So I guess it all started yesterday morning, when I awoke to an e-mail from my dear friend J, who sadly left Paris last week to return to Southern California. The e-mail announced that she and her longtime boyfriend BC (who is still here in Paris for a few more weeks) got engaged last week an hour or so before her plane took off. I couldn’t be more delighted about this news, as I can’t really imagine a more awesome couple than this one. They wanted to keep the news on the down low until they informed everyone in their (large) families, so BC has been pokerfaced all week during numerous hangouts. I decided that a celebration was in order, so I enlisted the help of B and S. S is staying with me for a few days before he too leaves Paris for the States, so there is a definite end-times vibe in the air. We decided that there was no better celebratory meal for a bunch of expats in the Paris than a huge Tex-Mex feast. B’s visiting friends from Indiana recently brought him a suitcase full of Old El Paso delights, including pickled jalapeños and escabèche, dubious-looking “mild taco” and “cheesy burrito” seasoning packets, and mysteriously shelf-stable flour tortillas. These, coupled with a bottle of Tapatio that S had from birthday care package from the States and a few Haas avocados that surfaced at my local vegetable market last week, formed the basis of our fajita blowout.
It’s a trick to make anything Mexican in France, as this country wholly eschews spicy food. S and I went to three or four different markets yesterday in an attempt to purchase something vaguely resembling a fresh jalapeño or serrano or even poblano chile. We ended up with the equivalent of bell peppers shaped like poblanos, the appeal of which is completely lost on me. We improvised, and I concocted a pretty killer (if I do say so myself) steak marinade by food processing together some garlic cloves, cilantro, Bermuda onions, lime juice, “mild taco” seasoning, smuggled-in chile powder, and olive oil. We got most of the heat in our pico de gallo and guacamole from the aforementioned can of pickled jalapeños and escabèche that was hand-carried to us from South Bend, Indiana. France appears to be the place where avocados come to die, but the ones I picked up last week were pretty decently textured, if totally bland. I coaxed a mediocre guacamole to life, using copious amounts of lime juice, cilantro, and a spoonful of Maille mayonnaise. The mayo is trick my mother taught me. In a pinch, it gives your guacamole that fatty taste that good avocados have when, well, you don’t have good avocados. It sounds gross, but it works. S whipped up a gallon or so of pico de gallo, which he kicked into action with the vinegar from the canned jalapeños. Finally, we found some Colby cheese masquerading as “imported Cheddar” at Monoprix.
As it was a celebration, we kicked off the evening with a shots of tequila and a bottle of champagne, followed by two carafes full of my splendid homemade margaritas (equal parts lime juice, Cointreau, and tequila, with simple syrup to taste). You can see B pouring the first round from what looks like a bottle of Muscadet. At this point in the evening, we were actually reusing glassware! Organic champagne and recycling! How far we had to fall!
In case you didn’t get the memo, smoking kills:
Frying up those huge plates of peppers, onions, and steak was no small feat in my miniature kitchen on my glorified hot plates. By the time I was finished the entire apartment was filled with smoke and the floors were slicked down with grease. Thank goodness smoke detectors are something that only paranoid Americans have. The dinner was a wild success, if somewhat a disappointment as the guys seemed way more amped to about talk about the World Cup (go Côte d’Ivoire!) than the wedding. I wished that J was here to celebrate with us so that she and I could have geeked out on the romantic stuff. Oh well. She was missed.
I don’t know whether to attribute the events that followed to the two six packs of beer we somehow consumed, or the rather toxic (if strangely delicious!) French tequila we were drinking. It might also have been the two dusty Desperados (tequila-flavored beer!) that our British friends had brought to a party a few months back that I inexplicably decided to drink. All I know is that by 10 p.m. or so I was out for the count and had crawled into bed to pass out. I vaguely remember that the boys were going down to the river to finish off another round of margaritas (classy!). I also recall B patting my head saying in a soothing voice that he would take care of cleaning up the mess.
