We were early, the first customers of the evening at Je thé… me, a romantic restaurant known for its good food. We crossed the thick curtain covering the door and into a comfortably furnished, tight, dining room. The host, Jacky Larsonneur, tall and erect, is standing at the center of the room, his mischievous blue eyes sparkling. He pounces on us with the grace of a well fed tiger! We were to be his willing prey for the evening. We loved being the center of his sage and savvy attention.
He ushered us to our padded seats and fully welcomed us to his place, with a touch of formality which would be soon brushed away, he instantly signaled that the ancient rules of hospitality were in effect. We had arrived into the care of Je thé… me, a space where we could put our guard down and swallow the delicious fact that we had entered a restaurant unlike any other. Larsonneur has deftly owned and operated the enchanting restaurant for almost three decades. The space is a home away from home, a well polished jewel of romantic corner kitchens, an absolutely perfect, quintessentially French spot. I’ve quietly dreamt of such places my whole life. In New York, we attempt recreate the energy of such spaces… perhaps Balthazar’s succeeds. The shelves are filled with books, tea pots, and other “comforts of home.” The warmly furnished room is acutely inviting, a place to melt away stress and enjoy a fine meal. The Germans call this feeling, “Gemütlichkeit,” which loosely translates to, “cosy,” or “warm and familiar.” It is a complex word, really… yet it fits perfectly in thinking of the warm embrace of the space, the restaurant, Je thé… me… such a sensual name… such an excellent evening, about to unfold.
“English?” He asks after a few pleasantries in French. He introduces us to his menu. It was poetry in food, just delightful. Salivating over the options, we allowed him to guide us, making recommendations, choosing which wine we drank. At ease in the roll of Culinary Guide, he takes us on a marvelous trip into a familiar yet new world of flavor. We eat and drink with silent reverence. Other guests arrive. First a man with two beautiful Asian women, who sound 100% California. They are seated on the other side of the attractive room. Later, they come to appear flabbergasted, mouths open, eyes bulging, at the wealth of attention we receive from our talented host. Shortly after an older woman and her (likely) granddaughter appear and are seated. Finally, a young blond couple from Denmark take the table next to us, where they proceeded to make-out passionately for two hours. Did they eat food? I don’t know. I was busy scarfing DOWN my entire plate, making every morsel vanish, worshiping drops of reduction sauces, expertly prepared.
I am transported to a purely sensual zone. Ms. Crane, The Muse, sits next to me on the bench, laughing, making funny comments about the cast of characters around us, the universe, and beyond. Hours slip by, we don’t fret. This is a time reserved for eating, drinking, and conversation. My adoring Big German Scientist husband, enjoys the view, across from us and documenting our good time without being intrusive. Speaking of welcome intrusion… did I mention that Jacky planted his laptop on our table and sang to us, old French songs? He did. He sang to us! He serenaded our table! (How’s that for entertainment?) He has a marvelous voice. He popped his laptop on our table and shared with us a video of him, on youtube singing in a choir as a young boy. He was an angel. He sang solo, brilliantly! The camera loved his blond boy beauty. Oh, Jacky! You are a restaurant man beyond compare! What talent! Pure charm! Je thé… me.
The food was divine. Yet, I refuse to divulge the details of what I ate. Eat bite was a discovery, an explosion of flavor in my mouth. No, I won’t write a laundry list of ingredients. No. Exactly what I ate doesn’t concern others… Unless, of course, they man-up NOW and venture beyond the barnyard gate, to Je thé me… in Paris! Once there, I can imagine, a parade of pilgrims, FRANCO-FOODIES by the herd, hereby and henceforth, respectfully paying homage to Larsonneur’s impeccable hospitality, good wine, and super-fresh French food with bus tours (god forbid) and other (less tacky) fanfare. I will just say: that if one does not live to visit Jacky Larsonneur at Je thé… me, is simply missing out on enjoying living, breathing, singing history in action.
There is no television in the historically preserved room. By and large, French restaurants do not bombard you with advertising while you are eating. French food is to be taken s l o w l y, quietly or boisterously depending on the mood. The music, wine, and incredible quality of the food all collaborate to take you to sacred heights within yourself and in communion with tradition. French food is famous, of course, but when you actually sit and eat food that deserves this degree of reverence it changes you.
I will never again be the same woman. I have changed from the inside out, a part of me, my heart… I think… is now––forever–– French. I do not know IF the Potato Eaters at the other tables felt the same AWE over the delicate, fresh, innovative, yet totally traditional FRENCH cuisine, prepared sensitively, and served with intimate flair.
At our table, Ms. Crane, Hartmuth and I were swaying in a whirl of FOODIE JOY beyond general comprehension. It was a secular, intensely sensual, culinary-come-religious-experience. In this mood, of beyond bliss, the hours passed and we continued eating. Finally, we begged Jacky to pick our desserts. He brought one for each and each was pure perfection with the entree, eaten. WE had NEVER had such a meal, such service! The wine… ah… it was sublime. I shall never recover from this re-introduction to what food can be. Food is a potential space-ship with direct shuttles to heavenly JOY! Now, from the shelf, tumbled one of the encyclopedias on France. (OK, I admit, that I could not resist pulling one of the books off the shelf and perusing it, while the ice wine was being retrieved.) The book popped open, before us and there was Jacky, turning the pages to his Chateau… really? Yes, he pointed to a picture in the book and said that this was his family’s country property. Oh… now my American mind wrapped itself around very foreign concept. His Chateau… WOW!
That our host enjoyed our company was demonstrated in that he invited us to stay with him for a few more bottles of wine. We were out till the earliest hours of the next morning, sitting, conversing, laughing like lunatics well past midnight, playing, and dancing with Jacky. The Muse, Hartmuth, and I Frau Kolb… this evening could be the stuff of legend and myth. We were early, the first customers of the evening for Je thé… me. We crossed the curtain and into the room and found ourselves in a new relationship with the world, with life. We were welcome, ever so welcome, so we stayed and renovated our selves, with intensive healing doses of hilarity, studied frivolity, and unfiltered joy expressed in hearty appetites.
From the ether of fantasy and wishful thinking, surrounding Paris and The Muse, that which prompted this life-altering trip to a new return destination, a NEW cultural base for Frau Kolb & The Talkinggrid from which to learn and grow, the health and happiness of yours truly and those that truly crave a slice of a very good way of life, the French Way. I will return again and again to now beloved Paris, France and specifically to see Jacky Larsonneur and the most romantic of restaurants, where we feel in love, not just with the food, the wine, the host, but also with Paris, Je thé… me.