Personal Journeys


July 04, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

A good waiter makes all the difference

By Brenda E. Sartoris


Given the hundreds of restaurants and cafes in Paris where one can get a decent meal at a good price, what makes some of them worth returning to? Good food, of course, but also ambience -- a good view, an attractive decor -- and the personalities of the people who work there.

Jardin Notre Dame, at Rue Petit-Pont and Rue de la Huchette, is one such place. Some years back, on a search for good escargot at a reasonable price, of the half-dozen restaurants I tried within walking distance of my hotel, Jardin Notre Dame came in first. The snails are large, perfectly seasoned and not overcooked. The restaurant, decorated with hanging plants and fresh flowers, has a pleasant view of the towers of Notre Dame across the Seine.

But most important to the restaurant's appeal is the staff. On entering, you will be warmly welcomed by one of the several charming gentlemen who work there -- perhaps M. Didi, the maitre d', or Jean-Luc (as the first Frenchman to kiss my hand, he occupies a special place in my heart), or M. Achour, a tall, smiling gentleman with a graceful, rolling walk.

If you are fortunate, you will be served by M. Samy, who embodies what many American women, especially those of a certain age, as the French so nicely put it, find compelling about French men.

He's attractive -- slender, graceful, dark-eyed, with an expressive face. Dressed in black trousers and a black turtleneck, he might have stepped straight from a film noir. Perhaps in his mid-40s, he is extraordinarily charming. He carries it off so well that he is a pleasure to observe -- and when you are the object of his attentions, you tend to overlook the fact that his personality is integral to his job.

Returning one evening from a neighborhood concert, I considered stopping for dinner. As I approached the restaurant, I could see that it was too crowded. But before heading home to dine, I paused briefly to observe M. Samy in action.

It was like watching a dance. He was bowing over a table of middle-aged women, shifting the candle here, pouring some wine there, his face alternating from sympathy to amusement to concern, a soft smile accompanying each gesture. The women laughed and preened under his attentions. I knew exactly how they felt.

Just how much of the restaurant's appeal must be credited to M. Samy's charm is hard to gauge. But a pleasant dining experience entails more than just a well-prepared meal. So when I visit Paris, I dine at least once at the Jardin Notre Dame -- for the escargot, the view and the staff.

Brenda E. Sartoris lives in Forest, Va.

My Best Shot

Mary Jane Mitchell, Berlin, Md.

Prelude to a great time

My husband and I and friends were dockside at Simpson Bay Marina on St. Martin, waiting to board a catamaran that would take us on a snorkeling trip to Anguilla, when a sudden squall sent us scurrying for shelter. As quickly as it came, the storm departed, and, as if in apology for the inconvenience, it left behind a beautiful, fully formed rainbow spanning the harbor. Was this a good omen? We believed it was, and the next two weeks provided emphatic confirmation.

Readers Recommend

Plymouth, Mass.

Richard Elliott, Havre de Grace

On a family trip to New England, one of our scheduled tours was to Plymouth, where we visited the ship Mayflower II. A visit begins with a dockside exhibit that introduces you to the original Mayflower's passengers. Once aboard, you have the chance to meet, photograph and talk with men and woman portraying the sailors and passengers who made the historic voyage in 1620.


Barbara Coakley, Catonsville

In the midst of our six-hour island tour of Barbados in February, our group stopped at a restaurant in Bathsheba for lunch. After dining on the veranda, my sister and I were caught up in a tranquil, azure moment that we wished everyone could savor. The week went way too fast.

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