Are you still stuck at home… not traveling? To help ease the pain, we present a different kind of travel writing — fictional accounts of great travels with great — and real — food experiences. The author — Zoe Messinger — has done everything from running food trucks in Milan and Amsterdam, to cooking in two award winning restaurants in Los Angeles, and performing stand-up comedy. And, like us, she still believes there’s magic around a dining table, even if you can’t get there right now. Here with the first in a series of her flash fiction vignettes about some of the best off the beaten path restaurants from around the world — each a love affair with food, a journey of finding yourself through what you eat, and perhaps the best part — each paired with a recipe inspired by the meal. While you’re stuck at home, you can now escape to Paris, The Amalfi Coast, Hong Kong, Spain, Sweden, and Los Angeles. And, in case you’re wondering, Zoe is currently stuck in Pennsylvania, eating her way through the fridge. Zoe’s first “report”: Paris.
“That last bite is all you,” he said, letting air out like a balloon with a tiny piercing. We were both about to pop. The plate in front of us was a Van Gogh of burnt cream sauce and black peppercorn moons. “I can’t do it,” I said, looking at the last, perfect forkful of steak au poivre. I was disappointed in myself. I wanted to be “that girl,” but my new high-waisted pants were already unbuttoned once. I couldn’t bear to unbutton another. This was spring break in Paris. I wanted to be chic and hungry.
“I think I need a cigarette,” he gorged. His blue pinstripe shirt ruched at the buttons, his napkin tucked into his collar like an old-school lobster dinner. I missed his long, flowy hair, but this new cut suited him. He looked like a little French schoolboy, and I loved it.
“Smoking kills.” I smirked like a kid, out to get the world. It was pitch-black out, but Bistrot Paul Bert was bursting with life. Characters filled worn, red leather banquettes—artists, actors, chefs, connoisseurs, debauchees. We all appreciated a decadent meal. None of us knew how to stop. We were animals, taxidermized to the table. Stuffed so hard our eyes couldn’t shut.
“You Americans,” the waiter spat, “you come all the way to Paris to eat, and you can’t even finish!” as he arrived at our table with another carafe of wine. A serviette draped over his right forearm, resting on his crisp white shirt. He looked like a skunk in his black-vested uniform. All French are skunks. It’s part of their charm, right? I looked at M and mouthed, “SOS.” I thought I might vomit. We gagged and laughed. We were full, happy, in love.
A lone escargot sat crushed on the floor, next to my feet—a terrible fate for such a delicacy. Thank god I wasn’t like that little snail. Maybe I’d end up happy after all. Maybe I wouldn’t end up alone, on the floor, at the feet of others.
“The Grand Marnier soufflé is coming out any minute,” Pepé le Pew interrupted our moment. I forgot we ordered the soufflé. The waiter said it took thirty minutes to prepare, so we put in an order at the beginning of the meal. Now there was no hope for post-dinner sex. I couldn’t think about one more thing entering my body.
The candle burned out. The lights dimmed. I was falling into a mood, a coma. The soufflé jiggled to the table—gorgeous, perfect, puffed, and browned. I didn’t care how full I was. It was famous. I was in Paris. I wanted the soufflé. I unbuttoned one more button on my pants.
Bistrot Paul Bert
18 Rue Paul Bert, 75011 Paris, France
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Rated Top Bistrot in Paris
Grand Marnier Soufflé
2 tablespoons soft butter
4 tablespoons sugar
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar + 1 ½ teaspoons
¼ cup Grand Marnier + 1 ½ teaspoons
1 tablespoon orange rind
pinch of salt
7 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
Preheat the oven to 425 °F, on convection.
Grease the inside of two 16-ounce soufflé dishes with the soft butter (each soufflé serves two). Coat with sugar, tipping and shaking to spread evenly. Turn the dish over and knock out the excess sugar. Set both aside.
Whisk the egg yolks in a stainless bowl until they are well blended. Slowly add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue whisking until the yolks become thick and pale yellow. Set bowl over a barely simmering pot of water to heat the egg yolks (mimicking a double boiler), stirring gently and constantly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, until the mixture
slightly thickens and becomes just hot to touch. Remove from heat.
Stir in the Grand Marnier, orange peel, and pinch of salt. Immediately transfer to a clean, large bowl and put into an ice bath. Stir the mixture until very cold. Remove from the ice and set aside.
In a stand mixer, on medium-high speed, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar until they form stiff, unwavering peaks. Using a rubber spatula, stir a large spoonful of beaten egg white into the egg-yolk mixture to lighten it up. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the mixture.
Pour mixture into the prepared dishes. Smooth the top of the soufflé with an offset spatula or knife. Make a decorative cap by sliding your finger all the way around the edge of the rim.
Bake at 425°F on the middle shelf of the oven for 2 minutes, then reduce to 400°F and bake for another 8 minutes. C’est fini when the soufflé is puffed high above the top of the rim and browned on top.
Dust with confectioner’s sugar over a fine mesh strainer. Serve immediately. Soufflés deflate.