Dijon, France | 2010 – Dinner at Le Piano qui Fume was an instant classic. My parents were visiting during my week-long fall break and, as usual, our time together revolved around food. Fortunately, Dijon is a great food town and I we had plenty options, including a 2-star Michelin-rated restaurant, a wonderful Moroccan bistro, and an international food festival featuring the cuisine of Hungary. While it had received good reviews I’m not sure why I chose Le Piano over other options, but I’m glad I did.
To start, smoked salmon with crème fraiche and salad with house vinaigrette. Smoked in the restaurant, I’ve never had better salmon. Next came pan-seared halibut with fava beans and chorizo. The spice of the sausage played nicely against the subtle flavors of the beans and fish. Finally, an assorted cheese plate. This was all, of course, accompanied by wine. But, as you’ve already guessed, delicious food was only part of this fantastic meal.
The waitress and other patrons are vital to the story as well. Not only was she gorgeous, our waitress was funny – periodically teasing me about my linguistic errors and joking with my dad about the lack of a functioning pepper grinder – and cared tremendously about the food and our experience. Comme il faut. At some point during the meal I asked her where the piano was. “C’est dans la cuisine,” she replied. My parents and I gave her a puzzled look. The chef is using it, she said. Again, puzzlement. She explained that the smoking piano was not a piano at all; it was the stove upon which the chef made music.
An elderly couple was sitting at the table behind us. We started chatting (in French). I don’t remember the entire discussion, so I’m not sure how we got to this point, but the husband decided to tell a joke:
When God created Europe, he gave France the best of everything. France got three distinct and beautiful coasts, two breathtaking mountain ranges, countless rivers and streams, valleys filled with lavender and sunflowers, and the perfect climate for growing grapes. Naturally, all the other European countries were jealous of the bounty that God had given France, and they complained. So, to make things fair, He created the French.
The joke may, at best, be amusing, but the delivery and the setting made it hilarious. The brilliance of the delivery was unintended, since the gentleman probably thought this was any ordinary telling of this joke. The mood of the evening, the warm felling from having eaten a wonderful meal added another dimension and made it special.
So I guess I have to add an ingredient to my transcendent meal: laughter. Food is a serious subject, but shouldn’t always be taken seriously.