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May 16, 2006

Speak To Me In French, Please

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A funny thing happened to me in a restaurant last night. It was my first visit to a rather new watering hole on the island, and it came highly recommended by a few friends who had enjoyed their meals there. The place is trendy; there are no two ways about it. And very nicely decorated, with comfortable chairs and a modern, yet not too sterile, look. Last night there was a lovely breeze wafting across the terrace where we were seated. My first eyebrow was raised when the host immediately spoke English to me when I walked in. I thought this was a French-speaking island. And the host was definitely French. The second eyebrow went up when all four menus placed on the table were in English. How did they know I was dining with three other Anglophones (which in fact I wasn't). My husband, who may be the only island native to have dined there (he certainly was the only one in sight last night), certainly prefers a menu in French. And isn't half of the fun of going to a French restaurant having something more exotic than plain roasted chicken? At least written in French, the food sounds French. Or maybe I'm just being cranky. In any case the food was generally fine except my main course, which I found overcooked and dry. When I pointed out the almost entirely uneaten dish (a friendly pooch had eaten part of it, directly off my fork, which was very cute), I was told that every one else who ordered it had liked it, so it was my fault, not the chef's if I didn't like it. I guess they assume we are all one-time tourists so it doesn't matter if we like the food or not. By the time we left I was feeling really cranky, and the fact that a DJ had started pumping up the volume didn't help matters much. Of course it has been a long season in Saint Barth, and the recent onslaught of activities including "our" film festival, the arrival of the Tansat ag2r, and a theatre festival have made it seem like the season that would never end. So maybe the restaurant folks are starting to fray around the edges and need a long summer hibernation so they can gear up for next season. And maybe some of the flocks of trendy tourists will discover the next tropical paradise. And the trendy, techno, hip-hopping eateries will follow them. Then Saint Barth can get back to the good old days when enterprising locals set out a few chairs and tables on their porches or in their gardens and fried up the catch of the day and served it with some simple local squash or sweet potatoes, with just enough hot pepper to wake up the palette. And they greeted you in French with a big smile. Or am I just being nostalgic about imaginary days of yore, and conjuring up images of the kind of tropical island I would like to discover for myself. After all, I can eat plain roasted chicken in New York any day of the week.

More to come,

 

Ellen Lampert-Greaux


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