Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Honeymoon Is Over

It's not that I haven't found anything good to blog about lately, but rather that I recently got hitched and was honeymooning in the British Virgin Islands for the last two weeks.

While I was on vacation, I did manage to read an old novel that I am embarrassed to admit, I hadn't read until now: The Great Gatsby. Now there's a book worth reading and rereading. Fitzgerald packs in more detail in one florid sentence than most of us do in one paragraph. So I agree with Mr. Last that this book deserves a reread. Or in my case, a read.

And though I am only half-way through, I will here and now declare one of my favorite books of all time to be Between Meals by A.J. Liebling, a man after my own heart. The New Yorker writer takes us on a culinary adventure through Paris during the early 1900s, the expat-saturated 1920s, and the 1950s. While some of his descriptions are outmoded (such as of clarets and civets), others could have been taken straight of out Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential (another of my favorites). If I may be permitted to quote at length Liebling's return to an old favorite French bistro only to find out he'd been ambushed:

On the ghastly evening I speak of--a beautiful one in June--I perceived no change in the undistinguished exterior of Mme. G's restaurant. The name ... was the same, and since the plate-glass windows were backed with scrim, it was impossible to see inside.... The bar, the tables, the banquettes covered with leatherette, the simple d├ęcor of mirrors and pink marble slabs were the same.... A man whom I did not recognize came to me, rubbing his hands and hailing me as an old acquaintance. I thought he might be a waiter who had served me.... He had me at a table before I sensed the trap.

He presented me with a carte du jour written in the familiar purple ink on the familiar wide sheet of paper with the name and telephone number of the restaurant at the top. The content of the menu, however, had become Italianized, the spelling had deteriorated, and the prices had diminished to a point where it would be a miracle if the food continued distinguished.

"Madame still conducts the restaurant?" I asked sharply.

I could now see that he was a Piedmontese of the most evasive description. From rubbing his hands he had switched to twisting them.

"Not exactly," he said, "but we make the same cuisine."

I could not descry anything in the smudged ink but misspelled noodles and unorthographical "escaloppinis"; Italians writing French by ear produce a regression to an unknown ancestor of both languages.

"Try us," my man pleaded, and, like a fool, I did. I was hungry. Forty minutes later, I stamped out into the street as purple as an aubergine with rage. The ministrone had been cabbage scraps in greasy water. I had chosen cotes d'agneau as the safest item in the mediocre catalogue that the [former restaurant's] prospectus of bliss had turned into overnight. They had been cut from a tired Alpine billy goat and seared in machine oil, and the haricot verts with which they were served resembled decomposed whiskers from a theatrical-costume beard.

"The same cuisine?" I thundered as I flung my money on the falsified addition that I was too angry to verify. "You take me for a jackass!"

I am sure that as soon as I turned my back the scoundrel nodded. The restaurant has changed hands at least once since then.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

congratulations on your nuptials, i hope there were good restaurants in the british virgin islands. any recommendations on vacationing there?