If I were the type of person who had her whole life mapped out, I never would have had lunch at Itinéraires last Wednesday.
I never would have left Ohio for Boulder. I never would have passed on offers of admission to graduate school for the chance to keep working in restaurants. If I were less impulsive and more prudent, I never would have moved from Boulder to New York City on little more than a hunch that it would suit me. It did. I never would have worked at Washington Park, never would have met Jonathan and Heather and Melissa and Lynn. I never would have had that ill-advised affair with that waiter who made sure I had a glass of Champagne at the end of every shift, never would have had four fantastic and rocky years with Patrick the bartender. I certainly would never have sat on the sunny white boulders of the Cala Bianca in Sicily or stepped foot on the black beaches of Stromboli. I might have stayed with the lawyer.
I never would have decided to go to Paris for two months and to do it again a year later. It was on that second trip, almost a year ago, that I first ate at Itinéraires. Jonathan (last name Waxman) was in Paris for a few days and we went on a recommendation from Juan Sanchez, the co-owner of Fish, a place that, I can say without exaggerating, saved my life when I was lonely during my first long stay on the Left Bank.
“Barbra,” Jonathan said, “Barbra, this is modern French cooking. This is a modern French restaurant.”
I took note.
And I returned, last week, for lunch with a new friend. We started with an optimistic crème d’asperges blanches; it’s not really spring yet, but it was easy to be fooled by this light-as-air asparagus purée and even lighter milk foam that garnished it. That’s right, I said “foam.” Used judiciously, it works.
With a higher price tag, a colder atmosphere, and a more formal dress code, this would be fine dining. But who needs the trappings of fine dining when the food is this good?
We diverged on our main courses. My friend stayed in spring with suckling pig and I went back to winter for seared scallops on a celery root puree with strips of carrot and parsnip, and fried leaves of cabbage and kale that resembled sea coral. I am usually dubious of dishes with so much height, but the effect was beautiful and delicious, giving some needed crunch to this otherwise very soft plate of food.
So that was lunch last Wednesday, the result of every decision I’ve made in my adult life in a bowl of soup, a plate of scallops, and a glass of Marsanne with a new and unexpected friend on a mild sunny day in a quiet part of the fifth arrondissiment of Paris.
I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried.
Restaurant Itinéraires, 5 Rue de Pontoise, Paris 75005, +33 (0)1 46 33 60 11