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Jan 16 2009

Funny Food Stories: Morels At Le Bec Fin

Candid Engineer and her commenters are telling funny food stories, so here’s mine:

One time I was eating dinner at Le Bec Fin in Philly, totally fucking obliterated (surprise, surprise!). The captain brings out my meat course and pours some morel sauce on it. As this is happening, chef George Perrier is standing on the circular stair up to the second floor with a huge-ass Napoleon sword and a bottle of champagne.

Just as he’s about to knock the top off, the smell of the morels hits me, and I involuntarily exclaim, “Yum! I fucking love morels!!!!”

The whole dining room turns to look at me, including Perrier, he smiles and then whacks the top of the bottle off with the sword and foam sprays and everyone claps. Afterwards he brings us a massive motherfucking bowl of morels in sauce and glasses of the champagne. That was fucking hilarious!!!! I was so hammered!!!

23 comments

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  1. 1
    Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde

    In our lab, every celebratory occasion calls for champagne, with the top knocked off by knife or small sword or whatever other sharp object is around. The ritual is entertaining, although once the top shot off the balcony we were standing on and almost hit a pedestrian. OOPS.

  2. 2
    Professor in Training

    I don’t know about Fancy French Food, but I’m frequently called out for my extremely picky eating habits. I don’t like salads or veggies … my mantra is that if it’s green, it’s probably going to taste bad so I’m not going to eat it. (Don’t mock me, I’ve had the same mantra since I was 2yo.)

    Anyway, eating packed lunches at seminars is always a trial as they are typically sandwiches or pita rolls with a bit of meat, a slice of cheese and a ton of green stuff. I usually just open the bread/pita, quietly remove the offending material and munch away (if one of my friends is sitting nearby, they usually take the green stuff). At Postdoc U, I was at a big meeting with all the people working on Mega Grant and I was preparing my sandwich as per usual when Prof Big Dick saw what I was doing and announced to the entire room that I ate like a child.

    I would have stabbed the fucker with a knife, but plastic doesn’t penetrate through cotton shirts very well.

  3. 3
    bikemonkey

    well, you ..um… do eat like a child.

  4. 4
    chezjake

    Oh, French restaurant stories, with morels — and motherfucking Jamesons! I’ve got a goodie.

    Way back in the early ’70s, my buddy Mike and I were driving back to Massachusetts after a party weekend in Ithaca with a couple of lovely Cornell grad students. We were driving in (what else?) my ’66 VW Bus. We’d gotten just east of Albany when the old bus began to have the usual symptoms of needing yet another valve adjustment. I was prepared; I had the tools, but it was getting very late and we were both quite tired. We agreed that it was the better part of valor to find a place to park and crash overnight and do the repair job in the morning.

    We were also both quite hungry and not just a wee bit thirsty, so imagine our delight when the first place we spotted after pulling off I-90 onto US 9 & 20 in the little town of East Greenbush was a restaurant and bar with it’s lights still on and a decent sized parking lot. The restaurant had a French name, but in rural NY we didn’t give that much thought.

    As we went in, we noticed that the main dining room was dark, but there were a few people in the bar. One of the beers on tap was Watney’s, which at that time was one of the few decent English ales available in the US, so we began indulging our thirst while we explained our situation to the middle-aged guy behind the bar and asked if anyone would object to our parking overnight and doing our repairs in the morning. The bartender had a noticeable French accent, but was quite hospitable. He turned out to be the owner-chef, just filling in at the bar for the last few customers of the evening. He said his name was Jean-Paul and agreed to our spending the night and asked if we needed something to eat.

    We allowed as how a couple of burgers would go down well. He said that the main dining room was already closed and technically he wasn’t serving any food, but he’d see what he could do. He did caution us that he didn’t have rolls for burgers and asked if good French bread was OK. We weren’t about to complain. He smiled broadly when we both said we liked our burgers rare. He refilled our glasses without our asking and retired to the kitchen.

    About a half-hour later, he emerged bearing two large dinner plates, each bearing two open-faced burgers laid on thick slabs of French bread. Each burger was almost two inches thick and covered with morels in a pan sauce with red wine, shallots, and capers. They were juicily rare, and, without doubt, the best burgers I’ve ever eaten.

    As we ate, he told us that he’d never cooked a burger before in his life, that he only served prime beef that he’d aged himself, and that he had hand-minced two prime rib steaks to make our burgers, “just to prove to myself I can make good burgers.”

    After we’d eaten, he asked if we wanted more beer, “or perhaps something stronger to help you sleep, since you’re not driving.” Mike and I had recently learned of the wonders of single malt Scotch and asked if he had any. He shook his head with regret, saying he had no demand for it. “Perhaps this might do,” he said, holding up a bottle of 12-year-old motherfucking Jamesons. It certainly did do — most of the bottle between the three of us, along with some very good conversation.

