Bright flavors

The Merry Table serves crêpes to linger over
By BRIAN DUFF  |  July 9, 2008
CAREFULLY FOLDED: To keep in the taste.

The Merry Table | 43 Wharf St, Portland | daily 11:30 am-3 pm; 5:30-10 pm | Visa/MC | 207.899.4494
Of Great Britain’s many reasons to be ashamed of itself, its version of the pancake (which we have inherited) is perhaps the nadir. Bleached, puffy, doughy, and flavorless, the Scottish pancake is miserable on its own and easily decomposed by exposure to more interesting ingredients. It is the pancake of a people who care nothing for life. Every other culture has done better with this simple staple food — witness the injera of East Africa, the blintz of Eastern Europe, and the tortilla of Latin America.

But the French, with their versatile, soft yet resilient buckwheat crêpes, are the masters. So it is strange that a French crêperie recently opened in the Old Port would choose a name that sounds quintessentially British.

The Merry Table, whose crêpes are quite good, deserves a better name. The look of the place, bright yet cozy with a wild-haired proprietor behind the bar, certainly seems more French than Scottish. A back room tucked around a corner allows seating of extra patrons without losing its small feel. The walls are a bright Serrano-Christ yellow with the inevitable French cuisine posters. But it's really pleasant in there, with a mix of French and English conversation floating about the room, and Wharf Street wanderers watchable though the big front windows.

Some crêperies use their pancakes as a cone with the ingredients bursting out the top. Merry Table’s crêpes are more of the neatly-tucked sort. They arrive as fastidious beige and brown rectangles, plated with a nice bit of lightly dressed greens, seeming more appropriate to a fork than fingers. In fact the crêpes to go, one of life’s great pleasures, don’t come wrapped in paper ready for easy eating but in Styrofoam, like a more traditional entrée. The wine list and full bar solidify the feeling that this crêperie is more like a traditional restaurant.

It certainly helps that what you find inside your crêpe is entrée-worthy as well. The poireaux contained lots of dark, small, musky wild mushrooms and leeks braised just long enough to become tender without losing their bite. Both had enough earthy flavor to stand up to the creamy goat cheese they rested upon. Each vegetable kept to its own side of the crêpe, so you could appreciate them separately, or together.

The more unusual texane crêpe was a sort of southwestern crêpe — and not southwestern France. While the diced olives made little impression, the tender pulled chicken and creamy avocado were nice with a dash of cilantro. The distinctive buttery buckwheat flavor of the crêpe distinguished it from a typical quesadilla. An open-faced crêpe with fig and prosciutto was more like a big salad. The fresh juicy figs were terrific and there was plenty of the salty pork. Another salad with strawberries and slightly chewy pieces of duck confit was quite good. The tartine appetizer was more like a French bruschetta, offering more of the goat cheese and wild mushrooms that were in the poireaux crêpe. I am curious to try the asparagus gratin and the pate.

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