Thursday, September 9, 2004

Le Soufflé

During the day we wandered down along the Seine. And we walked thru Notre Dame, although we didn't climb the towers, because it was overcast and threatening rain. We left Sainte Chapelle for tomorrow, hoping that the sun would come out then and light up the stained glass windows.

The day passed quickly, as they do, and we eventually returned to the hotel and changed into nice clothes for the one fancy meal we allotted ourselves on this trip. We took the Metro from our hotel in the Latin Quarter to a stop near the Louvre and set out in search of Le Soufflé.

The restaurant wasn't difficult to find, although we were early -- something that is not typical for us (or me, at any rate). Yet even though we were early, in only a few moments we saw Gregg and Kelly coming down the sidewalk from the other direction. The two of them are paradigms of punctuality, and it was with some pride that (for the moment) I could count myself in their league.

The five of us went in, hoping to be able to sit down even though Larry and Amy and their boys had not arrived yet. We all arranged this dinner on this night when we realized that it was the only intersection of the vacations of our three families, and we had called ahead to make sure a table was waiting for us. When we told them we had reservations for nine, they smiled and nodded and took us to a room in the back.

This was the no-smoking section, just as we had requested: a room far in the back, past the toilets, down a narrow hallway, with very little character to recommend it. Still, we had come for the soufflés and not necessarily for interior decorating, so we didn't flinch.

Larry and Amy and the boys arrived a few minutes later. They were barely seated when the waiter started pushing us to order, making us all feel awkward and rushed. We scrambled with the menus, and asked a few questions (our restaurant vocabulary not being quite up to the task). In the end, most of us ordered ... soufflés.

I supposed the food was good enough. Certainly the chocolate dessert soufflés drew groans of ecstasy from those who ordered them. And my rhubarb dessert soufflé was remarkable. But like the room about us, the other soufflés were missing something. Upon reflection, maybe it was just soufflé overload. I did, after all, order the three-soufflé dinner.

Still, this was our expensive dinner night, and we found ourselves relegated to a room devoid of character just down the hall from the toilettes. And the waiters, unlike every other place we had been, were evidently displeased with us, rushing us at almost every step of the way.

Eventually we got up to leave after we had negotiated the bill, figuring out who would owe how much to whom when we got home. On the way out, the character of the place showed itself. Once we had left our no-smoking room and passed the toilets and were back into the main dining area, we saw artwork on the walls and heard the murmuring of many small groups, groups of 2-4 huddled closely at small tables that filled the room, having animated conversations amidst the smoke that filled the place.

Next time we'll do something different. Maybe we won't order three soufflés. Maybe we won't ask for a no-smoking table. Or maybe, just maybe we'll go to a different place.

But then, who knows when that next time will be.

Trip to France - Day 12

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