Mathieu: Maître-Crêpier Extraordinaire in Mar Mikhael
Some of the fondest memories of my year in Paris were at a little crêpe station in the Quartier Latin. Situated along the quaint Rue Mouffetard a stone’s throw from a cluster of fondue eateries, Au P’tit Grec attracts locals and tourists alike for its cone-shaped crêpes, folded thus to accommodate an uncharacteristic generosity in ingredients.
Anytime a guest from out of town came to visit me, we exacted the pilgrimage to the Greek crêpe house. In fact, nearly the first thing I did on our trip to Paris last November was make a beeline for P’tit Grec to reverence its immutable marvels.
|Cone-shaped crêpes at Mathieu|
Since my move here, I have been on an endless hunt for decent crêpes, not just those in the style of P’tit Grec’s but the traditional galettes sarrasins crafted from buckwheat flour. While a few shops once boasted the latter (Bar à Thym, Café Diem--both since shuttered), the former I have never been so fortunate to find.
That all changed last week, when we popped into corner crêperie Mathieu a block from EDL in Mar Mikhael. Conceived by the folks behind Deek’Matic, which already hit major high notes with me, the shop is painted a slick crimson and blends brick with cartoonish wall-pieces inside. A chef figurine cradles a jar of Nutella in one hand and a sign in the other, bearing the words “Ceci n’est pas une crêpe” (“this is not a crêpe”).
|The mascot at Mathieu|
There are close to two dozen items straddling cotés salés et sucrés. We started with the quintessential œuf dinde fromage (egg, deli turkey, cheese; 8,500 LL) garnished with rings of red onion, butter lettuce and tomato. Maître-crêpier Elie cracks a fresh egg directly atop the paper-thin golden dough folded taco-style on the hot plate. He then layers a mix of grated cheese, taking care to line the circumference to don it a crispy texture. As the cheese melts, the balance of ingredients is piled on, until the crepe is ready to be creased into a V-shape and slipped into a protective sleeve.
|Egg, deli turkey, and cheese crêpe with veggie garnish|
Here’s the thing. Mathieu not only conjures up Au P’tit Grec, but it sets a new standard. With unquestionably fresh fixings bound inside a secret-recipe dough melding flour, egg, sugar, and butter, these crêpes evoke emotion, in addition to the occasional moan, groan, and wide eyes. There’s so much passion poured into every element of their making, each mouthful is like a bisou from Paris with love.
Of course we didn’t stop at just one crêpe. We proceeded to wolf down poulet pistou (11,000 LL), heaving with real marinated chunks of chicken breast and Deek’Matic’s signature homemade pesto mayo, all cushioned by a blanket of molten cheese. The closer you get to the crux, the juicier and more seamless the interplay of ingredients in that liquid pool of finesse.
|Poulet pistou in the making!|
|Before: waiting to inhale|
|After: the crux of the crêpe|
If you ask Elie which is his favorite, he’ll hail the Pastrami (11,500 LL) without missing a beat. The combination of basterma, or Armenian air-dried cured beef, with grilled halloumi, rocket leaves, tomatoes and pesto is second to none, he claims, and indeed, it is something special. Clean, neat, and aromatic, it’s like a bite from the mezza banquet kicked up a notch with a taste of Italy.
|Pastrami (or rather, basterma) crêpe|
Dessert was more of a dare, a culmination of irrepressible curiosity to see whether the sweet offering holds a candle to its savory counterparts. First up, Amsterdam (9,000 LL), or a deconstructed apple pie with sultanas, crushed lotus, cinnamon, and a drizzle of fromage frais to boot. Understated elegance is the best description for this beauty.
|Amsterdam sweet crepe with caramelized apple cubes and crushed lotus|
Halawa (8,500 LL) is the antithesis of Amsterdam, capturing bold flavors from the chocolate-hazelnut spread Nutella and decorated with crumbled halva and banana coins. It’s cloyingly sweet, as expected, so make sure your sweet tooth is up to the challenge.
|Halawa crêpe with Nutella and banana|
The story of Mathieu is typed in small cursive font and mounted to the wall. Though seemingly imaginative at first glance, it is in fact the tale of so many a Lebanese: departure abroad during the grueling Civil War, hard work by keeping nose to the grindstone, consummate success, and finally a return to the homeland with earnest desire to recreate that very same success.
|Mathieu's story (panel on the left) tells the tale of many a Lebanese, myself included|
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