Picture Mission

We had a number of memorable meals in Paris. None more memorable than our lunch at the famed but hard to find Robert et Louise. Memorable is the key word. I won’t say it was our best meal. It was solid, but it comes with a fairly good story that includes open wood burning fires, delicious food and an amazing local flavor that I will gladly tell now.

I had a picture mission going in to my two weeks in Paris. I mean it, literally. I even have a email with the subject “picture mission.” It came from an old high school buddy who went to Paris a number of years ago. Like many of us on our trips, he found a unique out of the way local eatery that became a special part of his experience. In this case he was with his wife so it gets even higher “special experience” points and I took my mission seriously. The mission was to capture a photo of the portrait above the bar at a local eatery in the Les Halles district called Robert et Louise. It was a portrait of a young Robert now deceased but famous for serving the best cuts of meat grilled over an open flame. The fine dining French equivalent of our own American Burger King if you will. By my buddies description, the restaurant “is a VERY unobtrusive place. It’s local joint that is packed. The sign is small and the curtains will be closed. It seems almost protected from tourists.  When I took my french colleagues there they were amazed I had found such a place. You share tables, and the menu is, well, steak and whatever sides are made. It’s the best.”

He couldn’t have described it more appropriately.

It was a rainy Thursday in Paris. We waited in that rain under a 6 euro umbrella for about 75 minutes to climb to the belfry at Notre Dame. The climb and the views dazzled our senses and built our appetites. Gargoyles of epic photo history and deafening bells are  indescribable and the whole experience was emotionally exhausting and invigorating at once. After the visit we decided to try to walk across the Seine and find Robert et Louise, but quickly hailed a cab realizing that our perception of the distance of the walk and reality were worlds apart. Our cabbie seemed to know the place and after a 5 minute ride he stopped and pointed down a one way street and declared, “le restaurant est la bas”. Apparently his knowledge of “la bas” was about as good as ours. We wandered through a school district for about five minutes before eliciting more help only to find that we were heading in the completely wrong direction. Another of many backtracking episodes of the trip in progress, I noticed a small sign at the end of Rue Vielle du Temple and we had found our sought after place. At this point I was so hungry and tired that I was determined to eat pretty much anything. We decided that this would be our stop for lunch even if they served blood on a plate. Law of attraction say hello!

Enter a nearly empty restaurant well after the prime lunch hour with a pair of cameras and a pile of guidebooks and the “protection from tourists” curtains in wide-open epic fail mode: no surprise we were lukewarmly welcomed by our young waiter in a Robert et Louise t-shirt. For a moment I got the feeling they were hoping no other tables came in on this sleepy afternoon. I’m quite familiar with that desire being a life long restaurant worker. I briefly explained our picture mission and why we had come to be at this place at the end of the lunch hour. Basically he could not have cared less. It’s not that he was rude just more aloof, a word I find myself re-using again and again in describing some of our experiences with Parisians. After bringing us some wine he insisted for our first visit that we try the house sausage and the entrecote for 2. I figured with that order it might be wise to have some green stuff so I ordered a crudite plate as well. Minutes later a young chef of what appeared to be middle eastern descent tossed a piece of sausage on the steel plate above the open flame and began cutting Fred Flintstone sized ribeye steaks, one of which one would wind up being ours I was sure.

After poking and turning the famous house sausage for about 15 minutes it came to our table. Tasting of liver and soft in texture, almost inedible to our simple American palates, no mistaking it was blood sausage. “Welcome to my plate full of blood,” I accepted. But at least we had the crudite. Based on the arrival of the sausage I waved over our t-shirted waiter and told him that we preferred our Fred Flintstone ribeye more done than rare. The request was like I asked for them to build the Eiffel tower with toothpicks and fois gras. In the end we got a huge steak somewhere between raw and medium rare with roasted potatoes and green salad…and it was delicious!

While we were eating most of the staff began to gather their own meals, which looked to be soft boiled poached eggs wrapped in cheesecloth over salad with lardons (French bacon) and bread. The interesting part was that they all began to sit down at the same long picnic table where we were eating our meal. I’m not sure if that made the experience more endearing or more annoying but it surely added to the memorable quality! We stuffed ourselves with charred meat and at the end felt sated and confused all at the same time. While I finished CJ got up from the table and began to execute the “picture mission” which was our main purpose of the trip. The staff that was eating looked over at her with aloofness while the one server left on the floor ignored us as long as she possibly could while we waited for our check.

In the end we walked up to the bar and asked if we could pay so we could leave, captured the precious image we had been sent to obtain, and waddled out with our American bellies full of delicious rare meat, potatoes, and wine. When I travel I love to meet locals even if at times it seems that their protected spots mean that they don’t want to meet us. What can I say? I don’t scare easily and I had a mission. A mission that I could not fail because one very important local back home would appreciate it for years to come.

As we left Robert et Louise we looked up at a sign on a building nearby that pretty much summarized the energy of the moment. Welcome or not we had achieved our mission and had a memorable life experience to boot.

Final score?

American tourists 1

Protected French Restaurant nil

I love a great meal. I love a great soccer (football) match. I love a great mission. I love great experiences.

Day 13 in Paris? I say Win!

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About Jim Herbert

I've been wanting to write my whole life. By age 45 it had amounted to nothing more than a storage locker of half full journals and a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Then Paris in the fall of 2011 happened. It was the catalyst I needed to consistently blog. At first I had a hard time hitting the publish button, but now two blog sites and over 300 posts later I'm hitting my stride. I'm also a budding speech writer. I've recently been heavily involved in the Chicago Storytelling scene and have also won the Chicago Toastmasters Area 66 International Speech Contest. Check out our website at www.emergingintojoy.com for more details about the amazing things that are happening in my life. A book or two are nearing completion. With another Paris trip on tap for Easter of 2015 I can only imagine that there are Infinite Possibilities on the horizon!!!
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