Take That, Paris Cafe

By Corby Kummer

David Lebovitz, whom I first encountered as a tart-talking pastry chef at Chez Panisse, has not only become an accomplished writer of books on baking and chocolate but the impresario of the go-to guide for food-loving American in Paris; his davidlebovitz.com strikes the right balance between personal observation, anecdotes, and eating and shopping and staying tips you'll want the next time you go. He's also funny, a David Sedaris without the self-conscious, and sometimes self-satisfied, whimsy.

His site is where I send friends on their way for three-day see-it-all stops in Paris--and for some reason three or four days seems to be about all the time people can spare for Paris these days, maybe because of the economy, maybe because they want to be sure they'll still have jobs when they get back.

But maybe it's something to do with the coffee--one of many reasons I heretically don't pine for Paris (though I do for my beautiful niece, who lives and works there). It's not just that you can't get coffee to go, or in anything bigger than a small cup, or that it's hard to find a coffee shop at all, as frequent as cafés are--you're really supposed to get meals, or beer or wine, or preferably all that, at the average cafe. Yes, I'm an American philistine! with my to-go cups and Big Gulp-sized portions. Not really--I of course love espresso and the true caffès, happy to serve you coffee and to chat, at every truck stop and dot-sized village in Italy (what a difference an "f" makes).

No, the real reason cafés in Paris are so unfriendly and dismal is that they serve such bad coffee. Lebovitz says it exactement in this Q&A from today's Boston Globe:

Americans don't want to believe French coffee is terrible....The coffee is much better in America. The coffee here is horrible horrible horrible. The problem is, it's not just bad, they don't know it's bad. Like alcoholics, the only way they're going to get better is to admit it.

He gets to say it, because he's a certified Paris-lover--buy his funny and useful new book, The Sweet Life in Paris, generously sprinkled with recipes, to see his open-heartedness. But I treasured that bit of hardhearted observation.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/05/take-that-paris-cafe/17904/