Betsy, my little Chihuahua-Pekingese mix, and I stopped in Caen on our way through Normandy, France to see the D-Day beaches and some of the related WWII museums. It was the first stop on our Spring Break trip. I chose, rather unfortunately, to leave right after church on Easter Sunday. Now Sunday is bad enough in Europe on a good day; relatively NOTHING is open, rarely even restaurants. We arrived in Caen at about 7:00 p.m. and checked into the cute (and cheap — but comfortable) little Caen Bellevue Hotel on Avenue Henri Chéron. I was quite taken with the room, and the proprietor was charming, in a shy, unassuming way. We were hungry, Betsy and I, so we asked the owner for a recommendation.
“Oh, Madame,” he said, in his funny Norman French, “I will see if the restaurants nearby are open.” He proceeded to make two phone calls, neither of which proved fruitful. He sighed and shook his head apologetically. “It is the Easter holiday; I am sorry, Madame, but you will have to drive.” And he gave me directions to Centre-Ville (the center of town), as well as the name of a place in the other direction. Off Betsy and I went, driving, sans GPS.
We started toward the center of town because I knew any restaurant that might be open there would have a bit more personality than one in the suburbs. Unfortunately, we saw nothing that looked inviting, so we headed toward the other restaurant the hotel owner recommended. After driving around for ten minutes, trying to find my way OUT of the center of town (it was WAY easier getting IN), we managed to make our way back to Avenue Henri Chéron. I knew the recommended restaurant was supposed to be on the same street as the hotel, but I was beginning to lose patience, so as we drove by a little bar/restaurant, I noticed a dog inside and since they were certainly dog-friendly (as are most European restaurants), I decided we’d just stop there.
Betsy and I walked in and were greeted by an angry warning bark from the yellow lab mix that had already staked his claim. I picked Betsy up to get her out of harm’s way, and the wait staff corralled the big dog behind the bar. I asked if the kitchen was open. “Pas de souci, Madame,” the tiny, 50-something waitress said, meaning, “no worries.” She motioned me to a table, and Betsy and I took a seat. The waitress wobbled over to us and asked what I would like. I inquired about the daily menu, and she responded with gusto, “Steak – frites!” (steak with fries), adding that there would be an appetizer. I asked what it might be, and she wobbled her little blond head and said, “Whatever you would like: boiled egg with mayo, potato salad,” then sort of faded out, like she ran out of steam. I suggested maybe some cheese, as I am not fond of mayonnaise and we were in France, after all. The waitress responded with a hearty, “But of course, Madame!” and then asked how I would like my steak cooked. “Well done, please,” I answered, then requested a small bowl of water for my dog; “Pas de souci, Madame!” she responded again with her favorite phrase. As I watched her wobble-walk away, I thought she was, I don’t know, not quite right or something.
A few minutes passed and the bartender brought me my beer – they have Leffe in France! (Leffe is a very good Belgian beer of which I am rather too fond, I’m afraid.) Nothing yet for my thirsty little dog, so I asked him if he might oblige with a small bowl and some water. He responded by hurrying behind the bar and filling a saucer for Betsy, which she drank gratefully. “Elle avait soif!” one of the bar patrons said with a smile. Yes, she was pretty thirsty. About that time, the waitress returned with my appetizer: a boiled egg, cut in two with mayonnaise smeared on top, potato salad and pasta salad, both thoroughly oozing mayonnaise. She smiled as she set the plate before me, then asked again how I wanted my steak prepared. “Um, well done,” I answered for the second time, eyeing the less-than-appetizing appetizers. “Pas de souci, Madame! Bon appétit!” she slurred, and I looked up to watch as she turned and weaved away. It was then that I realized that my waitress was “not quite right” because she was three sheets to the proverbial wind. I sighed, scraped the mayo off the egg and ate part of it. I also ate part of the salads because I’m such a stupid people-pleaser that I don’t want to tell anyone anything that might be perceived as negative. What the heck, it wasn’t all bad; the beer, at least, was excellent.
By the time my steak-frites came, I was ready for some real food. My drunken waitress, carrying the plate with both hands, walked toward me slowly. She was unsteady but determined. She set the plate down triumphantly with a hearty, “Bon appétit, Madame!” I watched her turn and head slowly back behind the bar, where because of her height, she practically disappeared. I picked up my fork and ate one of the fries. “Good, but not as good as Belgian fries,” I thought. (Hey, what do you expect? The Belgians invented “French” fries! Seriously!) I started cutting into the steak. Now those who know me know that I am not much of a steak eater; meat is one of my least favorite things. Nevertheless, I did want something I could share with Betsy, and I can eat steak as long as it’s VERY WELL DONE. I’m guessing you know by now what’s coming. The steak was not well done. It wasn’t even medium done. It was, in fact, pretty rare. Betsy enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed the fries, as well as the edges of the steak, which I will admit, were “bien cuits.”
Note to self: don’t leave for Spring Break visits in Europe on Sunday.