28 January 2010
The first time I ventured to the west coast was in 2003 when I was an undergraduate. I found myself with an afternoon free to explore the town of Berkeley. I took public transportation to the downtown exit and, not knowing anything about the city, resolved to walk in the most beautiful direction. So, I pursued a mesmerizing landscape of green rolling hills, unknowingly, walking in the direction of what the locals call, the gourmet ghetto. After awhile hunger overcame me and my eyes turned to food. Simultaneously, I found myself at a cross section, to the left of which was a narrow hilly street with an inviting little food place. Everything about the place seemed special. It was a tiny white nook with a welcoming blue awning that hung over a large store front window. The closer I got, the more inviting it became. The wooden framed windows were wide open so that you could look into the kitchen and greet the cook if you like. A striking young girl stood the cash register just inside the door and cozy wooden benches were occupied by patrons just outside the door. Upon entering and reviewing the menu I discovered that the place was a classical French cooking lunch, dinner, and catering shop. People could eat at the counter over the stove, at the table outside, or pick up items on the go. The menu was small but packed with delicious sandwiches and, curiously, a whole section dedicated to various potato plates. On that warm sunny day, I chose a tuna melt and ate it on the bench outside, next to the window, with the cook bustling next to me, the blue awning over head, and the green rolling hill in view. I was in communion with the world and thrilled at the lucky happenstance I had gotten myself into.
Upon departure I took a Gregoire business card, put it in my wallet, and thought fondly upon the place for years after, always remembering that remarkable sunny day. Eventually, the card got old, tattered and lost, I forgot the establishment's name, and the French catering nook became like something out of a story rather than an actual place in time. I began to question if I had even been there or if I had just dreamt it up. Maybe given that I hadn’t heard of the place since, or that I was alone when I went there, my perception was distorted by the adventure and newness I was feeling at the time. It could have just been some mediocre deli that fed a starving college girl a plate of much needed food.
Last Friday was my birthday and I wanted to celebrate somewhere special. So, being that we were back in Berkeley, I took a chance and went back to the wondrous place with Ricky. The thrill of another delicious experience was exciting, but I also wanted to find out if my memory was correct. I didn’t dare doubt myself, but I was prepared for the place to be different than I expected.
This particular lunch date had implications for more than just my memory of the restaurant. Similar questioning of my memory and intuition has also surfaced recently in regards to other components of my transition. Leaving my longtime home, quitting my job, moving in with my brother, and trying to find employment in a competitive market have all been decisions I’ve made based heavily on memories and intuition. I would like to think that months from now I’ll be telling an adventurous tail of the risk that led to a happily ever after moment, but the truth is, I can’t say for sure that everything will turn out as I hope. That is why what I find at this particular lunch spot will in some ways be an indicator of the reliability of my inner thoughts and choices.
I didn’t know what street Gregoire was on, I didn’t even remember that it was named Gregoire. I only knew that from the BART stop I needed to go towards the rolling hills. Amazingly, getting there was easier than I thought. Lo and behold the blue awning, the white walls, and the store front window with the cook in the kitchen were all there as I had remembered. The menu was similar, the atmosphere was light and gastronomic, and there were potatoes boiling on the stove.
After Ricky and I ordered, we sat quietly talking and watching the food being prepared in front of us. Then, a cook from back came up front laughing and talking with the others as she dropped large squares of butter into a big pot of warming water. Curious, we inquired what she was making. She replied, “It’s pain de fue”. We asked, “What is it used for?’ She responded playfully, “I don’t know, I just know what it is.” At this response I was somewhat surprised, after all, I had watched her companions take command of the kitchen as they prepared our finely seasoned meals. It was strange she didn’t know what purpose her recipe served in the intimate little place. Had my interpretation of their approach been wrong? Were these employees just mindless droids making food they didn’t understand? Was all the flavor and character I thought I experienced years ago really just a dream? Then, as I sat there wondering, on the brink of disappointment, the cook turned away to manage something on the stove behind her. To my rescue, the striking girl a the cash register caught my eye and whispered “It’s for the potato pie, but shh!” She placed her finger over her lips, smiled, and winked.
This was more than just a secret exchange, it was the point at which I new my memory had been right after all this time. My intuition about the place was accurate. Gregoire not only lived up to my memory, it exceeded my most French of expectations. Gregoire was proud in its stature, precise in its preparations, sophisticated in its method, even protective of its recipes, but all the while, secretly, very sweet too.
I’m not going to go as far as to say that all the decisions I’ve made based on my intuition are now destined to share a similar, happy fate. Who knows what lies ahead? But I will say that my general experiences have been encouraging. Living with Jon has been a pleasure, my bedroom fits me well, and I am scheduled to meet with a colleague at the organization I’d like to work for next week.
As for now, I can safely affirm Gregoire as a wonderful dining experience. Sandwiches are between $7-$13, side dishes are fresh, everything is artfully prepared, atmosphere is ideal for a lighthearted lunch, and the plates are packaged to go so you can make it a quick stop if you like. While I’d like to say Gregoire is a wholly French experience, I can’t, because I’ve never been to France, but I will say that if my intuition about France is anything like my memory of Gregoire, then I am looking forward to a visit.
Posted by Julia