When a restaurant is more than just a restaurant

I think by now you know I’m a huge foodie, so it should come as no surprise that I devoured an article in the January issue of my food-porn magazine, Bon Appetit.

“La grande dame,” written by Brett Martin, bewitched me, as did the photographs by Rachel Papo and the story of the restaurant at the center of Martin’s article, New York’s La Grenouille.
And, as a print editor, I loved loved loved the layout. So clean and fresh, just like the flowers Charles Masson, the man who is the heart of La Grenouille, painstakingly picks out every Monday morning.

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Disclaimer: I have never eaten at La Grenouille, and most likely never will, given my level of income – a three-course prix fixe starts at $98 – but a foodie can dream, right?

As I read through Martin’s article, I was sitting right next to him in the ruby-red banquette, probably trying to swipe a piece of his Dover sole as I so often do when the fella and I eat out, and he has something enticing on his plate.

“Everything here recalls an era when fine dining in America was defined by New York restaurants such as Le Pavillon and La Caravelle, Lutece and La Cote Basque,” Martin writes. These, too, are restaurants that I’ve never been to, and never will since only La Grenouille remains.

But they were restaurants I read about people eating at in the Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins books I pilfered from my mother when I was young. And later, when Jackie Kennedy Onassis became one of my obsessions, I read about her dining at places such as these. They became places that, when I imagined myself living as a writer in New York as I often did (and still do), I imagined myself sipping champagne or a vodka martini while lunching at these restaurants, then sailing ever so gracefully in my heels back to the office, which naturally had a window with a view.

So the moral of the story is that Martin’s article took me inside a restaurant I had known about for years, and while I might not have eaten there, I sure as hell felt like I finally had.

And since I’m a big, big fan of lists as you also know, La Grenouille tops My Restaurant Bucket List, which I just made up. It might break the bank to go there, but as someone who grew up in a restaurant family, what better way to blow the ol’ savings account than to blow it with an enrapturing meal at one of the most legendary places in New York?
After learning about Ferran Adria’s El Bulli near Roses, Catalonia, Spain, on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” it is a close second on the list, though “The Greatest Restaurant in the World” closed in July. 

My favorite paragraph in the article came at the end:
“It’s clear at these moments that La Grenouille is not a museum to a dead culture, but a living restaurant, one that reminds us of all the other things a restaurant can be besides a temple of innovative food: a place to watch your date’s eyes grow wide, a place to take your mom on her birthday, a place to sit at the bar with a friend who’s down in the dumps, splitting a roast chicken and a bottle of red wine and hashing it out, a clubhouse, a canteen, a fantasy, a vacation from all the less well tended corners of the world.”

Yes. While my parents are no longer in the business, this is what they intended their restaurants to be, and what they were for a very long time. And they are what some restaurants are to me.

Not just a place to stuff myself silly as I sometimes do, but a place to have a first date that changed my life, a place that I had my first lobster roll, a place by the Sound that belongs to just us, a fancy French restaurant somewhere near Orlando where I had the most exquisite chocolate-mint cake in 1987 when we went to Disney, our Friday-night wing place, a place that reminds me of visiting my parents at work, smelling those smells emanating from the kitchen – the comforting smells that remind me of home.

Read “La grand dame” here.
You can also see Papo’s photos better than my little iPhone slideshow.

NMM

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About nikkimmascali

I am an editor, writer and New Yorker who has ink for blood and the blog name + tattoo to prove it. Also of note: I follow more dogs than people on Instagram. This is my blog about reading, writing and absolutely no 'rithmetic because I am horrendous at math.
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