In October 1999 I was in Paris with some friends for a week. On the first night there I met a girl and we hit it off. By the end of the week I was smitten. I decided she and I needed to have a romantic dinner.
The problem was, I decided that we needed a romantic dinner late in the evening. That’s not a problem in New York but in Paris? Very un-French. They have their set schedules, and someone deciding they want to go have a real dinner at 9:30pm is going to be very disappointed.
We walked from restaurant to restaurant, waiters and hosts one after the other all shaking their heads and telling me “Fermé” (Closed). She kept telling me to give it up, that it wasn’t going to happen.
I was on the verge of capitulating and calling it a night when we walked by a small passageway with a tiny sign that read “Restaurant Au Vieux Moliere.” The sign directed us down the narrow passage. Worth a shot, I figured.
The exterior of Au Vieux Moliere was quaint. We entered. It was dimly lit. On the walls were framed illustrations. French music from the twenties played faintly in the background. It was warm, vibrant and hopelessly romantic. It was exactly what I wanted — so I prepared to be told “Fermé” and have my hopes dashed.
A man approached. He was smiling, very welcoming. We asked if he was still open for dinner.
He showed us to a small table in the back with a bench seat for the lady and a chair for me.
We were thrilled. As we started to look over the menu, he returned with a bottle and two coupes.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
“Ratafia de Champagne,” he explained, “when you drink it, you fall in love.”
We blushed. He poured the Ratafia. We toasted.
Throughout the evening he returned to our table, topping off drinks, asking us about ourselves, telling us about his restaurant. He kept bringing us tastes of wines he’d personally selected during his trips around France. He told us of visiting farmer’s markets to select the daily produce. He bragged about his chef who made a masterful “oeuf coquette au foie gras.”
The food was incredible, but he amplified the experience ten-fold.
At the end of dinner he returned to offer us an after-dinner drink. Later, when he saw we’d finished it, he came back with something else to try — explaining what it was and where it came from as he poured.
We both left there having had the warmest, most extraordinarily romantic dinner we could have ever hoped for.
Two years later we were married.
In 2005 we returned to Au Vieux Moliere to tell the owner that his Ratafia de Champagne seemed to have worked, and to let him know that we wanted our son’s first taste of solid food to be from our most favorite restaurant in the world.