whipped cream was from a can, she disdainfully replied, "I've been a professional baker all my life, so you know the answer to that foolish question."
But then I must confess that my favorite of them all is a Breakfast crepe ($8.95), which I ate one morning just as they were finishing the breakfast orders at 11 am, the Slammin' Salmon, filled with smoked salmon, goat cheese, spinach, eggs, capers, avocados. Served with roasted morning potatoes. (Remember the first time you ate a slice of Wolfgang Puck's Smoked Salmon/Caviar pizza off the Spago menu? Then you'll understand the zesty joy of tucking into this incredible delicacy. Heavenly.)
There are so many wonderful choices that I could go on for pages about them...a Meat Lovers breakfast crepe with ham, sausage, bacon, eggs, mozzarella and much more stuff..... I still dream about a Zesty Lemon sweet crepe with lemon puree and custard cream. You can add a scoop of gelato for $2.50 to really go to hell with yourself. Yana, a Siberian-born mother of a five year old girl, said that you can create your own crepe from any one or more of two dozen fillings. The girls are intending to cement the operation here and then expand to other locations, eventually franchising them.
Crepes are becoming the new 'cupcakes'... wildly popular for many reasons apart from their fabulous eating... they are healthy, relatively fat-free, easy to transport and to reheat or eat cold. So look for that tiny yellow shop in the corner of the La Cienega & Third Street mall and enter the wonderful world of pancake pleasure!
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