Friday, July 24, 2009

There's something about Marie

Restaurants in Strasbourg, from the outside, have a certain mysterious quality that make them seem really appealing. You walk by and inside you seem happy people, eating their meals, enjoying their wine, and just looking like they’re having the time of their lives.

When we first moved to Strasbourg, there was one particular restaurant in town that seemed particularly attractive: the golden tinted windows made it look warm and pleasant, and the fact that it was on the corner of two picturesquely narrow streets, behind the 18th century city hall, only added to the appeal.

We first visited “La Petit Mairie” (a pun on it’s proximity to the City Hall and the owner’s name) with one of the first of our many guests. It was clearly a genuine neighbourhood restaurant – a rare Winstub without Alsatian kitsch littering the walls to please the tourists. We were seated and ordered our food (mainly Alsatian food, with rotating daily specials of Continental cuisine). The food was very good, but what struck us in particular was the host. Marie greeted everyone who came in after us with a two-cheek kiss, made small talk with them, would stop by their tables repeatedly to chat, and – in some cases – was able to bring their order without them even looking at the menu.

“I feel like everyone here is a member of a club – and I want in,” I said to Amynah. She nodded agreement.

And so our project began: we brought almost every guest we had to Marie’s restaurant. Soon, she began to recognize us, and so we earned the two-cheek kiss greeting. Within a few visits, she would remember that I would always order a tarte flambée to share with our guests, that Amynah really likes their fish specials, and how Amynah likes her steak.

Our plan worked: we were in. And what a payoff we’d have.


A couple of weeks ago, I popped by to take photos of the place for a magazine article I was writing. Amynah was with me, and Marie spotted us out on the street. Knowing that we were leaving, she assumed we were taking souvenir photos (which was my other motivation). She came out, and insisted that we come by to dine chez elle one last time.

Last night, we took her up on her invitation. And it was perfect. We were received like royalty: For Amynah’s benefit, Marie made us a tarte flambée with a section of mushrooms, instead of lardons, which arrived with a beer for me and fruit juice for Amynah. This was followed by salmon for Amynah, and the specialty of the house - Jarret en miel (hunk of pig in a honey sauce) – for me, along with a generous glass of Reisling.

As we dined, Marie repeatedly stopped by our table, asking about our plans for California, talking about her plans to add an outdoor terrace to the restaurant and her upcoming vacation. All around, I could see the other customers wondering why we were getting so much attention.

Finally, Amynah was presented with a Dame Blanche with an extra scoop of chocolate sauce for dessert, and a digestif for me.

Bellies straining after two hours of such excess, we were done, and reluctantly prepared to leave. I asked Marie for the bill: “Non,” she said, firmly. “It is my gift to you. But please, send me a card from wherever you end up.”

It was like the realization of a dream I didn’t even know I'd had.

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