Well, you’d certainly think I’d been whisked away by little green men, for all I’ve been blogging. But, alas, I return with no Alien Soup recipes…only some that are Out Of This World. I hope you’ll look for them in the days ahead.
Here, though, you see a bittersweet occasion at the famous Café de la Paix. The hard core of the Paris Embassy book club is sending Elizabeth back to a new assignment in Washington and Dominique into the pleasures of la retraite, her much anticipated retirement. See how happy they both look at the front of the picture? In the case of Elizabeth, it’s an illusion. An unreconstructed lover of all things Italian, she finally admitted to Scarlett O’Hara pangs, realizing only at the end that her heart had been stolen by the Rhett Butler of Paris.
I ordered the onion soup (Soupe à l’oignon gratinée), which was okay. Dominique ordered gaspacho, pictured here. And it’s this French take on the classic Spanish soup that I want to talk about. “Gaspacho” (and I put it in quotes advisedly) is a classic of French summer cuisine. It is on the menu everywhere, from the quickest lunch takeout to the most elegant restaurant. But is it gazpacho? I’ve ordered it a number of times and found it similar to Spanish gazpacho only in that it was cold and had tomatoes in it.
Was that the case here? Already you must be scratching your head over the pot full of Parmesan slices. Just listen to my post-event interview with Dominique:
Pat: “Tell me, Dominique, was it sweet, spicy? Blandly tomato or flavorful with garlic, cucumber, and peppers? Could you taste vinegar in it…and if so, could you describe it? Was the soup smooth or chunky? And while I can see the croutons in one little bowl…was that shavings of Parmesan cheese in the other???”
Dominique: “I remember the shavings of Parmesan as very pleasant. It tasted predominantly of tomato, rather fluid in texture, not particularly sweet, but with no noticeable trace of vinegar, possibly with slices of cucumber and/or pepper if you say so (can you see them?). There must have been garlic but surprisingly the taste was not striking. All in all, a pleasant refreshing flavor much overshadowed by the charming company. Does this mean it could be improved? Well, that may be a failing of the place living more on its reputation than on the actual quality of its cuisine.”
A charming, thoughtful, and factual account, always Dominique’s signature. So be warned: when you order gaspacho in France, you are likely going to get a nicely seasoned, cold tomato puree with garnishes more suited for a hot soup.
A last word on what Dominique wickedly called “the place living more on its reputation than on the actual quality of its cuisine”. Café de la Paix is gorgeous, an icon of Paris, and parked right in front of the over-the-top Garnier Opéra–as close as we could get to Elizabeth’s fave opera house. It opened its doors on June 30, 1862, as the café/restaurant of the Grand Hotel, immediately catered to visitors of the Universal Exhibition of 1867…and soon became a favorite watering hole of luminaries like Massenet, Zola, and Maupassant. We’d just finished a highly contentious book club on that last Prince of Darkness and hoped we were sitting at Maupassant’s very table.
Pat: So, Dominique, was it worth all $16 for that cup of gaspacho?