(Photo by @SpecialKRB)
This is the duck we never had. But I should start from the beginning.
Relationships with restaurants are like relationships with people. There is the flicker of interest, the sideways glance, the feeling that maybe you should check that out sometime. There is the lust. And then there is falling in love.
Like anyone who lives a lot in the past, I remember the details: 1997. Paris. Le Grand Vefour. Plaques marking where past patrons once sat — I sat at Colette’s place, but I also remember a Napoleon. A platter of velvety, almost candied pigeon. A wine like leather and mushrooms. And a Swiss financier who sent over a bottle of dessert wine, simply because we “looked happy”. I remember a vista had spread out before me of previously unexplored things, at least for a culinary student living on hard-boiled eggs in a 5th-floor walk-up on the edge of the Greek Quarter. I do not go back to Le Grand Vefour very often, but I will always love that restaurant because of that feeling.
At least, I think I will always love that restaurant. Because, like for any relationship, the threat of a break-up always looms. They can be clean and clinical; a bad meal, bad service, and you simply never go back. They can be contentious: he said, she said sort of stuff, requiring the intervention of a manager. And they can be ugly.
When you have driven for hours from Rouffillac to Paris, enduring Opera-area traffic, drunken throngs in the Greek Quarter, and a winding queue down the sidewalk, and it’s already 9:30 and you’re bone-tired, you want some TLC. You’ve seen the guys at Mirama before; you lived just around the corner, for Chrissake, you remember being a loyal customer even though you never really counted Hong Kong-style duck and egg noodles as one of your favorite dishes.
It’s kind of jarring when they start picking and choosing from the line in front of you. But it’s okay; they said two tables of five, and that’s fine, it’s understandable. It has now been an hour, you’re next, and the group behind you that has just sidled up is big as well — eight carefully-coiffed blondes in the kind of scarves that suggest they are “slumming it” for the evening on the Left Bank.
So it feels like a punch in the gut when the group behind you gets called, and you’ve been waiting for over an hour. The celebratory whoops are salt in the wound. You are being taken for granted. The wise thing to do is to walk away. But you can’t help it. You march into the restaurant and confront the 60-year-old, balding, stressed-out Chinese man, who explains they don’t seat tables of 10. He is now telling lies. The Chinese man is now like all those other guys who tell tales when confronted: she was just a friend, he was alone that night, she meant nothing.
Walk away, walk away. So you do — for two seconds. You double back again. He needs to know it’s wrong. You need closure. You tell him. He doesn’t seem to register what you are saying. It feels like talking to a brick wall. So then, you walk away. But because you just can’t help it, you walk back again. You need to know. “Is it because she’s blonde?” you say. “No, no,” he says, and you think he’s lying, yet again.
You walk away for the last time, only to hear your name after you’ve crossed the street. “He can seat four!” someone calls out, and it’s the final straw, the last insult — he couldn’t seat 8 of you, but now 4 is okay? “He can kiss my ass!” you scream across the rushing traffic on Rue St. Jacques, convinced you will never, ever return. You turn around and seek out the next best thing, Roger Le Grenouille, and he is kind and welcoming, and the frog legs are great, and things are okay. But you will always remember Mirama’s rejection, and how that stung, a little bit.
(Photo by @SpecialKRB)