Thursday, January 21, 2010

I think I’d prefer the mystery meat from Jr High

“You’re moving to France? Wow! You’ll get to enjoy the best food in the world!”

We heard this a lot before moving over here. It seems France has a reputation for culinary excellence. Sure, everyone knows about the weird stuff like escargot (snails), caviar (fish eggs, right?), and steak tartar (a raw hunk of beef, prepared how?). And then there’s the wine, bread, and cheese. But what about the rest? What is French food exactly?

I don’t know. Still don’t.

But... we took a big step in our cultural lives last night! We went out to dinner, on our own, at a restaurant. We’ve done this only once before, and it was lunch at McDonald’s, not so difficult. It may seem like a silly thing, but keep in mind that we’re not in the middle of touristy Paris where the English flows like the money from the tourists’ pockets. Out in our industrial suburb town, French is the language, the only language. And our French has barely progressed to the point of saying “I am,” “I have,” “I love,” plus the days of the week and counting to 100. So dinner out was sure to be an adventure.

We went to a place recommended by some friends. “A grill” they said, full of hearty grilled meats and sides. We walked in and saw a nice looking fire against the wall of the semi-circle shaped restaurant, complete with oils and skillets and wooden trivets. We sat down and read the menus.

I once read in a travel book that it’s always a good idea to order based on the recommendations of the chef and/or waiter. You’ll enjoy great food and make friends. So I read the chef’s special for the day and could tell that it was some sort of meat made with onions. I asked and it was explained to be sausage. Sounds fine to me. Then JJ narrowed down to a portion of the menu and asked the waiter his advice. The steak, he recommended. Ok. Well done? Yes, well done please.

When our food came, we chuckled a little at the sight of my plate. I’d expected something like a skillet with sausage and onion pieces mixed throughout. Instead, a giant curved hot-dog-like sausage with a tough skin sat on my plate. That and some fries. JJ cut into her steak and was greeted by the color red. Bright red. And it wasn’t so much a steak as hamburger meat patted together into a ball. We’d call what sat before her a bunless burger, very rare. Then I sliced into my meat tube. Instead of a simple rounded segment, my knife pierced the skin and was met by an ooze of black/brown meat substance somewhere between the consistency of cottage cheese and couscous. Yeah, it was gross.

At least we both had a mountain of fries on our plates.

On our way home I mused “whoever said the French have the best food in the world must’ve never eaten at a Chili’s.”

Hopefully, there’s no where to go but up now...

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