Even Paris Isn't Perfect; But When It Is...
Well, I’ve been in Paris for several days now. Been working long days, leaving before sun up and finishing work about eight each night. Precious little time has been left to properly explore the culinary mecca that Paris is, but I have been able to enjoy a nice dinner each night.
I’ve found the area I am staying in — Chapelle, near Gare du Nord– is not necessarily a food hot spot, but there some gems hidden in the haystack.
Most bistros have more or less the same menu: escargot, French onion soup, steak frites, mussels, and the like. There is a small wine list of mostly French wines, and an even smaller list of cordials and beers, but they are nice. They feel comfortable, like a great neighborhood restaurant should. They all overlook the street, they all have a patio, and the service is unpretentious and relaxed.
Now, that is true of most, but I have also had really bad, and exquisitely good.
First, the bad. Last night my travel companions and I were tired, and were not up for exploring for the perfect spot, so we made the mistake of settling for what seemed familiar, a clean, bright, chain-looking French steakhouse. That should have been my first warning; a chain is a chain, whether in America or in Paris. I’ll be honest, it was so bad I don’t even remember the name of the godawful place. I must have blocked it out of my memory.
Let me set the scene: you walk in to the sound of 1960s country music, it looks like a pilot version of Chili’s inside, and the person who greeted us was not smiling. Our waiter, however, was wearing a handkerchief and an empty gun holster.
As we sat down, I noticed that the placemats were actually our menus, and after scanning for a moment, I decided to turn it over, in hopes that there would be an English version on the back. No such luck, but I did find a wonderful coloring page with mazes and little puzzles. Blecch.
Well, I was there, so order i did. I ordered a burger and fries, but not just any burger and fries, mind you. I ordered a French Beef Steak burger with pommes frites and aioli.
Some time later, our food arrived and against my better judgement, I ate it. It tasted terrible. The bun was hard and stale, the meat had a texture like tuna fish, but tasted bland and old. The fries were unseasoned and cold. The mayonnaise was warm. Not a good sign.
As if the food wasn’t bad enough, the service was worse. I think we saw our waiter twice: once to take our order, and once to drop the check. Eager to leave, we dropped a credit card in anticipation of putting this night out of its misery.
Thirty minutes later the waiter took the card, returning 15 minutes to drop it off. We were all fuming by the time we left. Not that I would have bothered, but we never saw a manager to complain to.
Tonight more than made up for it. We passed a restaurant that looked nice, it was full of well-dressed patrons, and I couldn’t find Budweiser on the menu anywhere. At the front of the restaurant, nearest the street, right as you walk in, stood a staunch looking frenchman, deftly shucking fresh oysters and clams. All around him were baskets of steamed crabs, langoustines, lobsters, and prawns. I knew right away that this was the right place for me.
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