Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Amelie and Olivier Martinez Make Us Le Happy

We enjoy being American as much as the next…well, American, but we cannot tell a lie: Sometimes we wish we were French. The lyrical language, the utter and complete devotion to beautiful food and wine, the passion for arguing about pretty much anything, the deep-rooted affection for sidewalk cafes and boulangeries, the effortless fashion sense and style, the joie de vivre…we could go on and on.

I’d checked out French Women Don’t Get Fat at the library this morning, and while living on Magical Leek Soup for a weekend didn’t sound so fun, reading author and Veuve Clicquot*champagne house queen Mireille Guiliano’s sweet little non-diet diet book inspired me to set out to find a bit of Paris tonight.

First stop, Le Happy, the creperie whose darling sunburst-colored façade brightens the deafeningly noisy, sooty stretch of NW 16th that squats beneath the 405 between NW Lovejoy and NW Marshall. We slipped in at 5:45 pm, in the midst of the Le Happy Happy Hour—which spans from 5-7 pm, very humane hours for 9-5ers, and includes $1 off speciality cocktails and beer and one of the city’s most famous happy hour unions: the Le Trash Blanc-- a buckwheat crepe clasping melted cheddar studded with super salty smoky spectacular bacon and a Pabst Blue Ribbon is only $5.50 ($4 without the PBR if you prefer something a little more sophisticated from Le Happy’s wine or specialty cocktail list).

We all shared a L'Epinard salad—crisp leaves of fresh spinach delicately dressed in tart lemon vinaigrette, mixed with plentiful chunks of tangy gorgonzola, and sweet dried cranberries, and nearly obscured by a cloak of slivered toasted hazelnuts ($6.50).

Our only complaint was that the salad was mounded so high on the small plate that it kept spilling over onto the table, making us look like we basically had the table manners of le two-year-old. Especially Reatha, whose trail of hazelnuts leading the way from the plate to her mouth rivaled Hansel and Gretels breadcrumb trail. (haha, just kidding Reatha! I made a Le funny!)

Erin’s a vegetarian (okay she eats prawns sometimes), and not a fan of arranged food marriages, so she bypassed the predetermined Le Happy crepes listed on the menu and built her own with goat cheese and Le Happy’s deliciously creamy and flavorful cremini mushroom sauce, which also fills their fun and tasty Faux Vegan crepe along with spinach, creme fraiche and goat cheese ($8).

Le Happy lets you customize your crepe by charging $2.50 for a buckwheat crepe and then a certain price-- ie, goat cheese is $3, ham is $2, cilantro is 50 cents--for whatever you want to wrap in it. Olivier Martinez is not one of the options on the menu, sorry.

Mon Dieu! Venez-vous Le Happy pour Happy Hour souvent?!
My God! Do you come to Le Happy for Happy Hour often?

Reatha, who recently visited Provence, ordered Ma Provence--roasted chicken, thyme, garlic, tomato, green onion, gruyere and goat cheese. There was a lot going on, but the flavors melded well.

We were all on Le Wagon tonight, which seriously, I know, is trés un-French and Mireille Giuliano would be trés completely disgusted, and I really have no explanation for our behavior so let's just forget about it okay? But I did peruse the drink menu to see what I was missing, and found that it had a nicely rounded selection of Rouge and Blanc wines by the glass, including wines from California, Spain, Italy, France, and Oregon. All wines were reasonably priced between $6 and $9 a glass. All were available by the bottle as well, and priced between $22 and $45. 

Le Happy offers a list of specialty cocktails, a handful of bottled beers, and has Mirror Pond Pale Ale ($3.50) and Pilsner Urquell ($3.50) on tap. You can also order a few unusual liqueurs, such as Amarula, a South African fruit cream liqueur ($6), Nocello, an Italian walnut liqueur ($8) and Belle de Brillet, a pear cognac from France ($9). There is, most appropriately, a French sparkling apple cider (alcoholic) on the menu, the 2005 Bordelet Poire Sydre Doux ($7), which in my experience smells and tastes faintly of old socks, but is nonethless very pleasant and reminds me of sitting in a tiny café last summer in Bayeux, a small town in Normandy, washing down ham and gruyere galettes with earthen cups filled with this traditional Norman beverage while writing notes about my trip (ie: Have escaped Mother, finally. How many cathedrals can one country have? Why does this cider smell faintly of old socks?)

After our satisfying savory crepes dinner we ordered a sweet crepe to share for dessert, and although at Le Happy you can get your dessert crepe with everything from Nutella and bananas (Nutella Banane, $6) to Olivier Martinez and marmalade flambe (Le Good Time, priceless), I mean, Grand Marnier and marmalade flambe (Suzette, $9) we opted for the simple but delicious Strawberry Chocolat--fresh strawberries, chocolate, and whipped cream ($7). As long as I’m writing about it, I might as well get it off my chest that I wish there would have been twice as much chocolate in the Strawberry Chocolat, but it was still magnifique.

Let me switch to my native language (no, it is not Pig Latin or Moronese, I don’t care what Michelle told you) to explain how I feel about the Le Happy décor. I love it! Bordeaux-red walls covered in eclectic art work, fake flowers, small figurines, all manner of friendly kitsch. Big solid dark wood tables like you imagine grandmémé would have in her French farmhouse kitchen, dim lighting playfully twinkling off a huge disco ball in the center of the restaurant. Old photo booth pictures in the bathroom (BYO next time). Board games aplenty if you are planning to stay a while, the foursome next to us was fighting over whether to play Candyland or Yahtzee. By the way, I kick Le Booty at Yahtzee if you ever want to play.

We couldn’t linger though, although I was itching to school everyone with my uncanny knack for rolling Yahtzee. Because we’d lingered too long licking the strands of chocolate sauce off the plate and trying to pay with francs, we were late to our movie, which perhaps predictably, was Amelie! What, you say? Amelie, the cleverly written and beautifully filmed story featuring Audrey Tatou as an introverted and highly imaginative Parisian waitress with the best of intentions and the darkest of soul-filled eyes, is not still in theatres?! It came out in 2001!?! Jeez, I am getting so old! 

Fun Fact: Amelie's French title is "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain" ("The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain")

Yes, yes, this is all true, but if you are in the know about Broadway Metroplex's Independent Film Revival Flashback Feature series, occurring every Monday night through November 3rd, you too would have been in line for Amelie, playing at 7:30 pm for a paltry $5. I was so excited to see my favorite French movie I almost peed Les Pantalones! Just ask Erin and Reatha, who got a little embarrassed when I kept asking people on the streetcar, “Are we there yet?!” In French. Or what I felt it would sound like in French, since the only thing I actually know how to say in French is "On va chez toi ou chez moi, Olivier?" (Your place or mine, Olivier?)

I was sure you’d all be jealous that you didn’t get to see Amelie too, so I included a picture of the movie, most appropriately during the part where Amelie herself is at the movies. It’s kind of dark, but I guess that helps you feel like you were there, because movie theatres are dark places.

And that concludes my tale of finding a little bit of Paris right here in Portland. If you will excuse me, I will resume my reading of French Women Don’t Get Fat...yet another stellar reason to be French.


*By the way, my birthday is in October and I like champagne a lot.

Le Happy * www.lehappy.com * 1011 NW 16th Avenue * M-Th 5pm - 1am, F 5pm - 2:30am, Sa 6pm - 2:30am, Closed Sunday * 503.226.1258 * yes, yummy crepes, no, Olivier Martinez won't serve them wearing nothing but le loincloth

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