Friday was a free day. No work, no obligations, just a sunny day and a belly to fill. I woke up just as early as I would have for work – habit, I suppose, and set out for a very long walk. Back in college, it seemed that I had all the time in the world for long walks, but now all that time has been replaced by hours with excel sheets in front of the computer screen. I’m not complaining though, it is of course, work, which allows me to live and eat the way I do, something I tend to forget at times.
So I set off from the Lower East Side and walked uptown. Up, up, up past Columbia, 116th Street. Then I walked a bit more and turned back down. Back down over a hundred streets. Funny, I was not the slightest bit tired. Opposite. I was energized, and felt as if I could easily walk a hundred street more. It’s cooler here in the mornings. And quieter too. I wish I could stuff the essence of morning into my backpack and take it with me at all times of the day. Now that would be ideal.
When I hit the West Village, I thoughtlessly turned on West 4th Street, home to Patisserie Claude. I last entered The Patisserie early 2006, and had quite a splendid adventure over the course of a few days. Then I left, back to LA for another year. I moved back again (talk about not being able to make up my mind!) to NYC in the fall of 2007.
And I haven’t gone to The Patisserie since.
Because I was scared. I was scared that Claude would not remember me. After all, despite visiting twice a day, and consuming two or more pastries per visit, I was only there for a few days. Why ruin a wonderful memory?
I figure, best to leave that experience where it ended and never go back to The Patisserie. I would be content with such an ending.
But my craving for one of his pastries that particular morning was so intense that I simply could not, could not, turn away. So I went in with no expectations. Three tables were occupied, and the fourth, my favourite seat with a table pressed against the heater, was open. The same Spanish women speaking flawless French was still behind the counter, and I spotted Claude in the back, folding over cuts of croissant dough. Exactly the way I remembered.
He looked up as I walked in, nodded and went back to work. Then he looked up again, in that sort of strange do I know you fashion, before quickly reverting attention to the dough.
I scanned the row of warm pastries behind the counter, croissants, chocolate croissant, brioche – simple things done well. My eye landed upon the one pastry off to the right end. “Croissant aux amandes,” the woman offered, noting my glace. Who could refuse? I made the almond croissant mine, and settled into the wooden seat. It was good as ever, if not better. I was certain of this, as I crunched through the flaky exterior, a most brilliant shade of golden brown, and though buttery layers, all at once rich and fantastically light. Buried in the center, a tender smear of the almond crème, a simple concoction of butter, sugar, eggs, and almonds. Surely a crème worth more than the sum of its parts.
I only intended to have one pastry. Just one. But I forget that old habits, both good and bad, seem to be forever embedded into my every action. And I forgot once more as I found myself at the counter, kindly inquiring upon a plum tart.
Claude looked out from behind his kitchen, noticing that I was about to indulge in yet another. He looked at my face very carefully, and I looked back. And then he spoke, definitively, “ahhh, I knew it was you.” I smiled all the way up to my eyes – he remembered! It must have been the second pastry.
You see, most people go for a croissant and coffee. But it rare that one consumes two, or even three pastries in one sitting, both of which I was apt to do on previous visits. The smile didn’t leave my eyes for a while, and all I could think to say was, “even more delicious than I remembered.” “Thank you,” he replied and then went back to work.
187 W 4th Street
New York, NY 10012