Roll Me Over
Readers with ravenous appetites, fair warning: This article is about crepes. By definition crepes are lacy pancakes, sometimes stuffed with savory or sweet fillings, sometimes left mostly plain and just sprinkled with sugar. They can be a good snack -- in France, in fact, crepes are considered street food, much the way hot dogs are seen as a quick but temporary hunger-stanching ploy in the U.S. But by no stretch of the imagination are crepes considered a filling meal. So those who can really strap on the feedbag shouldn't bother with any joint that sells such delicate little things. Right?
Well, no, at least not if you're discussing La Rozell, a five-month-old French bistro on East Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. The eatery features dozens of varieties of crepes, ranging from those filled with ratatouille to those topped with vanilla ice cream and poached pears. The pancakes are made correctly, with light, crisp edges, far from the Bisquick and frozen Aunt Jemima of our youth. I've rarely had better ones, even on the street corners of Nice, where the crepes, rolled into modest tubes or folded into handkerchief squares, are slathered with Nutella chocolate-and-hazelnut spread, which melts so quickly in the Riviera sun that you have no choice but to wolf them down. And then lick your fingers to find out how they tasted.
La Rozell's crepes are definitely not finger food -- they stretch out over an entire dinner plate. Granted, the filling doesn't spread out over the inside of the entire pancake; rather the stuffing makes a significant lump, like a cat under a bedspread, at the seam of the crepe, where it's folded over. What looks skimpy at first is actually a hefty amount. Indeed, when I took along two notoriously big eaters as guests, one couldn't finish his crepe, which was literally bursting at the seam with mild smoked salmon and a smear of goat cheese (substituting for mascarpone, since the restaurant had run out). My other friend, on whom I can always count to finish my meal and anyone else's, was so taste-satisfied with his combo of Black Forest ham, apples, and crumbled blue cheese that, once he finished his crepe, all he wanted was another one for dessert.
So you're still not convinced -- you say nothing could entice you into a crêperie. How 'bout if I tell you that La Rozell also features a good number of appetizers and entrées, all designed with the heartier diner in mind? This pleasant space, located on the first floor of an office building and decorated with a slate floor, wrought iron accents, and flowing greenery, is also a bistro. That means you can find French favorites like escargots and onion soup, along with some surprises.
One of those surprises came in the form of the soup of the day, a purée of zucchini made without cream. The minced squash in the soup gave it an unappealing mossy hue, but the stock was very good. I thought it superior to the onion soup, which featured a nice lid of bubbling Gruyère but tasted bland. A more flavorful stock would improve the gratinée greatly, since the caramelized onions in it were plentiful and the crouton properly moist but not disintegrating.
The snails were also something of a shock in that they were served traditionally. I rarely see them brought to the table in the shells anymore -- folks are forever trying to help Americans forget what escargots really are. I welcomed the reminder, but at the same time I had to convince a guest to try them by insisting that snails taste just like mushrooms. Actually it's the textures that are similar, since both tend to burst inside the mouth. These escargots did just that, releasing the flavors of garlic, butter, and the minced herbs with which they had been dressed. The sauce that dribbled out of the shells was ideal for mopping up with crusty French bread, served in a basket at the beginning of the meal.
We weren't thrilled with our third starter, the cheese tart. You can order this with Brie or goat cheese; either way, the cheese is paired with poached apples and baked inside flaky phyllo dough. We chose goat, and the pungency of the cheese made a delicious contrast to the pie-spiced apples. But the tart was cold and soggy and could have used more time in the oven before being brought to the table.
Though main courses are limited to a half-dozen, we still had difficulty choosing, particularly when confronted with an irresistible filet mignon. Offered as a special one evening, the tender cut of meat had been napped with a port wine-mushroom sauce. Such an enticing entrée can make giving up another choice, say the roasted half duck with raspberry sauce, a hardship. So return another time -- the duck is worth it. Though the skin was perfectly crisp, the duck meat was moist and slick with juice, and a raspberry sauce was neither cloying nor overwhelmingly tart.
Speaking of tart, no meal in a French bistro would be complete without an apple one for dessert. The servers at La Rozell, who are also the owners and practically dance attendance on their tables, lured us into dessert by bringing an entire homemade apple tart to our table; thus far in the evening, no one had ordered a slice. We suggested that they just leave it with us, but laughing, they took it back to the kitchen and cut us a generous wedge of the firm crust and mellow, well-baked apples.
In a way I can see why diners weren't attracted to the tart. When there are zillions of crepes to be had for a sweet, apple pie might seem kind of ordinary. Then, too, there's the size of the dessert crepe -- just as majestic as the dinner one. We ordered ours topped with vanilla ice cream, sliced fresh strawberries and bananas, and chocolate syrup, and it was so satisfying we didn't even want our coffee afterward.
What I can't understand is why no one seems to have discovered this friendly, earnest place. Only a handful of tables were occupied on a Saturday night, and every time I pop in, the eatery seems half empty (as opposed to half full). I would go there regularly, if only for the reasonable prices: All main courses are preceded by soup or a mixed-greens salad, and early-bird specials sell for $13.95. With its fine, home-style fare and hands-on service, La Rozell certainly serves all members of the dining community -- even those with big appetites and prejudices against harmless crepes. Surely the place, since it gives so much, deserves better in return.
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