RIP Ti Couz

ticouz-thumb.jpgSan Francisco’s crepe institution, Ti Couz, closed several weeks ago to little fanfare and, on my part, not much regret. Their decline to the point of my not regretting their passing is almost sadder than their demise. Or perhaps it just softened the blow. If they had gone out on top, we would have really missed them.

They used to be our go-to place for cocktails and crepes on a Friday evening after a long week. To avoid the delay of finding parking, we’d take the dodgy crosstown bus from the corner by our tiny, bright apartment and, eight minutes of watching the drug-addled homeless and a mother ignoring her too many children, we’d land half a block from Ti Couz’s comforts. But things have been sliding gradually for at least a year and our final visit in May would have been our last even if they hadn’t closed their doors.

They opened in 1992 and in their hey day they served excellent, reasonably priced Breton savory crepes. These were nicely preceded by their variations on the Cosmopolitan, the Lemon Drop and their signature champagne cocktail, the Ti Couz 10. When I visited San Francisco just after graduating college, on the fateful trip that convinced me that maybe someday I might like to live here (beware tourists of the siren song of a sunny day in the city by the bay!), a friend and I went to Ti Couz.

Oddly, since I had been to France and was a huge crepe fan, I’d never had Breton crepes. They’re made with buckwheat and look like the wheatberry and the HealthyForYou/TastesLikeCardboard bread loaves I bypass in the bakery aisle. Also, they’re huge, like a foot diameter tucked to a flat, square 8″. I was a rolled crepe, white-flour girl, raised at Boston’s long-gone and much-missed Magic Pan. Viva la crepe revolucion of the 1970s!!

Let’s digress here for a shout-out to that best of crepe-y institutions, The Magic Pan. Founded by Hungarians (??!$^%!) here in San Francisco and eventually and briefly a successful chain, they made crepes on the bottoms of pans, which is a tricky method only for professionals, like poaching an egg in a pot of water using only a spoon. (I don’t even want to hear about it if you can do this. Really. Just be quiet. You’re hurting my feelings even opening your mouth.)

Right behind the maitre’d’s desk was a guy standing in the middle of a ring of fire. Really it was a circular stove burner, but to a five year old it was Vegas. Above the flame rotated a frame built for ten or twelve pans. The chef had a bowl of crepe batter. When a pan came by, he’d dip the base in the batter and put it back on the frame. When it got back to him, he’d flip it and send it around again. F’ing brilliant.

They made ham and cheese crepes, lightly fried to seal them, and served with a sweet mustard cream sauce. Dude. So. Good. They put the “Mmmmm,” in Mmmmagic Pan. (Ham crepe and mustard sauce recipe here, cheese here, and don’t skip the apple dessert crepe. Don’t. Just don’t.)

The point is, I’d never had buckwheat crepes until Ti Couz. Theirs were excellent, especially their specials. I’m a terrible decisionmaker, so asking me to construct my own crepe from 25 options just spoils my dinner. Ti Couz put together some odd but always tasty combos of things like shrimp and mushroom with chipotle cream sauce. The reliability of those specials, along with their wildly satisfying Euro salad (excellent greens with magic vinaigrette or crudite salad with every possible vegetable in it nicely chopped) made it a comfort location supreme.

Then, last year, they discontinued their specials for what our waiter described as “financial reasons.” That didn’t sound right – if you’re picking it, why not choose a combo made up of this week’s cheapest ingredients? – but we sighed and kept going, doing our best with the arduous task of selecting our own combinations unaided by the increasingly lethargic staff.

Then they put up a banner reading, “Thank you San Francisco for 19 great years,” which panicked everyone that they were closing. But, when asked, they said they weren’t. It was just an anniversary thing. Which was weird. ‘Cause 19 isn’t a special anniversary is it? Should I have gotten them something? What is 19? Flour? Dirt?

In the fall, they bizarrely surrendered their liquor license. I don’t know much about the liquor license process, but I do know it’s damn hard to get one and I assume it pays for itself. They billed their regression as, “getting back to their Breton roots,” which apparently are soaked with slightly-alcoholic cider. I billed it as, “taking away the second of the two reasons I went there.” We toughed it out without our specials or our cocktails a couple of times, but the deed was done. We were out.

Apparently, so were they.

Despite their slow, disappointing decline, I will remember Ti Couz for their former days of tasty cocktail and savory crepe glory. And they will always hold a tiny special space in my heart: two days before A.’s premature arrival, we finally settled on her name (and the second choice which no, I won’t tell you in case I need it later) at a corner table in the back.

So farewell, Ti Couz. I’ll try some Magic Pan recipes at home and hope that someplace else steps up with a wide open, non-trendy space serving sweet Friday cocktails. Bon voyage to the great crepe pan in the sky. Say ‘hello’ to the Magic Pan for me.

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Categories: Eat, San Francisco (here)

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