I’m sure I’ve written and said this many times before but there simply are times when the atmosphere of the meal overwhelms the food. It can happen in a loft in SoHo, an apartment in Milan or a gite in Provence. And it happened again to me the day I wrote this.
I was eating with a dear friend (that’s surely part of it) besides a garden (that too) in perfect weather (70 degrees and sunny with no humidity) with the hustle-bustle of Paris seemingly very far away. And while the meal was absolutely dreadful from start to finish (her statement – and she rarely is given to hyperbole – was that her chicken was the worst she’s had in ten years.) And my soup and main were pathetic as well, saved only by a nicely, properly chilled Beaujolais.
Whom you’re eating with is certainly part of it. But as long as I’ve been in love with Colette and loved being with her, I’ve not always loved our meals together. I do remember with great passion a meal we had high up in the Rockies one fall, when everything seemed to focus on just the two of us and the food was incidental.
But I’ve also been with others whom I’ve really liked and not come away with fond memories.
I also think the setting alone can trump the food. When you’re at the mountain hut on the Mt Blanc range having a pizza, the crust can be soggy and the wine rotgut, but one look up at the snowy pyramid with its evanescent wisps and plumes of clouds and it’s not so bad.
On the other hand, I recall some crepes on a ferry landing in Brittany overlooking the Atlantic that didn’t match the view.
I also think the ambiance, in the sense of the surround, can over-ride the meal. I think back on my first meal as an adolescent in a Parisian brasserie; the glitter, brass, velvet, lights and lighting and hustle and bustle of waiters in black and white. Who knew whether the choucroute was any good or just industrial crap? It was heavenly.
Although, I remember how disappointed I was meeting an old friend at Le Train Bleu a few years ago and despite the warm friendship and spectacular murals, not being able to gag down the rillettes they were so bad.
And finally, the weather. If you’re seated and comfortable, the sun at your back but not blinding anyone, the wind wafting lightly and the humidity controlled, you can sit forever munching.
But, if you’re freezing cold at the Pavillon Puebla in the Buttes Chaumont, dripping from the rain at Le Reminet or roasting in heat along the Seine, forget the food.
In any case, Madame and my meal were bad but we had a great time; would I return ever, of course not, but I’d certainly reproduce the other factors.
Well, I won’t reveal where I was for this dreadful meal because I don’t want to have any memory trace of it left with you but you can find a pretty good one at:
3, rue des Grands-Degres, 5th (Metro : St Michel, Maubert-Mutualite)
T : 01.44.07.04.24
Lunch menu 13.50 €, dinner a la carte 40-60 €.
©2009 John A. Talbott