A few months ago one of my usual baristas at my local favorite Starbucks told me, after I had maybe mentioned the most recent time away in Paris, that I should try Hopfields, which he described as a French-themed Gastropub with a wide beer selection. The beer selection description through me off - not a huge beer fan. I would recall that tip from time to time, however, because of the alleged French connection, but would then quickly forget the information, as happens to me a lot these days as to lots of things.
When Melissa and I opted for dining après the Austin Chamber Music Center Summer Music Festival concert this past Friday night (that night was a gorgeous performance by adorable Brazilian men comprising the Brazil Guitar Duo), we had that dilemma as frequently happens in Austin, sadly, of where to eat late(ish) at night. She mentioned Hopfields. I mentioned my longtime forgetfulness of getting over there.
I looked at the menu on line. I sighed with longing for France. Really? A "merguez frites" sandwich ... who but a real French street cred place would serve merguez? [Merguez is a spicy North African sausage that the son lived on during one trip to Paris while craving Tex-Mex food; it's a lamb, or sometimes beef, sausage.]
And the cocktail menu...what's not to love about a cocktail being served at a French-themed Gastropub called "75 Years in Provence."
[As part of my French major at Sweet Briar I did an intensive winter break study course in Marcel Pagnol - and ever since then "Provence" (and who can forget the Peter Mayle frenzy about the Luberon, Vaucluse, etc. (my favorite book of his though is his novel, Hotel Pastis)) conjures up for me rough, magestic terrain of Cezanne landscapes, lazily stirring the contents of a glass of pastis out on a courtyard overlooking fields of lavender, sitting at a rustic, worn 400-year-old wood table salvaged from a vineyard down the road, and olive trees all around, their silvery leaves fluttering in the sunlight. [Note: I have never done anything like this, but who would not ponder such a life upon looking wistfully, as I do far too often, at the Provence abodes on the Haven in Paris site....]
To optimize the numbers of Hopfields items I could try, I started with the simple salade verte. And then ordered, to follow, a tomato and manchego tarte. Seemed very provençal. I had had only a few sips of the glass of Cotes du Rhone when the salade verte arrived.
I sighed. It was so very lovely to look at. It was as if the entirety of the most lovely and perfectly formed head of bibb letture was placed just right and opened up just right in the shallow bowl. Melissa transfers something from her salade verte to mine. I interrupt my reverie on how beautiful this lettuce is to see what the deal is. Ah, a wedge of brie. Or Camembert. I get hers. [She hates cheese. I love cheese. Dining out works well.]
And then I ruin the masterpiece of nature by cutting into the lettuce (bad form in France, but I'm in Austin).
"Oh. Oh. Wow." I sigh. It is so, so very perfect. It is so France. It is the quintessential French vinaigrette - for me. And so I have my own Proustian moment. This dressing reminds me of sitting in the kitchen for a simple Sunday evening supper with the family I stayed with for one month in Paris the summer after high school. It reminds me of a particular salad my friend Elizabeth would order, when we were on the (Sweet Briar) Junior Year in France, at a cafe over near the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where she was taking art history classes. It is, in short, la belle France set in a beautiful perfect bowl of seasonal greens.
As we forgot to order cocktails before the meal, we had those next (the "75 Years in Provence").
[photo by Melissa]
Sure the tart was nice too. It came with a salad on the side. But that salad was nothing like the simple green salad I had aforehand. It was more redolent of garlic - though generally nothing wrong with that - and was comprised of field greens. [I am just about ready to boycott field greens entirely because I cannot stand to see them anymore. And they're hard to eat. I'm on a crispy romaine lettuce kick these days.]
Hopfields is, amazingly lucky for me, so close to my house. It is open for lunch. It is open late at night.
It cannot take the place of France, but it is a nice reminder of the immense pleasure that something so very simple as a well-conceived salade verte (and an extra wedge of cheese) can bring.
Now if one certain waitstaff person there would not have repeated my order of frites (yes, one more item, just wanted to try them - out of this world), by pronouncing the "s" on the end, all would be very, very well with the world and my new favorite place so close to chez moi. But I'm not complaining. So long as they never, ever think about changing that salad dressing on the salade verte.