Serenity Now!: la Madeleine by Travis Eppolito

Rice Village
6205 Kirby and University Blvd
Houston, Texas 77005
(713) 942-7081

January 2004–Piano and orchestra combined lightly in the background giving the bakery a sense of homestyle and warmth. Perhaps a symphony by Mahler or Mozart, ever so complicated was its sound. It was especially pleasant to hear the French horns surf the top of the growing somber of instruments beneath it. Then quite eloquently taken over by a virtuosic piano aria. Designed akin to an old French home with soft lighting and an overall pleasant atmosphere, La Madeleine stands indefinitely at the corner of Richmond and Kirby in the Rice Village.

With the growing discontent in the world our forefathers grew so fond of, a break in the chaos might seem a little far-fetched. But in fact, if one looks hard enough for anything, one will find the aching desire which has been burning inside. La Madeleine is the quenching water to that ferocious fire. Save the fact that the restaurant is a growing chain, this one is not as unique as its made up to be.

Nonetheless, I stepped through the simple single glass door, and am always amazed to be taunted by an immense array of French pastries, a countless assortment of cookies and cakes wallowing in my midst. Stepping toward the solid glass casing, I noticed a sign reading ‘prepared fresh daily.’ Already I wanted to skip the meal and go straight to dessert. But that would be far too unfair for I would miss the heaven in between. As I trudged further, a smiling figure welcomed me before inquiring about my order. Of course, all who know me are aware that I favor the esteemed turkey-croissant sandwich. As I spoke, he gaily wrote it down on his photo copied menu and circled this and that, then handed the order to one of the employees who began to carefully prepare my sandwich. I, however, was not inclined to wait but instead was given a wooden block with a letter engraved on the top from which the designated person would later find me and deliver my request. So I continued along the buffet type path where you simultaneously order and receive what you ordered.

In front of me and behind the counter, strung from the ceiling were various descriptions of the concoctions of prepared foods and rare wines. To my back, tables stood on all fours with padded wooden chairs underneath. I noticed unusual half rooms with entries and exits leading into different dining areas. It was like a house skewed in half, then pasted to a buffet. From where I stood, it felt like I was watching a play with visuals of the staged rooms of an old house, where one could sit and watch the mystery unfold, seeing the irony of two different peoples acting peculiarly in their private rooms.

Around the outskirts of one the quarters, there are windows streaming along the wall peering into the great unknown. This portion of the bakery is engulfed with unadulterated sunlight, flooding everything it can reach, portraying a texture of depth and warmth.

At the end of my brief transit, I was hailed by the clerk and charged about $11. From whence, I picked up my tray and walked further into the vast depths of ‘French dining.’

I gasped as I stood in awe at the hodgepodge of bread, butter, and marmalade. French bread being my ‘fae,’ I without delay delicately took my fair share of warm sliced sourdough bread, along with chilled strawberry jam and cold squares of butter. Finally, after filling up my soft drink, I turned about and carefully eyed the room searching for an empty seat.

I hastily chose a chair by the windows, and positioned my croissant sandwich, éclair, Coke, and bread and butter on top the wooden table and took a seat in the whicker chair. Around me, people chattered uncaringly and aimlessly to each other about their various lives and ate their contented meals jubilantly. But to my surprise, not everyone came to eat. A few tables up, a man and woman talked back and forth seemingly quizzing each other about training. They were both what seemed to be in some sort of medical sales. To my left a man ate alone but his manner took him to be pleased about it. With a content smirk on his face, he happily ate his sandwich and drank his coffee.

Now as I came to rest in my chair, I prepared myself for a lunch unequal to its contemporaries. First things first, as at any French restaurant, the bread is to be eaten at the very onset. So, I applied the butter a top the bread spreading it thinly across the surface. Following the butter I threw on a dash of strawberry jam. You see the object is not to eat bread with butter and jam, but to start with just a taste in a bite, then to ravish your hunger. Unlike a starving wolf victimizes any warm-blooded animal.

I continued my drive by skillfully picking up my turkey-croissant sandwich not letting anything fall out and placing a bite in my mouth. A combination forewarned by its predecessors, I immediately became envious of all who had tasted my sandwich in the past. How dare they ascribe to such splendor and beauty! Not from America could this recipe of greatness been imagined. But from across the Atlantic, west of the giant boot. Where hired master chefs boisterously create masterpieces with their intuitive skills. I sipped my chilled Coke to wash the sandwich down creating a cool sensation streaming from my throat to my stomach adding to the overall spectacle.

Next, I tried one of my potato chips. Not thinking much of them, I tossed one in my mouth. To my surprise, they were resplendently unique, not the greasy kind found in supermarkets. They tasted as if they were individually molded then baked separately like cookies, holding tight each ones own value. It was sort of a cheddar taste combined with the natural crunch. Back and forth I battled among my Coke, chips, and sandwich, unceasingly transitioning between them. When I was through, I left a few remains on the plate, (a crumb here and there), then faced the final and most phenomenal element of my banquet, the dessert.

The éclair was no simple thing. It was hand crafted by the pastry chef himself that morning; I was certainly in for a delight. With two hands I lifted it gracefully, inching it flush with my lips before I took a nibble of heaven itself. The chocolate filling burst into my mouth transcending me into space and out of all time and thought. At a snail’s pace, I steadily savored every little peace. I came out of my dream like trance dazed and speechless. No word in any language’s dictionary could truly describe what this tasted like.

‘Boom!’ A glass plate hit the ceramic floor in the distance shattering pieces of it everywhere. An eerie silence filled the room followed at once by claps and whistles. That was a shock, but nothing out of the ordinary, nothing the people of earth could not handle. Nobody seemed to really care. The new girl who had done it just blushed and stepped back, disappearing behind the swinging butlers’ door.

Pulling myself together, I had to know what others thought of this unique place.

At the end of the day, after I went home, I asked my brother Tony, “Why do you like it at la Madeleine?”

He stopped working in his tranquility and turned to give me a surprised look. Probably wondering why I was bothering him. Unenthusiastically he responded, “I like it. It’s different. I love their dessert.”

After I had finished what was left of my meal (coke and crumbs), I sat for a while gazing outside and into the distance revering myself. Everything around me in the restaurant felt like it was moving in slow motion. It was a strange yet calming sensation which I appreciated very much. I was not so inclined, but the time hindered me to gather myself and go.

As I hesitantly stood up to leave, I was immediately struck with a sense of

completeness. That meal ‘hit the spot,’ I had had my fill.

I exited the comfortable environment and went back out into the hectic world where everyone one is in a hurry to get somewhere else. I longed to turn back, but mechanically I made my way to my car.

I discovered La Madeleine through my mother, when I was just a wee lad. She took me here as kind of a special outing; I always looked forward to it. Unlike a Burger King or I-Hop, La Madeleine strikes me as a not so French restaurant striving to be French. And almost succeeding too, if not for the idiosyncrasies that have built up in my mind as being bad. But I shun those aside for the most part so I can enjoy myself.

The nonstop brutality of one’s intellect is relentlessly being undermined in today’s ‘working system.’ We are forced to make decision after decision at a

overwhelmingly fast pace. We become mystified as to where we will turn for help. La Madeleine takes you away from the hustle and bustle and brings your cares to a plain, conservative state. I came to la Madeleine not just to have a good meal, but also to savor the calming atmosphere and gain the sure grace of it.


France _ Houston _ Master Chefs _ Music _ Philosophy


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