Accent on Living

SOME TRAVEL NOTES.-Plover’s eggs, which used to be mentioned in most fiction dealing with British high life, are protected by law nowadays and are no longer an item on the menu. Never having eaten one — although I did recently try quail eggs, hard-boiled and packed in small cans and sold by a Boston supermarket — I have no idea of their merits. At any rate, plover’s eggs have been succeeded in England by gull eggs; if the hosts are really laving themselves out on the meal, the chances are that it will begin with gull eggs, hard-boiled, served cold, in the shell, with mayonnaise.

Gull eggs are speckled, somewhere between pale gray and sand in color, slighlly smaller than hen’s eggs, and they have none of the objectionable qualities, such as fishiness, which one might expect from a gull. I was once served a dinner course in a French country inn from a quilted red bag. Each diner plunged a hand into it and withdrew, with every sign of satisfaction, an extremely hot hardboiled egg. It was much as if a conjurer’s bag had been circulated. I should not have been surprised if the last diner had produced from it a bowl of goldfish. But gull eggs are offered in a large bowl.

I was puzzled at the esteem for gull eggs, and so did the Londoner seem who tried to explain it. “There were two reasons for plover eggs,”he said. “They were expensive, and it enraged the nature lovers to have people eating them. Perhaps the same will be true of gull eggs. It’s fun, you know, to stir up the nature lovers every so often.”

Another oddity which I encountered in two London households was cream of a quality that I had never seen anywhere previously, not even on farms in the Middle West. It was not clotted cream, nor was if the slightly turned cream which crème fraîche usually means in France; it was a deep yellow and so thick that it could not be poured at all and was served with a spoon, and it was absolutely sweet and fresh.

The British strawberries which accompanied the cream were equally distinctive. I had just about given up strawberries, on the basis of those available around Boston: either they no longer had any taste, or else I had lost or misremembered my own taste for them. Even the fully colored, ripe, well-formed berries here, in apparently fine condition, have little or no flavor that I can discern. The early season strawberries in England were light pink, so pale that any such berry here at home would have been unsalable. But instead of being hard and tasteless, they were extraordinarily delicate and flavorsome, excelled only by the ruddier berries which were abundantly in the markets a week or two later.

I was curious, also, to know whether the wild strawberries in France were as good as I remembered them to be. I tested them at Le Crémaillère in Paris, which proved to be as nearly the perfect restaurant as I have ever seen, and they were better than even my fondest memories of them. My companions chose to have wild strawberry soufflés, but I wanted to try the berries themselves, without sugar or cream.

I must have been the first customer for them that, evening, for the long wicker basket, with a hinged lid, from which they were presented was full. The waiter scrutinized its contents before showing it to me; he gave it several deft tosses, enough to rearrange the upper layers, and reexamined the berries, removing with an air of triumph a single tiny green leaf. There must have been thousands of the pea-size berries in the basket. The waiter served me a generous portion by more deft tosses of the basket and by spilling the loosened top layers onto my plate. No damaging spoon was going to bruise the berries in this basket; they were all flawless, each as good as the next, and not a crushed or unripe one in the lot.

It was the only time I had ever been in Le Crémaillère, and I am sure we received no special attentions, but I must say that its cuisine and the mannerliness of its hospitality to strangers were irresistible. So was its appearance in every detail. Accorded one star in the Guide Michelin, Le Crémaillère was vastly superior to the three-star restaurant which I tried, and the French may very well be right in believing that a restaurant is at its best while in process of earning three-star status and that it tends to become haughty and careless once it has made the grade. Those who would like to test this theory can do so by dining at Lapérouse one evening and Le Crémaillère the next.

It was many years since I had been in Paris, and if the restaurants are still worth sampling, the sidewalk café life has been engulfed in motor traffic. Horn-tooting is prohibited, but the authorities have no interest in mufflers and exhaust noises, so that a sidewalk table in any congested neighborhood is the last place in the world for a casual drink or conversation. The most noise comes from the smallest engine, that which “assists” the bicyclists. It crackles and pops while the cyclist is waiting for the green light, at which point it breaks into a prodigious screech and sounds like a runaway outboard. The larger engine on a motorcycle emits more robust bang-bangs; its take-off is more like a pneumatic chisel ripping up the pavement. Trucks are equipped with a straight-through exhaust system with no nonsense whatever about mufflers. I doubt that anyone could hear a motor horn, even if it were legal, outside the Café de la Paix when the traffic light changes; between times the whole assortment of unmuffled vehicles goes screamingly and thunderingly by. The only sound that can make itself heard over the uproar is the brazen cry of the vendeuse who is carrying a tray of souvenir bric-a-brac which she is convinced anyone foolish enough to sit down there will be eager to take home in triumph.