We started with the Palak Chaat, which is crispy baby spinach with a sweet yogurt, tamarind, and date chutney. (Indian food would not be the same without chutney.) For my entree, I had chicken tikka masala. Yes, I admit that this is not real “Indian” food. The menu even referred to it, truthfully, as the “national dish of England”! To top it off, we also enjoyed the Lamb Kathi Roll – succulent tandoori lamb with roti and mint chutney.
On Memorial Day, we had brunch at Le Diplomate, a restaurant about as close as one can get to being in Paris without buying a ticket on Air France. It is a beautiful restaurant, though it lacks the worn-down, languid charm, and savor faire of a true Parisian bistro.
When you first walk into Le Diplomate, you notice a marble-topped table piled high with baguettes and other French breads. And beyond that a large oak bar, with a vintage, yellow bicycle surrounded by framed Tour de France jerseys on the wall. The scene is completed with red leather banquettes, tiled floors, and pages from vintage French nudie mags on the walls of the bathrooms.
Brunch was an upscale interpretation of classic Parisian brasserie cuisine: a French 75 for an aperitif; pommes frites, then a bottle of Côtes de Rhône; a baguette provençale with French salami, idiazabal, cornichon, mustard vinaigrette; and profiteroles for dessert.
On the flight back to Birmingham later that day, I got to thinking about the connections between travel and food and memory. Without traveling too far by modern standards, I had had lunch at a deli that served pimento cheese, reminiscent of home; an Indian restaurant thousands of miles from India that reminded me of a long-ago trip to London; and brunch at a French restaurant that brought back memories of leisurely strolls in the 5th Arrondissement. This notion of travel and memory was captured recently in a great travel article in The New York Times by Liesl Schillinger (Read article). In it, she returns to a small village in central France where she had stayed one summer as a young girl. She states that “[i]n the mind, geography converges; beloved landscapes, villages, cities, countries, all become one, in the borderless scrapbook of memory.”
Her sentiments are equally true when it comes to food. And just like my memories of my travels will be no less idealized than Schillinger’s, I will also one day do the same about the meals I had one weekend in Washington, DC, in the late spring of 2014. As Anthony Bourdain once said: “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”
I’m already journey proud for the next course!