When the weather outside is frightful, our most dependable chill-chasers have been (and still are) the French onion soup at Danielle’s Creperie and the clam chowder at Jamie’s Broadway Grille. Two keys that separate a great dish from a good one are consistency and top-quality ingredients, and the soup and the chowder have both.
Danielle’s owner Aaron Phillippi describes the onion-soup process: “We start the broth by cooking 100 pounds of onions. We stew that down for five hours to make the soup. As the onions cook down, they create a liquid by themselves. We add red wine, beef consomme and bay leaf. We put croutons into each bowl, which are used to hold up the cheese we bake on top. It’s Holland Gouda, with a little bit of Swiss Gruyère mixed in for more taste” ($5.59 and $6.59)
Jamie Bunnell’s clam chowder is made from tender chunks of sea clams, clam broth, white wine, sherry, cream, butter, bacon, potato, fresh thyme, bay leaves, Old Bay seasoning, celery, onion, carrot and coarsely ground black pepper ($4.95 and $5.95; 427 Broadway, 916-442-4044).
Moving beyond soup, Danielle’s has been a destination since it opened in 1984 in Town & Country Village, continuing its run after moving to Arden Town Center in 1997. Phillippi began as a server in 1990 and bought out the previous owners in 2000. It’s not a French restaurant in the same sense as, say, Café Plan B in midtown, but does offer escargot, pate and quiche, and uses words such as “jambon” for ham and “fromage” for cheese.
A big part of its clientele has always been the “lunch ladies” of a certain age, though a younger crowd does come in for the desserts, Phillippi said. “I think what keeps more young people from eating here is their preconception of what crepes are. They think of them as dainty fruit-filled ‘Give me six to fill me up’ (pastries), but that’s not our crepes. We’ve Americanized them by making them into meals.”
Yes, they’re hefty and fill the plate. The menu shows nine veggie crepes, seven meat (including the rarely seen picadillo, the Latin American mix of spiced ground beef with raisins and olives), two chicken, two seafood, and 12 dessert crepes. The menu goes on with sandwiches, salads and soups, plus a big breakfast. The nice surprise is: Nothing costs more than $10.
A lunch pal and I grabbed a bite there recently, sitting in uncomfortably hard chairs that were too low for the scuffed table. Though the dining room is decorated with multimedia art for sale and brightened by the many windows and the good cheer of the servers, it still looked a bit fatigued.
Phillippi says changes are coming. “Although we’ve kept up the furnishings rather well, they’re (showing their age),” he said. “We need an updated look, so over the next year I will speak with an interior decorator and redo the inside of the restaurant. I want to keep it nice, but casual.”
To attract a younger crowd, he contracted with a marketing company that will blitz the Danielle’s brand over social media platforms beginning in January.
Back at the table, the lunch pal raised an eyebrow over his crepe Normande. “I’m not a crepe kind of guy,” he griped. “If I want a pancake, I’ll get a stack.” The crepe was filled with bay shrimp and bay scallops in a rich and creamy sauce. He took a bite, then another. “This is really good,” he conceded, “and I can’t believe how inexpensive it is.”
Bowls of that excellent onion soup and a deeply flavored and silken mushroom soup were quickly emptied. Six garlic-flecked and butter-drenched prawns showed up, which we cut up and added to the seafood crepe. Sides of housemade coleslaw and macaroni salad were more afterthoughts rather than fully realized accompaniments.
A French dip sandwich can be a work of art, as shown by chef Clay Purcell of the Marketplace Cafe at Embassy Suites-Sacramento, who uses shaved prime rib. The Angus beef on our sandwich was sliced from a precooked and overdone roast delivered by a national food supplier, which, given Danielle’s reputation for fresh, quality ingredients, surprised us. The slices of tasteless, rubbery meat were on a “baguette” that was spongy and thick, compounding the fracture.
Turns out that Danielle’s had been sourcing its baguettes, croissants and quiches from the estimable Bennett’s Bakery for 20 years. Until April, that is, when the bakery “did a 180 and changed direction” to focus on supermarket pastries, said CEO Michael Bennett. Since then, Phillippi has been buying unfinished baguettes (and baking them on site) and finished croissants from Sam’s Club. Wouldn’t Grateful Bread, Bella Bru or the Village Bakery in Davis be better options? (The house-made quiches are from Bennett’s recipe.)
In fairness, let’s point out that we’ve had very good chicken and tuna salads at Danielle’s on past visits, and the oven-roasted vegetables have been tops. But ...
We should have finished lunch with the Nutella-filled crepe (chocolate and hazelnut), but ended up with the uninspired caramelized peach crepe a la mode. Call that one a case of “crepe expectations” letdown.
New on P Street
Cafe Au Lait in midtown closed last spring, replaced by Adamo’s in July after a months-long refurbish. It’s a hip-looking place serving wines and craft beers. One recent offering was Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments “naturally flavored ale, brewed with honey, raisins and rosemary” (12 percent ABV; 25 ounces for $14).
We’ve tasted a few items on the menu of unexpected dishes, including marvelous pork-beef meatballs in creamy polenta with tomato sauce ($8) and over-the-top (in a good way) “sucio” (dirty) fries topped with bacon, cheddar cheese, poblano sauce, sour cream, and sautéed peppers and onions ($8). Next stop will be the fried chicken and Brussels waffle with syrup and hot sauce ($12).
Meanwhile, our favorite dish is chef Tony DiMichele’s chicken wings (he’s formerly of Grange). Forget about deep-fried, these wings are cooked “sous vide.” They’re sealed in a plastic bag with a marinade of fish sauce, garlic, cilantro stems and black pepper and simmered for three hours in a water bath with a constant “target temperature” of 167 degrees. They’re cooled, then grilled (slightly charred) to order and served with a Vietnamese-style sauce of rice vinegar, garlic, chili flakes and sugar ($6).
Beef, pork, poultry or fish prepared sous vide results in meat that is evenly cooked, tender and moist. The U.S. Restaurant Association has named sous vide among the top cooking techniques of the year, and predicts its spread in 2015.
Adamo’s is at 2107 P St.; (916) 440-9611, www.adamoskitchen.com.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.
In Arden Town center, 3535 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacaramento
Hours: Opens daily at 9 a.m.; closing at 2 p.m. Mondays; 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; 9 p.m. Wednesdays. Daily brunch-breakfast served until 2 p.m., though “you can get anything on the menu at any time.”
Food: ☆☆ 1/2
How much: $
Information: (916) 972-1911; www.daniellescreperie.com