Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Horror of Parisian restaurants...

When we first moved to Paris one of the things we read was how French eating habits were rapidly changing.

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We could see this for ourselves.  Nearly all of the restaurants I ate in when I first visited the city in 1985 and 1986 are long closed.  The number of restaurants to be found here has dropped dramatically, according to the statistics.

To make matters worse, kitchens in places still open for business no longer make their own plats.  All too often pre-fab meals are delivered from the banlieue-situated food distribution center in Rungis (which is the vast operation that sadly replaced the old stomach of Paris at les halles).

Jude and I talk a lot about the Horror in our struggle to find decent places to eat and where the kitchen is equipped with more than a micro-onde.  It feels as if far too many restaurants  (micro-onde equipped or not) are putting the making of money ahead of making the client happy.  Which causes us to stop to think "how utterly American of them."

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Perhaps in a city of 2 million inhabitants and 35 millions annual tourists it's easier to take the tourists money and serve bad food than to do the right thing and prepare a proper meal.  Tourists might remember a restaurant name, but maybe they haven't developed a taste for the potential quality of food.  Even if they remember the lack of quality, the tourist is unlikely to ever return and the restaurateur will have his money, American-style.

Arriving at these doom and gloom conclusions was far too easy.  We simply left the city to visit the countryside and a few French villages.  Things change dramatically once we pass beyond the threshold of the Peripherique (the freeway that circles Paris).

The proof came in Tours where every meal we had was half of Paris prices and at least twice typical Paris quality.  Nice, the same thing (which is nice, right?).  Chartres, the same thing.  Dinan, the same thing.  Dinard, the same thing.  Saint Malo, well, I got stung once, but that was because we went to an Alsatian dive in a small town located almost as far as you can get in France from that German influenced region.  I should have known better.  Saint Malo is, however is the village Jude found several places where the food was absolutely correct (including a Michelin One Star!) and the costs were shockingly low (including the Michelin One Star!).

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Yes, we have our little places to eat in Paris.  While Jude is a wonderful cook and we eat very very well chez nous, the girl needs a day off from time to time.  The places we go have their own kitchens, properly staffed and where they make their own dishes from scratch.  The quality can be somewhat variable and we've learned to accept the prices for what they are.

Making friends, it turns out, can have many side benefits.  When we went to the US to help my father, we swapped apartments with Elaine, who in turn, introduced us to Connie and Pat who are sisters.  They said they were going to spend time in Europe and, well, they looked us up when to arrived in Paris a year later.

A random dive was chosen and a time was set for lunch.  Our usual meeting points were inconveniently located and we were delighted to learn the Chosen Random Dive was convenient for Connie and Pat.

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We'd never been to this Random Dive and we were immediately surprised.  There was a small group of "regulars" talking, drinking, and eating.  The place smelled good.  The menu offered things that looked rather promising.  The prices were correct.  The tourists weren't  lining up and flocking in, either.

Before the Proceedings could begin, I asked le patron if la bouffe came from RungisOh non monsieur he said as he pointed toward a fully equipped kitchen.  Bon.  C'est parit.

Of course our lunch with Pat and Connie went off well.  We enjoyed a lively conversation getting caught up on things that have happened over the past year.  We touched on the horrifying politics of certain places in the world.  We laughed and joked a bit.  We had a wonderfully good time.

As the plates were being cleared le patron asked ca y est? I felt the on proper reply was le cochon est mort.  There was practically nothing left on our plates.  Le patron doubled over in laughter over my bad French and even worse joke.  We laughed a bit more together and shook hands as we, les Americains, left.

Yes, Martha, it could very well be that there remains at least one decent down to earth truly French and utterly local place to eat in Paris.

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