    When we finally got around to asking for our tab, he charged us only for the beer and whisky. “Strangers in need will never pay for food in my house. And, when you wake up in the morning, come to the kitchen door in the back and I’ll make some breakfast for you.”

    In the morning, he made us omelets — huge, puffy, 2-inch high omelets filled with fresh asparagus, Gruyere cheese, and many thin slivers of a marvelous ham.

    After we’d done the valve adjustments and an oil change,
    we went back in and gave Jean-Paul our profuse thanks. He said we were most welcome and invited us back any time we were in the area.

    A year or so later, I discovered that the restaurant (which no longer exists and whose name I can no longer remember) was on Craig Claiborne’s (food editor of the NY Times back then) list of the 100 best restaurants in the world. Since then, no stranger has gone hungry at my door either.

  5. 5
    Comrade PhysioProf

    Chezjake, what a fucking story!

  6. 6
    Professor in Training

    bikemonkey: I’m aware of that! What I didn’t need was for all of the bigwig profs in the room to have their attention drawn to that fact.

  7. 7
    DuWayne

    Years later, this is much funnier than it was at the time.

    When I was much younger and literally all I did with my life was play music, have Teh Sex and do a lot of drugs (with a very occasional smattering of actual work), I was rather poor. Gigs covered most of my rent, the rest being covered by slinging the occasional bag of weed. My whit and singing managed to get me more than just laid, but it was occasionally pretty slim pickings and this was just such an occasion.

    I was sitting in front of my favorite coffee shop, smoking a rollee and drinking the coffee that the gent behind the counter who thought I was hot shit had slipped me. I was also fucking hungry and hung over. Along come some gutter punks, one of whom I know and low, they’re carrying a box of convenience store sandwiches.

    I should note at this point, that I assumed they had stolen said box from one of the five 7 elevens within a half mile of where I was sitting, in down town East Lansing.

    They bop on over and want to bum some smokes. I have a nearly full pouch of tobacco, so I’m inclined to let each of them roll one. They’re so very grateful, they ask if I’m hungry and open the box full of sandwiches. I am totally geeked, especially when they’re like – take two or three, eat as many as you want – take a couple for later.

    I was into my second sandwich, this one chicken, when Digger pipes up with; “Yeah, I spotted then by the dumpster yesterday morning. They were still there this morning so I figured it would probably be ok to snag them.”

    As I was most of the way through the second sandwich at this point, I figured the last little bit couldn’t be any worse and had the good grace to finish it. I most assuredly did not eat the ones I had snagged for later.

    Remarkably, I didn’t get sick. I attribute it to the emergency tequila a friend made me drink about half an hour later, after I told him about the sandwiches. He made me put down most of the fifth by myself and it made short work of those nasty fucking bacteria. Made short work of the last vestiges of my hangover too. Almost made short work of my conscious state, as he pretty much just kept refilling my shot glass and telling me to drink more.

    Thankfully a couple pots of emergency coffee, to counteract the emergency tequila were effective, as I had a gig that night. My rhythm player was kind of pissed when I showed up to his house rather wobbly. He was even still pissed after I explained that it was emergency tequila. But two emergency pots of coffee and a couple not so emergency joints later, I was fucking ready to fucking rock. And I didn’t even throw up.

  8. 8
    JLK

    LMAO!

    CPP, I don’t know what the fuck morels are, but I do know this – if I ever meet you, we are going out to dinner and you’re going to do exactly what you did in your story: “I fucking love _________!” And it will be awesome.

    @Chezjake – that is an incredible story. Though I admit I can’t imagine that a restaurant in that section of upstate NY could ever be on a list of top spots in the world.

    @Duwayne – Dude. That’s just naaaaasty.

  9. 9
    chezjake

    @ JLK – I did a little research, including calling a friend who has lived in that area for years. The name of the restaurant was L’Epicure. The chef apparently first came to the US to work at one of the big NYC restaurants, but when he married and started to have kids, he didn’t want to raise his kids in NYC. One of his regular customers was a NY state legislator who told him there was need of a good French restaurant in the Albany area, so he went looking for a good location.

    The spot in East Greenbush is only about 20 minutes drive from the Capitol in Albany, but it also had enough land that Jean-Paul apparently also grew all his own vegetables, salad greens, and herbs in the summer months. I’m also told that the restaurant did a huge business with legislators and lobbyists when the state legislature was in session.

    And, behold, Google finds a reference to the place in a Holiday Magazine Award Cookbook from 1976, listing it as one of their ~200 award winning restaurants in the US. http://www.cookbkjj.com/bookhtml/000938.html

  10. 10
    DuWayne

    JLK -

    It’s nasty, but at the same time it really isn’t as nasty as it would seem to most people. I daresay that no matter what you did, if you ate some of the things that I ate during those years, you would get seriously ill. For that matter, if I ate like that today, I’d get pretty ill.

