Not just any restaurant review

 

It’s time to come to grips with reality–I’m waaaay past the point of using the excuse “I just moved here” to explain my lack of cooking–or attempting to cook–or even grocery shopping for that matter. The fact is, when I’m murmuring, “oh my gosh, it’s getting late! What will I make for dinner?” I know what I’ll make for dinner…RESERVATIONS. Whether having dinner with Mr. Wonderful or a lingering lunch with a dear friend, our neighborhood pizzeria has become our kitchen away from home, and it’s growing on us…like a truffle.

We first visited Our Restaurant just days after we arrived in Luxembourg. We were sans reservations, and were greeted by a flustered waiter who was a little less than welcoming and not at all charmed by our Tarzan French with a West Virginia accent. Generally, we can elicit smiles from the most distracted serveurs, but not this time. We ordered wine, vin rouge et vin blanc, which we repeated in French as well as English. The waiter brought two glasses of red wine, and was quite perturbed when we corrected him. As we dined, we watched customers come and go, some were greeted with the Luxembourg kiss(es), some with a handshake–we’d been greeted with shifty eyes, a nervous twitch, and a final resignation that they’re-not-leaving-so-they-might-as-well-be-seated attitude.  Being the types who wade in and ignore the more subtle nuances of European etiquette, we smiled and assumed the best, taking a smallish table near the window. The meal was delightful, the experience really was quite enjoyable as the hustle and bustle of locals filled the space.

It was inevitable that we return to Our Restaurant as, the schedule of our French classes, paired with the phrase “fully booked” from other restaurants and the rumble of hunger steered us in that direction. The restaurant is quite conveniently located just a few blocks from our apartment. Of course, it requires a nearly vertical trek home after filling our filling our stomachs, but who’s complaining? (Okay…I do…all the way up the hill…EVERY TIME). Our habit was (French class est fini) to walk from class in the city centre to Our Restaurant, arriving around 8pm, before the dinner rush on Monday and Wednesday evenings. We watch the maître d’ greet the patrons with a flourish, pour the wine with added kisses, and typically bellow at or frantically gesture for Pasquale–the somewhat detached and (maybe) confused waiter from our first visit. We see many of the same satisfied and animated diners, eat our same favorite delicious dinners,  and enjoy the brasserie drama.

And now…we are greeted at the door with the Luxembourg salute–three kisses beginning on the left side (unlike the two-kiss Italian welcome beginning on the right cheek–more later about greetings gone awry!), we can coax a smile from grumpy Pasquale, we receive a complimentary lemoncello at the end of the evening. When introducing our friends to Our Restaurant, they are welcomed as generously as we. On such an occasion, I asked the maitre d’ to take a photo of us, so he cheerfully took my phone to snap of this (not so flattering) photo instead of a pic of our group!

We’ve been scolded for using the wrong fork for our sea bass Valentine dinner (here we go with the big fish stories again!), and we’ve taught Pasquale the meaning of the word “fancy” and that we don’t wear it well. He is always happy to help with menu suggestions, to talk us into ordering the delicious and artsy pane cotta for dessert, always pouring the extra glass of wine for my dear friend and me at lunch (we pay for it, of course!). Now we feel a part of the neighborhood, like we’ve found “our place,” like we’ve reconciled our clumsy attempts of integrating with the elegance of Europe. Our neighborhood pizzeria has definitely become Our Restaurant, with the staff our quirky and loveable members of the family. Because, after all…96c19661e11912aac44401e72aaa34b5

 

We’ve done lots of people watching in the past 6 months. We’ve watched diners and tourists, parents and lovers, business people and trailing spouses. Concocting tales about the public we observe is not only a fascinating pastime, but a helpful tool for us to frame  our casual considerations and assimilate (or just pass the time). Here are some of the novelties we’ve experienced as expats:

Everyone in Europe wears a scarf. I’m thinking it’s not as much a fashion statement as a protection against the cool, damp air. Despite the fact that puffy jackets suddenly appear here when the temperature dips below 60° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius–doesn’t that number make you feel colder anyway?), I have yet to wear a winter coat this season, as the combination of  a scarf tucked jauntily into my collar and hot flash keep me toasty–or downright sweaty–as I walk or bus about Luxembourg City.

