I had my first croque monsieur in the Brittany region of France in 2008. I hadn’t heard of it before that spring day. Sitting in an outdoor café adjacent to the second largest farmers market in France, I took a bite and fell in love with the French’s version of grilled ham and cheese. I fell in love again while watching It’s Complicated. What started out as a “work-related” viewing of the movie (one of my alums, who studied at our France school, is one of its co-stars), has now become a frequent watch. There’s a scene when Jane (Meryl Streep) makes croque monsieur as a late night snack for architect-maybe-turning-boyfriend Adam (Steve Martin).
The third time I fell in love was following a work event in NYC. The event was at Michael’s New York. Michael is an alum, who also studied at our France school and found his love of cooking through his French host mother. Michael is known for his early contributions in the area of California cuisine. He’s one of the reasons why I started cooking (again.) I digress; I’m sure I’ll talk more about him in another post. Anyway, during the event I didn’t eat a thing. That was a huge mistake on my part. One does not go to Michael’s and not eat. How did I manage to not even slip a Kobe slider into my mouth? By the time all of the guests had gone, the kitchen was closed. All I was able to sneak was an olive. My colleagues and I were tired and hungry. The maître d’ recommended a bistro just down the street, La Bonne Soupe. The name translates to “the good life.”
As we walked in the door, Jean-Paul Picot, the owner, heard me say “an olive does not a dinner make.” He came right over and, in his Frenglish, agreed. Ushering us quickly to a table on the first level, menus were quickly in our hands, and nearly just as quickly our tastebuds were eager to taste. We hardly had time to soak in the bistro’s ambiance; we quickly forgot that we were in the heart of NYC. Each of us spoke a different degree of French, but it seemed natural to use whatever command of the language we had. We were no longer on 55th street in NYC, but the 18th arrondissment in Paris. The extensive artwork surrounding us gave the feeling of being in a cafe along the quaint streets of Montmartre.
We decided on cheese and cheese, with salad to balance the fat and several glasses of wine to make us forget the amount of cheese we were getting ready to ingest at 11:00 p.m. First came the creamy Gruyère fondue with baguette and sliced green apples. I don’t think there was a speck of cheese, or bread, left. I think we even chipped some of the fondue pot’s interior while trying to scratch off any remaining cheese.
Next came hearty servings of croque monsieur with salad. In the Brittany region salad is usually simple La Bonne Soupe’s version did not disappoint. And the croque monsieur? Incroyable! Baked ham and Swiss on white bread topped with béchamel sauce. Ooey gooey goodness. There was no room for dessert, not even for crème caramel. Good thing I have my own kitchen torch. We waddled back to our hotel for a good night’s food coma.
Our plan had been to go to Carnegie Deli for lunch the next day and inhale some corned beef, but after a true New York-diner breakfast, we couldn’t lift another fork. On the train ride back to Boston we relived every bite of our late-night binge. We couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant. Armed with laptop and Wi-Fi, we found the website for La Bonne Soupe. It was then we learned about Jean-Paul’s cookbook. We ordered four copies. It’s a fun book filled with recipes, stories, family history and helpful hints, like being careful with wine temperature when adding to fondue and how to avoid lumps in your béchamel sauce. Ever since the cookbook arrived I keep a batch of béchamel in the frig. I plan to make my way through the cook book, but I haven’t been able to get past croque monsieur. I channel my inner Jane on a weekly basis. It makes life good.
Here’s where you can buy La Bonne Soupe’s cookbook.