The wrap storm that blew over New York City a few years ago has passed, apparently without causing any permanent damage. For a while, even the Underground Gourmet -- usually an eat-and-let-eat, man-for-all-seasonings sort of fellow -- battened down the hatches, stunned by Cajun chicken wrapped with sour cream and mustard greens, and Thai spicy beef with tofu and broccoli. Washing it all down with that other West Coast arriviste, the smoothie, didn't improve matters greatly. But let's not forget, as we shake off our umbrellas, that foodstuffs wrapped in flatbread are not at all bad. Quite the contrary: In their classic forms, they can make the perfect meal.
Which brings us to the SoHo crêperie Palacinka (28 Grand Street; 625-0362). This is a mysterious establishment. It has a Hungarian-sounding name but a distinctly Rive Gauche atmosphere, even though a close inspection reveals few French touches other than pots of Bonne Maman jam, an Orangina poster, and some Baleine sel de mer containers. There is nothing particularly Gallic about the tin ceilings or the metallic tables or the decorative bric-a-brac -- a predictable assortment: wooden tennis racquets, leather suitcases, an old accordion -- and the drowsy music that suffuses the restaurant's intimate candlelit space is usually Depression-era American (but sometimes Slavic folk music). The effect is American expat café in thirties Paris, and it works.
As does the nosh: brown, bulging (but not overstuffed) crêpes that look, but happily do not taste, like buff envelopes. The portobello crêpe ($7) comes with grilled mushrooms, mozzarella, roasted potato, and superbly pitched pesto, and is a subtle delight. So too is the ham-Gruyère-and-tomato combo ($7), which features the cheese in an oozy incarnation, with lots of grain mustard. The Italian salami ($7.50) -- in appropriately mouth-stinging form -- is partnered with mozzarella, roasted spuds, and black-olive tapénade; like the other crêpes, it comes with fresh organic mixed greens and a guile and coherence that newfangled wraps, with their willy-nilly mélanges, so often lack. Palacinka also serves a Mediterranean salad ($9) -- you've guessed it: mixed greens, feta cheese, olives, Italian salami, roasted peppers, and kalamata olives -- that is serviceable but, in comparison with its griddle-made pals on the menu, paltry on the palate.
For dessert, you eat more crêpes, only this time they're sweet, and they are fabulous. One number has Pollockesque drippings and drizzlings of chocolate on the outside and banana on the inside ($5). Likewise, the chestnut-purée crêpe -- delicious! earthy! -- hoards crème de marrons within its folds, covered with thick freckles of powdered sugar.
Palacinka has no liquor license, so remember to bring a bottle of wine. Unless you're coming for breakfast.
Palacinka is open Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Cash only.