I’ve spent the week working my way through the copy edited manuscript of my new book, The Paris Novel, which will come out next year. Coming to the end is bittersweet: I love these characters, have enjoyed every minute I’ve spent with them, and find that I’m very sorry to let them go.
For some reason it made me go back to my first memoir, Tender at the Bone. And as I read the passage below I began thinking about my first restaurant job.
In the book I called the place where I learned to be a waitress “L’Escargot.” But in real life it was, La Seine, and it was one of the most extraordinary restaurants I’ve ever encountered.
It was a dream of a place, intent on offering the best of everything to a city unprepared to dine on Limoges or drink wine from Baccarat goblets (which all broke in the first month). As I remember it – can this be true?- the silver chandelier had once belonged to the Prince of Wales. The chef was, as the owner proudly announced, “a real Frenchman” who had worked with the legendary Henri Charpentier (the inventor of crepes Suzettes and author of a wonderful autobiography, Life a la Henri). The grill man, another pro, came from Detroit’s London Chop House. The minimum wage at the time was $1 an hour (which is what I earned at my other job shelving books in the University library), but I took home $35 from every 5-hour shift at La Seine. No wonder I fell in love with restaurants.
Here’s the menu: that Dover Sole at $6.25, by the way, was the real thing. An entire fish, which we boned at the table. We also mixed the “salad Caesar for two” at the table, and set the Cherries Jubilee alarmingly on fire. (I once managed to torch the curtains.)
While we’re looking backward: Julia Louis-Drefus invited me to join her on her new podcast, Wiser Than Me. The episode aired this week. You can listen to it here.
If you’ve been reading La Briffe you know how much I love vinegar. Here’s a new one - just hitting the market this week - from the wonderful people at Lindera Farms.
Created by Sohla and Ham El-Waylly, this Golden Elixir is intended as a drinking vinegar. It does make a deliciously tangy sweet/sour drink, and it’s probably good for you, but I’ve found that the combination of apples, persimmons, lemongrass, ginger peppers and aromatics does wonderful things to salad.
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A few nights ago I took some Very Important People to dinner - and of course I took them to Le Bernardin. There are many wonderful restaurants in New York City, but this is the one you can absolutely count on not to let you down. In all the years I’ve been coming here I’ve never had poor service or a disappointing meal.
Tonight was no exception. Everything about the evening sparkled. Here are a few of my favorite flavors.
Tuna tartare topped with sea urchin was set on the table and then an intense meat jus was slowly poured around it. This was, simply, one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.
Shrimp custard topped with seafood with a smoked dashi broth. Chawan mushi takes a deep dive into the ocean and comes up filled with treasures. Wonderful!
Scalllop carpaccio: the little mollusks have never been so clearly understood.
The famous custard egg…
…and finally, this delightful vacherin- an ethereal combination of crunch, crackle and cream served in a puddle of perfectly ripe strawberries.
Oh my gosh! I’m so excited to read your new book!! I too have read them all and am proud to say that for my birthday my husband added Mmmmmmmm a Feastiary to my collection. Thanks for sharing all of your memories on this site. We all love reading them.
I remember the elaborate facade of La Seine... but I never dined there. I think it was sold when I was still in elementary school. You may enjoy these images and articles from the Ann Arbor News, a paper I used to deliver as a kid! https://aadl.org/taxonomy/term/63343