Nights are a little cooler. The first yellow leaves have appeared on the trees. My thoughts have already turned to apple cider, mountains of pumpkins, and deep blue skies. Autumn is definitely my favorite season, and I’m looking forward to the beautiful colors, the abundant fall harvests in the farmer’s markets, and celebrating the one institution that continues to give me the greatest pleasure: restaurants!
Beef chow fun (wan lai), is one of my fave things to order when we go out for Chinese (photo by jwsobeck).
Ah yes. Any day of the week, no matter how things are going, those three little words, "Let’s eat out!" are music to my ears. Of all the wondrous inventions of human society, this has got to be one of the very best: someone else cooks, someone else serves, someone else washes the dishes. Yes!
Did you know that the word, "restaurant," which dates back to the 16th century, comes from the french verb, "restaurer," which means, "to restore"? "Restaurant" first translated as, "a food which restores," and guess what type of food they were specifically referring to?
Soup, naturellement. What else? I mean, that’s why we’re here, right? ☺
The first eating establishment referred to as a "restaurant" was founded by a Parisian soup-seller named Boulanger. However, the standard practice of customers sitting at their own tables, ordering from menus, and being served individual portions is usually credited to Antoine Beauvilliers, who founded the Grand Taverne de Londres in 1782. He was a culinary writer and gastronomic authority who became a very successful restaurateur. Merci, Monsieur Beauvilliers!
Historic cafés of Paris by Rita Crane Photography.
We should keep in mind, however, that well before Monsieurs Boulanger and Beauvilliers seduced the public with their soup, inns and taverns had long been providing food for hungry travelers. But of course, these establishments were not frequented by the locals until later. If you really want to get technical, the concept of selling prepared dishes to the public dates back to Medieval Islamic times. We’re apt to credit the Chinese with the idea of take-out, but actually it was a Bengali Muslim entrepreneur named Sake Dean Mahomed, who established the first take-away restaurant, a London curry house, in 1810.
Sobrino de Botin in Madrid, Spain, is the oldest restaurant in existence today, established in 1725 (photo by dismith).
Basement dining room of Sobrino de Botin; Goya supposedly waitered here while awaiting acceptance to the Royal Academy of Art (photo by bbjunkie).
The specialty of the house, cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig), was mentioned in the closing chapter of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (photo by Fred_T).
Mais oui, whether you prefer a bistro, café, trattoria, taverna, diner, greasy spoon, supper club, cafeteria, or drive-in, you might agree: they all make great settings for stories. Writers, in particular, have a special fondness for restaurants, since we not only write about them, but in them. What is it about a bustling Starbucks that gets those creative juices flowing?
I’ve long been fascinated by the whole restaurant/chef thing, and want to learn more about what goes on inside all those professional kitchens. When I was little, I’d often say I wanted to be a waitress when I grew up. My mother promptly discouraged me: “Oh, you don’t want to do that. Waitressing is very hard work; they’re on their feet all day long.” So, I shifted my dream to owning a restaurant. Okay, well, that takes more than a little capital, something I’ve never been very good at accumulating. Sigh.
Union Oyster House, Boston, the oldest restaurant with continuous service in the
U.S., established 1826. Regulars included Daniel Webster and the Kennedys.
(photo by mbdezines)
I’ll just have to feed my desires with food memoirs, restaurant movies, supporting my favorite locally owned restaurants, seeking out new ones with historic ties and/or personality, and, of course, reading tasty fiction that features chefs, aspiring chefs and the culinary arts. Titles I’ve enjoyed from the children’s/YA canon include: A La Carte (Tanita S. Davis), Tantalize (Cynthia Leitich Smith), A Chair for My Mother (Vera B. Williams), Hope Was Here (Joan Bauer), Fanny at Chez Panisse (Alice Waters), and Friday Night at Hodges Café (Tim Egan). I’m looking forward to reading and possibly reviewing: Dear Julia (Amy Bronwen Zemser), Dessert First (Hallie Durand), Pastry School in Paris (Cindy Neuschwander), Hamlet and the Tales of Sniggery Woods (Maggie Kneen), and The King’s Taster (Kenneth Oppel).
So, I hope you’ll join me this fall. The co-creators of a charming new picture book, Wiggens Learns His Manners at the Four Seasons Restaurant, author/illustrator Leslie McGuirk and Four Seasons co-owner, Alex Von Bidder, will be stopping in soon for a quick visit. There will also be some leaf peeping and cider guzzling in addition to the usual soup slurping, poetry sharing, and alphabet mania. And who knows? There could be a surprise or two to sweeten the pot.
Remember, yours is a standing reservation. Your table will always be ready. Now, may I take your order?
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♥ The first restaurant in the United States was Jullien’s Restarator, which opened in Boston, 1794.
♥ America’s first waitress, Rose Carey, worked at the Union Oyster House in the 1920’s, and it was here where the toothpick was popularized. Check out the restaurant website for more of its fascinating history!
Can you recommend any good restaurant/chef-related books (adult, children’s, YA) for me to read?
What’s your favorite restaurant, and what do you usually order there?
*Click here to browse the Taste of Summer archive from June, July, and August.
"A Cannibal is a person who walks into a restaurant and orders a waiter." ~ Morey Amsterdam.
Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.