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April 22, 2009 > Restaurant Review: Le Moose Crepe Cafe

Restaurant Review: Le Moose Crepe Cafe

By Denny Stein

Every culture around the world has its own version of unleavened bread. In the East you'll find naan, matzoh, papadums, in South America there are tortillas, in Fremont and France go for the crpes. A crepe is a lovely thin pancake, made from a batter of flour, eggs (optional), and water. It is a basic palette, waiting for flavors and embellishments. Crepes are versatile and variable, can be rolled or folded, served simply with lemon and sugar or dressed to the nines.

If you've never had a crepe (pronounced "kr_p" or "krep"), then you're in for an education involving sight, smell, and taste. If you're a crepe gourmet, you'll find original and creative combinations at Le Moose Crepe Cafe in Fremont.

Nicki Rao came to the United States in 2000 and attended Cal State Hayward for business and accounting. But she found her calling when the dot.com bubble burst. Business jobs being scarce, Ms. Rao worked at two restaurants both during and after college. At the Pepper Thai Cafe, and the J & J Coffee Shop, in Hayward, she learned the multi-tasking necessary to run a successful eatery. Her employers taught her to prep and cook, plate and serve, open and close, and clean. By the time she moved to Fremont, almost 3 years ago, Nicki Rao was ready to strike out on her own.

Ms. Rao is a natural chef; she creates her own recipes, and has refined that talent to come up with a crepe menu that reflects her background, her adventurous tastes, and knowledge of what appeals to the public. At the urging of family and friends, she turned her culinary talents and experience into a business venture and opened Le Moose Crepe Cafe, 2 years and 8 months ago.

Savory crepes come in all flavors; choose chicken, ham, seafood, vegetarian, or turkey, add spinach, broccoli, avocado, or mango, dress with pesto, marsala or curry sauce, or whatever suits your fancy. You can go for a Mediterranean, Hawaiian, Thai, French, Italian, and of course, the California culinary experience. All the ingredients are folded gently in a large crepe, thin and golden with just the right shadings of brown to let you know it was cooked on a traditional griddle. If you come to lunch with a friend who isn't a crepe enthusiast, there are salads and sandwiches: Le Moose Club, chicken pesto, BLT, tuna - all the old stand-bys plus echoes of the crepes menu served between 2 slices of bread.

What to drink with your crepe, sandwich, or salad? A fridge case holds sodas, but there's a long list of smoothies, with endless combinations of berries, juices, bananas, coconut, and mango, plus special frozen drinks highlighting mocha, peanut butter or strawberries. Ms. Rao uses Fruitazia mixes for her smoothies, because they are made fresh from whole fruits, contain no extra sugars or concentrates, and her supply is refreshed every few days. And if you love Thai Iced Tea, this sweet, creamy, cold drink is also available.

Fresh is Ms. Rao's touchstone - salads and green are cut-up as needed, fresh fruit comes on the side of most plates, and every dish is made to order. You'll be served a hot crepe, right off its grill, with sauces either homemade or from top purveyors like Ghiradelli and Nutella. If you want a combination, savory or sweet, that's not on the menu, Ms. Rao is not only happy to make it for you, but will probably remember it the next time you come by. The first time I visited Le Moose, "John" came in and picked up his "usual," exchanging a few friendly comments on the day. Nicki Rao prides herself on remembering and greeting customers by name.

The chicken pesto crepe was recommended as a popular choice and it was memorable for its fresh spinach and mushrooms, and the melting of flavors into the mozzarella and pesto sauce. It also was delicious hours later, after I had taken my unfinished portion home. I could have finished it at the cafe, but I saved room for dessert, strawberries and bananas cocooned in a fresh crepe laced with caramel and Nutella sauces. Ice cream and whipped cream are de rigueur on the side of all the sweet crepes. I must admit, that crepe was all eaten at one sitting.

Even with the large flat screen TV showing a family-fare movie in the comfortable rattan couch area, Le Moose is quiet and peaceful. The decor is simple, and, as with any new business, a work in progress: painted red floor, soft yellow walls, a few large photos of tempting specialties, decorative fichus trees in the corners, and the ubiquitous moose on the windows and counters. Nicki Rao has had the good sense to put her money where your mouth is... in the best and freshest ingredients she can offer. The kitchen is spotless, which is impressive for a one woman operation; the bathroom is clean and roomy.

And now, about that moose. Like everyone else, I asked Nicki why she decided to call her restaurant Le Moose Crepe Cafe. This is how she explained her thinking:

Every business needs a logo. People love animals. Animals make a good logo.
Moose are funny and dignified, majestic and goofy, powerful yet shy.
"Le Moose" sounds French, and sweet, like chocolate mousse.

So Le Moose Crepe Cafe delivers it all - originality, friendliness and fun, pride in its ingredients, gourmet and creative in its approach to good food. And Nicki Rao bets you won't forget the name once you've heard of it, and been there.

Look for Le Moose Crepe Cafe in the Mowry East Plaza, facing Mowry Boulevard. Le Moose is open 7 days a week, breakfast, lunch and dinner. There's plenty of parking, you can sit inside or out, and you won't be disappointed. Alert: coming soon - Gourmet Peanut Butter & Jelly menu!

Le Moose Crepe Cafe
5014 Mowry Boulevard
(510) 745-7788

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