La Mia Cafe just opened on May 7, and although it still has a long way to go before it settles into its potentially advantageous location along Memorial Drive just east of Bayou Bend, at least one thing is already taken care of: the food.
The spinach, mushroom and goat cheese crepe that I ate at La Mia yesterday afternoon was the second best crepe I've had in Houston. And considering that number of great crepes in this city drops off sharply after Melange Creperie, that's both a compliment and a comment on the general unavailability of great crepes in Houston.
Witness the pre-made, flaccid crepe I had recently at Cafe Moustache, where it was clear that the floppy disc had been scraped directly off a piece of cardboard and onto my plate. No pretense had been made to disguise that the crepe was pre-made. It wasn't even warm. Just gravid with saccharine chocolate syrup and looking for all the world like a Dr. Scholl's insert rolled up and stuck on a plate.
If these are the kinds of crepes Houstonians are used to, it's no wonder that there aren't more places serving them. If all you know is a Dr. Scholl's insert, why would you demand other restaurants serve it?
One hope that I have for La Mia is that people recognize the legitimate skills of its chef and crepe maker, Pierre Vomero, and discover his array of wonderful crepes -- both savory and sweet.
My other hopes for La Mia have more to do with the restaurant itself.
La Mia currently has a minor form of schizophrenia, and I'm interested to see how that will turn out. The "French" side of the restaurant is the only side that's open right now; the "Mediterranean" side will open shortly, according to the pleasant young man who was working the counter yesterday afternoon.
Why not just open a restaurant that offers both as one whole? And are those loaves of bread behind the counter freshly baked? The young man didn't know the answers to either.
He was harried but very nice, seemingly the only employee in the place besides the kitchen staff. He rushed plates from the kitchen -- on the other side of the restaurant, behind some double doors -- to the tables in the dining room; he took orders at the cash register; he bussed tables; he brought straws and glasses and ice to anyone who asked, even though this is a self-service joint at lunch. I admired his hard work, but the other diners weren't seeing it that way.
There are two big things La Mia needs to overcome. One, it opened too quickly, it seems, without enough focus on the side that's currently open. And two, it needs to be more obvious that this bistro -- where you'd expect table service -- is actually self-serve. A table near me quickly filled up with Ladies Who Lunch (who, coincidentally, are also typically Ladies Who Do Not Get Their Own Diet Cokes From The Cooler), and the group of them were all befuddled as to La Mia's menu and service.
The Mediterranean portion of the menu is posted above the register although it's not yet available, and the ladies were confused by all of the crepes (which, along with sandwiches, salads and Belgian waffles, are all that is available right now). One of them, clad in pearls and a power suit, finally asked the young man behind the counter: "What do ladies typically order here?"
I couldn't help but laugh, thinking of the "business women's special" scene in Romy & Michele's High School Reunion. The young man seemed equally nonplussed, and finally suggested the niçoise salad. Later, at my table, he whispered to me as he took my plate: "The crepes are so good here, I don't want to suggest salads."
And my crepe was wonderful, indeed, with a crisp edge and soft center that begged to be folded and rearranged like origami to get the most flavor out of each bite: stack a crispy edge piece with a soft center piece along with a bite of spinach, a few paper-thin mushrooms and finally a silky, tart bite of piped goat cheese. I lingered over the crepe for far too long like this, but enjoyed every minute of it.
For dessert, I tested the poor kid again by asking for a Belgian waffle dame blanche and an espresso. He pulled the espresso like an expert, and delivered it in a tiny cup that was even further dwarfed by the large waffle. A creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream sat in the center, flecked dark with vanilla beans. The edges of the waffle, like the crepe, were crispy, and I happily dragged them through the dark chocolate sauce that ringed it. With the espresso, it was a fabulous dessert.
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The patio outside La Mia seems very nice, but it's too hot to enjoy it for now. I found myself wishing it had opened just a few months prior, during our brief episode of Spring patio weather. But opening any sooner would have been even more of a struggle for this place; it already has enough kinks to work out as it is.
Luckily, the food and the service speak for themselves. And I'm willing to put up with a little schizophrenia and opening jitters for that.