    But when your body is accustomed to eating rather questionable foods, your body can manage some pretty ripe foods without too much reaction. I was a little more picky than your average gutter punk, but I wasn’t averse to dumpster diving, when it was the difference between getting vital nutrition or atrophy.

  11. 11
    JLK

    Wow, chezjake. Now your story is even MORE fascinating!

    Too bad it’s closed, otherwise I’d head on over there to check it out. It would have been (relatively) within driving distance.

  12. 12
    anon

    JLK, lets not knock upstate NY.. there are still some awesome restaurant/bars.

    And I’ve eaten raw chicken (on accident) and didn’t have any problems…

  13. 13
    JLK

    anon, I didn’t mean to knock upstate NY. It was more just the amazing sequence of events in chezjake’s story. Happening upon this fantastic restaurant as a weary traveler, said spot turning out to be one of the top 100 spots in the world, AND it being in upstate NY when most restaurant critics are so focused on the city.

    I would never knock upstate NY, but most of my experiences have been in the towns along the MA border out to the Catskills. And it’s always been for work, never the nightlife.

  14. 14
    anon

    Saratoga, Lake George are only two areas that have some great places as well as the hudson valley.

    But then again I may be a biased upstater.

  15. 15
    JLK

    LOL.

    I’ve never been out to Saratoga or Lake George. Both are 3+hr drives for me, so I’ll take your word for it. :)

  16. 16
    chezjake

    Saratoga Springs is a very nice small city — one of the few remaining ones that has a really walkable downtown with mostly locally owned businesses and a really good variety of good-to-excellent restaurants. Also has the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which is the summer home of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York City Ballet as well as many pop concerts. It’s also the home of Caffé Lena, the oldest continuously operating folk coffee house in the country, and a number of decent jazz clubs.

    It’s definitely not a day trip from eastern Massachusetts, but it’s a great place for a weekend getaway. Like to dance? The Dance Flurry is a whole weekend of participation dancing at multiple venues, all with live bands – contra, ballroom, Latin, Cajun, swing — it’s all there and makes for a very romantic Valentine’s weekend.
    http://www.danceflurry.org/festival/index.html

    Just don’t go to Saratoga in August (horse racing season) when the prices go through the roof and it’s impossible to find a parking place.

  17. 17
    Fixer

    Eating dinner at our favorite French restaurant (on this side of the Atlantic) one Saturday evening and we were seated at the table next to Ina Garten (Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa), her husband Geoffrey and some friends. Now, she has this annoying laugh, it pisses me off when Mrs. F watches her on TV, and I had to listen to it all night. When we were leaving, I grabbed Maria (the chef/owner’s wife who runs the front of the house) and told her if she wants us back again (we’re regulars) to make sure she sears me as far away from Ina as possible. She smiled, rolled her eyes, and said “I understand.” Since then, coincidence has brought us to the restaurant at the same time twice and each time, our table was at the complete opposite end of the place. Not funny, but I get the feeling I’m a better customer than Ina.

  18. 18
    juniorprof

    Go Cardinals!

  19. 19
    chezjake

    Cardinals sure sound like funny food to me.

  20. 20
    anon

    Yeah, I’ve worked the throughbred sales. Saratoga is insane during that week, even though the culture is really neat. (I can say I’ve shaken an billionaire’s hand!)

  21. 21
    scicurious

    JLK: morels are a kind of mushroom, they are motherfucking delicious. They are only found wild, usually they are found in areas which formerly had forest fires, and so they are incredibly expensive by weight.

    DuWayne, that does sound kind of nasty, but you were probably ok. Most stores are required to dump out food past the sell-by date, regardless of whether or not it’s actually bad. Usually it isn’t. Apparently you can get some pretty decent produce dumpster diving, and I’m sure pre-packaged sandwhiches are safer than thrown away produce. On the other hand, convenience store sandwhiches are a kind of shitty at best, so the medicinal tequila was probably warranted. I drink vodka when I want to kill germs.

  22. 22
    Abel Pharmboy

    Can’t believe I missed these stories over the weekend!

    Never got to Le Bec Fin, CPP, but I’ll let you take me there if we’re ever both in Philly at the same time.

    I have to say that chezjake’s story is a real winner: “Strangers in need will never pay for food in my house. And, when you wake up in the morning, come to the kitchen door in the back and I’ll make some breakfast for you.” Dude, why don’t you have a blog???

  23. 23
    chezjake

    Thanks for the compliment, Abel. I do have a seldom used blog that is primarily for family and close friends. And, yes, this is a good story, but how many story-worthy events does an average guy actually have in his life?

    Mostly, I prefer just commenting on other folks’ blogs (including yours) when I have something worthwhile or humorous to say. Knowing when to keep my mouth shut is a virtue that I try to practice.

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