Men carry purses. Okay, maybe they don’t really “carry” but wear them–cross body or on the shoulder–bigger, smaller–it seems purses for men make up about 50 percent of the luxury purse market. Hmmm….maybe I have seen as many men as women in the Gucci boutique in city centre as I drool outside the window. The bags don’t make the men look less masculine, just more European “and sensible,” said the woman digging her husband’s sunglasses and wallet from her formerly adequately-sized cross body reticule.

Girls on bikes are beautiful. They have good posture, long flowing hair, charming hats, and skirts that don’t get caught in the spokes or the chains. And they’re not sweaty as they peddle away  with colorful flowers in their baskets–how do they bike and not be drippy???

Watch your step–dog poo plagues the path. And by plague I mean it’s everywhere on the sidewalk and in parking lots! Here we are, in beautiful Europe…one of Mark’s colleagues told him, “Ah, I see you’ve made it to the civilized part of the world,” yet in this refined age, men are still Euro-peeing and leaving dog poop on the sidewalk! My heart rate would be a lot higher on my walks if I didn’t have to dodge feces missiles every meter…or maybe seeing that special litter is what elevates my pulse.

European drivers are mercurial. Stay a second too long when a traffic light turns green and someone at the wheel behind you will certainly lay on the horn–it’s not just a little tap–he or she must certainly be reclining on the horn. On the motorway, he sneaks up on you while you’re driving the permitted 120 kilometers per hour, flashing his lights until you can skirt the truck moving at a speed of only 100.  Yet, when making a left-hand turn onto a busy street, that same someone would surely stop, not just slow down, to allow you to enter the road safely. It’s a conundrum….

The Dutch are very tall. I’m not a short woman…I’m taller than my sisters and my mother and my daughter and my husband’s sisters (and my husband), taller than most of my friends, but when Mark and I wen t to the Netherlands, I felt incredibly short. Our casual observation (and aching necks) are substantiated by the website liveandinvestoverseas.com, which states that, yes, the Netherlands is the tallest country in the world. In fact, the Dutch government recently promised to change building regulations to increase the height of doorways. I’ll wager that means the Dutch have bigger feet–this Sasquatch mama needs a new pair of shoes!

and, finally

There is nothing cuter than a little kid speaking French. Period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee Klatsch

Coffee. I miss meeting a friend in a coffee shop, warming my hands around a LARGE steaming mug of the aromatic, dark drink, chatting without end as the waitress brings the pot to “top off” my cup. I miss being asked, “Cream and sugar?” so I can respond, “No thanks, I take it black and bitter!” Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with a new friend over coffee for me, tea for her. The company was great, the cup was small–not even the width of my hand, and there were no refills, free or otherwise…

Like all of us, this beautiful beverage has a history, dark and bold. In the 16 century, a shepherd noticed his little goats bouncing off the Ethiopian plateau after eating the berries from a certain tree. The shepherd took those berries and reported his observations to a local monastery. The monks devised a brew from the beans and drank it to keep themselves from dozing during dusk devotions. The pep-producing beverage gained a reputation which spread quickly, along with the beans (www.ncausa.org). By the 17th century, coffee had spilled across Europe, replacing the usual breakfast drink of champions–wine or beer. Apparently, replacing the dawn draft with coffee invigorated workers, assisting their energy and effectiveness (according to the National Coffee Association of the USA). Hmpff…truly, critical thinking, powered by mocha, at its finest!

And now, as Mark and I find ourselves in the heart of Europe, I’m missing my American-get-a-large-for-a-buck coffee from McDonald’s. Though I do love my java black, espresso is not my thing (there’s not enough in a shot for lingering). And poor Mark, who loves half and half in his brew…coffee with milk after breakfast is frowned upon, and we can’t find dairy which translates as the whitener Mark prefers. So we smile as we swill a cup o’ joe down to the last dune of sludge in the mug and ponder the differences in caffeine culture (that’s not what keeps us up at night!), drinking in the antioxidants and the European world around us.

 

 

 

This little piggy

Convenience:  anything that saves or simplifies work, adds to one’s ease or comfort,etc., according to Dictionary.com.

