In college, I learned both Russian and Spanish. Both languages are exotic and romantic, and I sounded cool when I spoke them. But I have always wanted to learn French. With its oui and non and je ne connais pas, it sounds so untouchable and snobbish.
For now, I’ll indulge in French food. Full of meat, dripping in sauces and with a sidekick of pomme frites (fries), it’s as close to a coronary as you can get without keeling over. That’s what I like about French food. It’s not afraid to be bad. It looks like art, and it tastes like a stroll along the Champs-Elysees in spring: rich and expensive.
My favorite French restaurant is La Ferme (The Farm) in Genoa. The restaurant is in a small peach-colored house that is cozy and oh, so French Country. Goats, chickens, geese and some cats roam the fenced area next to the restaurant, which is tucked away in a grove of pine trees.
La Ferme is not fancy. It has a warm feeling, like eating in someone’s farmhouse. The place is rustic, with warm lighting and gaudy oil paintings. The waiting area has a fireplace the size of a small person, and the tall candles along the fireplace have dripped years’ worth of white wax all over the hearth. There is a strange fascination with roosters here, including carved roosters on the walls, rooster lamps and rooster paintings.
I went one fall evening with my mother and my cousin Charlotte, who was visiting from Denmark. Of course, I had to go with two women who speak perfect French.
The owner, Gilles LaGourge, seated us personally. Before we had even placed the heavy white napkins over our laps, he clapped his hands and said in an annoyingly sexy French accent, “You will have the bottle of Clos du Bois, and you will love it!” We drank the chardonnay, and we did love it—maybe a little too much.
At La Ferme, main dishes start around $15. But where else can you eat authentic escargot and creme brulee without having to deal with a room full of cigarette-smoking French?
Charlotte ordered her meal—beef with pomme frites dipped in a tarragon sauce—in exquisite French. LaGourge was thrilled and invited her into the kitchen to meet the chef. I whispered to her to see if she could try to steal a recipe or two. I ordered a salad with baby greens and the coq au vin, the only thing I could pronounce properly without sounding like an uneducated American. My mother ordered the lapin (rabbit).
The food was served in mismatched china bowls, with either a blue or pink country pattern on them. The bowls were deep to hold both the meat and a pool of sauce. Warm rosemary bread was on hand for lapping up the rest of the sauce.
My guess is that French chefs beat their food nearly to death, because the meat just fell off the bones in surrender. The salad gave up its tender flavor without a fight, and we pillaged the exquisite chocolate desserts beyond recognition.
Genoa looks a lot like the northern Italian city it was named after, but as far as my taste buds and stomach are concerned, the French have invaded.