Two little Boston Terrier girls bring their Momo & Mr.Momo to Paris for a long stay. These are the tales of their very fine adventures.
L&P and Momo's Discourse on the Curiosities of French Dining
Food is taken seriously in France. Even L&P have noticed. Any mealtime is a special event. In order to do it correctly before you go to Paris, I recommend you practice rigorously. It takes stamina and fortitude. Not one restaurant meal that we have eaten has ended before a minimum 2. 5 hours. The better ones last for 3 hours or more. You have to be sure to wear clothes that allow you to fidget properly. Most tables and chairs are not made for comfort here, and certainly they are not constructed for any one who might be tall. However, I have noticed that the chairs and tables are perfect height for the L&P.
The reasoning behind the length of the meal is simple. Food is not just for eating- it is a perfect opportunity to not do anything else, like work. So even lunch is a three course plus coffee event. The entree is your appetizer, and then you have your main meal and then desert and then coffee. Never coffee and desert together. And each course never touches the next one. You will never be served your main meal with your entree still sitting on the table. And everyone eats desert. Obviously one of the finer points of being in France. The other finer point is the bread, but more on that in another post. Bread, like desert, deserves an entire post.
L&P's favorite meal is croissants at the Brasserie as you can see. They are sitting with little patience as they await the opportunity to dig in. A day without croissants is a day without a pound of butter. But alas, where else can you get these magnificent flaky pastries? We promise to indulge on behalf of all of you who are not here right now.
Here are some of the things we have encountered that have made impressions that are certain to last a lifetime. If you order fish, it will probably arrive with it's head still attached and looking at you. Yes, it is cooked, most of the time. One nice waiter at a nicer brasserie presented me with my plate filled with a fish just barely not swimming anymore and saw my face apparently. He quickly whisked it out of sight and did a bit of surgery so that it looked like a nice fish fillet. Fillet may be too strong a word here. More like fish and bones. Did I mention I have a thing about fish bones? Meaning that I'd rather eat the plate than touch a fish with bones still in it. I have yet to figure out whether serving the whole fish is just a custom or some one's idea of proving the fish is a fish or that they kitchen ran out of ideas of what to do with the stuff.
Most times, the dish that you thought you had ordered arrives as a surprise. It will have somewhat of relationship to what you thought you ordered. For example, I ordered something called penne with fresh spinach, ricotta, chicken and basil. Sounds great. In my little head I imagined I was getting a plate of penne mixed with ricotta basil and chicken. Yum. And when it arrived I recognized the penne. It had all of the items mentioned, but again, were they a bit too busy in the kitchen, or maybe someone forget how the recipe went, or better, they lost the directions for the recipe? On the bottom was a pile of freshly cooked naked penne with a little pasta water. On top was a dollop of what was supposed to be ricotta, and undoubtedly was, but looked like mascarpone, with a single half cherry tomato on top with three pieces of basil leaf and three lumps of chicken with skin that required the services of a knife and fork to eat. No seasoning either. One just has to go with the flow here, so I carved up the chicken, gave it a little salt and pepper, gave the basil a little tear and stirred it all together. But I do wonder what the original recipe really looked like.
The best part of meals here is something I hate in the United States. We call it strip dining (no-not what you are thinking). All the tables are lined up in a row and you sit practically inches from your neighbors. In the US, everyone pretends no one is next to them. Here, it is proper to bonjour your new neighbors and share a word or two and then get on to your meal. After, as though you had a meal together, everyone bids everyone else au revoir. You also get to intimately peruse what your neighbor has ordered. Today, my dining neighbors, a nice woman and her twenty-something daughter ordered all of their courses tartare. First came the salmon, then came something in a tin, a fish of some sort, and yes, raw. This was for the daughter. The waiter delivered ketchup, mustard and hot sauce so I thought the woman might have ordered a burger which is not something very common here. The waiter plopped down the pomme frite first and I was sure I was right. Wrong, so very very wrong. The plate that was put in front of her was a burger all right, but once again, something was not right in the kitchen. They forgot to cook it. Now, like many of you, I enjoy a burger nice and pink, but I cannot imagine eating the thing raw. And yes, it was on the menu that way. Apparently my brain skipped right over it, probably using the E Coli early warning system. But she ate it with gusto. And was still walking when she left. I do hope she is still well and walking a week from now.
I promise to devote a whole post to bread, and of course to the art of desert in Paris. I am happy to report it is alive, well, and full fat. L&P rate dining a big 10 in France. Momo would rate it if L&P bothered to ask, a very fine 9. The curiosity about losing those cooking instructions, and the whole-fishy thing just brings it down one little notch.