A couple of days ago I was still dizzied by the tangle of streets near by my Left Bank hotel. I
could never get there from here, even though I was always tantalizingly close.
Perhaps more important, I couldn’t figure out where, or what, to eat. There are charming cafes everywhere, you practically trip on them, but when one imagines such cafes, one forgets to imagine all of the smoking.
And how to negotiate the menu? At one charming place I saw a man eating a lovely simple meal, a plate of ham, small salad, and toast.
But when I looked at the menu I didn’t see anything like that. There were complicated dishes, or fancy salads. Or combos of entrees—appetizers—and mains or mains and desserts. A couple nights I was so tired from heat and walking—museums will do that to you—I bought a little something…quiche one night, pate and croissant the other…and ate in my room.
But I was also determined. So last night I plopped myself down at an outdoor table at da Rosa on rue de Seine and decided to figure it out. More touristy places have English translations under the French, but at da Rosa, French it is. The starters have two sizes. Odd. But then in tiny print I saw that the larger of the two comes with a salad.
I ordered, en francais, my foie gras with salad and lemonade.
“Do you know,” the waiter responded in English, “that lemonade here does not have actual lemon in it? It is just a sweet bubbly water.”
“I did not know that.”
“It is a French trick we like to pull.”
“Thank you for telling me. I’ll have a Coke Light instead.” In most of the world there’s no Diet Coke—“diet” being a strictly medical term—but rather Coke Light.
The fellow was very nice and helpful, refreshing, even if he didn’t have refreshing lemonade. How bizarre, though, to sell lemonade, “artisanal lemonade” at that, completely devoid of lemon?
But of course we do the same thing. Pity the poor Austrian who walks into a Der Weinerschnitzel in the US expecting, naturally enough: Weinerschnitzel. But instead of a delicious crispy cutlet, he is offered hot dogs.
When, and why, did we take the French word, entrée—“to begin”—and convert it to from an appetizer to a main course?
At home the entrée doesn’t generally come with a salad. Although occasionally it does. An appetizer? Never a salad in sight.
It’s a wonder travelers ever figure out how to eat anything.
But persistence does pay off, especially in France. Every bite I’ve had here is amazing, and my little meal at da Rosa was fabulous.
I almost didn’t notice the smoke.