Dining Out . . . in Paris.

It’s a rule: If you live in Paris, you eat out a lot. There are restaurants everywhere—two or three on every block—and depending on the weather and how the economy is doing, tables and chairs spilling out onto the public sidewalks.

I had lunch two days ago at Au Petit Suisse, a bustling establishment on three levels—a basement, which included the kitchen, a main floor with a cramped bar, and, up a semi-circular wooden stairway with a wrought-iron railing, a kind of mezzanine overlooking the chaos just below. Of course there were eight or ten tables and chairs on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

Laura, a 30ish woman at least five months pregnant, greeted patrons, directed them to their tables and presented the days bill of fare, scrawled in quite an elegant hand on a large chalk board.

She directed me to a tiny table—barely 18-inches square—and I chose a chair facing the controlled chaos going on around me. I also had a partial view down into the lower level. I couldn’t see the kitchen, but the three or four young male waiters were constantly bounding up and down the stairs to deliver or pickup their orders.

There was also a bathroom somewhere on the lower level and during the hour I was sitting there at least a half dozen people entered the restaurant and were routinely directed by Laura to the lower level. I asked her if it was usual to permit people off the street to use the restaurant’s facilities. “Of course,” she said.

I sat there for about an hour, watching the seeming chaos going on around me—a scene duplicated just a few hundred feet across the street and probably a hundred thousand times all over this incredible city. 

It’s chaotic; it appears disorganized, but the food is good—often great.—and somehow it all works. Of  course it does. It’s Paris.