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une vraie bouillabaisse at chez fonfon

I imagined the young man a Michelin Guide restaurant reviewer in disguise. He had arrived at Chez Fonfon without a reservation. He wore a tee-shirt and carried a copy of T. E. Lawrence’s Lawrence of Arabia in his hand. He was perfect for the job. No one would suspect.

His eyes belonged to Marcel Proust when he was young. His nose was slightly beaked, too. A close shaved beard made him seem a little older.

Could he be a reviewer after all? No young people eat at Chez Fonfon unless their parents have invited them and are paying the bill. Did he have an inheritance? Was he, so to speak, independent?

I noticed him for two reasons: I heard him say he had no reservation, and, secondly, he did not get any attention after he was seated.

A few days earlier on a Wednesday, I climbed the steps to Chez Fonfon. I had wanted to eat bouillabaisse, the wonderful Marseille soup that has rules. (I will say more about that later.) I had no reservation. Monsieur m’a dit, « Non ! C’est complet ! » I was being turned away.

Ruth Reichl described the experience this way: “‘Do you have a reservation?’ This is said so challengingly I instantly feel as if I am an intruder who has wandered into the wrong restaurant.”

The young man had arrived with no reservation, so naturally, I wanted to know his fate. He was permitted to stay. He was the only one. For others who followed, « Non, c’est complet. Désolé ! »

Yet when he sat down, no one brought a menu. Waiters scurried about him, going this way and that, cutting paths that encompassed him in a triangle. No one asked if he wanted an aperitif. He had patience, this young man. But wait, there’s more!

immortality, a lustrous bewitching woman, and an isolated island

Would you accept immortality? What would you give for it? What would you give up?

Suppose it was offered to you, and with it came a beautiful woman, bewitching, lustrous? (One could imagine the same scenario with a man.)

But the trade off would be that you had to live forever on an island. You would not lack food. In fact you would feast each day. You would live in splendor and luxury.

You might want to pause for a moment before deciding. You will live in a cave, but all around it would have wonders to behold.

“Thick, luxuriant woods grew round the cave, alders and black poplars, pungent cypress too, and there birds roosted, folding their long wings, owls and hawks and the spread-beaked ravens of the sea, black skimmers who make their living off the waves. And round the mouth of the cavern trailed a vine laden with clusters, bursting with ripe grapes. Four springs in a row, bubbling clear and cold, running side-by-side, took channels left and right. Soft meadows spreading round were starred with violets, lush with beds of parsley. Why, even a deathless god who came upon that place would gaze in wonder, heart entranced with pleasure.” —The Odyssey

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus lived on the island of Ogygia, where Calypso detained him for seven years. She would not let him leave and return home to his wife Penelope but wanted to give him immortality and to marry him. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!

another day in le panier

“Marseilles isn’t a city for tourists. There’s nothing to see. Its beauty can’t be photographed. It can only be shared. It’s a place where you have to take sides, be passionately for or against. Only then can you see what there is to see. And you realize, too late, that you’re in the middle of a tragedy. An ancient tragedy in which the hero is death. In Marseilles, even to lose you have to know how to fight.” ― Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos

“In Paris and later in Marseille, I was surrounded by some of the best food in the world, and I had an enthusiastic audience in my husband, so it seemed only logical that I should learn how to cook ‘la cuisine bourgeoise’—good, traditional French home cooking.” —Julia Child

Several years ago I visited Marseille, France for the first time. It was against the wishes of friends and family. I had been told Marseille is too dangerous: I might get mugged, or worse, I might be killed and left in an alley without my passport and nobody would know who I was and I would be transferred to a morgue and no one would know my name or where I had come from. The latter was not the worse case scenario, they thought. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!

eating in a 1 star . . . someone must do it

Someone needs to eat in a French Michelin starred restaurant, and it might as well be me. –Michael Groves

I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance. —Steven Wright

Some of us are born rebellious. Like Jean Genet or Arthur Rimbaud, I roam these mean streets like a villain, a vagabond, an outcast, scavenging for the scraps that may perchance plummet off humanity’s dirty plates, though often sometimes taking a cab to a restaurant is more convenient. —Patti Smith

Entering and eating in a Michelin starrd restaurant means, I think, that money will not be a big concern after leaving. It better not be.

Ordering a slice of pizza is out of the question. A submarine sandwich will not be on the menu. An American style hamburger with French fries and ketchup has not made it on a carte, as far as I know. It is highly unlikely that a Pepsi or a Coca Cola will be offered as an aperatif.

When I leave a starred restaurant, I think back on the service, which starts when I enter and ends when I walk out the door. I wonder if I had been surprised at all. Did the dishes look artistique? Carefully prepared? Was the wine selection appropriate? As I walk down the street later, I ask myself, “Do I want to go back and pay that much again?”

Recently, I did return to a one star restaurantUne Table au Sud—where I had eaten last year. After the meal, I said, “I wonder when I can go back?”

Une Table au Sud sits on the second floor (first floor in France) in the corner of the Vieux Port. The Vieux Port is “U” shaped, and the restaurant is located to the right as you face the port.

One MICHELIN Star : High quality cooking, worth a stop! Using top quality ingredients, dishes with distinct flavours are carefully prepared to a consistently high standard. Very good standard.

The menu and the prices are posted at the door. No surprises.

During the course of the meal, four people served me in various capacities. The meal consisted of three amuse-bouches, an entrée, a bouillabaisse, a dessert, and an espresso.

At the helm of this restaurant resolutely anchored in the South of France, you will find Ludovic Turac, a young chef featured on France’s ‘Top Chef’ TV show. His inventive and confident cooking artfully cultivates the spirit of the region—Provençal vegetables and locally sourced fish. All is in keeping with the panoramic views over the old port and the ‘Bonne Mère’ (Notre-Dame de la Garde).”MICHELIN guide inspectors

The waiter, who brought the menus, asked if I wanted the French or the English menu. I chose the French. I have learned that translations of French menus into English make the dishes unrecognizable, un-French, sometimes amateurish. If I need an explication of a French dish on the French menu, I ask for help.

During the meal, I received three amuse bouches, each explained in detail. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

ma vision d’un hors d’œuvre à la Marseillaise en 3 variations poutargue/huître/oursin But wait, there’s more!