The allure of being in a secret garden makes many a Parisian less gastronomically exigent as summer arrives. Arriving on the white gravel terrace on the edge of the magnificent gardens that are hidden behind La Maison d’Amerique Latine in the Faubourg Saint Germain (7th arrondissement) the other night reminded me of how I’d first been seduced by Gallic elegance as a thirteen-year-old boy. The lush green lawn was perfectly mown and edged, unfurled like a carpet a few feet from our table, and rolled to the bottom of the garden where stone cherubim coyly peered from banks of rhododendron. On a summer night, the sky was pearled pink and almost irridescent behind a poplar tree that had been pollarded to resemble a vegetal version of one of the giant stone heads of Easter island. The delicious effect of this exquisite mis en scene was to be briefly transported beyond time and care, a wonderful escape that only became better as dusk fell and the garden more and more resembled a Magritte painting.
On the way to this beautiful bower, I mentioned to Devreaux, the friend who was joining me, that she shouldn’t be packing heightened gastronomic expectations. With any luck, the food would be fine, but the reason one craved a meal here was the setting. Our meal began inauspiciously with over-cooked snippets of foie gras as an unnecessary and unwanted amuse bouche, and then debuted with langoustines prepared three different ways for Devreaux and terrine de foie gras de canard for me. While my foie gras was good, the langoustines were sadly tasteless, especially as part of a 79 Euro meal. Next, I had delicious turbans of sole stuffed with a mushroom flecked fish mousse and Devreaux came up short again with a tough and curiously tastely veal filet. A surprisingly awful goat cheese from Quatrehommes followed, and dessert was truly forgettable. Still, we left the garden with dread and melancholy, since it had been a longtime that I’d enjoyed a meal so much.