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Beau Monde and L’Etage: The Beautiful World of Crêpes and Dancing.

June 6, 2013

BeauMonde01smallText by Thad Suzenski from PhillyPhoodie. Images by Gabrielle Lavin.

I am not a crêpe person. I have nothing against them, I just never developed a passion for thin pancakes with fillings folded inside. The allure was just not there. That said, I’m doing my best to keep an open mind and an empty stomach.

Beau Monde is an anchor on the corner of 6th and Bainbridge streets, one block south of South Street, that also houses the infamous club L’Etage (“the level above” en Francais).

The restaurant and venue are owned and operated by Francophiles Jim Caiola and David Salama. They made the jump from working in the arts to the restaurant world in 1998 when they opened their crêperie.

BeauMonde02smallBeauMonde04smallBeauMonde03small“Jim had a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Johnson and Wales and I was passionate about food,” say Salama. “Together we opened the restaurant and pooled (our) resources to build Beau Monde.”

The inspiration for the crêpe-heavy menu came from Caiola, who cut his teeth working summers at his uncle’s crêperie in Chicago, rising through the ranks from busboy to head waiter by his early teens. The traditional French pancake served as the perfect canvas and allowed a broad range of creativity at the Chicago eatery. Caiola and Salama saw the potential in Philly.

Their plan was to build a restaurant first and then expand to the second level, and build an apartment on the third floor. In 2003, L’Etage was born. The concept was for a lounge bar with ambient music that had the capacity of converting to a stage for live events, which they now host regularly.

In addition to using the menu to exercise their artistic muscles, the building itself is a work of art. A native of Bolivia, Salama studied design at the Tyler School of Art. With an impeccable eye for quality finishes, he has taken care of each aesthetic detail in the interior and exterior right down to the lavish sign at the entrance.

Given the duo’s passion for art and design, it’s no surprise that the kitchen offerings are visually stunning and incredibly delicious. To start, a couple of cocktails from the full list, including the Horse’s Neck (an amber drink of Makers Mark, bitters and ginger beer) and the Coquette Punch (Beefeater Gin, Grand Marnier, lemon and a splash of club soda).

There is no way to start this meal without the traditional French onion soup. I’m always a sucker for this cheese-laden indulgence. Then, based upon recommendations by owners and staff, I whittle down the plethora of crêpe choices to two.

Before anything else, I want to mention portions. They are large, even by my fat-kid standards. The grilled chicken is packed with leeks, olives and lemon butter-drizzled goat cheese. The tangy cheese plays well with the briny olives, and the lemon butter adds some richness and acidity, and really brightens the dish.

The seared scallops crêpe is paired with seasoned tomatoes and sauce and hinted with herb butter. Both contrasting dishes provide a tasteful adventure.

When dinner is finished, I can’t imagine having dessert. Still, given my commitment to journalistic excellence and my penchant for culinary gluttony, I order a sweet crêpe — apples, toasted almonds dunked in brown sugar and caramel, topped with ice cream. Highly recommended. The deconstructed apple pie is made of apples, which means it is a nutritious choice, right? Whatever the case, it’s impossible to stop eating.

There is a complimentary, parfait-type layered dessert (non-crêpe) that the waitress brings out. It is prepared Neapolitan style, with layers of fresh berries and cream served with a side of cabernet sorbet, a decidedly French — and delicious — twist. Before I know what was happening, both plates are empty.

Photo by G.W. Miller III.

Photo by G.W. Miller III.

Now let’s say you are the type of person who knows how to exercise some self-control. You could do much worse than taking a date up to the second floor. There are a variety of avant garde performances at L’Etage ranging from live music to DJ nights, from cabaret events to poetry nights (you can also order from the Beau Monde menu up there). Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret is a regular performer and there are dance parties every Friday and Saturday night.

“The original plan was to open L’Etage as a venue for cabaret acts, where you could drink cognac and indulge in formal desserts,” says Caiola, “but there was no audience for that. So we expanded that vision.”

Speaking of vision, last summer, Salama and Caiola won the lease to run the legendary Manhattan eatery, Tavern on the Green, which has been closed for three years. Renovations at the Central Park landmark are underway now, with an expected reopening in the fall.

While the intention of L’Etage was to be more upscale, the current iteration supports a wide variety of local, creative talent. It’s a natural extension of the owners interests.

Whether you come for the food and stay for the derriere shaking, or come for an open mic night and end up ordering some entremets, you won’t be disappointed.

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