Leaving for a vacation always prompts me to recall highlights of past trips, and I am going to share a few stories with you over the next two weeks. Today I am going back to June 2002. Our friends were going to be in France, so we decided to meet them for a week of museums (more on that on Friday), castles, food and wine in Paris and the Loire Valley.
Having researched dinner options extensively, we chose Astier one night for its famed cheese course. They were rumored to bring out a giant tray of cheese, and you simply take whatever you want off the platter, then they take it away and move on to the next table. Hygiene issues aside, it sounded splendid. So, off we went.
I proclaim to speak only menu French, but in reality, even that is limited. FKGuy has a bit more conversational ability, so he dealt with the brunt of interactions. We were seated in a corner of the tiny restaurant, ordered wine and food and proceeded to discuss our day, and the plans for the next day (including where we would eat, and how many croissants I could consume. A lot.)
Two American women were seated at the table next to us, and since the restaurant was so small, and tables so close, they might as well have joined our meal. They took one puzzled look at the menu, and wine list, and asked for assistance. Nobody at the restaurant spoke any English, so we swooped in to help out. FKGuy asked their preferences and price range and picked out a bottle of wine for them. Meanwhile, I put my limited skill set to use, going through the menu item by item, gleefully exclaiming each protein out loud when I knew one.
“That one is chicken,” I would tell the bewildered woman, and made my way down the menu, pausing to let her know “that is the head of a veal. I don’t think you want that.” Grateful to avoid the entire head of an animal, I was less helpful when it came to accompaniments. “What does it come with?” they wanted to know. Well, I can figure out boeuf, or veau, or agneau, and doesn’t the protein tell you what you need to know? I also deciphered a few vegetables, but beyond that – sauces? No luck.
They went on to order, albeit not entirely confidently, and enjoy the meal. I don’t remember what they ate – hell, I don’t remember what I ate, except the cheese course – but all had a good time. Most importantly, they avoided ordering the Tete de veau.
The moral of the story is twofold. First, it’s a good idea to help each other out. You never know when you’ll be in need of menu translating (or help finding the bathroom). Second, always choose the place with the great cheese course.