Paris Stories were written during a 2014 visit.
My second meal in France was in “Le Voltaire”, a small cafe next to the Paris Flea market in Porte de Clignancourt. The waitress quickly realized that I did not speak French and she spoke to me in a way that elevated the English language to a new place in my world. Her lovely French accent added an air of sophistication that would make any Londoner jealous. She said that the lunch special was Lamb shank and mashed potatoes. Later I was to come to understand that if someone working in a restaurant in Paris uses the word “special” in the same sentence that is describing food you can pretty much count on the fact that it is going to be “special” in every sense that Webster intended. I realized the decision was a simple one. I told her that I would have the lamb and a glass of red wine. She smiled and quickly returned with the wine. As I leaned back in my chair and took a sip I began to take in my surroundings. It is funny when you realize that you are in a country where English is not the language of the people. French is so beautiful and I could not help but overhear the attractive young couple at the next table having a conversation. I saw her looking into his eyes and speaking softly with that typical wonderful melodious tone, but I didn’t understand a word she was saying. She was probably telling him that after lunch she wanted to stop by the market on the way home and pick up a few things and they also needed to go by the cleaners, but what I heard was this lovely French woman saying, Cheri, let’s stop by the store on the way home and pick up a nice bottle of wine and go home and make love until we are exhausted.
My fantasy was interrupted by, “Monsieur your lamb”. “Merci”, I replied in the best French I could muster. I was amazed how quickly I was able to switch from a nice French wine and making love until exhausted to a lamb shank. The only thing that stayed the same was the saliva dripping from my lip.
I gazed at this incredible lamb shank resting in this bed of creamy white mashed potatoes. Actually the “bed” was a sculpture that would make Henry Moore take notice. It looked like the top of a volcano and the crater was serving as a nest for the lamb shank and the rim served as the banks of a pond holding in the succulent juices rendered in the cooking. The lamb had been seasoned with salt, pepper and Rosemary and cooked with a little onion and tomato. The aroma of this marvelous mixture rose from the pond like a morning mist and I lost control and took a bite before remembering Steven and Martha Ann’s advice to take a photo of every meal. The scar on the right side of this mashed potato masterpiece in the picture clearly illuminates this transgression. You do not need to be a trained detective to observe the similarities between the furrows in the mashed potatoes and the tines on the weapon lying inches away or to analyze why the precious juices are threatening to burst the levee to deduce what happened here. I would like to take a moment and talk a little about this little bite that scarred this artwork. I admit I took a forkful of these potatoes and dipped them into the “pond” surrounding the lamb and raised this morsel to my lips. In all honesty I am not sure what to say. I do not want to sound like some food network critic who looks into the camera with a glazed look in their eyes and goes umm, but that is exactly what I am thinking. I have had my share of mashed potatoes and gravy and whether it was my Aunt Myrt’s with turkey gravy at Thanksgiving or Mom’s with roast beef gravy on Sundays I realized that this meal before me was different. When I got to the lamb I was transported to new level of understanding and I knew that in my world the bar had been raised when it comes to enjoying meat and potatoes.
I was quickly coming to understand why all those people in Santa Fe who had told me about the Louvre, the Bateaux Mouches and the Eiffel Tower suddenly began talking slower with a sense a reverence when they started talking about the food. My feelings when they told me were, yes I get it, the food is good. I really felt like these people were overdoing it. I mean I have had good food before, how good can it be? Well I have now been to the Louvre, I have scaled the Eiffel tower and I have cruised the Seine on the Bateaux Mouches and along the way when I was hungry I ate and along the way I began to understand why their eyes glazed over and the tone of their voices changed when the subject turned to the food.