Once a week we’ve been getting together with friends Sally and Larry to try out a restaurant we haven’t been to before. From what I just saw on the Carcassonne tourist office website, we could visit a new eatery, including Michelin-starred ones, every single day for almost a year before we would return to the first one. It was our turn to make the choice for the week and what I heard Bill say was that he wanted to go to Le Bistro Dallas. Now, I knew that a lot of French people are fascinated by the history of the old American West, so I wasn’t shocked to hear a restaurant called that, but I was very curious to see what was going to be on the menu.
One advantage of living in this part of France is the great cost of living, reflected even in the price of dining out. Lunch prices tend to be an especially good value where we can get a 3-course meal, sometimes including a glass of wine, for around 15 euros/dollars or less. This afternoon we’re going to the bistro in one of the city’s oldest hotels, just across from the train station and the canal, where the current feature is all-you-can-eat steamed mussels plus French fries for 11 euros. I don’t think that we’ll need dessert if we fill up on fresh seafood.
Like a lot of words, the origin of bistro isn’t crystal clear and the most popular theory can be much more interesting than what is probably the more mundane but real source. The Russian word for “quickly” is spelled bystro, and was apparently what occupying soldiers called out in Parisian restaurants around 1815 to get their meals served in a hurry. On a food history website I saw French words such as bistrouille and bitouille (a coffee/brandy mix or a cheap wine) and bistraud (a wine merchant’s assistant) as being a more likely root. Whatever the origin, these little informal restaurants remain a comfortable place to have a simple, filling meal that does indeed offer quick service.
So what about our western US dinner at Bistro Dallas? It turns out that I had misheard Bill’s pronunciation of Bistro D’Alice which the tourist office describes as “a convivial place, with vintage decoration halfway between a bistro in Paris and a bouchon (traditional, small restaurant) in Lyon”. We found out that Alice is the owner’s grandmother whose influence we felt from the warm welcome we received, through the courses of foie gras, calamari, and baba au rhum, right down to the after-dinner lemon digestif, distilled just a few streets away. We were definitely not in Dallas.