|St Étienne rises from the center of Metz|
|Inside the cathedral|
|A little Alsatian beer to whet the apetite|
|From inside Le Bouchon|
|Garlic butter at its best|
|A helpful staff member|
|In the confectioner's|
|Can't be lunch without dessert|
I love Italian food, especially the cream dishes from the north. Also fond of German, Japanese, Spanish, and … to save time, just glance at a map of the world. But, as I’ve said before and will say again, until a court order shuts my blasphemous mouth, the French could teach anyone how to eat.
To make my point, I need only mention bread. The baguette is so simple even a simpleton, or a vicious ex-wife could make it: flour, water, salt, yeast. Lots of people, including the Germans, do a fair job. But, for my taste buds, if it ain’t French, it ain’t a baguette. Nowhere else is the golden crust so wonderfully crunchy and the inside so delightfully chewy.
After a tour of Saint ´Étienne, the Metz cathedral, it was time to put aside the political differences between the French and the rest of the world, break a couple of those baguettes, slosh some eau de grape, and spend what’s left of our shrinking American dollar.
What’s the difference between a bistro and a restaurant? To my ever so humble eye, a restaurant is a self-contained, sit-down, eating establishment, while a bistro sells coffee in thimbles, and has a bar you can lean on when you see your bill. Also a bistro’s the tables spill out onto the sidewalk like the pedals of a flower, where clusters of women in high heels and men with scarves gather to look down their Gallic noses at the rest of us. Busy, obnoxiously well-groomed waiters flit about with martial like efficiency, delivering cream softened coffee, beer, wine, and full plates of things you can’t for the life of you find on the menu. The beer in Alsace, by the way, is exceptional.
Bistros are quite the experience, but today we settled on Le Bouchon, a restaurant in every sense of the word, tucked into a corner of the bustling downtown. Elegant tablecloths and napkins, glistening goblets, polished silverware, waitresses in black and white ensembles that make a man fidget and pray. With my French pretty much limited to bonjour, au revoir and de la bière pour les chevaux, I had to be careful with the menu. Once before, my arrogance led me to hastily call for rognon de veau, which turned out to be veal kidneys in a sauce far too mild to overcome my gag reflexes.
This bright, sunny, hopeful day I went for the escargot, salade, entrecote avec béarnaise, pommes au gratin, and hericots vert. For the uninitiated, or those who refuse to learn French because it makes you sound like you’ve got a serious sinus problem, I’ll offer a fighter pilot’s translation. Snails, salad, rib steak, mayo with tarragon, toasted potatoes in a cream sauce and some green beans. Again, it all sounds simple, but a French chef has that magic touch that channels the simple into the sublime. Maybe it’s the creamy mixture for the potatoes combined with delicate browning, or the freshness of the eggs for the béarnaise. Maybe it’s the rigid standards for culinary perfection in everything, from meat to the greens, to the politely wrinkled silk tablecloths? Beats me, but it also beats most anything, anywhere outside of France.
The French do not eat, they dine, meaning unhurried conversation and unhurried consumption to the point of idle dawdling. Dine we did, for the best part of two hours…actually the best part of any two hours you’d care to name. I could go on about the food, the superb garlic butter on the escargot, the crisply tender green beans, potatoes that praised themselves, and the perfect doneness of that steak, but the photos do a better job.
After a meal like that, it was time for a short walk to a confectioner’s for coffee and dessert with the very young and beautiful. Unfortunately, I stood out.