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Monday, October 31, 2011

La Côte Basque

What an unsophisticated, strong-headed, argumentative, ignorant fool I was - in my 20s, a radical vegetarian, and seriously trying to make a case that carob confections were every bit as good as chocolate. I was arguing with chocaholics - what lunacy. Today, I rarely even hear much about carob, and I have not had it in eons. Far fewer are willing to compromise their taste buds, and chocolate has lost much of its evil connotation, with dark chocolate even being seen as healthy.

My sister was a chocaholic and in the 1980s, she frequented the city with her husband. They both loved visiting here and savored the opportunity to indulge in the foods and restaurants of New York City. On one sojourn, I had booked them a room at the Plaza Hotel and made reservations for them at La Côte Basque. I had not included myself in the restaurant outing for a number of reasons, primarily because I was too cheap, particularly to pay for a vegetable dinner in one of New York City's finest restaurants.

However, as the hour of reckoning arrived, standing in my sister's hotel room, the conversation turned to their persuading me to accompany them. I had no wardrobe at the time other than elements of the uniform of the 1960s, so I rejected the offer based on my inability to make the dress code. My brother-in-law, however, always traveled armed with additional clothing and was virtually the same size as I was.

I objected first on the basis of owning no sport jacket. He had an extra. I had no dress pants. He had extra. As we went through all the necessary articles of the well dressed man, I was offered a perfectly suited piece. Finally, in frustration, I pointed out that I could not go to a French restaurant with sneakers, but alas, he had extra dress shoes also.

OK - what about changing a reservation from two to three? And what about a vegetarian meal? A quick call to the restaurant confirmed that one could be added and that my dietary restrictions was zero issue. The French take food seriously, and restaurateurs seem themselves in business to serve the patron, not make things convenient for themselves - a common irritation among many. I was assured that my waiter would easily accommodate any dietary needs.

And so it was that I came to have one of the finest dining experiences in my memory. As we sat down, we were immediately asked if anyone would be having the chocolate souffle for dessert. We were being asked upon our seating, since the creation of the dessert was a long process and would take the entire duration of the meal to prepare. My sister obliged, of course. I remember that the entire experience was extraordinary - being young, such fine dining in New York City was an event I would always remember, the details of which I would recount for my entire life.

When the crusty confection arrived, it was delivered and presented by a team. One carried the dessert while another the chocolate sauce. As one waiter broke the crust and ladled the sauce onto the dessert, I recall my sister overwhelmed, just repeating "Oh my God" over and over.

I imagine that it was likely around that time that I stopped making the argument that carob was as good as chocolate. And thank God that I had never said such a thing within earshot of a pastry chef at La Côte Basque :)

*La Côte Basque was in operation for over 45 years, closing in 2004. A temple to classic French haute cuisine, the restaurant saw guests such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Frank Sinatra. The restaurant opened in the late 1950s by Henri Soulé. Chef Jean-Jacques Rachou became owner in 1979. He said he spent more than $2,200 a week on flowers and more than $3,000 on linen.

Photo Note: This is Marie Belle at 484 Broome Street in SoHo. The shop, cacao bar, and tea salon is a shrine to all things chocolate and is a very highly regarded gem of the neighborhood. Unless you prefer carob :)

Related Posts: Pure Chocolate, Sirens of Convenience, Bon Appetit, Economy Candy, Chocolate Bar, Jacques Torres


Anonymous said...

Hellen said: This is a great story. BTW: Chocolate souffle is one on my very favorites and if you are interested in enjoying chocolate souffle again,I've got just the place and it is just across the street from us :)

Dianne said...

I'm a chocoholic and would love to visit La Marie-Belle - looks absolutely delightful!

Leslie said...

My mouth is watering. Yes, Marie Belle is a paradise of most beautifully packaged and delicious delights (great holiday gifts, btw) but my bet is there's nothing in the store to compare to that divine creation bestowed upon your Sister...