The Little Dinners of Paris are world-famous. No one can have sojourned in the fascinating capital in its normal days without having come under their spell. To Parisien and visitor alike they are accounted among the uniquely characteristic features of the city's routine life.
Much of the interest that attaches to them is, of course, due to local atmosphere, to the associations that surround the quaint restaurants, half hidden in unexpected nooks and by-ways, to the fact that old Jacques “waits” in his shirtsleeves or that Grosse Marie serves you with a smile as expansive as her own proportions, or that it is Justin or François or “Old Monsoor,” with his eternal grouch, who glides about the zinc counter.
But there is also magic in the arrangement of the menus, in the combinations of food, in the very names of the confections and in the little Gallic touches that, simple though they are, transform commonplace dishes into gastronomic delights.
There is inspiration in the art that enters into the production of a French dinner, in the perfect balance of every item from hors d'œuvre to café noir, in the ways with seasoning that work miracles with left-overs and preserve the daily routine of three meals a day from the deadly monotony of the American régime, in the garnishings that glorify the most insignificant concoctions into objects of appetising beauty and in the sauces that elevate indifferent dishes into the realm of creations and enable a French cook to turn out a dinner fit for capricious young gods from what an American cook wastes in preparing one.
The very economy of the French is an art, and there is art in their economy. It is true that their dishes, as we have known them in this country, are expensive, even extravagant, but that is because they have been for the most part the creations of high-priced chefs. They who have made eating an avocation know that it is not necessary to dine expensively in order to dine well.
New York, May, 1919.
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