Davis, CA 95616
Crepe House Uni doesn’t benefit from its location. There is nothing intrinsically bad about being located on the 100 block of E Street in Davis—plenty of foot traffic, near movie theaters.
The issue isn’t the street or the city; it’s the country. Crepe House Uni would see a significant uptick in business were it located in Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan. What Uni offers is a staple of Japanese cuisine. Stands selling crepes—usually peddling sweets but some offering savory—are common sights and regularly frequented for on-the-go snacks.
Uni’s parent company, which sells franchises, is not surprisingly based in Japan. It operates outlets in Tokyo, Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Osaka and elsewhere. Judging from the menu on the sketchy English translation of the mother company’s home page—“Amateur Housewife Freeters Welcome,” for example—Uni in Davis provides pretty much the same thing as the other franchisees: a plethora of crepes.
It’s quiet at Uni. Too quiet. My friend of 40-odd years, Kimberlee Foerster, a Davis kindergarten teacher, and I are the only diners until a group of three Asian gents enters. One photographs the crepe brought to him with a long-lensed camera. It’s similarly vacant on the second visit. The décor is stark: a white wall on one side above a lime-green built-in bench. The color scheme is alternated on the other wall. Round tables with Jetson-esque chairs march down both benches. White icicle holiday lights hang along the ceiling.
The woman behind the counter, wearing denim shorts that redefine short and shoes that remind Kim and I of Candies from our youth, cautions that the crepes are “snacks,” not meals, like, say, a crepe entrée at Danielle’s Creperie. There have been complaints from past customers who mistakenly thought the crepes would be meals. The snack mojo is echoed in the menu’s offering of several coffee drinks, Italian sodas, milkshakes and a modest array of “artisan” gelatos.
Asked her favorite crepe, the woman at the register volunteers the German potato cheese, a $5.25 amalgam of mashed potatoes, bacon and cheese. The heat of pepper jack instead of Swiss or cheddar adds an eyebrow-raising zip. It comes decorated with zigzags of mustard and mayonnaise.
Kim, ever the expensive date, tees up the $8 portobello mushroom with onions, bell pepper, tomato and Swiss. A very satisfying, well-crafted combination. So, we ask, if one crepe does not a meal make, what kind of a second one should we order? Dessert, our host says without hesitation. She recommends the $5.75 ogura maccha dango: red bean paste and green-tea gelato topped with chewy rice balls, which are dango.
Daughter Katie, who digs all things Japanese, would go there in a heartbeat. We cleave to the $5.75 whip-creamed berry combo that arrives sprinkled with a flurry of cocoa and powdered sugar. It lights up Kim’s face after one bite.
On the second visit with Claudia Morain of the UC Davis News Service, she goes Californian: a $7 mix of romaine, avocado, cucumber and crab. Today’s server, the sous chef of the previous visit, decorates the exterior of the crepes with small mustard and mayo daisies. The other crepe is the Jumbo Mix: Canadian bacon, bacon, pepperoni, romaine, cucumber, onions, bell pepper and tomatoes. Less romaine, and more of everything else. Claudia’s Californian is light and fresh. She has trouble embracing the concept of sweet crepes being filled with crab and pepperoni and stuff like that, but is fond of her green-tea gelato, however.
Our server says the restaurant’s size sort of conspires against it, fostering a perception that such a large establishment must offer more than a variety of crepes and other snacks. Having been in Tokyo and seen the crepe concept in full flourish, it’s easier to appreciate what Uni is doing. What it offers are eclectic sweet or savory snacks that go well after an early movie or during a late date or a munchies attack or a break from the library. Understanding this makes for a fun experience.