A long overdue continuation…When last we left our intrepid travelers, we were enjoying oysters on an upturned wine barrel, crepes with hard cider, and bread…oh, the bread.
In today’s episode, two of the most quintessentially Parisian moments of the trip.
Nothing looks quite like a rain-slicked cobblestone street in Paris. An impromptu stop escape a downpour on our last evening, my friend Pam and I tucked into a corner table of a random cafe for an aperitif (Aperol spritz for me) and to watch the city hustle home.
Halfway through my drink, an older gentleman at the next table started speaking to me in French. I think he was telling me to button up my coat or wrap my scarf tighter against the wind and rain that kept sneaking in under the awning. Once he figured out the only way I could communicate was with a smile, he laughed and managed “I really must learn English sometime.”
Replying with “Your English is much better than my French” only earned me a confused look. Second try: “Your English–” and a thumbs up and a smile. “My French–” I shook my head “no” and made a rather disgusted face and he cracked up. He wished me bonsoir with a smile before he left. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
Then it was a mad dash through the rain to get ready for…
My last meal in Paris. I can only hope I’m a good enough writer to share how perfect this experience was–not just the meal, mind you, the experience. It was everything. A little hole in the wall restaurant in the heart of Paris; you’d walk right by it if you didn’t know it was there. A zinc bar, dark wood, red-checkered tablecloths. The 90-year-old owner and her red leather-bound book thicker than a phonebook filled with decades of hand-written reservations.
The restaurant was tiny, just two rows of tables already full of people. Pam and I were seated at a table for four; sharing the table with us was a gentleman who looked to be waiting for his date for the evening. A few minutes after we sat down, he turned and started speaking to us in French. I shook my head and apologized that we only spoke English.
“Ah! That’s alright, my English is passable. I was saying it’s fate, my lady-friend just cancelled and they seat two beautiful young ladies next to me!”
It was fate for us too. As it turned out, he’d been coming to this restaurant for 30 years and knew the menu backwards and forwards. He generously poured us wine from his bottle and gave us some suggestions for dinner–the foie gras or house terrine to start, both house specialties, then any of their excellent steak dishes.
I spotted the word mutton with haricot on the menu and asked him if it was good. He said yes, it was actually what he ordered for dinner, but…”Oh, how to say this…if you are sharing a room, you do not want to order it.” It took a few minutes and some round-about explanation before I remembered what haricot were and about died laughing (let’s just say “haricot, haricot, the magical fruit….”).
I ended up ordering steak skewers with frites, Pam had the world’s largest serving of steak tartare (prepared perfectly, but it had to have been at least a solid pound of raw meat), the terrine (served with the cutest crock of cornichon pickles), and, of course, a bottle of the house red wine. Our friend also kindly shared some of his foie gras and its accompanying cellar of flaky grey salt (good lord, to die for) and his braised mutton with haricot (sublime, and with no ill effects I might add). While everything we had was excellent, our friend clearly knew what he was doing–we would have happily traded everything we ordered for his meal.
The rest of the dinner was equally entertaining. Between griping about the big table of Russians next to us (“terrible table manners,” he judged, “and those steaks are meant for two people to share, but they are showing off their money by ordering one each”) and griping at the waiter for not bringing the correct bread with our meal, he asked us about our travels and told us about his. Wine was poured, conversation continued. It was a treat.
Finally, we deferred to our new friend to order dessert for the table. Of the choices that had me practically drooling–mousse au chocolat and baba au rhum in particular–he made a perfect selection: a simple bowl of sorbet doused with calvados and a crunchy little cookie. After the incredibly rich meal, it was a perfect palate cleanser (and it kept us from waddling back to the hotel).
A good three-plus hours after we sat down, we parted ways at the door, a very French kiss on each cheek before our bonsiors, equally buzzed and sated on the food and wine and conversation.
I still have so much to share about this trip, but this last evening, these two encounters, so perfectly encapsulated the city for me–kind, welcoming, funny people; superb food; places that look like a dream of Paris. It was everything I could have hoped it would be.