A Community of Diners
After spending most of three days housebound because of my infected toe and the doctor’s warnings and instructions on how to care for it (crutches, no shoe, no pressure on the ground…) I was really ready to bust out of the house and do something. Nancy had spent the afternoon taking a pleasant walk around the neighborhood – different streets than we’d explored previously. She returned with a suggestion for a new restaurant we could visit that looked appealing and had a good menu. When dinner time came around, I was ready to go! We called Uber for door to door service, and off we went.
The restaurant was “Le Languedoc” on Boulevard Port-Royal, Despite its regional name, it had a good traditional Parisian menu that gave lip service to southwestern France in offering a (delicious) Cassoulet, the Southwestern French traditional stew of white beans and sausage.
We entered the charming restaurant, a small to medium sized “salle” with maybe 30 tables total – tables for two or for four — with a bar at the back. The décor was “sympa,” with red checked gingham curtains at the windows, white table cloths, and light yellow walls with pleasant country scenes and polished copper pots intermingled on all sides. The resulting ambiance seemed more charming and homey that one generally finds in French restaurants. We were on the early side for dinner, for which the restaurant opened at 7 pm. As our meal and the evening progressed, a steady stream of smiling customers came in, greeted and were greeted, and took seats at different tables. The service was assured by the owner and his wife, who appeared to be in their late forties.
Their team work was delightful. As the restaurant filled, it became obvious that a high percentage of the customers were “regulars” whom the owners greeted warmly. The customers were for the most part middle aged couples or small groups of friends, also middle aged. And from a surprisingly high percentage of tables we heard conversations in mixed French and English – French people speaking partly in English, or Americans who obviously were well habituated and integrated in France.
The sense of camaraderie and friendliness reminded me of neighborhood restaurants I had known while here in the 1960s. Neighborhoods then had friendly restaurants where the cooking was good, with fresh ingredients, without any manner of “haute cuisine.” In those days, some of these neighborhood restaurants went so far as to have napkins wrapped in napkin rings stashed in cubby holes for the regular customers.
As the intensity of the service rose in proportion with the number of full tables, it became clear that the choreography of serving — greeting, bringing menus, asking people’s choices, serviing and clearing three or four courses for each table – brought a certain adrenaline rush that the owners enjoyed. They were “in the zone,” turning, smiling, asking, attending to multiple tables in turn. The rhythm of the different steps was carried out flawlessly, with no apparent verbal communication about who should go where. As is common in French restaurants, tables were quite close to each other, so we could overhear conversations at nearby tables, and anyone who needed to get up occasioned smiles and comments from neighbors at adjoining tables.
The food was also very good – excellent “bourgeois” cooking – grandmother cooking. Doneness was perfect and sauces were well seasoned. As an appetizer, I had a tomato salad with a lovely vinaigrette that Nancy also enjoyed garnishing an artichoke heart that was fully four inches in diameter and over a half inch thick – the largest I have ever seen. I had fun trying to imagine the size of the artichoke from which it came! Nancy ordered the cassoulet and I had a steak. Having a little “salade” of lettuce with vinaigrette to serve around the table, “a la francaise,” after the main course was a nice touch. For dessert, Nancy had her new favorite, “café gourmand,” which includes a cup of espresso along with small portions of three different house-made desserts. Her Cafe Gourmand at Le Languedoc consisted of a small pot of chocolate mousse, a small scoop of what looked like homemade ice cream, and a small but delicious looking slice of apple pie. My dessert was two scoops of homemade pear sorbet that was fruity and fresh and delicate.
When we were finished, and after we had paid the check (Nancy had to get out and go up to the cash register because they did not have a card reader at the table), we collected ourselves and prepared to leave. We were delighted when, as we were going toward the door, a whole bunch of our evening’s dining companions called out in friendly unison, “Bonsoir! Bonne Soiree!” It was really cheerful and friendly – a sense of neighborly connectedness that I hadn’t previously realized was missing from this modern polyglot Paris with its hordes of visitors and tourists.