Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Obama Eats Paris
Let me be the last to break the news – during his recent breakneck whirlwind visit to Paris, Barack Obama took Michelle to dinner, and they ate at . . . drum roll, please . . . everybody say it: La Fontaine de Mars!!! Yes, please let me be the last. Already, a Google search of “Obama’s dinner in Paris” turns up more than 2.4 million hits. Forget about the Middle East, international terrorism, GM, the lunacy of Kim Il, and this week’s EU parliamentary elections, everybody wants to know, WHERE DID OBAMA EAT IN PARIS??? And with 2.4 million Google hits, you would have to think that everyone on the planet already knows the answer to that question.
Of course, the WHERE and WHAT (we’ll get to the latter later) are only two of the basic journalistic W questions for any good story. More intriguing, at least from the French perspective, is WHY?, as in “why did the Obamas snub the Sarkos’ dinner invitation?" That question, as we all know, is pretty much a no brainer. And that brings us to WHO?, as in "who would want to spend an evening dining with Little Napoleon and the Model, when you could be having a nice, quiet romantic dinner in a casual bistrot alone together" (albeit along with the buzzing hordes of media and rubberneckers - see accompanying photo - just outside the door) in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower? Like I said, a no brainer. Rumor has it that Little Nap wanted nothing more than to impress the Obamas with an elegant dinner at the spectacular Jules Verne, an Alain Ducasse restaurant on the Eiffel Tower. WHEN you are a full 5-1/2 inches shorter than Michelle, as is Little Nap, maybe it’s not so obvious up there on the ET. Who wants to dine in the shadow when you can be part of the shadow itself? Well, obviously not the Obamas.
And so Le Fontaine de Mars it was, although the romantic dinner was not as intimate as first thought. Daughter Malia was there along with two other guests, and no the other guests, contrary to a rumor I am starting here, were not Mortstiff & Co. The two of us have indeed dined at the restaurant, also with a couple visiting American friends, although it was several years ago, well before I become the famous Paris restaurant blogger that I aspire to today. For all I know, the Obamas may have been seated at the same table Co. & I occupied at one time, so I’m thinking it could be true when I tell people that I shared a dinner table with the Obamas! As for our visit, I remember being exceedingly disappointed with the menu offerings, and the meal was quite forgettable. Nonetheless, probably not a bad choice for the First Couple, who no doubt opted for tactfulness over extravagance in choosing an unpretentious venue during a global economic crisis.
La Fontaine is a very old Parisian bistro which specializes in hearty Southwestern cooking (foie gras, confit de canard, you know the drill). This brings us at last to the WHAT question, as in "what did Obama eat?" You will find the answer among those 2.4 million Google hits, although not a very consistent one. Second drum roll, please ….. Lamb! No, duck! You’re both wrong, it was beef! Chicken, anyone? If you said beef, you were partly right – that was everyone’s choice but Barack’s. The answer is found in this statement from the Associated Foreign Press: "They [The Obamas] were very pleased. They said that they had had a 'wonderful meal'. The President was very friendly. He had gigot d'agneau and an île flottante. No wine, just water. The others had fillet of beef and crème brûlée." So if you said "lamb," you win. No wine? Sacre bleu!
Anyway, enough of this dinner story. It wasn’t half as interesting as the way the French media followed Barack in France, which was more about a visiting rock star than a foreign head of state. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that the French are absolutely gaga over the Obamas. And let’s face it, they have their own supermodel First Lady in the Elysee, so that’s saying something. But then again, I think the whole world would be gaga over anyone who succeeded W (viola, I knew I’d get another W in there), for the sole reason that he or she is not Bush! But the French seem so intent to dub the Obamas as the second coming of Camelot that their noted anti-celebrity journalism guidebook is thrown out the window at the very mention of the name ‘Obama’. This afternoon, for instance, much of the round table discussion on my favorite French TV show, ‘Le Grand Journal de Canal+,’ (okay, I admit it, it’s the sexy, comedic weather girl that has won my heart, in addition to those hidden camera shots of ministers picking their noses and dozing off in the French Senat – now that’s entertainment!) was devoted to the Obama visit. And if the discussion was any indication of perceptions here, Barack is Monsieur Cool (or, more accurately, as they pronounce it here, Cooool-le). A highlight of the Canal+ show was a montage of the laid back Obama White House – Obama casually eating an apple in the Oval Office, Cooool-le!; his minions gobbling handfuls of M&Ms, Cooool-le!; Obama tossing a football back and forth with an aide, Cooool-le! Ooh-la-la.
Back on the other side of the pond, it is amusing to see how some New York restaurateurs—and I use that term in the loosest sense—are doing their best to capitalize on Obama’s rise to the presidency (see accompanying photos). There’s Obama Fried Chicken – already the target of protests launched by councilmember Charles Barron because “Fried chicken, watermelon and minstrels are part of the racial stereotyping of black people in America” (p.s., please don’t repeat this to the French – they already think Americans are weird). And let’s not forget the pioneering Crown Heights restaurant, The Obama Flavor, a Jamaican/Soul food joint that opened last March. You would think either spot would be a perfect place to host the little egomaniac who loves everything America (I love you Bush! I love you Obama!) and his Model, when they deem America worthy of their estimable presence. Now that would be Cooool-le!