Tuesday, March 4, 2008
I See London, I See France
Once upon a time, I was fluent in French. I studied it for several years in school, and being a native Spanish speaker, never had much trouble picking up other romance languages. As my friend Gloria's trip to Paris neared, we both attempted to rekindle our French fluency. Although it is arguable as to whether or not we are fluent once again, it is clear that I cannot get French food off my mind. Although I don't often eat in the French-style bistros here in New York, I've always been fond of the food I ate while visiting Paris. I'd been studying abroad in London and was sick and tired of only being able to afford pub food and plate after plate of chicken curry. Armed with only a hot plate and an electric tea kettle back in my flat on Newman Street, I wasn't creating all that much culinary gold of my own. So, when a group of friends studying in Florence suggested meeting up with my friend living in Paris, I jumped at the chance.
Two hours and a 40 pound flight later I'd landed in a cold, windy, and very rainy Paris. Our hostel had no heat, a tiki theme, and the world's smallest communal bathroom. But none of that really mattered, at least to me, because soon I'd be eating real food. Not fish and chips in a pub, curry in a hurry on Brick Lane, or chickpeas from a can in my room, but an actual three course meal in a candlelit restaurant with white tablecloths and a proper maitre'd. All of this came at the reasonable price of 12 Euro and included the first good cup of espresso I'd had in months. Perhaps it'd been because I'd eaten so terribly for so many months, but every meal in Paris seemed like a dream. The beef tartar (although frightening to my friends) was like a soft crimson pillow flecked with bits of parsley and egg. Every bowl of soup was like a warm blanket around my hungry soul, and each simply dressed salad was better than the next. Even the broken down hostel's breakfast of chocolat chaud and baguette with fresh butter outshone even the most decent meal I'd had in England. The thought of leaving the culinary wonderland of Paris for the gastronomic inferno of England was heartbreaking, and only the thought of spending Thanksgiving in Spain with my family was able to get me on the plane.
Recounting this story last week made me crave the kind of bistro food I'd so enjoyed on that cold and rainy trip. As I meandered through the supermarket on a recent cold and rainy night I came across a nice thick steak that was screaming to become part of a steak frites. Now, my steak frites is kind of a cheat--because although the steak is your traditional pan seared cheap cut of beef, the frites are baked in the oven and not deep fried. This is an odd move for me, but I do find that they develop a great texture and flavor this way--and it's so much cleaner. The meal was super satisfying and a breeze to make and clean-up. The only thing missing to make it more like my time in Paris was standing on a rainy street corner in the middle of the night eating paper thin crepes. Do they have crepes stands in Hell's Kitchen...?
4 large Russet potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and cut into French fries
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin)
1. Preheat oven to 375 F degrees.
2. Toss potatoes in olive oil and season with pepper to taste. Spread potatoes out on a sheet pan in one layer and bake for 30-40 minutes (flipping occasionally) or until tender.
3. Season potatoes with salt to taste (I like coarse salt). Combine potatoes, parsley and garlic in a large bowl, tossing to coat. Serve and enjoy!
*For the record, I don't mean to put down London. Between the exchange rate and the quality of food available, it was very difficult to eat well on a student's budget. I'm sure if I were to return as an adult with a decent amount of money, I'd be able to eat very well indeed. Unfortunately, I'm an adult with no money, so I stand by my opinions and look forward to the day when I can prove myself wrong. I will however, admit that McDonald's is oddly delicious in England. Health be damned, we never should have stopped deep frying those apple pies.