Friday, November 18, 2005

Paris Journal: Restaurant Bimal

Every trip to a faraway land must include at least one dinner fiasco. Tonight we had ours. Somehow even our camera picked up on the out-of-focus nature of our Friday evening.

Margy and I had plans to meet up after she finished work, to grab a quick bite before going to a party she had been invited to. Though we had been told the party would feature some good homemade food -- and the idea of eating at the home of a local was quite tempting -- I was deeply skeptical. I pictured great crowds of people with whom I could not communicate and big empty bowls that had once held delicious things to eat. So we figured we'd deal with dinner first rather than fight a Frenchman over a forkful of lentil salad.

And then we lost our nerve. We decided to go straight to the party and eat there.

We waited around a bit after Margy finished work, eventually caught a cab, and then stood outside our destination trying to get the door code to work. When we finally cracked the code, climbed a wide winding staircase, and pushed through the door of a huge and majestic Paris apartment, we found exactly the scene I'd feared, only on an even larger scale than I'd pictured it. There were four big rooms packed with people sitting in front of cleaned plates and empty bowls. So Margy did a few quick double-kiss hello/goodbyes, and we left.

With the clock running out on dinner -- it was past 10:30 at this point -- we had to find a place to eat. Fast. Our standards slackened by the minute, and we considered the cookie-cutter sushi joints that for some reason dotted the block we were on. We even sat down at one, only to look at the mass-produced menus featuring bright photos of almost nothing but salmon, and bolted.

A couple of minutes later we shrugged and chose Bimal, an Indian and Pakistani joint near all the sushi houses. It was fine, if nothing spectacular. We picked a vegetarian menu of samosas, palak paneer (spinach and Indian cheese), and dal makhni (lentils), and washed it down with a bottle of the Beaujolais Nouveau that had been grandly unveiled the previous evening. The wine does not have a great reputation, but after seeing innumerable signs announcing its arrival and hearing little local bands play raucous odes to its potency, how could we resist? It actually went well enough with Indian food.

So in the end, as far as dinner fiascoes go, this one could have been much worse.

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