I never cared much for France--or the French. France is a lovely place (nice cities, nice parks), but after hanging with the French themselves, I could only conclude that they were a bunch of freaks.

But perhaps my sample of the French was skewed. When I lived in Europe a decade or so ago, I was mostly hanging out with gay men, and the French gay guys were all twisted closet cases who lived at home with their mommies. German gay men, on the other hand, were more like American homos--i.e., twisted, out-of-the-closet cases who lived in apartments with their boyfriends and/or best friends. To this American fag, the goose-stepping queer krauts were better in every respect than the goose-liver-slurping fag frogs.

But my German boyfriend? He loved France--and the French. (Full disclosure: My dislike of the French may have something to do with the fact that my German boyfriend cheated on me with a French guy, which annoyed the crap out of me--despite the fact that I was cheating on my American boyfriend with my German boyfriend.) My German boyfriend constantly used a German expression that went something like "to live like God in France." It meant "to have all the good things in life"--especially good chow.

My German boyfriend introduced me to a lot of things, most of which can't be mentioned in a family newspaper. The most memorable mentionable was cr猫me br没l茅e, a French dessert that he used to make in his apartment with a blowtorch that he sometimes used for, uh, other stuff. Basically cr猫me br没l茅e is vanilla-bean custard covered with a layer of caramelized sugar. It's fucking heaven... unless some overeager, showoffy pastry chef decides to FUCK IT UP.

I don't want to name names, but I have to gripe about the inability of local restaurants to just let cr猫me br没l茅e be cr猫me br没l茅e. That means VANILLA-BEAN CUSTARD--not anise custard, or lavender custard, or rose-petal custard. I've had all three of those in town, and all three tasted like hand lotion. (Chocolate, maple, orange, apple, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, and banana-fana-fo-berry cr猫me br没l茅es were no better.)

My love for cr猫me br没l茅e used to lead me to sample all the "creative," "interesting," and generally fucked-up cr猫me br没l茅es, but no more. Now when I encounter a cr猫me br没l茅e that has anything in the custard other than vanilla bean, I lodge a formal complaint with the waiter. I know that pastry chefs like to experiment and "reinvent" classics. But one mark of a superstar chef is the ability to recognize those desserts that don't need your reinvention, thank you very much.