There’s probably no one that doesn’t know “Les Feuilles Mortes.” Sung in English with the title “Autumn Leaves,” the song is one of the most prominent in the corpus of “French chansons.” Yves Montand made the song famous, but the words belong to the poet Jacques Prévert. The composition, meanwhile, was made by Kosma, who also put his signature to a number of successful songs and soundtracks. It’s a monument to melancholy that one has never grown tired of listening to from old records to the present day.
It tells of fading love and falling leaves. It’s also a sobering reminder for those who, like the leaves that have died, have entered the autumn of life.
Since I was a child, I’ve listened to Les Feuilles Mortes thousands of times in any number of places in any number of countries – most recently at La Petite Maison, albeit with my insides twisted somewhat in pain!
La Petite Maison is in Istanbul beneath the historical Maçka Palace building. La Petite Maison was formed after the section that used to house the Armani Café was joined together with the Armani shop, which also used to have a store there.
It’s a restaurant that I frequent often in the winter months. It is a chic place with a comfortable entrance, tables that are sufficiently distant from each other, spacious seating and a high ceiling.
Its customer profile is good, and you won’t complain about their food. At the same time, the service is close to impeccable.
…Until the time when you’ve drifted off into conversation in the quiet and comfortable atmosphere, only for the music to blast your eardrums!
For years, I’ve criticized the lack of music at Istanbul restaurants, particularly at meyhanes, viewing it as a serious shortcoming. I suggest that there should be some music that is “appropriate to the establishment,” meaning that there should be music that gets people singing along when they come to a place for fun, music that acts as a side dish to the rakı of those who wish to give themselves over to sadness or that adds a quiet bit of pleasure to an atmosphere of elegant conversation.
But as if in response to these thoughts of mine on music in restaurants, I say, “I wish there were no music” at La Petite Maison. In any case, I wasted no time in learning that they only play music on weekends. I overcame this trouble by going during the week. I say “trouble” because the live music played at La Petite Maison is not “appropriate to the establishment.” When we first went, there was a jazz band of seven or eight nice young people that suddenly appeared that couldn’t play anything to save their lives and didn’t accord us the possibility of carrying on a conversation!
“What would you like us to play?” they asked. Out of obligation, I named a few songs, but they didn’t know them. When one of the people at our table said, “The gentlemen are graduates from Galatasaray; play something based on that,” they hesitated for a bit and then began to play La Vie En Rose. But how, might you ask? Without voice or accent! It’s a good thing that Edith Piaff, who made the song famous, wasn’t there to hear the song – another of the pillars of French chanson and a song that I reckon everyone has heard thousands of times – for if she had, she would have been as upset as we were!
Later it came time to slaughter Les Feuilles Mortes. Our nice musicians again encircled our table and after determining that we could not escape their clutches, they inquired:
-“What would you like us to play?”
Behaving imprudently, I answered:
-“I’m turning 70 today. Play something fit for the occasion.”
And wouldn’t our jazz band choose Les Feuilles Mortes, enveloping me in lyrics about the melancholy of autumn and dying leaves?
I’ve yet to darken the door of the establishment again on a weekend when there’s music!
As I said, I have few complaints about La Petite Maison’s food, and from their meze plate, I enjoy their warm shrimp and foie gras. However, despite being a French restaurant, I find their cheese selection somewhat lacking. Still, the hot bread won’t have you missing that on offer in France. They don’t offer olive oil or butter for dipping, but rather tomatoes and cucumbers on the table. When you see them on the tablecloth instead of a plate, you must avoid thinking they’re an “inedible Naturmort,” as they are intended for consumption. A good red Chateaubriand wine helps bring out all taste of the entrées, but it’s hard to say the same thing about the duck.
I said the service was close to impeccable, although the waiters need to consider whether their recommended mezes can be “shared” and make suggestions accordingly. For instance, the foie gras that I like comes in something no bigger than a thimble. I’m not going to share that with anyone – although I wouldn’t be able to even if I wanted to!
La Petite Maison is an expensive restaurant. For instance, I made some calculations during my last visit: the price of a “single” of Yeni Rakı is 35 liras, or 12 dollars on the exchange of that day. You can get eight “singles” from a bottle. A 70 cL bottle of rakı, however, is sold for 280 liras, or around 100 dollars. In the market, you can buy a 70 cL bottle for 83 liras (29 dollars). Also, restaurants procure their bottles for under this price. However you look at it, they’re charging at least four times as much.
But if you possess a credit card that provides you with discounts, you can avail yourself of a discount that is nothing to sneeze at, depending on the color of your card.
The prices are listed on the menu; whatever it says, that’s the price! When you pay, make sure to get a receipt. In doing so, you won’t have to pay a price that is just made up as is the case at so many fish restaurants without receiving a receipt and won’t contribute to tax evasion.
I love places like La Petite Maison and others like it, as well as credit cards that provide discounts.
Even if I’m serenaded with Les Feuilles Mortes!