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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

hard alcohol and a three course meal

The waiter is a friend of mine. He’s tall, dark, slim, unbearably French and dressed like a Parisian.

He flashes us a charming smile and leads us to a small table in the back corner of the room. The white stone walls of the restaurant are lit by the glow of candlelight, filled with the conversation of people leaning over their tables, whispering to each other in English or French. One woman with cropped black hair sits with what must be her son, or her partner in an illicit affair, a young man with a pierced ear and dark hair who somehow makes suspenders over a dress shirt look sexy.

It's Monday night and although outside the sky is grey and pouring, we’re inside, warm, delighted by the prospect of eating somewhere so elegant, and celebrating my parents 35th wedding anniversary. While my father works away on a film set somewhere in Vancouver, they send their love back and forth over the ocean, and we go out for dinner upon his request.

We toast to this, my mother with an inexpensive red wine, and me with a heavy gin and tonic.

I know that I should sit up straight, stop wearing my jeans so low, wear less eye make-up and drink wine rather than hard alcohol with my meal, but it’s just not my style.

There are several choices of three course meals on the menu; the most expensive is actually four courses. We settle for the cheapest, which is still gourmet, and more food than either of us can handle.

We order, and the strength of my drink on an empty stomach has me talking at high speed and finding my own laugh contagious.

When our first course arrives we are taken back by the size of the salads. “This is too big for a first course!” I tell the waiter, who smiles and replies “You don’t have to eat it all. Do what you can.” With his permission, we dig in gratefully and leaf half sitting on our plates. They are miniature works of art. My mother has the salade Roquefort, a lush and varied green salad topped with potent blue cheese and walnuts, surrounded artfully by radish, red pepper, apple slices and parsley. I have the salade vegetarienne, which is similar, although instead of cheese, walnuts and apples, I have rich marinated eggplant and red peppers, with grated carrot laced through the salad. The eggplant has soaked up the olive oil with a passion, and it melts into my mouth along with he red peppers, their flavors brought alive by the process of marination.

The second course is just as beautiful. Four separate tastes are presented separately on a large white square dish. On the corner closest to me is a large piece of fish, pan-fried with spices and breadcrumbs, giving the exterior a delicate crisp. They’ve somehow managed not to make it greasy at all, and the inside of the fish melts in my mouth like butter. The three remaining corners have been filled with a small sample of salad, mashed potatoes with parsley, and a baked zucchini ball stuffed with eggplant. I choose to leave my potatoes and salad, and give myself completely to the rest, as fish, zucchini and eggplant are some of my greatest lovers in the food world. I have never seen a zucchini ball until recently, and they are basically zucchini grown into a small round ball shape. For our meals they have cut the top off as if it were a miniature pumpkin, ready to be carved, and have replaced the insides with diced eggplant. The flavors work in harmony together, and the insides are rich and warm, a heavy taste of butter or olive oil filling the vegetables.

I feel as if I’ve caught onto a great secret. People think that they have to go to church every Sunday to go to heaven, but really it’s been hidden in French cuisine, and the second Bible is a cookbook filled with gourmet recipes.

By the end of the second course we could both easily go home, satisfied with our meal and full. But we are in France, and our menu includes a dessert, a sin to turn away.

My mother orders crème brulee a l’orange, while I go for one of my favorite desserts, fromage blanc au coulis de fruits. This is a thick white cheese that has been stirred into a yoghurt like substance, topped with a fruit sauce similar to raspberry jam, and served with sugar at your own disposal. The waiter tells me it is very strong and that it has come straight from the farm, making sure this is still what I want. I’m thrilled by the thought of a stronger fromage blanc than I’m used to, and even more so by the thought of some old man turning it with a big old wooden spoon at a local farm, so I nod my head with big eyes, “Oh oui!”

I’m not disappointed. It’s the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s practically like a strong goat cheese, with a much thicker substance than usual. The strength takes me aback but is perfectly suited to my taste buds. Our waiter tells me that this is how all the old people like it, because it reminds them of how it used to be made, the way they would enjoy it at their own farms. I make some dumb joke about being older than I look and thank him.

We pay the bill, our bellies full, and he tells us to have a beautiful night, blows us both kisses and gives us one last dashing smile.

Outside it is still drizzling, and we walk home arm in arm.


Blogger Haley said...

I can't believe you didn't eat the potatoe..that's the best part! Shame on you, Gill...

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Morgan said...

Gilly doesn't like potatoes. (Your email will be arriving soon... I just want to make sure its good!)

1:18 PM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

AND I'm Irish. I should go down in the hall of shame.

8:39 PM  

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