At two a.m. I awoke to the feeling that my brain was caving in on itself. Finding myself alone in the apartment, I surveyed the damage. Every single surface of my apartment seemed to be coated in congealed grease. Somehow the bowl of pico de gallo had been upended and there were chunks of tomato and vinegary juice covering the table and dripping onto the floor. As I stared dismayed at the carnage, S and B stumbled in. That they even made it back to my apartment was a miracle, as neither of them could enunciate or even walk very well. I quickly realized that they were going to be no help and sent them to bed. I was now decidedly in the hangover phase of my evening, so I pushed up my sleeves and got to work cleaning.
Around this time it became clear that B wasn’t kidding when he said the tequila really doesn’t agree with him. He ran into the kitchen needing to barf, but S was in the bathroom attempting to drunkenly extricate his contact lenses from his eyes. I yelled at S to get the hell out of the bathroom and passed B the trashcan, which he eschewed for some reason much to my bewilderment. He somehow made it to the toilet that time, but wasn’t quite as lucky in one of his six or seven subsequent trips, as I discovered when I slipped and nearly fell on a puddle of vomit in my living room. S wandered into the kitchen and carefully washed a single spoon, sighing with the sheer magnitude of his effort as he placed it on the dishrack and declaring that he felt dizzy. Realizing he was worthless in this state, I shooed him out of the kitchen and back to bed. I cleaned for an hour or so, breaking two wine glasses in the process. After I finally managed to mop up all the grease, pico de gallo, barf, and glass shards, I placed Advil and glasses of water near their S and B’s heads, and fell asleep muttering about how somebody better be buying me brunch tomorrow.
The three of us awoke midmorning with terrible hangovers and a lingering concern about what had happened to our friend BC along the way. S and B gradually pieced together the Seine portion of the evening. S said that he knew B was in trouble when eight or nine of his comments began with “Well, you know, where I’m from in Indiana…” followed by a total conversational non sequitur. Apparently the guys had decided it was appropriate to bring glassware down to the banks of river to drink their margaritas, some of which ended up broken and tossed in the Seine for emphasis. Let’s just say it wasn’t a banner night for Americans in Paris.
In light of this, we decided to do as hungover Americans do and get a big, greasy breakfast, paid for by the guy who barfed on the floor. None of us had yet been to the much-hyped Breakfast in America, which leads us to the following installment of Clarence in Paris.
Breakfast in America is a rather gimmicky establishment that was founded by some dude from Connecticut who missed proper American breakfasts when he moved to Paris to become a screenwriter. They’ve expanded the whole concept and the two branches of BIA (puke) are more or less simulacra of a generic American diners, complete with bottomless cups of drip coffee, Elvis on the stereo, and red Naugahyde booths. In addition to a variety of Denny’s-style breakfast offerings available throughout the day, they also have a wide selection of sandwiches and burgers in the afternoons.
All that said, I resolved early on in this whole blarg experiment that I would only write reviews of restaurants I actually like and could say nice things about. I find myself conflicted as I don’t have too many nice things to say about Breakfast in America. The burgers were overcooked and tasteless, the bacon was limp, the pancakes were cold, and the coffee was sour and totally toxic (I suspect that this is their way of cutting back on the demand for refills). What kind of American diner doesn’t serve ice in their Coke? What kind of American diner doesn’t stock Tabasco? What kind of American diner doesn’t have air conditioning? Look, I’m all about a restaurant built around a stupid shtick (in fact, I’m cultivating a pretty serious fantasy about opening the first build-your-own burrito joint in Paris). There was just so much wrong with this place and I can’t imagine why it is so popular both with Parisians and Americans living abroad. If I ever find myself in this unfortunate condition again in the future, I plan to skip BIA and get a decent burger or omelet at any of the neighboring French restaurants.
Details: If you find yourself wildly hungover in Paris and think that Breakfast in America might just be the stomach-coating ticket, well, you’re wrong. Avoid it.