One of the first places I went in San Francisco was the Japantown. At the time, I was still a graduate student in North Carolina and the Mogurin and I were visiting San Francisco for my American Association of Cancer Research Annual Conference and interviewing at the Lab. This was over three years ago now. It's scary how time flies.
It might sound strange that Japantown was the first place I wanted to go, since I, obviously, grew up in Japan - you might even ask, "Why? You know what Japanese things are already - why didn't you want to explore what's unique to San Francisco?"
Well, I was CRAVING anything and everything Japanese then, since I had been living in a Dead Zone of all things authentically Japanese. Chapel Hill is a beautiful place with wonderful infrastructure for organic and/or sustainably produced foods, but it is not exactly the center of any kind of Asian culture. The fact that the Bay Area boasts two Japanese bookstores - one in San Francisco and one in San Jose - played a MAJOR part in my decision to come out here after graduate school.
During that conference/interview trip, one of the first things I ate in San Francisco was Sophie's crepe. Sophie's Crepes is located kitty corner to Kinokuniya Bookstore, my favorite place to be in San Francisco, in the Kinokuniya Mall in Japantown. Walking around the Kinokuniya Bookstore and then taking a break with Sophie's crepe is a epitome of a perfect lazy afternoon for me.
Seeing Sophie's colorful sign makes my heart giddy with delight. I can almost smell the sweet scent of the crepes just looking at her sign! Sophie's little shop has a special place in my heart. Practically every time the Mogurin and I were in San Francisco after moving out this way, we went to get crepes at Sophie's. The lady making the crepes, who we started calling 'Sophie' although we have no idea whether or not that's true, was always there, always hard at work, never pausing a moment as she turned out beautifully thin, crispy crepes.
Her crepes were always so delicious and so reminiscent of the Japanified crepes that we got from the outdoor stands at the Summer Festivals at shrines and temples back in Japan. Those crepes felt so precious and special to me when I was growing up, not only because I've always loved how they tasted, but also because I could only get them at the outdoor stands during festival season. There were several permanent storefronts selling crepes in my hometown, but they were not conveniently located for my family - I've only been to each one ONCE in my entire time in Nagoya.
Japanified crepes are super thin and crispy. I, unfortunately, could not fit crepes into my 72 hrs in Paris last Fall, so I can't speak with any kind of certainty, but if Ti Couz in San Francisco is any indication, French crepes seem thicker and much more moist than Japanese crepes. Japanese crepes flake and crunch, providing a sharp contrast to the softness of whatever gets put inside. The crepe dough is sweet without being overpowering so that the same dough can be matched with both savory and sweet innards.
My favorite crepe at Sophie's is Nutella with Mixed Fruit. I've tried a few other varieties, but I always come back to this one. Sadly, last time I went to Sophie's after a long absence, Sophie was no longer manning the station and a man had taken over her spot. Luckily, I detected no difference in his and Sophie's crepes. He worked just as efficiently as Sophie, turning out gorgeous crepes just like his predecessor.
A lot of other things have changed with time as well, and the last time I was in Nagoya, I spotted a crepe shop right outside of the central train station in Nagoya. Again, my short trip didn't allow time (or space in my stomach) to fit a crepe, but that was probably for the better. As more and more things become plenty and available any time of the year, it's easy to lose the sense of seasonality and special longing for certain foods, memories, and special occasions. My crepes are best kept as a special treat during summer festivals and lazy afternoon visits to San Francisco...