Saturday, September 09, 2006

Chez Clement

On Thursday evening, John, Maylin, and I had dinner together at Chez Clement, a popular, chain restaurant known for its seafood platters. We don't eat out often because of the high cost of dining in Paris and because we usually have to pay for a sitter, so this was a real treat outside of vacation time to be eating together at a restaurant as a family.

I was too happy that evening to be derailed by the less than pretty events that happened at this establishment which was highly recommended by my restaurant guide (anyone want it? I think I'm going to throw it away now). The host was very nice and welcomed us in with a smile. Our server seemed very friendly and full of smiles, too, which felt rather odd and out of place in Paris. I think they have to cater to all the tourists and all the conference attendees, often foreign, who flock there from the Palais des Congress (convention center/concert venue/shopping) across the street. So they smile, smile, smile so they can get a big tip from an ignorant American (fifty centimes per person as a token is the norm as tip is generally included in the price of your meal).

They heard us speaking English when we were being seated so we were given the English menus to our dismay. Translations from French to English are often barely passable, and I know seafood better in French than in English now after our trip to Brittany where we ate sea creatures I had never seen or heard of before. The guidebook recommended the rotisserie and mashed potatoes, but I wasn't in the mood for a heavy meal of meat and taters, especially since my stomach had adjusted to our low-fat diet at home. We decided to splurge on the largest seafood platter, at twenty-five euros per person. (Don't worry, this was actually a free dinner in the end, since we redeemed the meal coupons which John gets trimesterly at work -- a nice, little subsidy for food from the French government.)

Before we ordered, Maylin got a nice placemat with a maze, a wordfind, and other games, but no crayons. Not even a pencil. I usually carry a pen with me, but I switched bags last minute before leaving the apartment, and you know how that goes, ladies. We asked the server if she could find one for us and she said she'd try but didn't sound very optimistic. Ten minutes later, nothing. Maylin was insistent on getting a pen so I asked again, and the server, who smiled so sweetly before, actually snapped at me and said she hadn't found one yet. Sheesh. Okay, I know she was busy but there's no need to get testy. I had to forgive her later because she had our non-smoking section and the outdoor section to service with no other help. At the table next to us, there was a very kind man, very likely a teacher, who offered Maylin a choice from an array of writing implements -- a mechanical pencil, a classy pen, a red ballpoint, some out of his pocket protector...but Maylin was too shy and refused all. Oh well.

The seafood platter looked quite impressive when it first arrived. It was the size of two large pizzas, with the seafood nicely arranged on a slightly too-tall bed of crushed ice, decorated with beautifully large scallop shells on the edge. It sat there on a metal stand, hovering a foot above the table. Underneath, a red wine vinegar and scallion mixture, mayonnaise, mustard, bread, and butter. In addition to our knife and fork, we received a tiny fork, a long, narrow, flat metal rod with a forked end, and a two and a half inch heavy-guaged wire with a looped end for handling.

I took the small, whole crab off the platter and proceeded to take it apart on my plate for easier distribution. I was sad to realize that it wasn't cooked that day. The coloring was off. It tasted okay, but if it hadn't, I certainly would have sent it back. The dozen shell and head-on shrimp were yummy, but a little over-cooked -- mine are better. There were about eighteen glistening oysters which were delicious (even though out of season) with the juice I squeezed from the fresh lemons (how oysters are always served in France). The dozen bulots, or sea snails, were our favorites, as they usually are. I believe they are boiled in heavily peppered water. The tiny sea snails (what's the proper word?) were a little spicy, but unintriguing, requiring the use of those looped pins for extraction. Lastly, there were the smallest shrimp ever -- overcooked and in their shells. Those weren't worth fussing over.

Maylin ordered an almost seven euro chocolate cupcake (!) for dessert, when I should have ordered the kids' menu for almost the same price which included a dessert but she had eaten her dinner already before we got to the restaurant for our relatively late dinner by American standards, 8 pm. Right on time for France, though, and right after work for John.

At around 9:30, Maylin was ready to leave so John took her out while I attempted to get the bill, but the server was not easy to signal. She rushed in and out of our section several times to serve other tables but avoided looking my way. After I realized she would never look at me, I knew I had to call out to her. One time, I was just a split-second too late with my "excusez-moi, Madame" and I could feel the shock of some of the customers as she ignored me. Was she mad at me for asking for that pen a second time? Or did she realize when we ordered in French that we wouldn't be paying a big American tip?

The host, with nothing to do perhaps, came over to clear off the table so I was at least able to ask him. Some other staff member had to come out of the woodwork to bring me the check. I was almost a leper by the time I left the restaurant. What do I think of Chez Clement? Never again.

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