Right now, I feel like Sabrina–I have moved to Paris to go to cooking school. I have even taken to wearing little black pants like Audrey Hepburn.
I won’t be here for long, but after spending my first week in Paris in bed with a cold, I now, finally, feel like the luckiest girl in the world. As I write this, from my little apartment (with no kitchen), huge glass book-cover windows thrown open, the Sunday morning church chimes are echoing in. This is Paris. While I’m here, as when I was in Provence, I would love to share with you some of my eating adventures. Pictures may be harder to come by, but I’ll try where I can.
Last night we went to a restaurant called La Cave de l’Os a Moelle, in the fifteenth. It sits down an unassuming street, just across from the aptly named l’Os a Moelle restaurant (which means bone marrow). This is its cave, or wine cellar.
We were seated at what seemed like an up-turned giant rope spool, with stools all around, in this fabulously urban-meats-rustic kind of auberge. On the table were greeting grated salads of beets, of carrots, of celeriac. Then there was green peppercorn and liver pate, blood sausage pate, rillettes. Huge rustic breads sawed into chunks. Crudites, including the requisite long red and white radishes, with homemade mayonnaise. All of this, as with everything in the restaurant, is a volonte–or, as we know it in the States, all you can eat.
One of my fellow cooking students knows her wines, and we go for a Cotes de Valcluse, followed by my absolute favorite Cahors Malbec, which is cheap even in New York, so you can imagine what it costs in Paris, and why Fitzgerald and Hemingway usually moaned over a bottle of it to each other at La Closerie de Lilas in the Twenties. Chin chin, tout le monde!
At this point, we are absolutely brimming. Ironically, being in cooking school leaves you a bit malnourished, as I haven’t had time to do anything other than run around a kitchen in six days. Eating has been my last priority. My stomach is shaking its head at me, wagging a finger, and moaning–you’ve put me through the wash, and I’ve shrunk. There’s nothing you can do; don’t force it.
At the back of the restaurant, there is an honest-to-goodness black iron urn, with a waving white sea of the smoothest cream of cauliflower soup which I lap up with my spoon the way my dog laps up his water. Then, back to the back stove. Every night, the restaurant decides on its main dish; you won’t know what it is until you get there. Last night, it was falling-apart pork in a wine sauce and fresh egg noodles. So, we tuck into that. The pork is sliced thin, but still stewy and collapsing–the sauce a mixture between reduced wine and demi-glace. The noodles have bits of oven roasted tomatoes and strands of spring onions coursing through them. Hot from the stove, they seemed to emerged jumbled from the little straw cottage on my mismatched navy and white toile plate.
Three courses and three bottles of wine in, I began to collapse like my pork. But now the cheese arrives: crottins of chevre and ash-covered tommes. The first sinks and pools when you cut it; the second crumbles and powders. I have to. If I have a stomach rupture later in the evening, I’ll just deal like it then. Scott turns to me and says, “You could get hit by one of those Parisian taxis on your way out. Better not skip the cheese!” He is very insightful.
Lastly, I wobble, laden by so much excess that I can barely lift myself off my stool, to the dessert bar. I’ve actually already snuck in an extra course of chocolate pot de creme (they also had vanilla) before the cheese, and the affable waiter laughs at me, “You’re cheating again!”
And I mutter back, “You’re trying to kill me!”
“Maybe so, maybe so,” he grins mischievously.
I take ile flottante–frothed, soft, and airy egg whites in a pool of custard. I leave the pain d’epices and the orange quatre quarts and take only a slice of chocolate loaf. I crumble it between my lips. The next thing I knew, I was in a taxi, and then in my bed.
The lesson? French cuisine is not always dainty, and not always fine. But last night, I ate like a king–albeit one of those Henries of five hundred years ago who gave into gout and alcoholism. But for one night, it was nice to feel more like Louis XIV than Audrey Hepburn. But luckily, when the bill came, I only handed over 30 Euros for the whole four hours we were there. I needn’t be either a king, nor a movie star. I guess in the end, with my new friends and my old French comfort food, I was just being myself.
La Cave de l’Os a Moelle