Friday, July 25, 2008

Dear Cojean Letter

Dear Cojean,

I don't want this to be awkward, but I thought I owed it to you to tell you why I haven't been to see you in a while.

First, let me say that I really enjoyed all the time we spent together. You remember those few months when I would leave work every day around 1:30 PM to come to your place just around the corner. I used to bounce through your doors with a smile on my face, looking forward to the sight of your refrigerator cases chockablock with colorful salads—and let's be honest, Cojean, even though you served other things, our relationship was always about the salads.  Do you remember the lentil and bulgur one? Just thinking about that herb dressing still sends shivers up my spine.

But then you changed—or at least your menu did. I'll never understand why you stopped serving the lentil-bulgur salad, and I'm not even going to try. But all the combinations you tried replacing it with—mozzarella, pea and basil; carrot, mushroom and smoked tofu; ratatouille and poached egg—just didn't do it for me.

And when you started serving buckets of bland, watery yogurt with fruit on top for €7? That's when I knew things had to change.

There's no easy way to say this, but I've started seeing another lunchtime takeout restaurant. It's called Lemoni. It reminds me of you sometimes, even though its heritage is Greek, not French. Like you, Lemoni offers creative salads and cold plates, mostly vegetarian, based on organic ingredients. I like its “Bollywood” salad, with curried orzo and lentils; I love its mezze dish, with baba ganoush, gigante beans in tomato sauce, and stuffed grape leaves.

But salads aren't the only thing I like about Lemoni.  Lemoni keeps me on my toes—every day it surprises me with four different entrées. At first I didn’t like the ascetic looks of the “zen” grilled vegetables—zucchini, eggplant, sweet potatoes, potatoes and asparagus with lentils—but it was flavorful enough to turn me into an enthusiast. And while you were always stingy with your gratins, Cojean, Lemoni would give me a creamy, comforting vegetable gratin every day if I asked for it. 

And the yogurt! Lemoni sells real Greek yogurt, the kind I haven’t had in months, thick and creamy, the palest shade of white. It makes me realize that I’ll never be happy with any other yogurt, and especially not yours.

Sure, Lemoni's not as suave as you. It lacks your style, your grace, your marketing. It can be clumsy, too:  using a heavy hand with the salt shaker for its barley-lentil salad, undercooking a few slices of zucchini in its gratins, not adding enough sugar to its homemade rice pudding. I didn’t fall for Lemoni as hard or as quickly as I did for you.

But Lemoni doesn't take advantage of me the way you used to. Lemoni gives me a full meal—salad, entrée, dessert—in truly generous portions for less than €10. When I think about how I used to pay you upwards of €15 for meals that didn’t always satisfy me, I start to wonder why I didn’t leave you earlier.

You’re a great restaurant, Cojean, and I don't think things are permanently over between us. I won't be able to stay away from your açai smoothies and warm artichoke-parmesan sandwiches forever. Someday, when I'm earning more than a stipend, when the exchange rate is better, I can see something happening between us.

But for now, Lemoni is the right café for me. And I have no doubt in my mind that you'll do fine without me.


1 comment:

Claire said...

Very funny.