I am not a big fan of haute cuisine. When I go to a restaurant, I do not want to be served an aesthetically daring construction of unlikely ingredients surrounded by drops of a sauce too small actually to be ingested. I want substantial amounts of comfort food that I can get my hands around. Last night, I had just such a meal. Susie and I went to Brasserie Balzar, a classic French brasserie on rue des Écoles a block east of Boulevard St. Michel. We booked very early – seven p.m. – and when we arrived we were the only patrons, but by the time we were ready to leave, an hour and a half later, the entire restaurant was full.
Brasserie Balzar is two blocks north of the Sorbonne, and is reputed to have been the regular hangout for professors at France’s national university until the city, spooked by the ’68 student uprisings, scattered fragments of the university all over Paris. [The city government also took up the cobblestones and paved the streets so that students would not have materials ready to hand for barricades.]
French restaurants seat customers much closer together than would be acceptable in an American establishment, in part because a principal amusement for the French is people watching. Since we were first to be seated, I chose table 36, which is in a corner, half hidden by a partition, but still with easy sight lines to most of the other tables. Susie and I spent some time idly trying to work out the family relationships of a party of six seated nearby. Grandpa, or so I deduced, had the largest hook nose I have ever seen, and said virtually nothing throughout the meal. His son and daughter-in-law chattered away with their two daughters, while grandma argued with the waiter about her dish.
Susie drank a coupe of champagne while I had a half bottle of a quite modest and not impossibly priced red Burgundy. One of our very few incompatibilities is that Susie only drinks white wine and I only drink red, regardless of the food. Hence we can never share a bottle. Susie used to drink Juno white, a cheap wine sold in half gallon bottles, but I have, over the years, weaned from that and gotten her onto pretty good Sancerre blanc.
Susie started with six snails served in the classic manner, and went on to a lovely dish – the special last night – that combined bar with langoustines, which is to say sea bass and crayfish. It was delicious. I began with paté de foie gras and went on to a dozen snails. We usually do not order dessert at restaurants, but I have been cooking almost every night and this was a festive occasion, so Susie had profiteroles and I had café gourmand, which is simply a cup of espresso [decaf for me, as always] with three or four small portions of different desserts, all on the same plate.
At one point, my eye caught that of a waiter who was uncapping three bottles of Coke Zero for a table of young Americans. I made a little face and he responded by rolling his eyes and cocking his head, as if to say “What can I do?”
It was a simple but perfect meal and I left feeling happy, as always, that we have Paris.