I’m not sure why this makes me freeze. I’m prepared for it, and I even know what it means, but my brain shuts off. I don’t think I was made to learn a different language. I’ve always been a math and science kind of girl.
“Bonjour. Parlez-vous anglais?” It’s my go to response. I’m in Montreal, Canada so I know that French and English are both widely spoken, but I don’t want to seem rude or look like an idiot.
When our waiter arrives to our table, “Bonjour. Parlez-vous francais ou en anglais?”
“Anglais s’il vous plait,” I say a bit too enthusiastically.
“Do you have any questions about the menu?”
The menu is written completely in French. Do I have any questions, he asked? I have a lot of questions considering I already spoke just about all the French I know. We start by ordering a cocktail, my husband a Bloody Caesar and me a glass of Champagne.
One thing I’m usually guilty of while on vacation is over-planning. I often over anticipate a meal or restaurant so much that I sometimes leave disappointed. Since I don’t get to travel as often or for as long as I would like, I want to maximize my experience. To be honest, this restaurant was not my first choice; I couldn’t get a reservation at the famous Joe Beef, but Liverpool House is the sister restaurant that I thought I would give a try. I’m hungry and hopeful for a good meal, but my expectations are low.
After looking over the menu, I realize that I know what I want to eat without having to ask any questions. I recognize the regions of wine that I like, and I know that my husband wants foie gras (that’s why we came to Montreal) and I want beef. Luckily, my taste buds have taken over for what my brain lacks in language skills, and I’m ready to order.
“Can we start with the Crepe au Foie Gras and we will share the Cote de Boeuf. Can we also have a bottle of the Bordeaux from St. Emilion?”
My husband must be as hungry as he asks, “Is that going to be enough food for the two of us or should we get another appetizer?”
“The foie gras comes stuffed inside a crepe along with ham and cheese, maple syrup is drizzled on top. It’s quite rich, and with the beef, you will have plenty of food that you won’t even want dessert,” our waiter warns us.
Clearly he does not know me! I never pass up dessert, especially on vacation.
The restaurant has filled quickly, everyone moving about to get a good look at the chalkboard menu. The energy is high, people talking loudly, some in English and others in French. Normally, when at dinner, I have a tendency to listen in on other people’s conversations. Not because I’m nosey, at least I don’t think so, I just enjoy listening in on the stories or drama of others, filling in the gaps using my own imagination. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, but since I can’t understand much from those around me, my husband and I just gawk at the dishes coming out from the kitchen. Everything looks amazing, and we start to have dish envy. I should have ordered the lobster spaghetti. We should have gotten a dozen oysters to start. Should we get a salad to go with our beef? Since my expectations were low to start, I wonder if I made a hasty decision with our order due to my lack of understanding the menu. My mind is racing, and I can hardly contain myself when our appetizer is put down in front of us.
“Merci.” I’m really showing off my French speaking skills now.
The crepe is AMAZING! It is deliciously rich from the foie gras and sweet from the maple syrup yet the ham and cheese balances it perfectly. The crepe itself is eggy but light, so perfect together with the ingredients stuffed inside. I can’t help but dip and smear each bite into the maple syrup pooling at the bottom of the plate. I want to wipe the plate clean with my finger. This is only the appetizer and my expectations for our entrée begin to rise.
After trying to listen in on a few more conversations and drooling over everyone’s dishes, I realize that when ordering the beef, perhaps I should have asked a few questions. As it is put down in front of us, the table quickly becomes over crowded with plates I didn’t even expect. There is a hot cast iron dish full of potato wedges, crusty French bread, and the platter of beef has a white creamy-ish, cheesy-ish sauce on the side along with pickles…yes, I said beef with pickles. This is something new for me. It smells wonderful, but I’m not sure how I feel about the sauce and pickles.
I immediately grab a potato wedge and stuff it in my mouth; the scent wafting off these plates has made me impatient and forget my manners. My husband serves up the beef, sauce, and pickles onto both of our plates. I no longer care about the conversations around me or the other dishes coming out from the kitchen. Silence has fallen on our table as we dig in.
“Oh my god,” I whisper to myself and look at my husband for his reaction.
You can only experience that first bite of a dish once. The first bite of something new is always the best. Even if you go back to the same restaurant and order the same dish, nothing compares to that first bite. It’s no different than your first kiss as a married couple, sleeping in your very own home for the first night, seeing the Eiffel Tower in person for the first time, or taking your first run skiing in the Alps, your first bite of an amazing dish is unforgettable.
My husband is not one to perseverate over how good a dish is, if he likes it, he simply says “It’s great” and offers me a bite. Tonight, his response was the same as mine: “Oh my god, this is really good,” as he stuffs a potato wedge in his mouth.
I can’t appropriately describe how good it all was, words really don’t seem to be enough. The pickles are sour, the cheese is strong, and the beef is salty that all together the dish is so many kinds of weird that it is delightfully right. I don’t really know what any of the ingredients were, dill pickles maybe, possibly a mild blue cheese, and the meat was a rib eye, or not. I will probably spend many nights in the kitchen trying to recreate such a meal never to have it meet my now very high expectations.
We ended the meal with dessert; I honestly don’t know what it was. We saw it on the table next to us and took the recommendation of our waiter. It was good, but not memorable, nothing like that first bite of Cote de Boeuf, whatever that translates to.
Mandy Sullivan attended Northern Illinois University for Kinesiology with emphasis in Athletic Training. After working for years in a physical therapy office and traveling every chance she got, Mandy decided to leave the medical field and pursue her interest in food and travel. Check out her website and blog at www.vacationfoodtours.com.