Once Upon a Table

Ever since The Hidden Kitchen launched in 2007, the concept of community dining with strangers has taken Paris by storm. Similar types of events have sprung up all over the city and many new cafes, restaurants, and coffee bars have long, community tables, begging you to not quite love thy neighbor, but at least possibly strike up a conversation with them.

I was invited to the newest version of this concept last week called Once Upon a Table and it took place on a sleekly converted barge on the Seine on the Quai Montebello in the Latin Quarter. I arrived near 8PM and found most of the 13 participants mingling on the deck of the boat. I was first struck by the awesome night view of Notre Dame all lit up.

It was a clear, cold night and the sommelier Stephane made a lively and overly animated presentation of the Champagne. Apparently Stephane had no distinction of cold weather, as he was wearing just a suit jacket and no scarf and he enthusiastically carried on about the Champagne as though it was a balmy August night for an inordinate amount of time while I was shivering and couldn’t wait to escape the cold and go downstairs toute de suite to warm my chilled bones.

The downstairs of the boat was a large, open loft like space with a prettily decorated table set for 13 with fine white china and soft candles.

The thing that sets apart Once Upon a Table is that it gives an historical background about the foods you are tasting and how certain popular dishes came to be what they are today. So before our first course, a delicious, warm, velvety soup of topanimbour(Jerusalem artichoke) with truffle oil, we were given a Powerpoint history of the topanimbour and the very important role it played as a survival food during WW II. For the rest of the evening we heard stories from every era of French and European history, from Esmeralda and Notre Dame to Santiago de Comopstela, who is somehow connected to how Coquilles St. Jacques told in a lighthearted and entertaining way. We also ate our way through simple to spicy, from France to North Africa.

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