During a recent dinner we overheard the following conversation: "I've never been to France," said a young lady. "You should go," said her companion. For those of us who can't afford a ticket to the Continent, there's Pates et Traditions, a restaurant in Williamsburg specializing in dishes from the south of France with a north African inflection. The interior is a Gallic riot, overstuffed with books, postcards, and bandanas, most boasting floral patterns or tricolor stripes. You almost expect the French-speaking waitstaff to hand out berets. It's like TGIFriday's for Francophiles.
Our first appetizer, pissaladière ($5), consisted of cubes of bread topped with onions and olives from Nice. The top had gone squishy, the onions as gelatinous as jelly, while the bottom offered an audible crunch. Although the menu calls this dish a "pizza," it better resembled giant croutons.
We preferred the socca ($5) in part for its simplicity: pancakes made from chickpea flour. That's all. Some slightly charred edges contrasted with the moist fluffiness, and some salty bites followed some nonsalty ones. They were savory enough to be satisfying but not so filling as to be satiating.
Speaking of savory, we both ordered two savory crepes as our mains, although Pates et Traditions also has pastas available. Everything we ate paired perfectly with our great mugs of mulled wine ($5), or perhaps we should say that this red wine spiced with cinnamon and served hot made everything much, much nicer.
Both crepes began with a wrap made from organic buckwheat flour, cooked and folded. Inside the shrimp curry ($12) was a rich mess of shrimp, spinach, garlic, Swiss cheese, onions, and cream, the curry a back-of-the-throat afterthought more than an upfront advance. Overall this crepe was soupy and warming, a square package we were happy to receive.
The Orientale ($12) mixed Swiss cheese, Merguez sausage, a marmalade of peppers and tomatoes, and a loosely cooked egg. Here was our pizza! The stretchy crepe acted as an ultra-thin crust, which was topped with cheese and meat and veggies. A better name for this crepe might have been the "Américain," as the mass reminded us so much of what comes on top of a sausage-and-cheese pizza.
Like its younger sibling, Santos Anne, Pates et Traditions has a distinct personality. While that French-Mex restaurant comes off as a Airedale, wiry and restrained, this French one seems more like a labrador, kind of goofy but extremely enthusiastic. Across the dining room, a sign read, "Smiling I make you a friendly person." Above the kitchen hung a heart made from corks. It's a lovable symbol for a lovable place, best for: a date with a quirky paramour.