It's not uncommon for a culture to have a crush on something foreign, but when it comes to crêpes, the Japanese are obsessed. From tiny corner stands scattered throughout Harajuku, teenagers (and adults) wait patiently in long snaking lines, congesting the streets-all for a sugary treat. Their thin, often rubbery dessert pancakes a la japonaise come oozing with whipped cream, chocolate, ice cream, and sundry other confectioneries - a far cry from the light, sophisticated taste of traditional crêpes suzette.
Food purists like us are put off by such desecration of a traditional French specialty, particularly when we have such fond childhood memories of hearty galette (buckwheat pancake) lunches after a morning swim off Brittany's rugged coast. So when we have a craving for the real thing, we head to Le Bretagne hidden in the backstreets of Jingumae. This quaint restaurant brings a slice of Brittany to Tokyo with traditional buckwheat galettes and dessert crêpes. The country-style, heavy-wooded interior decorated with old travel posters from the area, contemporary art, and other small touches, add atmosphere and authenticity to the place. Water is served in Pernod Fils green-tinted bottles and real, thick-as-molasses cream accompanies the coffee (¥500). Hand-painted Quimper ceramics sit in an old rustic hutch, and bottles of corked Val de Rance brut cider available by the bowl (¥450) or bottle (¥2500) are lined along the ceiling. The few alfresco tables come complete with umbrellas and a wool blanket when the weather turns chilly, just as you'd expect from a French café.
This busy restaurant is a regular hit on our lunch/brunch list, particularly the weekday prix fixe menu (11:30am-3pm Tue-Fri), which comes in three prices (¥1200/¥1400/¥1600) and several permutations.
During one visit, we chose the set fit for the hungry, which included a small green salad, your choice of galette complète combination, a "bowl" of cider or coffee or tea, and the house caramel au beurre salé ice cream (¥1600). The savory main course galettes celebrate the simplicity of traditional French cuisine; with only a few basic ingredients like buckwheat, eggs, water, and butter, Gallic chefs seem to create an abundance of flavor. The crêpes here are no exception. Served crispy brown and stuffed with fresh fillings, they come in many traditional Bretonne combinations. Our favorites are the tomato, Parisian mushrooms, cheese, ham, and fried egg combo (¥1200) and the Bretonne crêpe with ham, crème fraîche, fried egg, cheese, mushrooms, tomato, and cayenne pepper (¥1500).
Dessert is a must-have at Le Bretagne, so save room for it. We like the Vannetaise dessert crêpe with vanilla ice cream, drizzled with homemade beurre salé - otherwise known as caramel sauce (¥800). If you feel like being extravagant, try the flambé with your choice of Grand Marnier, rum or Calvados (¥1000) or the chateaubriand (¥1200) with orange sorbet, vanilla ice cream, or Grand Marnier. Whether you make a special stop to satisfy your sweet tooth or drop by for an authentic French meal, Le Bretagne won't disappoint.