Don’t Ask for Ketchup in Paris
My husband – carnivore man – and I were walking through the streets of Paris one afternoon and came upon the Paris Opera House which is more formally known as the Palais Garnier. The Paris Opera House was built in the mid-1800’s and was the primary home of the Paris Opera for more than 100 years. A large rectangular shaped building enveloped by a diamond-shaped parcel of land with the streets (rues) forming the borders, the Paris Opera House is an impressive building.
With no plans for the rest of the day, we decided to go to the on-site ticket office and buy tickets for the opera showing later in the afternoon. We didn’t speak French and had no idea what we were buying tickets for but we decided to go for the experience. The interior of the building was spectacular and ornate with lots of red, velvet, and gold. The opera turned out to be a modern interpretation of a classic story and although we enjoyed the music, we were expecting a classic opera so we left during intermission. Hungry, we walked across the street and recognized a restaurant called Chez Clement – a French chain of restaurants – and decided to have dinner.
Chez Clement has 11 locations in or near Paris and although there isn’t a comparable restaurant in the US, I would describe it as an upscale Cheesecake Factory with a paired down menu. The restaurants have both interior and outdoor seating with the tables set close together. The ambience is warm with copper pots and pans decorating the walls. Chez Clement makes a great roasted half chicken served with french fries that I always order. The juices from the chicken seep over to the french fries and just make the “pommes frites” taste delicious – no ketchup necessary.
Although we arrived at what would be considered a late lunch or early dinner hour, there were very few tables available as Chez Clement always seems to be busy. We were seated at a table and ordered our standard plate: roasted chicken with thyme and french fries. Our plates arrived promptly and my husband asked for ketchup for his french fries, despite my recommendation that he skip the condiment and enjoy them as is. The server, who spoke very little English seemed a bit perplexed but nodded and indicted he would be right back. In a few minutes, he returned with a ketchup bottle that was half full and looked like it hadn’t been opened or used in a year.
My husband thanked the waiter, took the bottle, and the next sound we heard was a small explosion. The restaurant went quiet and all eyes were on him. The bottle exploded (probably from the ketchup sitting unopened for so long and the buildup of gases) and my husband’s face, hair and slim cut Brooks Brothers white button down shirt were covered in ketchup. The servers were frozen. There wasn’t a sound. Then, I burst out laughing. And, with that the server’s shoulders relaxed and he ran over with a napkin. His fellow waitstaff followed and within minutes my husband was being wiped down by a team of Frenchmen. He looked like a modern Louis XVI with his courtiers. Of course, the ketchup smeared and the wiping just made more of a mess but they were trying to make amends and my husband was a good sport. They swooped his dinner plate away and within 5 minutes, a huge platter of chicken and fresh french fries was placed in front of him, with profuse apologies. All I could say through my laughter was “I told you so…don’t ask for ketchup in Paris.”