Last weekend we packed up the dog, the house, our suitcases, and the car, and scampered out of town for a few days. We were flying to the big city to attend a wedding, and were giddy at the prospect of seeing dear old friends, and their children, and their other old friends, and their colorful relatives. We were going to get gussied up to watch the young folk pledge their troth in the golden light of the afternoon, while we tossed rose petals. Then there would be dancing, Champagne drinking, and cake.
The evening before the wedding festivities began we walked the short way from our hotel to a neighborhood bistro, something we do not normally do in our small town. The idea of proximity to a local brasserie was giddy-making; as if we were suddenly as chic as Nick and Nora Charles, out for the evening, full of witty repartee and gin martinis. Obviously, we need to get out more often. One would not acquires the air of a sophisticated Parisian in the time it takes to walk one city block, but it seemed that between the revolving doors of the hotel, to the black and white tiled foyer of the bistro, we suddenly oozed experience and savoir faire. Maybe I have watched too many movies. I’m sure the young finance bros gathered at the bar, who were loudly celebrating the Friday of a three-day-weekend, were not nonplussed when we slid into our cozy booth. I’m pretty sure we just looked like their parents. Never mind that I had remembered lipstick. For the evening I was a glamorous city slicker, out for the evening with William Powell.
And William Powell wisely did not order gin martinis, because this Myrna Loy would have fallen asleep before the appetizers were served. Instead we drank some nice, pricey Chardonnay, and shouted to each other over the noise. Bistros are loud. Very loud. William Powell ordered garlicky fruit de mer, and I entered the Way Back Machine and asked for a Croque Monsieur, avec frites, to remember my post-grad week in Paris: one stop on my whirlwind backpacking trip through Europe. The classic bistro sandwich arrived at the table, and was all that I had hoped for: hot, carmelized Gruyere cheese, sweet, thin slices of ham, rich béchamel sauce, good toasted bread, with a smackeral of moutarde.
A Croque Monsieur had been a Parisian splurge for me, having the budget for just one nighttime meal in a fashionable bistro. Otherwise I ate street food, or bought bread from fragrant neighborhood bakeries as I crammed in all the sights and smells walking for a few days through winding streets, past all the art one could hope for, deciphering French newspapers, and trying to draw unobtrusively in Paris of all places! All while trudging up steep Metro staircases, visiting cathedrals, watching people, reading maps, trying and rejecting the dark tobacco of Gauloises cigarettes. That’s a lot nostalgia to cram into one meal. There were no leftovers. And then there were the profiteroles! Délicieux!
Back home, where there are few glittering lights, and no brasseries, I have decided that I don’t need to restrict my consumption of Croque Monsieurs (messieurs?) to Paris, or to someone else’s neighborhood bistro. I can make them at here. Although I do like to travel and have someone else do the cooking, if I want a quick trip down memory lane, perhaps I can take the short walk to the kitchen. Paris will always beckon.
Food & Wine Croque Monsieur
Ina Garten’s Croque Monsieur
Eric Kayser’s Croque Monsieur
“I guess it goes to show that you just never know where life will take you. You search for answers. You wonder what it all means. You stumble, and you soar. And, if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while.”
― Amy Thomas