Good-tasting food has a funny way of staying alive in memory. In your mind’s palate, you start with the flavor, and then fill in the time, surroundings and state of mind.
And so I have a memory of what seemed to be the ideal croque monsieur. This French quick lunch staple is essentially a ham and cheese sandwich that has been slicked with white sauce (béchamel) and lightly broiled or baked. The world is full of lousy ones, as well as a few good ones that turn up in surprising places.
The good one I remember so fondly came on a thick, burning-hot earthenware plate. It was an ugly thing, flat and spotty, the edges of its pain de mie (soft white bread, like our sandwich bread) curled from the heat and tinged with spots of glazed white sauce. A dark ring of near-black sauce surrounded the sandwich. A few sad parsley bits were there for false cheer.
It was a weird mix of crisped crust, lava goo, funky molten cheese, sweet shaved ham. Every bite was rich, different, dangerously
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