I’ve recently discovered that the French socialist system is best summed up by shared desserts. And I would have written about these findings sooner, but I was completely waylaid by a giant bowl of mousse au chocolat.
No, really. A chocolate dessert of epic proportions has an incredible way of sinking you into a happy stupor that makes it nearly impossible to get up at a decent hour the next day or really accomplish anything productive for at least a week. Especially when said dessert was preceded by a few glasses of wine and a hunky piece of steak sprinkled with fresh herbs and sea salt.
But now that I’ve shaken my gustatory coma, I can tell you the tale of the most heart staggering, tears-of-joy inducing dessert I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant. It was at a little place called Chez Janou, tucked back in the cobweb of streets behind the Place des Vosges.
Picture in your mind for a moment the cutest, most quintessential Parisian cafe: a cozy glow emanating from the windows, laughter drifting from the terrace, yellow walls and an old zinc bar. Now add a bunch of feisty hipster waitresses and a slightly raucous crowd sipping rosé. That’s Chez Janou. And it’s wonderful.
Except for the part where you’re waiting for nearly an hour for your main course to arrive because the place is so damn bustling that the two waitresses on duty can barely catch their breath. Or the part where you wait another 45 minutes for someone to clear your plates and bring a dessert menu. And you’ve run out of wine.
Let’s just say the charm was running thin by the time we actually had a chance to order dessert. But we stuck around, soaking up the atmosphere and agreeing that we should ask for the check as soon as possible, unless we wanted to witness the sunrise from our table.
And then I saw it: A comically huge, roughly hewn piece of pottery balanced on the hip of our tiny waitress. In the other hand she had two plates. I was confused. Didn’t we order chocolate mousse? That refrigerated pudding usually relegated to fancy glassware?
The crock landed on the table with a thud. I peered inside to see what can only be described as nirvana – a deep vat of dark chocolately wonder that looked rich and fluffy and unfathomably thick at the same time. The waitress handed us our plates and said, “Just don’t lick the serving spoon.”
Yes folks, I found a place that offers serve-your-self, all-you-can-eat chocolate mousse. Let me type that again, just in case you didn’t understand: A big bowl of family-style chocolate heaven, entrusted to each diner who should be so brave to take on the challenge. Once you reach your fill (or someone else orders the same dessert) the waitress carries it off to the next lucky table.
Now some of you may be thinking, Gross! You’re eating out of the same bowl as other diners! And we may not be able to be friends anymore, because you’re totally missing the point. That’s why you don’t lick the serving spoon! And if we all promise not to eat too much and to not spit in the bowl, then we all get to profit from the wonders of the self-serve crock of chocolate! Very simple really, and a shining example of French socialism at its best.
JENNIFER WILLSON is an American in Paris.