Tony, with the confidence of a young Clint Eastwood and the charm of Oprah Winfrey, could usually secure a table anywhere, even in the most obscure corner of the culinary sphere.
We figured, as well, that the production brains behind the man could rival Mossad’s very best. After all, we had heard of (and witnessed) occasions when ice-cold beers, banquets, and troubadours were procured and hired seamlessly, even in the seediest of locations.
We wanted a humble, small French restaurant, of the sort we often longed for: candles, fromages, and vin rouge. It would be a pilgrimage to France, or at least its closest outpost. We vouched for it intensely: Saint-Pierre et Miquelon.
It looked like France. Once you walked 100 paces from shore, you were in an eight-digit-phone-number zone. There was a discotheque as if from the French films we liked as kids.
We walked to and from the establishments that would—not so politely—decline to grace us with a table. Behind virulent Gallic stares, their owners fenced the victuals and libations into otherwise empty dining rooms.
We called fixers and played the Francophile card … to no avail.
At the last fluorescent-lit bistro on our list, a reluctant tradesman in oddly modern work garb agreed to seat us.
We were served Mexican-inflected escargots, impressionist renditions of beef on square plates, and a few bottles of red with more sulfur than gunpowder. It was not the stuff of Marcel Pagnol’s movies.
Nougat glacé was our last chip in the game—all or nothing. Fresh cream, egg whites, and honey is an ace that understaffed and choleric kitchens keep up their sleeve; but it tastes great and you rarely see it these days. We briefly dared to dream of nougat with plump cherries soaked in kirsch and warm apricot sauce poured, with class and resoluteness, from a sterling sauceboat. What we got was the nougat in its barest iteration, one that resembled a sample from a disappearing ice cap. Not the classic entremet glacé from the worn pages of our Escoffier! What it mostly lacked was a spoon. But that was arranged swiftly when one was tossed from the service station by the waiter, who hadn’t wanted us there in the first place.
Tony passed on the discotheque. He did right.