As I eat my steak frite, the steak bloody, the French fries thin and crisp, I look around. There is a buzz in the air, one that shows a good restaurant at the top of its form, where food is only one part in another act where we all have our parts to play.
You can walk around Paris and hope to stumble on a good restaurant but it’s not as easy as it once was, but I see this professionalism in action in Le Relais Odéon brasserie – located on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in the city's Saint-Germain-des-Près area – where I have booked a table for dinner. From the moment I walk in the door, I know I am in good hands. Even my waiter Eric has worked here for six years.
Eric is a professional waiter, having spent the first year after leaving school in the kitchen washing dishes, then two years clearing tables and serving coffees before he was allowed to graduate to taking orders. He takes pride in his work but has a lot of tables to look after, so has no time for those who don’t know what they want. What you want, of course, is what is on the menu. This is not America, where people take pride in being individuals in their ordering, turning the chef into a workman whose job it is to do what they ask. A French chef knows what he is doing.
While a couple in the corner gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, the rest of the clientele wave their arms histrionically, having deep, often passionate conversations. The French make much of a well-rounded education and admire those with strong opinions and the ability to express them. Philosophy is part of the school curriculum.
“No one comes to Paris just for the food," says my Parisian friend Élise, with a twinkle in her eye. “You can eat a Michelin-starred meal anywhere in the world now. A steak can only taste so good. But what Paris offers is unique: the historic roots of its cuisine, and its culture of restaurants and cafes in a city of food and wine lovers. That creates a special atmosphere you cannot find anywhere else in the world."
Proud Paris local Juliette has a favorite hotel in Saint-Germain-des-Près. Check it out here!