One can achieve the corpulence of age through bad eating habits or good ones. I tend to think that my current physiognomy is a result of the latter. I love good food and fine restaurants. I've recently been reading Anthony Bourdain's random musings on a range of topics, mostly related to fine restaurants and the people who run them . His newest book, "Medium Raw" is an irreverent delight, both crude and cultured in the same well-crafted sentences. It caused me to dwell on my time in Europe and my excursions into the world of Michelin stars.
Michelin produces touring guide books. The green series are for walking around the great cities and viewing the sights. The red ones are the bible for restaurants and lodgings. Pick a country and buy a book. Find the town you'll visit and you will find a list of all the hotels and eating establishments. Contact info, a map, and a rating of amenities will help you choose.
The stars are something special. A restaurant doesn't get a Michelin star easily. They are defined thus:
One star: very good within its class.
Two star: worthy of a detour in your travels.
Three star: worthy of a special trip.
A special trip just for a meal! There aren't many Michelin three star establishments in the world. For years they existed only in France. They are beyond good eating. They define impeccable. Details you don't even think about are taken care of for you and suddenly you notice what you had never realized about life.
Want to know what I mean? Here's one that I had a chance to visit in Paris. That was in 1976 and apparently it still has the quality which I enjoyed on that memorable day:
It is just off the Champs Elysée on a street of immaculate white multi-story buildings. You mention your name as the doorman holds your taxi door. You won't need to mention it again. In the lobby you are met and an elevator is summoned to take you to the dining room above. The door opens and you are greeted by a waiter who escorts you to the maitre de who guides you to your table.
But, it is the little and often surprising things that are memorable. As we ate and marveled at the tastes and presentation and fine wine, a soft whirring noise started. It wasn't obtrusive or even distracting. Barely a hum. Then, slowly a crack appeared in the ceiling over the dining room. Within a minute the crack broadened and the ceiling majestically retracted to open the roof to the blue sky and balmy breezes of Paris in bloom. Fully retracted the opening revealed the boundaries outlined in cascading flowers. It defined beautiful.
Service is beyond impeccable. It is almost inevitable that during a long and beautiful meal you might experience the call of nature. I moved to fold my napkin and a waiter appeared next to me. He took my napkin as another stood ready to ease my chair back. The first waiter then escorted me to the elevator and sent me to the ground level where yet another waiter met me and guided me to the men's room where a fourth individual held the door. By the time I faced the urinal I was apprehensive that the aiming, shaking and tucking might give me more assistance than I needed. The return to my table was similar where my silver service had been replaced and a fresh napkin awaited.
That's Michelin three star...and I miss it. I've never seen anything like it in the US.
(Lasserre has lost a star over the years, but I suspect that might be a reflection of changing standards and the restaurant's commitment to the traditions which it has long established.)