The few kind souls who read my blog know that photography is not my strong suit, so whenever I really want to capture the essence of a place, I hand the camera over to my girlfriend. It was also her idea to have July’s New Nosh Night at Cafe Triskell, a beloved French restaurant in Astoria where we had, rather improbably, never dined.
To have dinner at Cafe Triskell seems to be to set aside the haste and fray of the city. My typically edgy restlessness was quelled as soon as I realized that the server was absolutely going to set the pace of our meal, so I had better chill the &@$% out. We selected a seat outside, the sun set slowly, the foot traffic on 36th Avenue thinned out, and I felt slowly transported to another place. At intervals, the door of the Pentecostal church next door opened, and a wave of joyous hymns of praise rolled out, only to disappear a few seconds later.
The first thing to hit the table was the wine and beer. I’m not a wine drinker, but am something of a beer fiend, so I was surprised and delighted by the interesting imports that Triskell had to offer on their small but well curated beer list. My favorite was the Schuppenaas (Ace of Spades) from Hobbybrouwerij Het Nest in Turnhout, Belgium, a hoppy, funky Pale Ale that combines two distinct yeast strains during fermentation, as well as domestic (Pacific North West) Tomahawk and Simcoe hops. I also enjoyed the Gwiniz Du by France’s Brasserie Britt de Bretagne, brewed with buckwheat, and a perfect compliment for our next course, Triskell’s renowned Buckwheat Crepes.
The distinctive buckwheat crepes served at Cafe Triskell have their origins in Bretagne, France (a/k/a Brittany) where chef and owner Philippe Fallait hails from. Triskell’s own website does a splendid job of describing the centrality of crepes to the food culture and eating rituals of Bretange in Fallait’s words:
“Crepes are a big deal in Bretagne. People make reservations, get dressed up and head out to their favorite creperie for dinner. A family of 6 or 7 will patiently wait and be served hot 1 at a time as each crepe is spread at that moment 1 at a time. In Brittany, people will eat their crepes as served before they get cold. They do not expect or wait until all 7 have their plates as it would be impossible to have all 6 spread at once. I try to explain that to customers all the time.”
We didn’t have to wait for the other person to finish their crepe because we split one, a traditional ham and swiss cheese crepe folded into the delicate buckwheat envelope. It was truly delicious, and I wish I had been able to photograph it, but by then the sun had set, the light was poor for photos, and everything about Triskell’s vibe said to sit back and put your iPhone away for gods sake and enjoy the moment.
In a similar fashion, you’ll have to trust me that the large steaming bowl of mussels that ended our meal was as stunningly beautiful as it was tasty. Meaty Prince Edward Island Mussels swimming in a generous broth of white wine, heavy cream, fresh garlic and onion. The obligatory side pile of french fries, while good, paled in comparison to their bivalve better half.
We wanted more than anything to be able to fit dessert, or at least to prolong our mini vacation in the thrall of Triskell’s unique vibe, but were just too full. That’s okay, it just means we’ll be back. And I really can’t wait to have that feeling and that food again.
Cafe Triskell – 33-04 36th Avenue, Astoria