From this definition, there are different categories of convenience–an electric mixer or having laundry facilities close by definitely saves work! I wanted to make chocolate mousse last week, but having only a whisk and flabby old arms…well, I made brownies instead. Having a vehicle to use definitely adds to our ease of getting out and about, that is, until we encounter minuscule parking spaces and the need to exit the car through the rear hatch because the doors won’t open wide enough for the body matching those arms! And how this hot-flashing woman longs for the comfort of air conditioning, or screens on the windows…

This weekend, Mark and I had planned to go to the grocery store on Saturday. Not a big deal, you may say. BUT!  Stores here are open until 6:00 some evenings, 8:00 others. We had a very full day Saturday video-chatting with family (it’s not convenient to do so during the week, due to the 6 hour time difference). We tidied up, chatted with one family member, then another, then another… and before we knew it–7:30 pm. No time for the grocery store! (We still had coffee, wine, and cheese, thank God!). Plan B: DelHaize closes at 1 pm on Sunday, swing by after church and buy the toilet paper and water and laundry detergent and milk and bread…Needless to say, whisk a loquacious pastor into the mix, and this little piggy did not get to market!

The good thing is, Mark and I are learning to plan ahead–for shopping, for dining, for traffic and filling up the gas tank. Our tummies are syncing with the restaurant timetables (no early bird dinners!). Our fridge compensates the small quantities in which foods are sold here. While I waffle (we’re very close to Belgium, you know) on the reasoning behind such a way of life here, it does remind me of a simpler life, of a better balance between work and leisure,  rushing and resting.  In the meantime? This little piggy’s running to DelHaize to get some roast beef!

 

Dining Out, or the 200 Euro Fish

“Wow…wow…”  Mark says, every time he looks at a menu in a restaurant (whether here or in the States). He does not refer to the amazing menu, les risottos or pâtes, viandes ou piosson. No, my dear husband makes a commentary on the pricing of the menu–whether dollar or Euro–it seems he cannot hold his tongue regarding the cost of satisfying that same tongue with delicious cuisine.

In April, after we’d signed a lease contract for an apartment here in Luxembourg, Mark suggested we have a celebratory dinner. He made reservations at a restaurant on Place d’Armes at the still-too-early-for-Europe hour of 19.30 (7:30pm–military time is not for me)! Though the company paid for our meals while on this trip, Mark and I decided we would, from our own funds, pay for a special bottle of wine to accompany the meal, a bottle of Sancerre Blanc, which is definitely more pricey than the Barefoot or Dark Horse brand of wines we typically drink. We dressed up a bit and arrived at the restaurant at the appointed time. After the requisite “wow,” and pouring over the menu, we decided on a lovely fish soup as a starter. Wait staff attended us well, placing the napkin in our laps, allowing us choice of the bread they would then place on our plates, keeping our water glasses and wine glasses full. I made my request for Blue Stone Crab for dinner. The waitress looked at Mark as he said, “I’d like the Sea Bass,” which was listed on the menu for 12.90€. Mark had chosen the least expensive item on the menu. The waitress exclaimed, “oh, Monsieur, it is enough for two!” I saw my blue stone crab crawling away as Mark looked at me, eyebrows raised. I agreed to have fish as well.

The wait staff presented the uncooked, whole fish to us for our approval. We looked at each other, smiled, then nodded our agreement. Mark and I continued to delight in the attention of the staff, and the owner, as we relaxed in the restaurant. As if on schedule, the cooked, whole, salt-crusted fish is ceremoniously revealed to us, then filleted in our presence, and served. The sea bass was good, though I still had a yearning for crab! We lingered over the fish, then crème brûlée and café. It was a wonderful evening. When we eventually requested the check, Mark perused it, did a double-take, read it again, then called the wait staff over with a menu. It was explained to us that the Chilean Sea Bass we had ordered was indeed 12.90 Euro–per 100 g. The dead fish we’d been shown pre-meal weighed 1 kilo! I’m not incredibly proficient in math or the metric system, but I was astute enough to realize that fish had cost us 122.90 Euro–over one hundred fifty American dollars, not to mention the wine, starter, dessert and coffee.

Needless to say, we did not submit that meal to the expense account–we paid it all from our own pocket! Needless to say, we learned a lesson about reading the menu–look for the small print! Needless to say, we felt foolish, country bumpkin-ish. Since then? We’re not crabby.  We’re not perched on a high horse. We laugh, just for the halibut!