What a French restaurant should be like – Part 2
Ham drying from the rafters is a good sign
My girlfriend and I recently celebrated our fourth anniversary. As it happened to fall on February 29th, I guess one could call it our first. Since we don’t have too many anniversaries, we needed to make this one count.
A few days before, a friend had asked me to make a reservation for her at a bistro, and while looking at their website, I noticed that the owner of the restaurant happened to be from Bozouls, which is a very small town (less than 2,800 people) in Aveyron. My girlfriend was thrilled to hear this, as her grandparents are also from Bozouls. It seemed like a good sign, so off we went for our anniversary dinner.
After being seated, my girlfriend could hardly contain her excitement, as she had brought a photo album of her trips to Bozouls to show the owner. As soon as we saw an opportunity, she slipped over to the counter, asked the owner for a minute of his time, and opened the album. “Ah Bozouls!”, he cried. He proceeded to flip through the album and describe every house, its inhabitants, and what they had done to either restore or ruin the property.
As this was going on, he seemed to forget almost everything going on around him. He excitedly walked us into the kitchen to show us another photo of his parents’ house, and then another wall-sized map of the town. We spent around 15 minutes talking before he needed to get back to work, as the restaurant was beginning to fill up.
The meal was nothing short of amazing, and in a restaurant where not just the owner, but all of the staff are so passionate about what they are doing, it is little wonder. We finished off our meal with a huge cheese course, and were almost too full to move.
As we went to the counter to pay, I pointed to a bottle of wine behind the counter, telling my girlfriend that the owner has a domaine near his ancestral home in the south. The waiter behind the register saw me and asked if we wanted to try it. There was little chance of us refusing.
Have to love a restaurant with a cat (unless you are allergic of course!)
After a glass was poured for each of us, he sliced off a large hunk of cheese for us to enjoy while we had the wine, and some more bread.
No sooner had we finished that piece, the owner walked over and pulled out a big plastic bucket from under the bar. The bucket contained crème de roquefort that a friend of his had produced in Aveyron. As he spread some of the cheese on some bread for us to try, he said, “Well you’ll need to have some wine with it,” and refilled another glass.
A few customers sitting near the register were also treated to some thick hunks of bread slathered with the cheese. Some others asked a question about one of the wines, and were treated to a free glass of wine. Why? Well, why not?
We stayed and talked at the bar with a couple of the servers, and it was easy to see that they enjoyed what they did, and took pride in upholding the tradition of sociable meals for which France has long been famous.
As the world becomes more interconnected with each passing day, globalization is chipping away at many of the important cultural traditions unique to their respective societies. A lot of older Frenchmen say that restaurants like the one I discussed were the norm in their day. The sight of another McDonald’s, Subway, or Starbucks being built is a depressing reminder that something as integral to French life as their social life at the restaurant table could be in danger if they cease to take the time to appreciate its importance.
Read the first part of John-Paul’s article here where he talks about how the French may be losing some of their dining rituals.