Years ago, my wife and I were in Paris on Valentine’s Day. I assumed that the City of Love would have nothing but disdain for the Hallmark-invented holiday, but I was wrong and every place was full. My only hope was that we had a head start because we were hungry and ready to dine at 6 p.m. like the uncouth Americans we are.
We came across a lovely restaurant with a Valentine’s Day menu posted on a chalkboard out front and asked the maître d’ if he had a table for two. He skeptically looked us up and down.
“Can you eat in two hours?” he asked. I stared at him blankly. “Can you finish eating in two hours?” he repeated impatiently.
I nodded. I was confident that we could eat pretty much anything in fifteen minutes.
Still suspicious, he seated us at a table by the window and the feast commenced. Course after course arrived until we couldn’t manage another rabbit rillette or butter-drenched snail.
Then came a trio of pots de creme. Then a plate of mini macarons and chocolates. Then a tray of house-made marshmallows. As we waddled out the door at 7:59, the maître d’ gave us a reluctant nod of approval.
That’s what my dinner at Flora Street Café last night was like, without the time constraint. We had a reservation at 6:30 to celebrate a friend’s promotion, and my wife and I arrived an hour early to start drinking. We were seated immediately and leisurely enjoyed our overly sweet but satisfyingly strong cocktails while watching the staff prep for the dinner service in the open kitchen.
When our friends arrived, we worked through the wine menu with our effortlessly adept waitress. I told her we needed something sparkly and dry. She brought us a bottle of Paul Clouet Grand Cru. To start, we ordered the lobster tamale pie, Nantucket scallops with coconut, and wagyu beef tartare. She surprised us with the kona kampachi. We ordered the lamb, rib-eye, and venison to share. She advised us that the venison was actually antelope (even better) and recommended the corvina as a fourth dish. She suggested a red that worked with the fish and rib-eye for our dining companions and didn’t even flinch as I chose to stick with the bubbly as I devoured my perfectly cooked lamb, only pretending to share. Not ready to let the evening end, we ordered the tres leches cake and she surprised us with the addition of a fleur de sel chocolate mousse accompanied with a “congratulations” note in chocolate.
Then came a plate of mini meringue-topped cookies, cassis gelee, and tiny frangipane triangles.
Then came a wooden cigar box of Katherine Clapner’s peanut butter and jelly, spicy mole, and foie gras-filled chocolates.
Then came tiny gift bags of candied pecans.
Five hours after we arrived, having stayed through two full seatings with no complaints, our waitress hugged us on our way out the door.
Viva la lobster tamale pie.