The Power Of No Choice At All.




Every day Facebook is full of reminders about life’s opportunities that are often, in my case at least, posted by friends from their offices (and they hate their jobs) or from home (with most stuck in bad marriages.)

There is a multi-billion industry in books, lectures, and podcasts that all focus on how we can choose a better life and how it’s up to us to choose Door B when you always choose Door C, or really potentially going far out on a limb and going with Door D if that is offered?

And if we do that, I am not sure what happens – I am still trying to find the doors.

The “choose your destiny” movement has given rise to a flotilla of people thinking they just made the wrong choice and if they just choose better, then glory days are ahead. Americans are, perhaps, the worst at this. We want our kids to have choices. We want them to believe that they can be anything they want (not true) and we overwhelm them with choice and destiny to the extent that when they actually are in a position of having to do something – like actually required to do something – a task for example at a job, they often are unable to function.

I once had an employee whine at me with a pout that would do a five year old proud:

“But I don’t want to do that.”

He later quit, along with his $45,000 in student loan debt and graduate degree to go work on a comic book project that was going to save the earth via comics.

“It looks really fun,” he said to me when he announced his resignation with a somber bow of his head.

I was thinking about choice, or lack thereof, to be more precise when Phoebe and I left the Hotel Jardin La Brea, a beautiful small hotel in the Montparnasse area of Paris and headed out for dinner. Jet-lagged but happy to be in Paris, we wandered down Rue La Brea to the Luxembourg Gardens. Roughly on the other side of the gardens was our destination, Les Papilles, where we would have dinner. Being Phoebe’s first night ever in Paris, I knew what sort of place I wanted to take her to – a small, charming French bistro with character, ambiance and wonderful food.

The choices, of course, were not only endless and it was possible to spend hours on the various website and review forums. TripAdvisor has reviews for 14,351 restaurants in the city of Paris alone. Yelp has just as many and then there are another 1,000 travel site it seems, with more reviews than a person every could possibly read. I scrolled through them all over the months before our first night in Paris– cross checked one versus the other – and finally made a choice – Les Papilles.

The reviews of the food were all great, but it was the description of the small bistro which made me most excited to take her there. The old wood floors – wine stacked on shelves on the walls – and the small kitchen in the back. Phoebe and I strolled through the gardens on the way to dinner – I watched her as she watched Paris and I thought about what a treat she was in for. We watched the kids playing on the swing sets and the bocce tournament that was going on. We had time to rent a sailboat, 4 euros, and watch it swing back and forth across the pond that was built in front of the old Senate building.

We slowly walked out of the gardens and counted as we went up Rue Guy Lussac, until we came to number 30 and were greeted by Fanny who was setting up the place settings at the wooden counter outside.

“We open in 10 minutes – come back then.”

When we did, Betrand, the tall, bald, bearded owner led us to a small table in the back – tucked against the shelves stocked where we were with every kind of sea salt combination imaginable. We weren’t handed any menus. Instead, we got the full Bertrand.

“Please allow me one minute to explain the menu tonight,” he began.“This evening, we have one menu, we will start with celery soup, it is served luke warm….” He continued to tell us that dinner tonight was pork, in the cut of filet mignon, served with a variety of roasted vegetables, the cheese tonight was camembert and the panacotta this evening was a strawberry custard.

“For the wine, you choose among the bottles of the shop, it is the price marked of the wine, and then for the restaurant it is plus 7 euros. If you want a recommendation, then you ask me. If you want a glass of wine monsieur, you tell me.” I barely had time to nod before Bertrand was off to meet the next group and lecture of the menu began again.

            “There is only one menu each night, no choices, so hope you like it!”

One reviewer had written about it and I had been nervous that the night we chose it was going to be some strange sea creature that Phoebe and I wouldn’t be able to, or want to eat. I had visions of buying sandwiches on the way home from our fancy French meal.

Any fear I had was unfounded. The lack of choice was what made the evening so unique and so perfect. I am not sure I would have ordered celery soup – but we loved it. It was indeed, served luke warm, in a large ceramic bowl and we spooned it over the croutons, bacon and cheese that arrived in our soup bowls. The pork was simply the best I had ever had. The cheese was wonderful although neither of us are huge Camembert fans – the fruit preserve it came with was simple and delicious – and the dessert was perfect – complete with fresh strawberries.

After dinner, Phoebe and I reversed course, back down Rue Guy Lussac – and over through the gardens. We have had a lot of wonderful meals together, but other than a really well-timed and amazing pepper steak in Africa, we agreed that that was the best meal that we had ever had. We also agreed that if you tried to do the same concept in America, it wouldn’t work at all. We came from the land of menus with a million options and found our food destiny at a place with none.

Choice is a wonderful thing in many areas of your life, but sometimes no choice is really the best choice of all.

We were fortunate enough to stay at the well-situated lovingly-run Hotel Jardin La Brea. It is perfectly located right by the Vavin metro stop.

The hotel is small and perfectly French and we highly recommend it if you are looking for a great charming local place to stay. (Picture courtesy of hotel.)

Les Papilles deserves its glowing reviews and recommendations. Earlier in the night the menu is often recited in English, later in the evening, it’s more French. Reservations are a must but Bertrand responds to all emails. You do have to call again the day you wish to dine and confirm before 3:00 p.m. He seems quite serious about that – our hotel called for us. (Pictures courtesy of restaurant.)