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Ernestine Ulmer famously wrote that “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” But ordinarily, especially in France, with a “menu,” one goes through the traditional progression of entrée, plat, fromage et desert. But occasionally one sees a different sequence.
Quite a few years ago, when I was the “cuisine organizer” for dinners for the leadership of a national professional organization, four of us went to a place in Washington called Vincenzo’s, which a waggish friend insisted was once Vincent’s, now “tarted-up.” If I remember correctly, three of us had fish for our main course and the fourth had meat. The oh-ing and ah-ing about the fish prompted our odd man out to ask to taste the sole, which he declared sweeter than any dessert. And wouldn’t you know, when the waitperson took our dessert order he ordered the sole and couldn’t have been happier.
This all came back in a flash a few weeks ago in Alba, Italy, when Colette and I were dining at a place called Lalibera, which we’d found through the Slow Food guide l’Osterie de……….. We ordered in the traditional manner, that is, 1st, main, cheese, dessert, but across the room a family was eating in a most bizarre and confusing manner.
The person I assumed was the father started with what surely looked like a dessert to me while the adolescent boy/man and mother had firsts. Then they all had pasta of one kind or another. But for their third course, he had a meat dish while they had dessert. My head was spinning.
Was I wrong in my surmises? Had he simply had a dessert-looking dish first, something like the trend in Paris now to serve “crème brulées” of mushrooms or snails or an item called a “cake” of cepes at Le Clocher Pereire as a first? Was his meat-looking final simply a tiramisu that looked meaty? Why did it matter to me?
I think there’s something comforting in the traditional progression. While cheese can be served with cocktails (especially Apéricubes) and dessert can be skipped (more and more by my age crowd) and entrées can be ordered as mains, one does sort of get used to the good old march of the plates.
*My last meal was on 28 December 2007. Paid for.
My favorite place to stick to tradition is:
Le Clocher Pereire
42, bvd Pereire 17th, (Metro: Pereire )
Closed Saturdays and Sundays
Lunch menu 17, dinner 29 and 38, a la carte 35-50 €.
©2008 John A. Talbott