A haute time

By FRED BAYLES  |  August 7, 2009

It was during the next course that I realized what a fine human being Julia Child really is. The menu said I was eating Les Langoustines Grillées au Beurre de Saumon. I had no clue what it was, let alone how to eat it. It had been some animal, I think, in better times. Its tiny claws hung over the edge of the plate, looking like miniature construction cranes. Nobody at my table seemed to be in any hurry to deal with this. But at the next table, Julia was dismantling her food and eating at a steady speed, while others at her side sat and talked food. In the fine tradition of Miss Manners, I imitated Julia.

I kept a close eye on her after that. It soon became apparent that she was breaking every table rule my mother had ever imposed. She fidgeted while she waited for her next course—playing with her silverware and pushing her wine glass around in impatient circles. She looked expectantly at the door. I was certain that she felt the same way I did about the delay factor in fine dining. I have no idea why people think it necessary to linger over each dish, then wait even longer before the next course is served. The world is filled with too many demands to waste precious hours sitting around the table, waiting. I want to be done with my dinner after a decent interval of about 15 minutes and then get on with my life. I could tell Julia and I were soul mates when it came to waiting for food.

At least the next course wasn't sherbet for my palate. I resent the idea that my palate may need cleaning. At $60 a crack for dinner, you can bet I cleaned my own palate at home, before I came to the restaurant. It has always been my fantasy to invite some of the big food talkers I know over for a meal. After the first course of chili, I'd wait 20 minutes, then return from the kitchen and say, "Now for something to cleanse the palate" and pass around big bowls of rocky road ice cream. Then I'd wait a half hour before bringing out the pizza.

The next course was La Paupiette de Pigeon au Foie Gras. You can guess what that was. "It is called squab in this country," said the French chef who was sitting at my table. "Many people in this country would not eat it if it was called pigeon." It didn't matter to me. I think there are too many pigeons around. If this was a new way of limiting their population, I was all for it. But nobody seemed eager to dig right in. Instead, there was a lesson about the silverware.

I sometimes wonder why fine diners need so much silverware. Some places lay out so much cutlery, the table looks like it's been prepared for surgery. One of the Globe food writers explained that the flat spoon that looked like some sort of drug paraphernalia was a sauce spoon, to permit you to sample the sauce on your plate. This seemed to be a fine idea. I like the sauce on my plate, but had been taught that it wasn't proper to wipe it off with a piece of bread. It's part of the Scarlett O'Hara rule of dining. The rule, I've imagined, says that you're to leave something on your plate no matter how good it is, or how hungry you are. I suppose fine diners think better of you if you act finicky, like Morris the cat.

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