As “everyday tourists” we are always looking for creative ways to have a tourist experiences even when we are at home in Calgary. Recently, friends invited us to join them for dinner at Fleur de Sel, an established Parisian-style restaurant in Calgary’s trendy Mission district. Of course we said “yes,” but what we didn’t anticipate was how the dinner would bring back vivid memories of our past trips to Paris and Lyon.
As soon as we walked into Fleur de Sel, we were immediately reminded of the charm of Paris bistros. Upon looking at the menu, I noticed one of the items was cassoulet, a traditional peasant dish of meat and beans that is popular in Lyon. This immediately conjured up memories of one evening in Lyon, France ironically with the same friends.
One of our best meals was a cassoulet dinner in an off-the-beaten path old house that had been a bouchon for over 200 years. Not only was the cassoulet excellent, but they also offered us a couple of free brochette de quenelles they had made for the early seating and wouldn’t keep for the second seating.
I finished the meal off with a flourless chocolate cake that was perhaps the most decadent dessert I have ever tasted. My mouth waters even now thinking about it!
The memories didn’t end there as we quickly all recalled that special night didn’t end with the meal. While walking back to our hotel, we heard some music a few blocks away, so decided to head in that direction. Stopping to listen outside the church, someone came out and invited us to come in. It was truly magical to experience - centuries old music in a centuries old church.
As the recent evening’s discussion continued, it centered mostly around our other visits to France including our first visit as travel neophytes. For that trip, we were given us a copy of the Wine Spectator with a feature on Paris by Richard Harvey of Calgary’s Metrovino wine store to help us plan out trip. As a result, we found ourselves in the tiny tony Champ d’ Mars Hotel across from the iconic Marie-Anne Cantin cheese shop and down the street from the Rue Cler pedestrian mall. We couldn’t have been luckier for our first trip to Paris at Christmas.
One of the fondest memories of that visit was dinner at a nearby restaurant recommended in the Wine Spectator feature. We went by earlier in day to make a reservation to learn there had just been a cancellation (otherwise we’d have been out of luck).
We came back for dinner and the place was an amazing buzz of conversation. We quickly realized we were the only tourists in the place. After asking a few questions (clearly showing our naiveté) our server asked, “Can I just look after you?” We said “yes!” And we are glad we did.
Food and wine just kept coming out from the kitchen and we just kept eating and smiling. Turns out this husband and wife-owned restaurant was only open three days a week and is always full weeks in advance. We even got to see their two children who lived upstairs and came downstairs to say good night. It is a memory etched in our memories.
Back to Calgary
As the dinner at Fleur de Sel continued, it became much more like our Paris dinner experience as the server knew our dinner mates well and they chatted like old friends, just like in the Paris bistro.
But perhaps the highlight of the night came near the end of the evening. All of a sudden, the sound system blasted Marilyn Munro singing Happy Birthday and disco lights floating around the room. Soon our server came rushing in with a chocolate-dipped strawberry speared by a birthday candle, complete with a sparkler and three balloons. He quickly put down the strawberry, broke the balloons, the sparkler fizzled out and the song was over. The fun pop-up birthday party was all over before we really knew what was happening. What first I thought it was pretty kitschy, really was a fun celebration.
While a trip to your local French restaurant won’t replace a trip to France, it can be a great way rekindle the memories of past trips to France. You can do the same thing by checking out your local authentic Mexican Italian, Turkish, Vietnam, Ukrainian or other favourite ethnic restaurants.
Similarly, a night out at the theatre might be the catalyst to evoke memories of a trip to New York and an off off Broadway play. Or, a trip to a museum or art gallery might be the stimulus to recall a trip to London or Frankfurt.
Whatever you choose, it could add a whole new dimension to “staycation.”