by amy – October 16, 2015 in Words
It’s a sunny morning and I’m seated outside as usual with a cup of tea, a boule of bread baking in the oven. I had enough wine last night to give me a very slight hangover, and now I’m nursing it with the tea, a banana, and sunshine. It was a Bordeaux; a birthday Bordeaux. Florian had looked up the best French chef in Wellington, winner of competitions, and found his little restaurant called Jano.
As we approached by night, it barely looked like a place of business. It was a petite little cottage with a pointed roof and warm yellow light spilling out its windows onto a covered front porch. The signage was understated.
“Florian?” The hostess glanced up from the reservation and welcomed us with a warm smile. She took our coats, then led us up a narrow set of stairs to the second floor. There we found wooden floors and private booths. The room was well lit, but the light was gentle, and so were the colors it caressed. A brick chimney added a rustic feeling.
The food was undeniably exquisite. We marveled at every plate we were served. I knew the wine was good when Florian sat back after his first sip with a blissful smile and closed eyes, his face aglow. His smile lights me up inside. It hides nothing, and crosses his face the instant that something (usually wine or cheese) brings him pleasure. The smile lingers as he pays homage to the moment. In that moment he surrenders all care, and his face lightens the hearts of all witnesses.
The waitresses were friendly. The one serving us spoke with a prominent and pleasant accent, clearly preferring her native French. She had been in Wellington just seven months. I said what few words I knew in French, hoping to encourage her to speak it, and she did then converse with Florian. I knew he welcomed the opportunity, having spent over a year in three English-speaking countries since he last visited his.
Similar to my experience at a fine restaurant in Paris, I found the servers to be surprisingly casual in their manner and neutral in their attire and presentation. Such modest ease would be unexpected in a high class American restaurant. Here it was natural to be refined, and refined to be natural. That pleased me. The food was expensive, but justifiably so, because it was made with quality. Despite its simple, rustic charm, this was true fine dining. Like his wine, Florian took pride in his taste for quality in restaurants, and money was no object when it was one of those rare events that he felt deserved the best. He was spoiling me and I enjoyed it; enjoyed seeing him enjoy it.
When she poured a sipful of wine into my glass and stood back, waiting, I realized I already knew what to do, having seen Florian go through this custom before, in France. I took the glass by the stem, swirled the wine and smelled it before tasting it. It pleased my taste buds immediately, and I voiced my approval emphatically with a smile. I knew I had performed the whole ritual clumsily. I felt myself lacking elegance in such a fine place. Swirling such a large glass by the stem wasn’t as easy as it looked. Neither did I wait for the aftertaste of the wine before approving it. Florian’s manner would have been different. He judged wine carefully and with a straight face. Wine was serious business. I wasn’t sure I had made the right choice until I saw that smile of his.
As we paid downstairs, a young man passed behind us, said goodnight and smiled at us as he walked toward the front door. He was short and casually dressed, with a beard. Was he the chef? He didn’t look like a chef. At least not the one that made our meal. He exchanged some friendly words with Florian in French, and then I realized he was the chef. Florian had passed his compliments to him through the waitress during dinner. It was a rare chance that we now got to see him in person, and that he thanked us in return. He seemed so humble. If I passed hm on the street, I would never have guessed he was the best chef in Wellington.
We walked the few blocks back to the car, Florian’s arm around my shoulders the whole time (to let the world know that I was his, he said, to my delight), and we returned home safely, if a little tipsily, brimming with smiles from a bottle of birthday Bordeaux.