NEW HAVEN — I am sitting at a window seat in Crêpes Choupette looking out onto the downtown.
My first galette arrives at the table. I look down and do a double take, its color on my plate is a complete surprise. A “fabrication traditionnelle,” according to the menu, dark brown, an earthy, filigreed, porous crêpe, folded into a neat triangle, bursting at the edges with a hearty filling of potato, raclette cheese, arugula, and bundnerfleish, a Swiss-style dried beef. This is Crêpes Choupette’s “Ractiflette,” an interpretation of a traditional Swiss dish.
I think: “Ethiopian injera?” or even, “Japanese nori?”
The savory galette is made of buckwheat, brought first to Brittany from Asia, according to the menu board. The grain, a nutty triangular seed called kasha in Eastern Europe, was cultivated in China five or six thousand years ago.
My first taste of the buckwheat galette, I think, yes, a little ocean and a lot of earth. It is crispy, buttery, salty, nutty, sour, sweet. The taste is full-grained and ancient.
The restaurant is casual and rustic with eclectic wooden bistro chairs and tables, cupboards hung with baskets. A large white counter with three round cast iron crêpe-makers is center stage. How many times have I walked past Crêpes Choupette, tucked away busy Whitney Avenue off Audubon Street? What have I been missing?
The menu draws from around the world, but its creator, French-native Adil Chokairy, says he was inspired by childhood memories. His favorite time of the day, he recalls, was coming home after school, when his mother would improvise crêpes. Later, as a young man living in Paris, he frequented a local crêpe kiosk that reminded him of home. And after moving to the United States, Adil began a business — a mobile crêpe-making tricycle on the streets of New Haven.
The restaurant on Whitney Avenue came later, although the tricycle is still in use for catered events and parties, and as a way to connect and visit other chefs and their work in the New Haven, like the Union Street Cafe. “The food scene is just amazing here.” Adil says.
Crêpes Choupette serves savory galettes and sweet crêpes. Both need to be tried for the full experience. The dessert crêpes are made with whole wheat flour, are pliable in texture, and just right for soaking up fillings like honey, maple syrup, Nutella, raspberry coulis — or, classically — churned butter and sugar.
On my first visit, I chose a sweet crêpe from Adil’s childhood, “When Mom Is In A Good Mood.” It layers fresh raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and walnuts over a folded triangle of crêpe. The pile of fruit and nuts covers a surprise, a slice of brie, which harmonizes the flavors, the smoky sweet of the maple, the earth of the nuts, the tang of berries.
Crêpes Choupette is also great place to witness the art of cooking, with one or more chefs assembling crêpes at the open counter at any given time. The batter, brown or cream-colored, is ladled onto the spanking-hot circular cast iron, spread with one swirl of a wooden rake, so thin to be translucent. As the batter cooks, it reappears. The huge canvas of crêpe is then flipped with a spatula and brushed with layers of butter. Next it is layered with fillings and folded in the precise way of laundry sheets. Some crêpes are folded square, some triangular, some rolled long. Some are open, displaying their contents; some are hidden. All are garnished for a final presentation.
The classic galette from Brittany is the “Compléte Jambon,” with comte, country ham, and a soft-boiled egg cooked into the center. On my second visit, I try a variation on this, the “Compléte Veggie,” which substitutes a ratatouille-like mixture of stewed vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, eggplant for the ham. It comes open-faced, so you can do your own folding at the table, breaking the soft yolk of the egg into the vegetables and cheese.
For my sweet, I ordered the “Amour et jalousie.” Here a discreetly folded crêpe, topped with a line of bananas and blackberry, hides an filling of Nutella.
The dining room has a relaxed, family-style feel, a wonderful spot to dine alone, meet a date, or celebrate a party. But call ahead and check the hours. On weekdays, the service is quite fast. You can pop in for an artful, affordable fifteen-minute lunch. On weekends, it’s best to leave a generous amount of time. The place fills up and expect to linger over your mimosa or cappuccino before being served your meal. It’s worth the wait.