On a small Parisian street tucked behind the Place des Vosges sits a beautiful little restaurant. One may even walk past the small red door and not think twice about glancing in the windows on either side of it. To do so would be a grave mistake. This past January, when traveling to France to visit my girlfriend, Allyce, we decided that we would go out to one fancy meal. We do not get to see each other much, as she goes to school in France, so the night was already special. Allyce had gone to this place a couple of months back, and I had been there years ago, and we had both loved it. We decided on it and then, on a quiet Tuesday night, went over to the Place des Vosges. After a pre-dinner drink, we walked to the restaurant at around seven p.m. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and the tables were placed closely together, as if the goal was for everyone in the restaurant to feel like they were eating the same dinner. The only two diners there, however, were Allyce and me, as people usually eat later in Paris. In certain restaurants, being the only ones there may have been a little bit awkward, but not at Le Bistrot de L’Oulette.
After greeting us with a graceful “Bonsoir,” the waiter brought Allyce and me a couple of steps into the restaurant and sat us down across from each other. I could tell from the beginning that he was a kind man. He was middle-aged, with warm eyes set behind his glasses. As he began to point out our options, he spoke with a voice full of vivacity and passion. As I scanned through the entrées, plats, and desserts on the menu, I saw traditional French dishes such as snails, foie gras, roasted duck breast, and crême brulée. It was a special occasion, so my girlfriend and I decided to get an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert. First, however, as with all French restaurants, the wine had to be chosen.
Allyce and I are not wine connoisseurs, so our waiter excitedly brought out a couple bottles he thought we would like, splashed a sample of red into our glasses, and asked us to try it. After a taste, the waiter poured the other sample for us, and seeing our faces widen, told us why. He described how there are different kinds of grapes, and pointed out that this wine, a Languedoc from southwestern France, had a flaveur rond or “round flavour.” I could see what he was talking about, as the texture of the wine was rather soft and soothing instead of crisp, and almost seemed to match the calm and warm environment around us.
After a couple sips of wine and a few bites of country bread, the beautiful aura of the Bistrot became apparent to me. At the far end of the restaurant, a man, presumably one of the owners, was doing some paperwork. He looked up, smiled, and gave me a wave, which I returned with a smile and wave of my own. Behind him was a square opening lined with wood where the waiter would get the dishes, and behind that I could see the chef making our meal. As my chestnut soup arrived, the waiter, who seemed to have taken a liking to us, engaged us once more in conversation.
The restaurant was a conversation lover’s dream, as there were only about two steps separating me from the waiter, who was behind the counter. Both Allyce and I deeply appreciated this man’s passion for what he did. He was smiling, and loved telling us about his life, whether it be his wine expertise, his days working at a vineyard, or his children. While he did not elaborate fully, I can only imagine the life this man had lived, as he carried with him a sense of elegance and experience beyond his years. I pictured him spending years looking after a vineyard, making wine, and having the same kind of family dinner that Allyce and I felt we were about to have. Before taking a sip of the soup, my experience was already special. I had been sipping on a wonderful, silky glass of wine with my loved one across from me, and the best waiter I have ever had making us feel cultured by telling us about wine. I could have been served a Big Mac and would still have had good things to say about the experience. I have always thought that a restaurant can be best measured by its food, and I still do, but this waiter was beginning to make me rethink what a restaurant is all about.
Regardless of my epiphany, to ignore the food would be a disservice to it. As I looked at my soup, I saw a deep marigold yellow, creamy liquid with some herbs and a few pieces of duck scattered around. As I blew on the soup and took my first taste, I experienced a combination of soothing warmth, startling freshness, and soft texture that made both my taste buds and my heart go buzzing. I told our waiter how amazing it was, and, once again, he told me why. There were six succulent pieces of duck in the middle of the soup, and he said that the ducks are treated very well. They roam free and live a wonderful life, which, apparently, was why they tasted so good (a bit morbid, I know). While wine and free-range ducks are not my primary interest, I was so happy to hear the passion with which our waiter spoke about them.
A man entered the restaurant, increasing the total number of diners to three. Despite the new company, it felt as though Allyce and I still had the place to ourselves. I savored every last sip of the soup and, with another glass of Languedoc in hand, conversed with Allyce. In between each course, we would smile at each other and just take in the moment while enjoying each other’s company. As the waiter placed the cassoulet in front of me, my eyes sparkled with joy. I wanted to devour it immediately, but two things were preventing me from doing that: 1. It was really, really hot, and 2. I felt like I had already eaten dinner. After my first taste, however, I knew that I had to finish it. I got that same heartwarming feeling I had just received from the chestnut soup. Something about the restaurant, whether it was the decor, the food, the company, or the staff, or everything together, made it feel extremely homely. 4000 miles away from my house, the intimacy and familiarity I felt from both Allyce and L’Oulette reminded me of a family dinner.
The plat gave way to the dessert. While I got a simple chocolate cake with ice cream (which was absolutely delicious), the real thing to write home about was Allyce’s chocolate sphere. With a jubilant “Voilà,” hot chocolate from the pitcher in the waiter’s hand flowed all over the sphere, which caused the chocolate ball to melt and give way to a stunning praline mousse. It was as if the food had sprung to life.
At the end of the meal, I got ready to tell the waiter how special a night he gave to both my girlfriend and myself. The only thing that beat me to doing so was something I will always remember: as the waiter handed us the bill, he said how much it meant to him to have people like us at his restaurant. I responded with a smile and thanked him earnestly for the experience he gave us. I tried to say more, but due to the fact that I was speaking French, I found it hard to fully express what I was feeling. The waiter understood the impression he had on us, however, as I touched my heart and said “Merci.”
As Allyce and I paid and finished our last sips of wine, we noticed that the restaurant around us was quite full. The waiter became more preoccupied with the multitude of new diners, and the night began to draw to a close. The splendor of the evening dawned upon both my girlfriend and me. While he may not have known it, this waiter helped to give me one of the most beautiful memories of my life. It is touching and heartwarming to know that there are people out there who enjoy their job so much that it brings others joy to hear them speak about it. Throughout the rest of the trip, Allyce and I would keep on reminiscing on the beautiful dinner we had at L’Oulette. Months have passed and I still remember that night vividly. The joy in my girlfriend’s eyes, the passion and voice of the waiter, the warmth of the chestnut soup, and the distant visual of the cook making our food behind the small opening in the restaurant wall. When going to a foreign country, what more can someone want than being with a loved one, conversing with a local in the language of that country, eating the country’s food, drinking the country’s wine, and feeling truly at home? It is moments like those that are fitting of a restaurant that I will forever think of as the restaurant of dreams, or, more fittingly, Le Restaurant des Rêves.