My friend Birdman (most people call him David Krauss and there’s nothing I can do to stop them), ran out of calvados-spiked mustard, so he went to France to pick up some more. Joining him seemed like a nice way to enjoy my 39th birthday (which is today, thank you), so I met him in Paris on Easter and we had dinner at Alain Senderens (which I preceded with a sandwich grec from the westernmost vendor of such things on the north side of Rue de La Huchette).
The next day we caught the bullet train to Marseilles for three days of sea air, pastis and bouillabaisse.
Back in Paris for two more days, we pretty much just ate and drank, most notably lunch at Taillevent, although dinner at a straightforward little bistro called La Tour de Montlhéry, proved quite enjoyable. Birdman had white asparagus and I had the house terrine, and then we each had hanger steak with fries that we washed down with a liter of house Brouilly. He had chocolate mousse for dessert, I had perhaps the best raspberries I’ve ever had, but was perplexed by the crème Chantilly that accompanied it, which was flavored with that strong Martinique rum. Now, I’m all for culinary creativity, but if you’re at a bistro in Paris, crème Chantilly is not supposed to have rum in it, it’s just not. Vanilla and powdered sugar, yes, but to add rum is to scoff at Escoffier.
Anyway, after drinking Calvados, Birdman saw the cheese cart roll by and insisted that we have some, which we did.
I felt the need to apologize to the man sitting next to us — who was dining with three other people that seemed to be his wife and daughter and his daughter’s boyfriend or fiancé or something; dad was in a casual workman’s shirt and everyone else in his party was dressed up — because cheese after Calvados is just tacky.
Of course, he couldn’t have cared less but seemed troubled by the fact that we were out of wine, so he grabbed his liter of Brouilly and filled our glasses.
“En France, on est généreux,” he said (we’re generous in France), which, I’m sorry, just isn’t true. I think the French are charming and generally have their priorities in the right place, but generosity just isn’t a national characteristic for which they’re known.
We spent the last night with a friend of mine from my Bangkok days, bon vivant and International Herald Tribune journalist Tom Crampton, and his fiancée Thuy-Tien. I had duck (rillettes and then seared breast in pepper sauce) while discussing molecular gastronomy with the English-speaking French couple at the next table. In short, they don’t like it.
My conclusions from the trip:
•I like France a lot
•Since I hadn’t been there in 10 years and still could function on some level in French, I have that language for keeps — at least enough to order dinner, ask directions, make reservations and do other touristy stuff.
•France is very expensive, and not only if you eat at Senderens and Taillevent.
•American coffee and food is now so good that trips to France are no longer revelatory in that regard (except to learn to what degree Escoffier is being ignored).