Last jaunt around the globe to Paris, we found this charming restaurant where we had lunch on a rainy day: La Regalade. Unlike Tony, who remembers every restaurant and every meal he's ever had, I don't. When we discovered a different La Regalade restaurant just down the street from our flat, Tony remembered. It meant nothing to me until we peeked in the window and I saw a jar of rice pudding.
Meals in France are often set, including a set price. A patron can order an entree (appetizer), a plat (main course) and dessert (the same in French and English). There are usually three to five choices in each category. It's a fun way to eat. Previously, at La Regalade in a different location, we'd ordered the set meal and I had chosen the rice pudding for dessert. When I saw the rice pudding through the window, I remembered, like Tony remembers. I could taste the creamy texture, the accompanying burnt caramel sauce, I could taste the humble rice pudding elevated to status gourmet.
This had to be the sister restaurant because no one serves rice pudding in the same way. Tony made reservations.
When we sat down and the waiter brought us a loaf size pan of foie gras, I remembered again. I would never consider eating foie gras, having tasted it once and only once in my lifetime. Tony would never order foie gras, but the waiter brought us, an on-the-house, appetizer of foie gras pate. Sort of like the chips and salsa the Mexican restaurant places on your table within minutes of sitting down. The foie gras was accompanied by a basket of bread and a large crock of baby pickles and onions. These are communal dishes. After Tony had made a slight dent in our loaf of foie gras, and we acknowledged we had finished, we watched the waiter deliver the exact same loaf to the patrons sitting extremely close to our table. On the other side, the waiter delivered a foie gras loaf with only an eighth of it left. I watched the pickle crock and surmised they refilled it to the top each time.
"They'd never get away with that in America," I whispered. "What if someone sneezed or spilled water on it or worse..."
When in France, don't compare what America would or wouldn't do...
Tony's first visit in France, he was quite unaware of communal foods protocol. The waitress brought him the white cheese platter for dessert. He promptly pulled it close and dug in. The horrified waitress let him know, in French, that he was only supposed to take a delicate French portion and then she would serve the platter to other restaurant patrons. Back then, Tony's French speaking skills were nil, and the waitress figured the way to get through to the cheese gorging American was to speak louder. And louder. By the time he got it, everyone in the restaurant knew the American was trying to hog everyone's portion of the dessert cheeses.
The rest of the meal at La Regalade was incroyable! Our servings were distinct individual portions and we didn't concern ourselves with eating everyone else's food. Until the rice pudding arrived. It came in a big jar with a big wooden spoon and a glass bowl with another spoon and another bowl of browned carmel sauce. It was enough to feed many people.
"Tony, what if this is the communal bowl of rice pudding? What if I'm supposed to take my portion and pass it on?"
Tony didn't think so as he scooped up a hefty portion into his mini souffle already-eaten bowl, which he'd generously shared with me when he saw my table-for-eight dessert portion.
As I scooped up my second portion and watched Tony scoop his third, it just seemed....it just seemed like this was too much rice pudding for one dessert serving.
"Tony, I think we just ate all of the rice pudding, at least for another table or two."
Tony didn't agree as he was scraping with a spoon the last wisps of cream from the enormous jar of rice pudding.
When he was completely finished, he finally wondered, "What if it was the communal rice pudding bowl?"
When the waitress picked up our empty dishes, we both waited for the reprimand. It never came, but instead, approval, and another small plate of the most delicious madeleines I've ever tasted--another item we hadn't ordered, but with dessert, the restaurant played it safe--there were only two.
A bonus for the food lover:
Dinner at La Regalade
My entree: white asparagus stacked like one would build a fire, topped with basil vinagrette, herbs and a poached egg cooked to perfection.
Tony's entree: squid ink risotto (oh the color!), with tiny pieces of shrimp and other dazzling small items.
My plat: mushrooms in two different sauces topped by another perfectly poached egg. A sumptuous blend of flavors.
Tony's plat: a tender piece of beef topped with carmelized oranges and on the arm, a divine, buttery, rich gravied bowl of divinely whipped potatoes. To call these potatoes mashed would be too barbaric.