Monday, May 30, 2005

(From Paris): A tale of a meal

When you need to wrap it all up and stuff it inside, when you cannot walk another mile or look into the window of another shop, when the rain starts its Parisian thing again – I say head for a good meal.

I don’t think about where to eat in Paris. If I am here only for a day or two, I check the menu of an old standby and if it looks good (as it always does) then I go there. This isn’t the time to step outside the box – it’s a time to snuggle into a familiar setting and enjoy the parade of pleasurable sights and tastes.

So, I’m ending my Europe posts with a parade of pleasurable sights and tastes of my last evening on this side of the ocean.

Early in the evening, I considered grabbing a snack. Street food tempts.
baguette avec jambon Posted by Hello
Instead, I settled for a Victor Hugo aperitif, if only for the funky color, along with some serious people watching.
Victor Hugo: champagne, pear and creme de curacao Posted by Hello
Much later, when the skies turned dark from both the evening light and the puffed up rain clouds, I go over to the place where Madame was holding a table for me. I’d been there just two weeks ago, but today the menu offered a three week special: a love affair with the lobster. Irresistible.

Next to me, two women were doing a perfect rendition of multi-tasking: savoring the food, the wine, speaking in animated tones and puffing away at their cigarettes. I do not want to exalt smoking of course, but I so completely associate restaurants with smoking in France that I will feel a layer of sensations will be erased the day the last stub is crushed into an ash tray and France becomes smoke free.
at the table next to me... Posted by Hello
My first course: a lobster custard, with a frothy broth.
royale extreme de homard Posted by Hello
Second on the fixed lineup is a beautiful arrangement of lobster, pickled mushrooms and a parsley salad. Along with it come a cedar jelly and scoops of a moussey, buttery lobster spread for the bread that I use generously with every dish.
pinces de homard aux beurres de chitine, gelee de cedar Posted by Hello
The women have left, and now I get to listen to the conversation of this man. He has the most gorgeous blue silk jacket – I cannot take my eyes off of it. He is there with a younger man – someone who is so good looking that I cannot take a photo without appearing like somewhat of a crazed woman. It was hard enough accomplishing this one photo, but the jacket and its owner just had to be recorded here. Ocean does not avoid the tougher challenges.
one of the harder photos to pull off is of your dining neighbor Posted by Hello
Next came the lobster tail, made splendid by the genius of the sauce chef. Someone once told me that you can tell a good French restaurant by the talents of the sauce chef. Here, they have a person with talent for sure. Inside the lobster shell is an assortment of vegetables.
meuniere de homard, petits legumes et canneberges Posted by Hello
As I end the meal, my waiter asks me if I am from Quebec (the lobster celebration is actually in honor of these same lobster days in Quebec). It must be in the way I lick the last drops of sauce off the plate – I imagine people from Quebec are equally dedicated to finishing every bit of their lobster meal. When I say that I am in fact American, he actually puts the dishes down and does an exaggerated double take, before breaking into a smile at his own joke. Labels. They are of course both serviceable and at times grossly misplaced. In this case, the irony is that both countries use the same one when judging the other. ["All French are arrogant." "All Americans are arrogant."]

One of the best things about the last two weeks was that those traveling with me avoided bringing out the obvious labels in thinking about the countries we were in. Raking in experiences pure and simple, as they are presented, without reservation, without distrust. Liking some things, disliking others, based on how they felt then and there, rather than on how they were supposed to feel.

Okay, the end of the meal, and the end of the trip. Dessert: a simple ice cream, a caramelized mousse, and a farina cookie. With an espresso. Ocean returns tomorrow, from Madison.
biscuit de farine torrefiee creme legere su chocolat et sa glace au sirop d'erable Posted by Hello