Paris – 6th arrondissement
It's an understatement to say that Parisians are well-dressed. The city is, without a doubt, full of the most stylish, impeccably-put-together citizens I've ever come across. Everyone looks good at all times of the day, and that chic couture is perhaps best on display in the St. Germain area of the 6th arrondissement. For the last six years, I've thought of that name in association with the ubiquitous elderflower liqueur, rather than a trendy Parisian neighborhood. After my morning snack at Café de Flore, however, I will forever link St. Germain to the spectacle I witnessed over breakfast. One of the oldest coffeehouses in the city, it is still widely-known for its famous and prestigious clientele. While I didn't recognize anyone in the room, it was clear we were dealing with a serious group of characters. I saw seventy year old women dressed to the nines, strutting their stuff through the entrance way, sipping their warm drinks, and slowly reading the morning paper as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Their casual, leisurely pace was no accident. They were there to be seen as much as we were there to see them, and they were taking their sweet time (as were we). Think of Betsy Johnson or Iris Apfel and then imagine a room full of them, eating pastries, and playing coy with the adoring wait staff. Café de Flore definitely lived up to the hype.
Not only are the city's elderly bringing their A-game, so are the youngest Parisians along le boulevard Saint-Germain. Each and every little girl was wearing nothing less than a skirt, with tights, cute little boots, and a stylish jacket. Adorable.
In San Mateo we have our share of line-out-the-door eateries. Most of them are heralded ramen shops where eating a meal requires a determined and dedicated wait. St. Germain has one of these places as well: Le Relais de l'Entrecôte, the steak frites institution that makes one thing and one thing only. You sit down, they ask you how you want it cooked (á point for me, bien cuit for my wife) and they serve you porterhouse-cut beef, carved into strips, and covered in savory secret sauce with french fries and a salad to begin. We got there right as they opened, so the wait was minimal. After twenty minutes or so, however, the place was jamming.
Again, as with Café de Flore, the experience more than lived up to the hype. My wife, who isn't really even a meat eater, was completely thrilled with the flavor. And once again, another American fable of moody waitresses and a snarky Parisian attitude was nowhere to be seen. I've heard stories from tourists about the ladies who deliver these famous steaks, but none of them were true on this day. We experienced nothing but absolute politeness and courtesy from beginning to end of this fantastic meal. Seeing that it's a madhouse, however, if you're expecting Comment allez-vous? and a bit of chit-chat, you're in the wrong spot. You need to eat and then get the F out so that the people waiting behind you get their chance.
Another friendly Parisian pulled up at the table next door, thrilled to talk with two Americans and share his stories of San Francisco. He spent more time talking to us than he did his date (which wasn't going over well with her, I don't think).