A cold wind slapped the flags in front of Union Station. It was a fine day to be indoors and at lunch with a visitor from California, John Parducci. The men at the next table were French, in their late 30s, perhaps early 40--at least they spoke French and they looked European. One was dark, with the ruddy cheeks, mustache and trim beard. The other, fairer one spoke quickly, his hands waving across the table.
When we arrived at La Colline, under the shadow of the Capitol, the dessert trolley had been wheeled to their table. Jim was opening a bottle of wine for them. It was a sauternes, judging by the deep golden color, and a Lafaurie-Peyraguey, judging by the distinctive Cordier bottle. The Cordier family did away with the traditional claret shape in 1961 and added a cameo of founder D,esir,e to the neck of their own bottle. This wine was indeed a Lafaurie-Peyraguey, the 1975, at $22.
The dessert trolley was a splendid, irresistible trap, into which the Frenchmen fell. They ordered everything; a half-portion of every one of the eight tarts, cakes and creams. From then, >our interest, whetted by the sauternes, never flagged. Who were they? These two men so obviously unhurried, enjoying their wine, their food and their conversation.
Jim said they were friends of the pastry chef. One was a chef elsewhere in town. The other was a gourmet, or gourmand. Sometimes there is a fine line between the two.
They ate the desserts. They sipped the sauternes. It was their second bottle of wine. They had drunk a '79 Montagny, Ch. de la Saule, $15, with their other three courses. Watching them, we chatted about the '81 vintage in Mendocino (the earliest that John can recall), about the four generations of Parduccis who've been making wine there since Prohibition, and about the good future for quality wines in Lake County.
As we ate our mussels, the next table was served expressos and cognac. No, not cognac, said Jim. It was a single vintage armagnac, '61 Marquis Roquelaure, a mellow mahogany color.
The sorbet arrived at their table before the brandy could be sniffed. On each plate were two mounds, pink cassis and pale green lime. Refreshed, they returned to the coffee, armagnac and cigars. Big, chewy cigars, clipped with care. The dark one's complexion was ruddier. The fair one was calmer.
When the trolley came to our table, no refusals were considered. I liked the look of the apricot tart, a late addition to the trap. And how delicious it was: moist on top, crusty underneath, and very fruity, but not sweet. How well it would have matched a sauternes.
It was too much for the French. Back came the trolley. They ordered the apricot tart and more coffee.
When I left, they were still there. For more than three hours they had been visiting their friend's restaurant. It was a quiet, companionable visit for them. For those who shared their pleasure, no matter how vicariously, it was a landmark.