Atmosphere: Countrified, casual.
Price range: Regular crepes from $2.40 to $6.20; dessert crepes from $1 to $1.70.
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2.45 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Open noon to 8 p.m. Sundays.
Credit cards: American Express, Carte Blanche, VISA, Diners Club, Master Charge.
Reservations: Not accepted.
Special facilities: Accessible by wheelchair, on-street parking and two public parking lots nearby.
In the four years since my 11-year old niece moved from Washington to the Midwest, her memories of Maison des Crepes have not dimmed. When she and her family made their first return visit here over Christmas, her pining for onion soup at this Bethesda bistro was second only to wanting to scale the Washington monument (a request flatly denied by her over-feted parents.).
We did take her to Maison des Crepes, however. Seven of us went to lunch and the place was packed. We were eventually, and artfully, seated at two tables - four kids at one, the adults at another.
The setting is meant to be reminiscent of a small cafe in the French provinces. Primitive tools hang on the dark wood walls and a fish tank bubbles in a corner. Awood counter, covered with ceramic and tile, runs across the back of the dining room - this is where the crepes are made and children can watch the cook and flip the skinny pancakes.
The two dozen lunch and dinner crepes range from $2.40 for one stuffed with eggs, sour cream and chives to an inflationary $6.20 for one with curried crabmeat.
On both sides, we found that for the uninitiated, selecting crepes is a little like playing Russian, or in this case French, roulette. Some crepes are very good, others are forgettable.
I remembered from previous years that I had moderately enjoyed the escargot-and-mushroom crepes, $4.25. This time, they were even better, unstinting in the amount of escargot provided and flavored nicely with wine and herbs.
On the other hand, my 8-year-old daughter and I were both disappointed in the asparagus crepes, $2.75, uncharted territory for both of us. The white sauce was heavy and gluey, the texture of the asparagus varying from mushy to hard.
My husband's crepe, listed as an apple, sausage and raisin affair, $2.85, won and lost points. The "apple" was only applesauce, but the "raisins" were grapes.
We voted Oui for the beef Stroganoff crepe, $4, and Non for the seafood crepe, $4.20, becuase of its undistinguished sauce and undistinguishable seafood remnants.
Other types of crepes include eggs, ham and cheese, chicken, spinach and bacon and ratatouille Nicoise (a vegetable mixture), to name a few.
Some non-crepe things are available. A hamburger platter was offered at lunch, and a good chef's salad, $2.50, with shredded cheese, ham, turkey and tomatoes on a bed of escarole and romaine lettuce is always on the menu. And the onion soup, for the relatives, was well worth the trip from Iowa.
This steaming number comes in crock pots, for either $1.50 or $2.25, a glistening brown broth with onions, French bread and crusty, gooey gruyere cheese.
The dessert crepes are almost as numerous as the unsweet variety and start at $1 for a sugar one to $2.70 for a flaming apricot, orange or apple and rum crepe. On both visits, the restaurant had run out of mousse au chocolat so our kids divided a chocolate crepe, $2, a big manila-colored envelope decorated with whipped cream and cinammon. Inside was chocolate sauce which, I'm sorry to report, came out of a can.
Other dessert crepes include your basic brown sugar and sour cream, chestnuts and apricot preserves, strawberries or raspberries and a pear-ice cream-chocolate mixture. And at lunch the children luxuriated in a marvelous French chocolate cake with a buttery, puffy icing.
The service at both meals was pokey. The long wait between courses was forgivable at the crowded lunch hour, but the place was only half full at dinner. We could understand the delay for the crepes which are cooked individually, but 15 minutes for coffee?
Our lunch bill for seven was a reasonable $35. Dinner for four was $28.90 including tip, coffee, soft drinks and a carafe of wine.