Restaurants & Bars 8

Paris report - Le Gavroche

Bill Strzempek | Nov 21, 200502:12 PM

19, rue St. Marc
Metro Bourse
01 42 96 89 70

Lucky me, I got caught in a downpour about four in the afternoon one block away from Le Gavroche, perhaps my favorite joint in all of Paris. I ran in and asked if I could eat at that hour. “Pourquoi pas?” said the waiter as he waved his arms like a traffic cop to get me to a table. Inside, a young boy at one of the tables was digging out the remnants of his dessert from a tall glass. He called to his papa at the bar for more, but papa had other ideas, like the kid’s school work. The boy got up from the table dramatically dragging his book-bag and feet. The father and his friends at the bar applauded the performance. That woke up the large black dog lying across the kitchen entrance. He barked deep and loud and the boy shook a tiny finger to quiet him down. The waiter shooed dog and boy away waving a napkin and muttering “allez allez allez”. He handed me a lunch menu. I asked for a 51, I was told no, and then it arrived in seconds. I wondered if I could order off the blackboard on the wall. “Pourquoi pas?” I went (as I always do) for the celeri roumalade and a coeur de rumsteak, sauce poivre. He stuck his bottom lip out and nodded his head slowly in agreement, waiting. “Et du vin?” There were a lot of beaujolais listed on the chalkboard, what did he suggest? “Chenas.” He gestured grandly at a man eating alone in the corner, then to a classy lady and her friends at another table, then at the two loud and tipsy guys to my right. As he pointed to each he said a little bit louder each time, “Chenas! Chenas! Chenas!” They were all drinking it. Chenas I said. “Chenas!” he hollered and did a little skip as he went away. The skipping brought the black dog back to life, a huge bark again, and this time a surprising yip in return from across the room. For now sitting up next to the classy lady was a white Westie, at his own table with his own checked tablecloth. The black dog lumbered past me. He had only three legs. Just as he got nose to nose with the Westie, the waiter theatrically “allez”ed him away again. My celeri remoulade was set before me and the opened bottle of Chenas. I tasted, we all smiled. The celeri remoulade wasn’t around very long -- I enjoyed it greatly and down it went, all crunchy, creamy and delicate. I watched the rain and pretended not to notice as the big black dog made himself at home at my feet. I drank Chenas and eavesdropped as the two tipsy fellows debated some stupid point until they realized they were both on the same side of the question. The waiter crossed with a tiny scrap for the Westie, who took it below table to eat then returned to his seat on the banquette. My three-legged friend looked up at me with a distraught look as if I should do something. The classy lady across the way saw and laughed, and cut off a scrap from her dish and held it up for the black dog, who gallumphed over and ate it. Peace reigned. Time ticked. A businessman in a trenchcoat entered at a trot and bade hello to everyone on the staff while crossing to the loo. The two tipsy fellows emptied their pockets on the table counting their Euros to see if they could manage another bottle of Chenas. The waiter looked at them and called them pathetic, they returned an insult, everyone laughed, and the waiter had the next bottle on the table before they had picked up their money. The businessman came out of the loo, bade everyone a joyous goodbye and headed back outside. The guys at the bar shouted after him and made hatchet motions with their hands. The steak arrived, bathed in its customary luscious and complex sauce with I know not what in it that makes it so delectable. It has no harsh pepper edge, it has a warm soothing edge, almost like roasted chiles and cream. And what a nice platter of steaming golden frites to dip in that sauce. For me this is the best steak-frites in Paris. “Smells great” said the black dog with his eyes as he put his chin on my knee. I cut him off a taste and fed him, the Westie yapped and the classy lady scolded him and fed him a bread crumb. Two, three and four legged beasts relaxed. The rain dribbled. The classy lady waved her cigarette wildly about, reacting to the amount of rum with which the waiter was lacing her baba. The room laughed. She implored everyone to come and help themselves, "no one leaves sober if I don't." I chitchatted with the two tipsy guys near me and they regaled me with rambling anecdotes about their visit to New York while they poured some of their Chenas into my now empty glass. By and by all the tables paid up, surprise was expressed that the rain had stopped, there was much comic policing of the dogs as they passed each other, and the waiter said goodbye and thanks and continued crooning to the radio as he pasted Chenas labels on bare wine bottles. That was one swell lunch.

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