There are moments in life where you're blind-sided. Something steps into your day-to-day that shocks and amazes. It's nice when those game-changers are positives: a new job, a tax refund you weren't expecting, or having your favorite songs appear on the car radio randomly, giving you hope that there can be world peace and that the Jelly Shoe may one day make a comeback.
Occasionally, however, the rug gets pulled out from under you. Such a thing occurred last month when I learned that Pardon My French, a french bakery, cafe, and wine bar that had become a favorite place to gather with friends, shut its doors literally overnight. No warning. No words. No chance to buy discounted French country décor or what remained of the excellent Beaujolais Nouveau they still had on sale by-the-glass only weeks before. Just a sign of thanks for loyal patronage and an abrupt "sorry."
It was the second such empty apology I've been handed by the French, and though this one doesn't sting quite as deeply as the first (a story best reserved for a dark night and a glass of Rhone red), it still resulted in a mourning process. No more authentic Quiche Lorraine. No where to go in the south 'burbs for real Alsatian tarte flambée. More importantly, one less place for my friends and I to sit, laugh, and let the sun burn our retinas (they never did find shades for the front windows).
But there are other places to get croissant, you say? Au contraire, mes chers amis! I foolishly thought this was true. Like someone who loses a beloved family pet and replaces it with a new puppy, I thought I would be content to return to Patrick's bakery in Richfield. It is similarly French and sells the requisite tartes, baguette, and also has a simple-yet-savvy wine list featuring Gascony and lesser-known, but fantastic regional wines.
But that's where my enthusiasm ends. It has a small, crowded dining room, and for the second time in a row, I ordered what was previously an excellent capuccino. It took about 20 minutes for the capuccino to arrive at my table (not a joke, I was getting up from my chair to inquire about the holdup when the server came over with it), and was smothered in nutmeg. Nutmeg? Ok. It was at least warm and coffee-like.
I ordered the Mandarin cake. Looked fantastic. I didn't know if the Mandarin was a reference to orange flavor or was somehow going to be asian-inspired. Turned out to be orange. Though it wasn't bad at all, it didn't knock my socks off. I needed the bitterness of the nutmeg and the capuccino to balance the sugar. Oddly enough, the base pastry was made with puffed rice. It didn't get finished.
That being said, Patrick's isn't a bad place to go if you're craving French. They have a Croque Monsieur on the menu, not a Madame (the Monsieur doesn't get an egg thrown on top, they're rarer to find on menus around my neck of the woods), and the quality is good. But it's not Pardon My French - I don't feel like I can hold a conversation in their dining room, nor is there the possibility of enjoying a painting class or listening to live jazz. I will have to be content with painting my class masterpieces at the Salut Bar Americain or Don Pablo's. I just can't get inspired to load my brush like Van Gogh when I'm sitting next to refried beans...
Things happen. Restaurants fail for different reasons, not always the fault of the owner or staff. But Pardon My French was a place that had a very busy and loyal customer base. It had gained something that many restaurants would envy - a sense of community. That's difficult to re-start once it's gone.
Here's hoping that the owner and staff of PMF moved on to better things and that the closing was only a technical bump in the road. Their customers will have to make do with crowded, but adequate northern 'burb bistros.