I recently read an article that one of my favorite kitsch restaurants in Paris, le Refuge des Fondus, where you can split huge pots of molten cheese and drink wine out of baby bottles is opening another restaurant in my hometown of New York.
I was livid.
I know some people are sure to think I’m a snob, so I’m going to try to explain this the best I can. I understand that there are a lot of people who love Paris but who, for whatever reason, don’t live here. They miss things like the restaurants we have here, and they, of course, would be happy to have my favorite restaurant transplanted to the streets of the city that never sleeps.
I understand the sentiment. I was the same way about Jamba Juice when I moved back to New York from San Francisco. The oversized smoothies that were a replacement for a meal were one of my favorite things about walking around the city, and when I came back to New York, the only time I could get my hands on one was when I flew through a west coast airport.
Then, I heard the news: Jamba Juice was coming to New York! I was elated… until I visited the store. It just wasn’t the same. Jamba Juice was all about that feel-good west coast atmosphere: even in San Francisco, which is nowhere near as granola-hippie-green as southern California, the beautiful people wanted to drink their breakfast in peace, have a shot of wheatgrass, be greeted with smiles.
New Yorkers aren’t like that.
We like our breakfasts to go with a cup of black coffee to drink on the subway. The quintessential New York breakfast is a buttered hard roll and coffee: a breakfast perfect for eating out of hand. The hippie Jamba Juice had no place here, and when I walked in and heard R & B playing on the stereo and saw the gangster wannabes serving the drinks I had so relished when I lived on the west coast, I knew that this would be my last visit. Jamba Juice had lost its magic.
The magic of le Refuge des Fondus is of a slightly different kind. Alex was livid when he wandered in, as French people do, an hour late for our reservation only to have the surly waiters tell us that he might not be able to seat us: that doesn’t happen in France, and especially not to French people. But the surliness of the waiters, the closeness of the seats (careful not to spear your neighbor with your fondue fork), the severe amounts of cheese and wine that make you giddy and make Montmartre seem blurry as you wander out into the night to catch the metro at Abbesses… that’s what makes le Refuge des Fondus so fun.
I love to take out-of-towners–mostly because it gives me an excuse to go back myself–but also because I think that the attitude is everything that is stereotypical of French restaurants. When I take people to le Refuge des Fondus, they have fun, but they also learn how to appreciate the aspects of French restaurants that people complain about, all in a great atmosphere. I don’t feel like that would transplant well to New York, where you can pay your way to a seat, no matter how late you are, where a waiter hoisting you over the table to your seat could be seen as harassment… it makes me scared that le Refuge des Fondus, like Jamba Juice, will change for its surroundings, and this is one place that needs no change.
The address of the Paris restaurant:
17, rue des trois frères