Last night we quite literally had the meal of a lifetime. Eight courses. Six wines. Five napkins for Jim. Two desserts. One Bourbon Manhattan in honor of Richard. The night finally drew to a close with a bottle of house labeled cognac and an Iphone on a silver tray. I could show you a photo of every course and list the wines we drank by name and vintage. Instead I’m going to give you the one reason that this three star Michelin restaurant named Le Taillevent will always be the best meal of my life. The fourth star, or shall I say Quatre Etoile, that made our night go from memorable to legendary was a humble man name Jean-Marie Ancher.
The backstory: When we finalized our plans to travel to Paris with Rhonda she said she wanted me to pick out a restaurant for one “outrageous dinner” out that she would treat us to in honor of Richard. She and I were sitting at the bar at Bandera in Chicago when she first made the proposal. I immediately knew where we would be going. For 25 years now I’ve heard my friend Bob Juliano Sr. rave about his favorite restaurant on the planet. Bobby is former chairman of the board of the American Sommelier Association, world traveler, food savant, chef, wine collector and all around nice guy. I’ve never met anyone who more graciously understood the way food and wine fit into our culture than Cool Bobby J. That is until I met his friend Jean-Marie. I’ve always wanted to eat at Le Taillevent. I never had an opportunity. Last night the stars finally aligned as the Universe intended all along.
The phone call I almost forgot to make: A few days before we departed for Paris I left a message for Bobby Sr. in Washington D.C. and let him know that I had made a booking at Le Taillevent for Wednesday April 1st. A day later I got an email from his son, my other dear friend Bobby Jr. who is Chicago based and who I see more regularly. The email simply said “Ask for Jean-Marie. Senior called him last night…”
The Arrival: We arrived at Le Taillevent excited and a little unsure. We knew this night was going to be a few things. Delicious. Expensive. Memorable. We were excited. What we didn’t know was how far we were getting in over our heads. Now we are all three well traveled. We know great food and wine. We were seated at Le Taillevent in a nearly empty dining room at 8 p.m. and we whispered to each other as to not be overheard by the dozens of service staff members in the dining room. We anxiously ordered a round of appertifs. I dropped my napkin and a staff member caught it before it even hit the ground and replaced it with a new one immediately. Serviette nombre un! We were nervous and unsure.
The Introduction: After we had a few sips of our initial cocktails a man approached our table with a serious look on his face. He looked down at me and said in a very wonderful French accent, “Are you the friends of Bobby?” When I replied yes, he went on to smile in a warmth I have never quite seen in this lifetime and said, “I just want to tell you that we are going to take extra special care of you tonight. We have a few surprises in store and I want you to know that Bobby is not a customer to me. He is my family…”
The energy shift: Our initial apprehension rolled off our collective shoulders like a waterfall crashing towards the earth. He asked about our trip so far. We told him that we were here to bring Rhonda’s late husband to his final rest. He touched his left hand to his heart and said, “I lost my wife 10 years ago. Life continues…” If we had drawn up on paper a more perfect host for this night we could not in our wildest dreams done better than Jean-Marie.
Cing Serviette: As the night progressed we laughed. We cried. We ate. We drank. We became friends with dozens of staff members who seamlessly served a now full dining room. I continued to drop my napkins. Each time a new one would appear almost instantly. At the fourth or fifth dropping of the napkin, one of our new friends/family members showed up with a tray with cinq serviettes stacked neatly. We all broke into hysterical laughter! The night grew from comfortable to magical. We began to feel like part of the Le Taillevent family. All thanks to the introduction by Cool Bobby J to a man named Jean-Marie.
The Finale: As the night wound down we asked Jean-Marie how long he had been at Le Taillevent. He said, “Forty years.” We asked what he did when he first started and he said, “I ran the trays from the kitchen to the dining room.” His business card now says “Directeur/Director”. Never have I met someone who was better suited for the role they have played in this lifetime. Jean-Marie directs staff and guests and treats both like family. Just like a Maestro of a symphony, which is exactly what the experience at Le Taillevent is…symphonic! After our desserts and ports, and petit fours and muscat and coffee Jean Marie walked up to our table with a bottle of house labeled cognac and said, “For you from Bobby…” And then he place an Iphone on a silver tray on the table. It was Jean-Marie’s Iphone and it was ringing. I picked it up and on the other end of the line was Cool Bobby J in Washington D.C.
I could go on and on about the food and the wine, but honestly there is great food and wine all over the planet. There is only one Le Taillevent on this planet. There is only one Jean-Marie Ancher on this planet. There is only one Cool Bobby J on this planet. How lucky are we three to have been welcomed into this family. A remarkable night. I am speechless. I am content.