This article was originally published in the October 25, 1983 edition of the Boston Phoenix.
My introduction to the concept that a bottle of wine must breathe did not go well. I was already in a state from drinking nonvintage stuff when I arrived at the small dinner party. Then, the hostess announced she would let the bottle breathe and placed it before me on the table. I could imagine little strangled gasps coming from the bottle. I thought I saw its sides heave slightly. Trying to be nonchalant, I would steal quick glances at it during the middle of conversations. I sensed that I was making other people at the table a little nervous. Those who knew me were even more puzzled when I refused to sample its bright red bouquet.
It was these sorts of credentials that I brought to my lunch with Julia Child. Not my lunch, exactly. It was a press luncheon at Maison Robert to introduce her new PBS show, Dinner at Julia's. There were reporters from several newspapers and what seemed to be a dozen food writers from the Boston Globe. Friends familiar with my tastes and appetites still want to know what I was doing there. I still want to know what it was I ate.
The menu was no help. It was written in French. This has always irritated me. If these people want to continue speaking and writing in French, why don't they go back to France? You wouldn't see an American succeeding in Paris if he opened a restaurant that forced patrons to call their saucisses tubesteaks.
I have a theory that most people have the same fear of fine dining that they do of kinky sex: they are afraid to admit everyone knows more about it than they do. So the majority of us endure in silence, while strange things are placed before us in the name of haute cuisine.
The first course was no real problem. The menu said Les Belons du Maine, but they looked like oysters to me. It was during the appetizer that I was first smitten with Julia Child. She called the belons oysters, tossed down a few, and then wandered off to talk to another knot of food writers. The effortless act was in contrast to the painstaking instructions I received from one Globe writer on how to eat my belons. It seemed to me she was talking with the same kind of controlled patience you might use with a cranky three-year-old who is waving around daddy's loaded .357.
Then there was the matter of the fork. I made the mistake of reaching for a belons fork instead of allowing the waiter to hand it to me. He seemed offended. But I didn't take it personally. Having once spent a week eating in Parisian cafés and restaurants, I have come to the conclusion that French waiters are bred to be rude to everyone. There is some kind of cultural ritual tied up in this. I let him hand me the fork.
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