What drew us to the renowned Sylvia Beach was partly its literary pretensions rooms not numbered but named for authors, a reading library with comfortable chairs, a game room but mostly a reputation for great food.
Reality was an unpleasant surprise. Sometimes when they say "home cooking" it means food as bad as you had at home.
Dinner began with communal servings of a whipped cream-cheese concoction passing for salmon mousse (served with Nabisco Wheat Thins), followed by a warm loaf of sweet bread with rock-hard icy butter, then a green salad distinguished by neither lettuces nor dressing. Need I add that the drinking water reeked of tap-water chlorine?
Seating and serving was family style, at tables of 8 to 10. The entrees were perfectly good ingredients cursed by inept and bland preparation in our case, duck breast stewed in fruit, and ocean scallops and prawns drowning in a thin white sauce. To their credit, neither was overcooked; neither had any savor whatever. Roasted beets and Basmati rice absent butter or seasoning, not even salt, arrived in a common vessel, and were tepid before they reached our plates.
Any professional who has undertaken the business of catering could advise these people on how to serve a meal to 30 people at once; but why bother, when they have been lavished with admiration by travel writers and guide books. They are content ("The food is served family style and is out of this world. It is always fabulous. If I didn't totally believe it I wouldn't have the nerve to write it here. I have often been told 'that was probably one of the best meals I've ever had.'"); their patrons seem enthusiastic.
But if you like good food, eat there at your peril.
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