In France, just as there is a song for everything, there is a time for everything. They even have an expression that translates roughly to “Before the hour, it’s not the hour; when it’s the hour, it’s the hour.” It sounds a bit weird in English but the French take it very seriously.
It applies to lunch, which starts at noon and no earlier. It’s even called “l’heure du dejeuner,” the hour of lunch. And, how could we forget “gouter,” the children’s snack time, which is at precisely 4 p.m. It also applies to clothing: men wear apricot coloured pants only on the weekends starting in May.
The timeliness of everything has many benefits. For example, right before Christmas all the Champagne goes on sale, and when the weather gets warm in May, the rosé goes on sale. Can you imagine? Exactly when you want something it goes on sale? Sounds like bad economics, but it is just part of the French joie de vivre.
The same goes for restaurant dishes. At Le Dôme, a bistro with a large sunny terrace on our market street, Rue de Levis, you only need to look around the tables to know what is in season. In October, everyone is eating a plate of tiny sautéed chanterelle mushrooms with a fried egg on top of it: as simple and as delicious a dish as you could ever want. In June, when the six varieties of French strawberries are at their prime, they serve plates of them with their stems still on, with a side of Chantilly cream – and everyone orders it. Literally, every table.
It’s true the French tend to overcook their vegetables, but they do know when to eat them. Right now, in June, you can order a dish of white asparagus or purple artichokes in vinaigrette almost everywhere. This week, Murray found the very first “moules Bouchot,” the teeny tiny mussels from a bay in Normandy that have protected appellation status in France. Murray will cook them with shallots and half a can of 1664 beer. You know what happens to the other half.
From September 10 to May 10, you can get a round of Mont D’Or cheese which comes in a wooden box and is mild and creamy and delicious, especially when warmed up. Until then, Murray will be thinly shaving white asparagus for salad while sporting his apricot coloured pants, but not until Friday at 5 p.m.