Kiss The Cook
Yesterday we went to Tahiti. Le Petit Tahiti, that is, in Aix en Provence, and that was the best thing that we did all day. To lunch at Le Petit Tahiti during the holiday season is to plunge into a warm and fragrant sea, untouched by the tawdry carnival atmosphere raging outside its small front door. It’s a sweet blast from a forgotten Pacific past, a time when life was simpler and women sang as they cleared tables.
The food is very good, bright and homey. But it’s the kisses that count. At the end of the lunch service the sole and lovely front-of-the-house person announced “The cook’s coming out, so if you didn’t like the food, now’s your chance to complain. But she’s my sister, so be nice.” The sister-cook emerged and walked from table to table, giving two kisses to each and every customer.
When it was my turn I asked whether even étrangers got kisses. It’s a word that means both strangers and foreigners, a strong word. As she kissed me she spoke into my ear “Once you’re here, you’re not a stranger any more.” Now that’s the kind of place I like to have lunch.
Out on the street, in the maelstrom of holiday shoppers, it was another story. A story I’m not ready to tell. This was our first visit to Aix, and I need to let it mull, like a warm wine, before I know how to tell you about what we saw. So let’s just stick to food for now, ok?
We had a dinner reservation at Pasta Cosy. I know what you’re thinking, but that’s its name, and people love it, especially young and beautiful people. If we’d been smarter we would have realized that we couldn’t do justice to a full dinner after our Tahitian idyll, but sometimes we’re not as smart as we look.
The welcome is as warm as anything you’d ever imagine. The food is innovative and delicious. My little pockets of cheese and pear in a puddle of cream were worthy of an entire paragraph, except that Shel’s cannelloni of figatelli and olives utterly stole the show. I quizzed the owners relentlessly about the recipe, but I’m sure I won’t be able to duplicate it. It’s worth a trip to Aix just to try to decipher that dish.
The sad thing was that we just weren’t hungry enough. We couldn’t manage dessert, even though they are famous for their chocolate nems. We couldn’t manage coffee, or even the mint digestif our server brought us, worried that somehow we weren’t enjoying our meal enough. The owners were extra solicitous too: I’d asked for more sauce for my pasta, they’d remade the dish entirely. We didn’t have dessert, they insisted that we come back soon. We needed a walk, even a walk in the steadily falling rain, and if the restaurant hadn’t been packed I felt that they would have walked with us, making sure we found our way back to the hotel, maybe even giving us a kiss goodnight.
So if you ever feel like you need love with your meal, here are two sure bets. And if you feel moved to kiss the cook, these are two places where the cook is very likely to kiss you right back.