We had eaten a light lunch of gazpacho (for me) and sandwiches (for Jesse) at a small café earlier in the day, but found ourselves quite hungry now and thought it was late enough for dinner (it was about 6pm). We looked through our guide book and picked out one of the recommended places that looked good and headed off. Sadly, we found that it was closed, so we picked out another option from the book and trekked on. Again, we discovered the second option was closed. Somewhat disheartened, we picked out a third and continued on, only discover, yet again, that it too was closed. Feeling upset, hungry, and emotional, we headed back towards the Arena to see what food was available. We spotted a small creperie by the Arena that was open and decided we’d just eat there. We just wanted to eat SOMETHING. Still not quite certain of restaurant customs in France, we awkwardly went inside and asked the employee if we could have a table for two. He responded, “that isn’t a problem,” in a somewhat irritated tone.
Slightly humbled, we walked back out to the patio seating area and found a table. A few minutes later, a server came and brought us a menu to look through. When she came back, we were mostly ready to order and asked for two savory dishes – a pasta and a crepe. She gave us somewhat amused smile and the pointed to a blurb across the top of a menu page and then gestured towards a list. Confused, I tried again, only for the girl, with a slightly condescending expression this time, repeating the same action and then state that only these select items were available until dinner started. I was still confused and asked when dinner started so we could order the other ones, and point again to the menu, where in small print it was noted that dinner started at 19:00. It was about 18:15 at the moment. Feeling immensely small (and still hungry), we decided to leave until dinner and come back later. We felt incredibly awkward and intimidated by the whole situation (the first humbling experience of the trip) and needed to escape to center ourselves. As we walked away, we wondered if this is how Americans with no cultural awareness feel while in Paris – a sense of stupidity and shame that make s you want to hide. I did not like it, but I was glad to have the experience. It is good to be reminded that I am an outsider with much to learn and it’s always nice to have a different perspective. The entire situation could’ve been avoided too if I had read more carefully, so in this case it was definitely a case of stupid tourists, though for being a tourist destination, I was a little surprised at the response of the staff. Everyone else we’d met on the trip had been incredibly helpful.
After making it back to the safety of the hotel room, we flipped through the guidebook again, this time with a new understanding that the restaurants weren’t closed for the day, but most likely closed until dinner hours of 19:00. We found few on on street that looked good, so at about 18:55, we headed out to go check them out and make our selection based on menu and atmosphere. We ended up opting for the one that looked a little less fancy, Restaurant Le Plaza, and since we were one of the first people there, we were able to get one of the few remaining unreserved tables outside.
Umm, let me just say that I am so glad that we didn’t eat at the crepe restaurant. The food here was amazing! I think it was my favorite meal of the entire trip. Everything was divine and melted in my mouth. We order a menú again, wanting to get the full French cuisine experience. My appetizer was grilled peppers marinated in olive oil with sliced ham and Jesse got a eggplant caviar with Brousse cheese (a soft sheep’s cheese), and a tomato coulis. YUM. Mine was scrumptious, but Jesse’s was definitely the favorite. It tasted like the most perfect noodleless lasagna dish I’d ever tasted. The flavors melded together perfectly and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s on my list of things to try to recreate once I can find the cheese.
For our main courses, I got a seared salmon with an amazing leek sauce and Jesse get a traditional bull-steak stew with red camargue rice, a rice that grows in the nearby wetlands of Arles and Provence.
Dinner was, not surprisingly, crème brûlée, the preferred choice over the dark chocolate dessert with a red fruit sauce.
I absolutely love the French dining experience. i really enjoy the the waiters are attentive and helpful but don’t bother you or ask you unnecessary questions or try to make small talk. They do their jobs and that’s it. I feel they also pay more attention to you. We emptied the water carafe at the table, and immediately a server swooped in and whisked it away and before promptly replacing it with a new one. I liked that I could just focus on my company while eating rather than the waiter, whether it be trying to get his/her attention or being interrupted by unnecessary talk. I think it might have something to do with the fact that the tip is included in the menu price (and tax!), so they aren’t trying to suck up for a tip. It is definitely pleasant concept, and ideal to me.
Feeling full and happy, we headed back to the hotel, making a pit stop at the cafe we at at for lunch so I could momentarily steal the wifi and listen to the musicians playing beside the beautifully lit arena.