Originally published on culturebitch.com, October 2008
A highlight of our recent vacation in Paris was lunch at Restaurant Georges, at the top of the Centre Pompidou. If you’re not familiar with the Pompidou, it houses France’s National Modern Art collection, and is a spectacular place to visit. Some of the art inside is very contemporary, of course, but “modern” includes early 20th century paintings and sculpture too, so if you like any art, there will probably be something for you there. I love the paintings of Picasso and Braques, so it was a very enjoyable morning. It’s a very cool building to see from the outside as well, and the area outside and around the museum is a fun, bustling square, particularly around the Stravinsky fountain. There are a number of decent-looking cafes just perfect for people-watching.
Although we both love excellently prepared food, and do enjoy a fancy restaurant now and then, when we travel, Rob and I prefer the casual bistro or family restaurant to the expensive four-star, white tablecloth experience. I think you get to understand a country or city in large part through it’s food…and that means the food regular people eat every day, not the super-expensive food only a few can afford. There is nothing like sitting for hours at a neighborhood cafe, with an omelet mixte avec salade or steak frites and a pichet of the house red or white, elbow to elbow with locals and watching the city walk by just feet from your table.
That said, we do usually splurge on one special meal while on vacation, and while we hadn’t decided for sure beforehand, once we saw the location we knew Restaurant Georges had to be it. The restaurant came highly recommended by a former colleague who had dinner there earlier this year, and since we were lucky to have beautiful weather for our whole stay, we opted to eat outside on the terrace, with a panoramic view of Paris. It was sunny but not too hot, just right for a sweater and scarf.
The restaurant did not disappoint. The menu was a mixture of traditional French and Asian influenced dishes. As this was a true splurge, we started with the foie gras à deux, served with a sprinkling of fleur de sel, crushed black pepper and toast points. We each received a very thick slice, which I could just barely finish although Rob had no trouble at all with his. We paired this with a bottle of 2007 Alphonse Mellot Sancerre, which served well for our main courses as well.
For our main course, I simply had to get the ravioli aux truffes. I didn’t think anything could have been more decadently delicious than our starter, but this was. Not only were there finely ground black truffle flecks throughout the filling and cream sauce, there were three half-dollar-sized, paper-thin slices of black truffle on top of the ravioli.
Rob ordered brochettes de crevette avec thai chili, which turned out to be one of the most delicious preparations of shrimp – extremely large shrimp – either of us have ever had. (When the dish arrived, Rob actually said, “they’re the size of small children…they’re like cornish game hens!”) They were served with a pineapple, hot chili and cilantro salad (SO good), with a peanut sauce and white rice on the side. Service, as expected, was impeccable.
Thoroughly enjoying our leisurely lunch in the warm October sun, but being far too full of rich food to even consider any of the desserts on the menu, we decided to order more wine. I knew the Sancerre came in a half-bottle as well, so when Rob went to the restroom, I explained to the waiter our post-lunch decision. Having gotten by exclusively en français thus far, I felt confident enough to reply, when he asked if we had chosen our dessert, “I think I’m full, but we’d like a half-bottle of the Sancerre, please” in French.
Or so I thought.
And this, friends, is where the well-trained French waiter shines. What I actually said to the waiter, unbeknownst to me, is “I think I’m pregnant, but we’d like a half-bottle of the Sancerre, please.” Because although the French word for ‘full’ is ‘plein’, when you use it as I had, it means pregnant. Which I didn’t know, obviously.
As I was firmly planting my pied in my bouche, the waiter had a hint of a smile but otherwise gave nothing away: I assumed he was just indulging my poor pronunciation. After taking the order, however, he turned away to get our half-bottle, but apparently took pity on me (which is very, very rare indeed) and turned back to explain, quietly and still entirely en français, what I had actually just said. I’m sure I turned about seven shades of red, but we both had a laugh.
Even more amazingly, and a testament to the quality of service you get everywhere in Paris, when Rob got back to the table, the waiter made absolutely no allusion to what had been said, no sly looks or chuckles from him, it was as if nothing had happened. It would have been unthinkable for that waiter to mention my mistake in front of my husband, thereby potentially embarrassing me (even though I had already nearly choked with laughter recounting the whole story when he got back from the bathroom).
All in all, it was a perfect French lunch on a beautiful day, in the most beautiful city in the world. And you can be sure I’ll never forget how to say “I’m full” in French again.