Savory crepes, like the montagnarde, are made with buckwheat flour.
For the past five years, the quaint, tiny space at 805 Williamson St. has been owned and operated by Anne-Marie Rieunier under the name Chez Nanou. Rieunier has now retired and a new restaurant, reminiscent of Chez Nanou but now called La Kitchenette, is run by Virginie Ok. Ok, a self-taught cook born and raised in Paris, trained under Rieunier for several months before her debut this September.
The warm, welcoming atmosphere remains — along with the crepes, a staple on the old menu. Savory crepes, served at lunch, are made with buckwheat, which lends itself to a slightly denser crepe with crispier edges. (And, by the way, it means they’re gluten-free, unless you choose a filling with béchamel sauce.) Brie and prosciutto make for a delicious combination in the crepe montagnarde, rounded out with a sunny-side-up egg on top. Others are the campagnarde (spinach and béchamel), savoyarde (potatoes, bacon, béchamel), Parisienne (ham, mushroom and yes, béchamel) and the Norvegienne (smoked salmon).
Sweet crepes use the traditional flour-based recipe and are filled with either lemon curd,
Nutella or chocolate sauce and topped with a generous dollop of real whipped cream. The lemon curd, made from scratch, will work both your sweet and sour taste receptors in a way you won’t soon forget. The sweet crepes are a star at breakfast, along with brioche French toast, eggs and omelets.
Do not pass up the opportunity to try the French onion soup. A well-seasoned broth complements perfectly caramelized onions and those deliciously spongy croutons that make French onion soup so addictive, along with that gorgeous, satisfying layer of crusty cheese browned on top.
The croque-monsieur is a delightful sandwich layered with ham, mustard, béchamel sauce and Swiss cheese, beautifully presented with the cheese somewhat unconventionally broiled on the outside of the sandwich and some fun chive curls adorning it.
Other sandwiches include a croque madame (which adds a sunny-side up egg), a bagnat (tuna, black olive and hard-boiled egg), brie, and the Basque (with roasted tomatoes). Tartines, or toasts, come in avocado, smoked salmon or chicken and mushroom sauce. My favorite lunch here is the Chicken Doria, which started as a special but has earned a spot on the permanent menu. Served in an au gratin dish, this high-brow chicken and rice casserole is nothing like your mom used to make, transformed with béchamel sauce and again that gorgeous, satisfying layer of crusty cheese topping it all off.
Most items come with a small salad lightly dressed with vinaigrette. A lovely side of persillade potatoes, fried and tossed with herbs, is a $2 add-on and worth the cost.
The salade du sud quest is a larger green salad, also dressed with vinaigrette and accompanied by those same persillade potatoes, plus prosciutto, herby croutons, roasted red peppers and olives niçoises. This makes for a fine lunch or light dinner.
Dinner offerings are similar to lunch, with soup, salad, tartines and savory crepes still served, plus the addition of a duck and a chicken entree.
If ever I am in a situation where I have to pick a last meal, Nanou’s lavender crème brulee will be on that list. It’s still here, made now by Ok. Dig your spoon into that perfectly glassy top layer of burnt sugar to discover beneath the soft, smooth, creamy custard with just a subtle hint of lavender. The presentation on a stone slab adorned with lavender petals was stunning.
The restaurant recently obtained a license to sell wine, so there will be French labels, of course, along with coffees and teas. But with winter approaching, the housemade hot chocolate is not to be missed — a rich, creamy treat to enjoy slowly.
La Kitchenette bills itself as a “French Home-Style Cafe” and it’s true there’s nothing pretentious about the place, although the interior is now more minimalist, straying from Chez Nanou’s country charm. La Kitchenette is a welcome taste of France on the near east side and a worthy successor to Chez Nanou.
805 Williamson St., 608-283-4266, $4-$21, 9 am-2 pm and 6-9 pm Tues.-Thurs., 9 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm Fri.-Sat., 9 am-2 pm Sun., Accessibility: There are steps to the front door.