May 12, 2017

Le Comptoir, Paris. December, 2005

This morning, I took one look at this photo and for some reason started to think about the first restaurants I went to in New York City so many years ago. Back in my high-school and college days when eating on the cheap was a requirement and having a good, well-prepared restaurant meal was a real luxury. Steuben Tavern, a long-gone midtown German beer hall on West 47th was a college mainstay with its hearty offerings (sauerbraten, potato dumplings, wursts) and exotic drinks like Berliner Weisse (sour wheat beer with raspberry syrup.) El Faro, a formerly inexpensive Spanish place still holding forth in Greenwich Village (we’d learned of it from our paperback The Underground Gourmet) had memorable veal with almonds and pitchers of sangria for peanuts. My favorite though, bar none, was Cafe des Sports, a small French place on West 51st between Eighth and Ninth. Could my parents have told me about it? Or a radio ad on WNEW-AM? You went down a few steps, through the cozy bar and banquettes into the small main room of about 16 tables, mostly filled with regulars, neighborhood types, Breton expatriates. And the menu! This was where I first learned about cuisine and its classics: soupe a l’oignon, artichaut vinaigrette, sole meuniere and veronique, civet de lapin, blanquette de veau, boeuf bourguignon, pot au feu, and so many more. The goodnatured waitresses would sometimes let us practice our classroom French. The many visits spent in that warmly remembered spot were always wonderful (as were those few later enjoyed in Yves Camdeborde’s Parisian hotspot, pictured here.)

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