The American Diner
What is it with you guys and the French? One minute you’re cracking funnies at their expense, the next you’re falling over yourselves to worship their food, wine and culture.
Back home, our experience of the French is even more confusing. My first experience of a Frenchman was Pepe Le Pew, my last experience of French culture was the day my hometown burger joint started serving “Freedom” fries.
Still, for all their love of reverse gears and anti-American decisions, you have to admit they can cook. Heck, they may even love their cream, butter and cheese more than this ol’ farmboy and that’s a whole heap of dairy love. Loretta has a fit every time we visit a French restaurant, and has booked me a cholesterol check before I’ve swallowed my first mouthful. Dallas always chastises her old man when the foie gras comes out. “It’s so cruel, daddy,” she tells me. Apparently they force feed the geese, giving them a waistline like yours truly, which keeps the liver soft. Sounds like fun to me and heck, if you’ve ever met a goose, you’ll know they’re evil lil’ bastards who deserve everything they get.
Shorty tried to explain the love / hate relationship with a visit to what he called ‘a little slice of France in the heart of London.’ That wasn’t, as I’d written down, the Cafe doo Marchy, it was Le Café du Marché. Apparently that lil hat on the ‘e’ makes it an ‘ay’. No wonder you guys don’t trust them, they’ve reinvented the Queen’s English.
Still, they like their meat and that makes me happy, here on the top of the food chain. You think an alligator’s going to question how you were raised before it eats you? Hell no. And if we’re not meant to eat animals, why are so many of them made of meat?
Anyway, Café du Marché was – to borrow one of Loretta’s words – divine. The room – see, I’m learning some of them fancy reviewing terms – is rustic (there’s another) but its got a farmhouse atmosphere that made me feel I was about six again. Which, coincidentally, is the age I was when I wouldn’t have got stuck in one of their narrow chairs. This is another reason not to trust ‘em. I live on meat, cream, butter and cheese and I’m the size of a prize-winning bull. They live on meat, cream, butter, cheese, fatty bits of goose and old duck cooked in fat, wash it down with wine, and mop the plates clean with crusty bread and they’re the size of pencils.
Anyhoo, once I’d squeezed these man-sized buttocks into the wicker work, the feasting began. First up some of that bread they’re so famous for and dammit if I don’t have to concede this knocks US stuff into a Stetson. Crusty, chewy, sharp, sweet… all those flavours in a little roll the size of my finger? It can’t be lawful.
Working on the assumption it’s the foie gras that keeps those Frenchies thin, I ordered that and the Côte du Boeuf. “That is for two,” explained the waitress. “That’s how many I eat for, honey,” I replied. She just shrugged – I believe Gallic types are famous for it – and then the food started.
The liver was exactly what you’d expect – meltingly soft, rich and as fitting an end for a goose as you can get. That boeuf though… man oh man! Some 50 percent of this frame is effectively cow and I’ll always argue that prime USDA is as good as it gets but damn if this wasn’t some of the best beef I’ve eaten in many a day. Crusty but sweet on the outside, fleshy and pink within – a description that fits me and my lunch come to think of it. Even better, there was none of those frites with it. Instead they did potatoes with tomatoes and onions which, as any man knows, removes all the calories and turns them into the sort of dish you can tell your wife you ate.
Over coffee, brandy and the tarte du jour – which reminded Shorty of a story I can’t repeat in a family publication – we decided all was right with our worlds. “The best of France without having to cross the Channel,” is how Shorty put it. Myself, I think I may just have to hop over the Channel because if I’ve got this right, I can eat myself thin…. CECILE B. HUNTER