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American Food Writer Starves To Death In France, Pt. 1: Paris

The Foie Gras Terrine That Never Materialized, photo by lee kleinParis, France

Timing. Or lack thereof. That’s what I primarily blame for my wife and I going hungry on a trip to Paris and Southern France – although my wife, to this day, insists the fault lay with my refusal to consider a restaurant that served vegan escargot. In either event, the fiasco began when the two of us flew to France to attend the wedding of two French friends we’d met a few years earlier when they lived on Miami Beach. We were surprised to have been invited to their nuptials, but it served as a great excuse to travel; we’d use the affair as a springboard towards exploring the southeastern part of the country.

I had met the bride’s parents during a few of their visits to Miami Beach, including one just weeks before the wedding. The mother liked to boast of her culinary skills almost as much as she liked to brag about how accessible great ingredients were. “We get foie gras from the geese flocking about our yard,” she would exclaim, then slip in a comment about the appalling poultry available in the States. The father was a quiet man, a former sergeant in the Moroccan armed forces. Or maybe it was Egypt. But the whole reason I even mention these two is that during the pre-wedding visit, the mother did nothing but speak of the delicacies she was already preparing for the festivities. Words like “terrines,” “truffles,” “pates,” “lardons” dripped from her lips like fat from a slowly roasting suckling pig. So while under any circumstances a trip to the south of France to be guests at a friends’ wedding would be something to look forward to, in this case I was mainly thinking in terms of a memorable culinary experience.

We were to alight in Paris, spend one day and night there, and then take a train to Toulouse the next morning, where we’d be whisked off to the ancient and sprawling estate of the aforementioned parents. We didn’t each much on the flight over; considering our destination we figured it foolish to fill up on regrettable food. After landing, we checked into the hotel, relaxed a bit, and then set out to see the city. It was getting to be late afternoon, so we had a short window of time before the museums and other attractions would close. We ran off to the Musée d’Orsay…and the impressionism impressed us until hunger finally set in.

Funny thing about an empty stomach: The hungrier you get the crankier you get, and the crankier you get the more difficult it becomes to find a suitable place to eat -- and once you perhaps do choose one, the hungry, cranky person next to you is liable to find fault. That’s how we ended up passing by the place that served vegan escargot.

“No way,” I insisted. “And see how they boxed it in on the menu? That means it’s the dish they’re proudest of!” This was after my wife had rejected a choice of mine on the grounds that it looked “like a place Hemingway ate at that hasn’t been properly cleaned since.” Most of the eateries were co-rejected as tourist traps for gullible travellers. We needed to get out of that area, so we asked passersby where some good local eats could be found. They pointed the way and we walked. And walked. And walked some more until we found the neighborhood we were looking for. It certainly did boast some appealing-looking cafes, but all were closed. It was getting quite late.

Paris, France

“I can’t believe I’m going to go to sleep hungry in Paris,” my wife lamented, to which I replied, “Don’t worry honey, we’ll get some good food in our stomachs before we go to sleep.” I said this because I love my wife, because I am a caring person, and because I’ve been married long enough to know the wisdom of the ancient Oriental saying: Happy wife, happy life.

But I was thinking, “Hey, look: There are thousands of people going to sleep hungry in this city every night. But you know who is never among these hungry? Restaurant reviewers! At this very moment I should be seated with you in some lavishly-starred Michelin restaurant struggling to decide between a rack of lamb with porcini foam and fennel dust or a deconstructed coq au vin!

Suffice to say we ended up outside of a falafel joint in the Jewish quarter right around midnight. While savoring every morsel of my falafel -- one of the best I’ve ever had, and would be even under non-starvation circumstances – I joyfully debated aloud whether I should eat three more or eat four more. Suddenly an unsettling rattling noise came from behind us and disturbed the beautiful silence of the night: The sound was that of metal gates closing...over the falafel shop! What were we thinking? We should’ve ordered four each right at the start just in case!

I was inconsolable.

We returned to the hotel late and allowed our weakened bodies to sleep in the next morning, to the extent that we were way behind schedule to catch the train to Toulouse. We rapidly ran the streets, past all the peerless pastries posturing in Montmarte’s patisserie windows, my jowls flapping and drool streaming from my mouth like I was some rabid St. Bernard -- in the process frightening the pedestrians we passed, including a sizeable group of school children (one or two of whom screamed).

We made it to the station in time, but not with enough to spare to snatch a bite from any of the numerous cafés. “Just think of the delectable cuisine we’ll be eating in just a few hours,” my wife said to make us both feel better.

Sadly, this would not be the case.


Next: American Food Writer Starves To Death In France, Pt. 2: No Goose Or Mousse In Toulouse