Recently I received a call for a freelance writing job. The timing was somewhat serendipitous as I planned to pick up my French passport at the Consulat the next day. Yes, the two events are relational. But I won’t be going into the details of it. A third related element, my father, is also French. Of course I called him first with news of the writing job and offered him to take me to lunch the next day after collecting my French passport. I’ve been in something of a foul mood for several weeks so he was thrilled with my good news, and thrilled for me that I’d be in brighter spirits again. I denied a return to a good mood, then proceeded to bounce like the little man poodle for a couple hours after hanging up from our call.
Monsieur, mon père, picked me up, early as usual on Thursday, but I was ready even earlier that day, not as usual, and we headed to the Consulat. We parked in the Met’s garage, just up the street a few blocks. There was no fanfare at the Consulat for my picking up the passport. Through the whole yearlong process gathering documents, I thought I’d have to sing all the songs I never learned as a kid, or recite declarations of my citizenship. But I didn’t. To them, I was already a citizen. The papers and documents were simply a formality.
Since Monsieur was thrilled of my return to my usual cheery self, he was game for lunch anywhere in town. Balthazar is a favourite of ours; usually we go for brunch. Or we would go for brunch, until we adopted their sister, Pastis. Parking early on the weekends in the Meatpacking district is easier than Soho. And if you arrive just before the menu switches from breakfast to brunch, you can settle into a table and enjoy quiet sips of your café au lait before the crunch arrives.
Balthazar at lunchtime was packed. But I suppose in the same way Spanish speaking folks from disparate walks of life in this town know they speak the same mother tongue, the host and Monsieur began to speak French. This has happened over the years; usually winds us up with a good table, for no other reason. But the place was packed and the wait was very long. It did get us a clearing at the bar to enjoy our lunch. The bar was perfect. For the first day in eons, I felt in the right place, perched up on a pedestal. I was a Gothamite, a writer—a food writer at that, with an offer for a long term paying freelance offer on the table. These are the days a girl emerges from her tower locked in by a moat for a lunch date with her dad. It rained in the morning, but by time we got out of the cab, it was perfect springtime in Gotham.
Balthazar remains, to me, the best French bistro in town. Admittedly, I haven’t eaten at the most expensive French spots. But they are not bistros—the others I tap of sling haute cuisine. Monsieur et moi prefer bistro. Though a chef from one of the crème de la crème of them did cook dinner for me. He thought an oily, tasteless piece of fish would earn him some oral pleasure. Sorry jerk. The only oral pleasure that night was my vomiting—I skipped out quick and head home—from the near food poisoning he gave me. I won’t tap his name as I suppose he’s something of one in this town. But when folks or reviews wax that restaurant, well, lettuce say that particular synaesthetic sense doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies. I digress.
For lunch, we shared a Balthazar salad and a half dozen oysters. Where my food writing remains lacking is I forget from where, except they were from cold northern waters. I refuse to eat raw fish from warmer climes. For mains, Monsieur ate the skate. He loves skate, served there Grenobloise with lemon, capers, and brioche croutons. He told me again about the rai au beurre noir he eats at a bistro we frequent on Boulevard Saint-Germain that will still prepare it for him. Ssh. The dish is illegal in France. I believe it has to do with carcinogen formation in the black butter but haven’t confirmed the detail as of yet. Returning to the salad a moment. They use truffle oil. I know the heads of the food world turn their noses up at the stuff. But on a salad, we loved it.
The winning dish of the day was the brook trout on warm baby spinach, beluga lentils, and walnuts. It’s listed under les salades but it should be under entrees. I took half of it home to eat for breakfast the next morning—can dead, cooked fish still taste fresh caught the morning after. Let me backpedal a moment. Much of what we eat that we call comfort food, I believe it is all about the moment where something, a flavour—our personal terroir—is ingrained to a particular event, a place and emotion we experience. We associate these moments as happening in childhood, but then they occur in our adult lives too. I think I am especially sensitive to these moments, as I never let go of them. Perhaps it’s hereditary. The flavour and experience that is brook trout is some deck, each card with the same face, moments, meaning—warmth, love, belief, support, trust, hope.
On a day I claimed a piece of my heritage, and hopefully someday to parlay that into community and family, and a day where perhaps the proverbial light was shown to be right there, I ate brook trout—fresh, delicate flakey flesh, slightly crispy skin, just a touch of oily mouthfeel, sitting at the bar at Balthazar with Monsieur, mon père talking about business, and life, and being French like we are, laughing at how absurd this really all is. And a synaesthetic memory, a blessing it’s all going to turn out okay.
This evening, I submitted the first assignment. Now I enjoy a bottle of Sancèrre to celebrate and wait to hear if it’s good enough to get another assignment.
Bon appétit et bon nuit..