Monday, January 25, 2010

Le Petit Triangle

1881 Fulton Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 281-1881

by Beau Cadiyo

Imagine, first, that you are a member of an organization that many conspiracy theorists believe secretly controls the world. Imagine further that you’re part of a splinter faction which is in open rebellion against the entrenched establishment, and that you’ve been invited to participate in special meetings to discuss the future of the organization. Imagine further still that you’re meeting some of the other rebels at Le Petit Triangle. Now you know how it feels to be me.

Everything inside Le Petit Triangle is beautiful in an olde-worlde way. The restaurant is uncommonly small and narrow, the chairs are old and worn without being shabby and the tables are covered in tablecloths and white butcher paper with arrangements of leaves sticking out of vases. The kitchen in the middle of the room is surrounded by a bar, and four stools stand at attention next to it; however, the bar top is entirely covered with kitchen supplies, including a recently emptied wooden cask of wine, preventing anyone attempting to make use of the stools to enjoy a drink or a meal at the bar. They are thus totally useless, but in a very picturesque, French manner. The giant mirrors on the walls are very Versailles, and the wide windows opening out onto the street makes the restaurant feel distinctly open. The drafty door allowed cold winter air in while we were eating, but nobody seemed to mind. Also irredeemably French was the bathroom, which is down a wide flight of precipitously narrow steps. A giant coq awaits vacating diners at the bottom, and the bathroom itself is tiny, barely large enough for the small sink and a toilet. Sorry – “petit.”

The restaurant is stereotypically French in its treatment of customers. First, it took 40 minutes for the waitress to take our order. She kept stopping by the table to say, “I’ll be right back to take your order,” or, “Give me one minute and I’ll get your order.” When she was actually there to take our order, she said, “Are you guys ready to order?” as if we very well might ask for more time. In Denny’s it would have been rude; here, however, we thanked her for the opportunity. Perhaps it was also that she was, in the French manner, sexy without being conventionally attractive. She was in her late thirties, or perhaps forties; her face was hard and she had on a loose-fitting tan blouse with high-rise jeans, yet something about her was undeniably sensual.

But we were there to talk, and so we talked. This group that conspiracy theorists love to hate – I’ll call them “Them,” and the splinter faction “Us”– is rapidly declining in power and influence as Their members age and die out. My path to Them, and then to Us, is convoluted: I first joined Them in San Diego, but left when They started sending out anti-Mexican missives. I reconnected with Them in Cleveland, but left after I put forward my friend Frank Jones as a prospective member. Frank grew up in Akron and rose out of relative poverty to get a BA, then a Masters, then a JD (with various honors), and started work at one of the most prestigious law firms in the world. He is also black. They told me I would should not bring him back, and that I should think about leaving myself. I took them up on that.

Then I found Us. We have black members, are relatively young, and seem to be going in the right direction. We are trying to create an alternative to Them by changing some of the core aspects of Their practices for Our own use. I’m getting into Our leadership because I had experience with Us in Europe, when I lived over there. Well, that’s what Our leaders tell me. I’m not quite sure why people put trust or confidence in me, or if they actually do – if I’m a pawn, a bishop or a king. Sometimes I feel like I’m being set up. Maybe, at 30, I’m in a weird middle ground where I know enough to realize my own limitations, but not enough to compensate for them.

I had the Croque Norvegien with an egg, which made it a Madame and added a dollar to the price. Nobody at the table expected the egg to be on top; we thought it would be inside. While generally this could have been easily corrected when it arrived at the table, the sandwich also came with a dollop of thick grey-brown gravy under the egg but on top of the bread, making it a knife-and-fork-only affair. There were some Lyonnaise potatoes on the side that were either fried (which I doubt) or baked; the last one I ate was caked on the bottom with spices, but the others only tasted of oil and earth.

Inside the sandwich was delicate, flaky smoked salmon and what appeared to be some sort of dill sauce which, together, were delicious. The yolk of the egg was fried a little bit too hard for it to be runny so, unfortunately, it didn’t spew out all over the sandwich. The bread was thick and spongy, so cutting it was difficult; piercing all four layers (egg, bread, salmon, bread) with the fork and then cutting into the whole seemed likely to rip the salmon fibers apart and squish the bread unpleasantly. When it came off of the fork, though, the bread sprung back to form in my mouth and made chewing awkward. It took four or five mis-judged pieces to figure out the optimal size. It would have been much easier to have picked it up, sheared off bites with my incisors surely your canines don’t do the shearing and eaten it like a proper, original, English sandwich (link to sandwich describing its origins).

Regardless of logistical difficulties, this was one of the best pieces of smoked salmon I’ve ever had, in-sandwich or otherwise. The egg’s hard-fried white added a crunch to the top, and the gravy, which I thought tasted like it came out of a packet, added needed salt and moisture to each bite. Most remarkable, and perhaps most French, about the meal was that the portions were neither too large nor too small (link to John Palmer’s Bistro 44 discussion of portion sizes). I left neither hungry nor full, but finished the meal perfectly satisfied.

The check was supposed to be split three ways, with me paying the least, since I didn't drink wine. However, the waitress did not see the detailed note that we put on the receipt and split the check evenly. When this was brought to her attention she became frustrated, fluttered her hands and said, “I can’t deal with this right now,” and turned to the bar. This time, her reaction did border on rude; still, our table figured it out without anyone feeling truly offended. It was all part of Le Petit Triangle’s charm, and this sort of treatment apparently didn’t deter customers – when we left at 8:30 p.m., we walked past eight people standing in the cold, drafty doorway waiting for tables.

I will join them, someday soon, waiting at the door. I will return with my girlfriend on a date, or with my father, who spent his university years in Montpellier, France, or with anybody else who wants to take two hours to eat a good sandwich in an absolutely charming, frustrating little place and love every minute of it.

Le Petit Triangle Cafe on Urbanspoon

No comments: