Monday, April 15, 2019

Maloney's: a chance to practice my Fraintch

Our R&D team, a group of four, went out to Itaewon (well, to Gyeongnidan, next to Itaewon) at the suggestion of one of our number. We went to a vaguely Irish-themed bar called Maloney's whose interior décor was utterly Amurrican, and whose bartender, at least tonight, was French. My coworker had told me that two of the staffers were French—a man and a woman. The man came in, at one point, and sat at the customers' side of the bar for a bit before leaving. The Frenchwoman bustled about, handling everything visible to us and leaving the cooking to the Pakistani chef in the back. Our coworker had recommended that we come on a Monday night because Monday was calzone night. No standard calzones, though: our choices were steak or chicken. Like on an airplane.

Let's rewind the narrative a bit. We left our office and arrived a teensy bit before 6 p.m., which is when Maloney's officially opens. But we saw that there were patrons already inside; the only hitch was that the chef wasn't opening the kitchen until 6 on the nose, so we ordered drinks—a Coke for yours truly, a Corona for our gyopo coworker (who said he has a whole Costco crate of Corona in his flat), and something a bit harder for my other two coworkers. When we finally did order, we all got the steak calzone. While we waited (and waited...), I recalled that there might be French people working here, and the lady bartender had an accent, but I didn't want to come right out and ask her whether she was French.

When the food finally came out (one by one, almost grudgingly, with 6-7 minutes between each dish's arrival), I thanked the demoiselle in French, to which she replied automatically in French, perhaps not even noticing that we were suddenly speaking French. As the dinner proceeded, I spoke to her a bit more and more in French, and she was wowed by what she considered my perfect pronunciation. I told her, in all truth, that I had lost a lot of my French, but she gave me a politely skeptical look that said she knew I was the real deal.

Of course, if we step back from the moment and view it objectively, I know full well that this lady is well versed in making people feel welcome, so it's an open question as to how sincere she really was. At one point, though, she did ask me flat-out whether I was French (the very question I had failed to ask her!), which I took as an ego-boosting compliment that whisked me back to the days when my French was a lot more spot-on, and I was receiving all sorts of compliments for sounding perfectly French (one person even said I could have been a spy). Those days are gone, alas, and while I still consider myself fluent, I no longer bill myself as "near-native fluent." Last October's trip to France was fairly humbling in that regard: it was a chance to see how rotten my language skills had become.

Anyway, you're not here to read about conversations with pretty young Frenchwomen. You're here to see the calzone I ordered, and here it is, in all its greasy, unconventional-looking glory:

I ordered mine without onions; everyone else got onions in theirs. The calzone didn't look like any calzone I'd ever eaten before; it looked less like a calzone and more like a chimichanga. As for why the chef wrapped the calzone that way, I have no idea. I heard he was Pakistani, but maybe he was Pakistani by way of Mexico. Normally, calzones look a lot like Cornish pasties. What we got looked fairly Tex-Mex.

But the calzone was great. It came with a spicy pink mayo that was partway toward becoming a bona fide remoulade. The grease on the calzone was probably butter—or more likely, a mixture of butter and oil—because the calzone was redolent of butter. I could tell that the greasiness was no mistake: this was part of the cook's signature style, and I could appreciate it on that level. I told my coworkers that the meal was perfect comfort food. It all seemed vaguely familiar, and I belatedly realized that the calzone tasted exactly like a cheesesteak—which is not a dig at the chef's work. My only real complaint is that the thing was too small. (A dietitian would disagree and insist the portion size was just right for a person of my size.) Small or not, the meal was a good one.

I don't normally go to bars, but even a bar-avoider like me could appreciate the way Maloney's did its best to be open, relaxed, and welcoming—much like how the French are, actually. Many Americans think the French are assholes, but that's most likely because they haven't met any French folks—by which I really mean French folks from the towns and villages, not the big cities. But I digress. It was a fine, fine meal, and I was happy to have the chance to practice a few sentences of French avec une vraie Française. Kudos to my coworker for suggesting Maloney's. When I left the bar (I abandoned my coworkers, who appeared to want to sit and drink for a while longer), the lady told me to come on back so we could keep speaking French. Maybe I will. Who knows?


Charles said...

Haven't been to Maloney's in a while. Was Bill there? Older guy with a long, white beard? We keep talking about having a bread and cheese party, but it never happens.

Kevin Kim said...

There was an older gent there, but his beard wasn't that long.