The other day I had a phone call from the past. An old restaurant customer passing through town wanting to connect. He was taking the opportunity to tell me how much a specific dinner in ROXY’S BISTRO had helped him at a difficult time. Did I remember? Of course. I had seated him at the best table in the house.
The best table in our restaurant did not exist. Our restaurant was not large. It was more the size of the small bistros one is accustomed to in France. We had just forty chairs in the dining room and four more chairs in “the vault”. The vault was the original vault for the building. It made an intimate dining room for four very good friends.
This is how the best table in ROXY’S was created. It was a very busy night. Every table in the restaurant was booked. A regular customer walked in hopeful I could squeeze one solitary diner in for dinner. He looked tired. In need of care and nourishment. He was a judge and involved in a particularly long and unpleasant court case. I couldn’t send him away. Into the dark night. Hungry. He had his responsibilities and we had ours. And ours was to feed the hungry . To nourish their souls.
“I have one table. You won’t be able to order off the menu. It’s crowded. A bit hectic and definitely on the warm side, but I can promise you, you won’t leave hungry.”
I sat him at a table barely large enough to hold a plate and a glass of wine. Wedged into a corner, his knees tucked in to avoid flying waiters, our kitchen began to feed this hungry soul. As each order was filled a nibble of this a taste of that landed on the best table that didn’t exist.
He watched the ballet of kitchen. The line working quietly in perfect unison. As carefully choreographed as a ballet. Night after night the dance is repeated. Everyone knows the steps. Quiet, calm, and the occasional laugh as waiters and chefs worked together. We were a family.
Our customer finished his meal. Then sat late into the evening, reluctant to leave the warmth and comradeship he had experienced at “the best table in-house”. The table that didn’t exist.
This is a blog from several years ago. I love that ROXY’S BISTRO still exists in the memories of those who dined in our restaurant and those who worked with us and shared our passion. The hours were long. There were few days off and even less holidays but for my husband and myself they were absolutely the best working days of our life. And happy the two line chefs in the above photograph of the kitchen are still part of our lives.
We bring back a million memories from Paris. We remember how a Parisian women ties her silk scarves. And how our heart skipped a beat at the first sight of the Eiffel tower. We pack our suitcases with French linens and red soled shoes. We take a thousand photographs. We close our eyes and savor again the sublime lemon tart from our favorite patisserie. Among all the gorgeous tarts in the bakery showcase it is always the lemon tart I choose.
The lemon tarts created by Pierre Hermes are utterly sublime. They are not difficult to make, but with something so simple, each element has to be perfect. The pastry must be crisp and cookie-like. . The lemon filling flawless. I have adapted his recipe and if you follow the instructions carefully you will create a tart worthy of any patisserie. The French Lemon Tart is divided into two parts. You make the crust and bake it. You make the lemon cream (think curd) filling.. Then you fill your tart. Done – except for extravagant swirls of whipped cream.
The tart should serve six to eight people, but last week at Sunday dinner I will unashamedly admit that four of us – myself, husband, son and and daughter-in-law went back for second servings and left an embarrassing small slice of tart on the plate.
The secrets for a perfect FRENCH LEMON TART are yours at MRS. BUTTERFINGERS.
It is interesting how a piece of music can recreate vivid memories. This morning I was listening to CBC radio. They were playing a Mozart violin concerto and I slipped a couple of decades back into the past. I was remembering Father Mulcahy and the actor William Christopher who played him in the television series M.A.S.H.
William Christopher was performing dinner theatre at a major hotel in our city. On his night off he came to our restaurant for dinner. Of all nights for me to be out of town! I was dismayed that I had missed the opportunity to tell him how much joy watching M.A.S.H had given us. I gathered up my courage and telephoned him. “You had given us so much over the years would you please let us show our gratitude by dining with us at Roxy’s Bistro.”
And that is how it all began. He walked into the restaurant. Other diners smiled and nodded and respected his privacy. A group of us talked long into the evening. William Christopher told us when he wasn’t doing dinner theatre he taught music at a California university.
I asked if there was music he was particularly fond of. “I love Mozart. Particularly his violin concertos.. The concerto #5 in A Major is one of my favorites” he replied. I slipped quietly from the table and put a tape into our sound system. Mozart’s violin concerto #5 soared through the high-ceiling room, swirled around our table wrapping us in music. We sat quietly sipping our wine and listening. It was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.
Early the next morning the phone rang. The oh so familiar voice from M.A.S.H. William Christopher asking us to be his guests at the dinner theatre. We still watch M.A.S..H. every evening at 7:00 pm. It is like watching old friends. And every once in a while we say to each other “remember when we’ve dined with Father Mulcahy”.
BEL’OCCHIO … the beautiful eye
A Restaurant Blackboard
For years all things wonderful were written on this blackboard.
Shrimp in crisp almond batter, shoe-string deep fried sweet potatoes and citrus sauce.
Baby Northern pickerel sauteed in brown butter with capers and lemons.
Roast Cornish game hens with a hot Szechuan sauce.
Tagine of Moroccan chicken with apricots and preserved lemon.
If I could bring back all that has been written on this blackboard it would be a story of the glorious food we prepared daily in our restaurant, Roxy’s Bistro.
This blackboard was our daily “fresh sheet” and for years just before the restaurant opened I would chalk up the days menu additions.
For years it has languished in storage. I couldn’t bear to part with the blackboard for my father-in-law constructed it. So I painted the battered frame a lovely gray. Gave the blackboard a fresh coat of paint. Painted on a few swirls and curls and hung it close to my French butler’s pantry.
Now I have a place to write a daily quote, “Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live on dreams”.
Or have a little fun dreaming again … Lunch with Daniel Craig.