Veggie in Paris

On Saturday I consumed plenty of French from two young ladies at the table-for-two on my left, who spoke through everything, and from two mid-age ladies at the table-for-two on my right who spoke during pauses from eating. At the door, abutting the counter, a table-for-two was taken by an attractive American couple, the lady of which asked the waiter in expressly slow English for a bottle of water. After she had repeated herself twice, the waiter exclaimed "Oh! Mineral water!" Three more tables-for-two completed the ground floor of the vegetarian Le Grenier de Notre Dame, a tiny joint with an opening on top from which green leaves pour down, the tiniest atrium in the world I have seen. It was like a theatrical set, and seated as I was with my back to the wall, facing the street and alone at my table-for-two, I held centre stage. It seemed altogether appropriate that an Indian-vegetarian, given to the creed from birth, should be given the honor. My meal was brown rice and vegetables laced with multiple sauces, one of them the pungent Japanese variety that hit my nose without ever warning me.

On Sunday I found vegetarian fare down the Champs Élysées, in the restaurant Ladurée. I ordered for légumes crus et à la truffle d' été—raw and cooked vegetables with summer truffle—which dish, when it came, was a pile of string beans, carrot shavings, thin-sliced radish, green leaves, peas, all on a bed of green paste, and coarse salt sprinkled on top. It was an icy pile served on the sidewalk, where a cold breeze blew in the wide open of the Avenue. I had some comfort from a side-serving of buttered, mild-flavored warm rice. Together with a cappuccino in the end, the bill for this modest fare was €33, which I paid without guilt because the thing was steeped in history.

The Ladurée was established in 1862 by a baker, Louis Ernest Ladurée. It was the time when Haussmann was transforming Paris into the city the world thinks Paris has always been—a Paris crafted upon demolitions and accommodated through mass relocations of the poorer. A fire at that time caused the bakery to be restored as a cake shop, and it was eventually turned into a restaurant. In the housed restaurant I couldn't get a seat, and they told me my wait would be 30 minutes, and suggested that I take a seat in the canvas-covered sidewalk. I could see from where I sat the growing folded lines for sweets for takeaway from the shop-counter inside.

Today I ate dinner early at the Café de Paris on rue St. Andre des Arts: an Asian platter with buttered rice on the side, and crisp French bread. I ate it to music from the streets, music from buskers who have sprung up everywhere this evening. Then when I took a stroll round the block I passed the restaurant Le Procope. It has sketches and mentions of Robespierre and Benjamin Franklin on its walls. Have the men been there? Danton, too? That’s where I’m going tomorrow, even if I have to pull a musket to coax a veggie meal out of them.