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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Five years of Flame & White Boy

It’s anniversary weekend, here, Chez Flame.

I wrote to a friend, the other day, mentioning I enjoy celebrating our wedding anniversary perhaps more than any other special day on the calendar. Right up there with Christmas.

Since getting married, I’ve never really understood the dopey cliché of the husband always forgetting his wedding anniversary. I’m more likely to miss Valentine’s or Easter. Maybe it’s a function of having gotten married fairly late, by some standards, or of still being relative newlyweds. Whatever. It’s the giddiest of our festive days. Our memories of our wedding day still fizz, and we feel, even in our bummer and boring times, like we hit the jackpot finding each other.

…well, not really the finding each other, but finding this with each other.

We began our celebration with Friday lunch. I came back from the UK a day early, took a half day off work, and we spent the afternoon holding hands between courses at Taillevent, one of Paris’s long-established palaces of gastronomy.

It’s become an unintentional tradition to have a grand meal on our anniversary. The first year, it was M On The Bund, in Shanghai.

Next was the Jules Verne, a two Michelin star art deco affair in the Eiffel Tower.

Year three was the ancient Tour d’Argent, the world’s oldest restaurant - - long lost of its foodie-porn luster, but still a jewel - - where we ate numbered ducks.

Last year, the restaurant wasn’t the feature, but it’s location: Venice.

This year: Taillevent.

Even as much a sybarite as I am, I still poo-poo the Michelin-starred restaurant experience. I’ve had so many outrageously good meals in restaurants whose kitchens have never even heard of the Michelin guide. The heart-fluttering Parisian conversations about these famous food cathedrals strike me as just silly, as do their palpitation-inducing bills. The exotic menus, the staff-to-diner ratio, the gilt ambience, the seventeen different pieces of cutlery, the balletic simultaneous revelation of dishes from under silver domes, the sheer fussiness and frippery of it all can make me want to just go for pizza and Chianti with friends. And spit wine out my nose, laughing, in rooms that invite bawdy story-telling.

But, make no mistake, for anyone who enjoys the delight of dining well, the sensual pleasure that swirls around a two- or three-star table is almost indescribable. You don’t have to be a foodie to love food, or just to love being pampered. Some people would say that the ultimate indulgence is a day at a spa. These people have not been to a Michelin three-star restaurant. I’m not saying which is the greater pleasure - - why choose! - - but only that the experience at the “grand tables”, as the French call them, stretches all one’s physical senses, and then enters the realm of the artistic and spiritual.

One of the things I have noticed about these very fine restaurants is that the staff - - all professionals at the very top of their game, for the education, apprenticeships and competition that precede even being considered are all daunting - - genuinely love it when you enjoy yourself. While that sounds obvious, it isn’t. So many of us walk into high-falootin’ environments and think that we need to be on our best behaviour, which usually means some variant of being quiet in church: look reverent, be strenuously respectful of the sober elegance, and pretend it’s normal.

Flame-Haired Angel and I don’t do any of those things particularly well. In an environment like the dining room at Taillevent*, we’re like excited kids. “Isn’t it cool we’re even here!” “Wow, those sculptures are terrible, but the carpet is cool!” “What’s the thing he’s carrying to that table?” “Why do you think I’ve got four knives?”

And if you’re fascinated by the food, if you ask about it like it’s an adventure, if you smell it with your eyes closed, if you groan when it hits your tongue, if you share it excitedly with your lover, then the staff returns your enthusiasm in kind. They are there, after all, to amplify your experience. If you were the picture of propriety and restraint, you would see them exemplify formality. But if you are like us, they play with you, and flirt with you in a language that both is, and isn’t, about food. They talk of flavours and sensations and smells and subtleties, but it is all foreplay and dancing. Sensuality is strung like Christmas lights through the experience they are going to give you.

By dessert, the staff had us nailed. One of the most senior members of staff - - easy to tell by the color of his jacket - - came to take our dessert order. When we asked for his suggestions among three different chocolate desserts, he engaged us in a long conversation about the merits of each. To me, he spoke French, to Geri, English, and deftly switched from one to the other as he turned his head, making small intimate jokes about the masculinity and femininity of the different confections. We each chose and, nodding warmly, he disappeared.

The handsome young sommelier arrived in his wake, asking whether we would like our coffee with dessert or after it. We had been bantery with him about the wine throughout the meal, so I cocked an eyebrow and wondered aloud if he was trying to rush us past dessert wine, or if he simply wasn’t up to the challenge of matching something to the chocolate. He twinkled, grinned, pirouetted, and then he, too, was gone.

Only a few minutes later, both men returned. The first was empty-handed, but following him were a couple of waiters, each bearing two plates. His response to our debate about the chocolate desserts? Accept our two choices, but then trump us. We each got what we ordered, *and* a full plate, each, of the dessert we’d declined. There’s nothing the French like more than winning a debate. In one stroke, he showed us that our debate about dessert was based on a false premise: that one would have to choose. He smiled in a very self-satisfied, “Who? Me?” kind of way, as the plates were set down, then retreated without a word.

The sommelier stepped forward. He had arrived without a bottle, but in each hand an opaque, black wine glass. “Tell me what this is,” he whispered with the mischief of being blatantly up to something, “and it won’t appear on the bill.” We couldn’t, and it did, but the fact of what it was became immediately unimportant. It was a transportingly magical match with the chocolate, and it was something I would never have even considered choosing.

This seduction touched us both. It wasn’t the dishes we chose, or the vintage of the wine that mattered. It was the experience, the playful interactions and the anything-can-happen, enchanted-forest unreality of it all. That was the point, they seemed to be saying to us.

“We see you two enjoying yourselves. Everything you hoped for is going to be wonderful, but we’re going to surprise you: with pleasure, with humour, with playful intensity and generosity and devotion to treating you better than you ever expected.”

Yeah. Kind of like this marriage we’re celebrating.

Now, for the foodie porn addicts, our meal:

Aperitif: Champagne Taillevent NV

Amuse Bouche: Avocado Mousse and a shellfish jelly with sesame

  • Seared foie gras with fruits poached in Banyuls
  • Roasted langoustine (crayfish) tails with artichokes and olives
  • Wine: Puligny Montrachet “Les Combettes”, E Sauzet, 2000
  • Pigeon farci, stuffed with olives and pine nuts
  • Ris de veau en croute (veal sweetbreads baked in pastry) with salsa verde
  • Wine: Chateau Petit Village, Pomerol, 2001
  • Two chevres (goat cheese), accompanied by Riesling Seppi Landmann, Alsace, 2004
  • Three cow cheeses, accompanied by Dow’s Porto Vintage, 1996
  • Three chocolate creations I can’t even begin to describe
  • Wine: Pedro Ximenez, Malaga, 1971
Petit fours and coffee

Cognac Taillevent (Grande Champagne)

*…which is a two-star restaurant, having been demoted from three just last month.


Comments on "Five years of Flame & White Boy"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:58 AM) : 

Dear Geri and Houston,

Congratulations on your wedding aniversary. As a fairly newly-wed I'm looking forward to starting a tradition as delicious as yours.

I hope you have many more years of wonderful love and wonderful meals.

Love Victoria


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:14 AM) : 

My mother nearly fell off her chair when I just told her you celebrated this year at Taillevent! Happy anniversary you two. And we thought our 2nd anniversary (just before yours) was pretty crash hot at The Palace on Magnolia at Byron Bay! Well, it was actually, but that's another story.
Happy travels dear Geri and Houston. Hope to see you soon.
Love Nadia & Scottie (somewhere in Cuba).


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