Thursday, January 1, 2015

A sunken ship, a lighthouse, Gustave Eiffel, drunken Rugby players and honey-vanilla sauce: Date night at 313

If the 313 (trois cent treize) continues with the superior service and make a minor lighting adjustment, it may take the reins as the best restaurant in Madagascar.

UPDATE: 1 MAR 2015
I took my beautiful wife here for a date night  a few weeks ago.  I was intrigued after reading  the Hotel du Louvre's website that implies that Gustave Eiffel was a consultant in designing its six story structure--stating that he was already in Madagascar working on a bridge near Nosy Be.  Its narrative goes on describe the building's pre-fabrication happening in France in 1928 and then being shipped to Madagascar.  That ship, however, sunk and another had to be shipped.  After much unnecessary research, though, the claimed Eiffel heritage, shows to be rather suspect.  If you are interested in going down the Eiffel in Mada rabbit hole scroll down below.  Otherwise, I will continue with the restaurant review.

I was a bit nervous when we first entered the hotel and found our way to the restaurant.  To get to the seating area you must pass by the bar (it borders the restaurant)which was overflowing with creatine-swilling Rugby playing ogres that were likely drinking the bar dry.  Luckily they vacated the area a few minutes into our meal.  

Let me get the bad out of the way.  The entire seating area is open and frankly feels a little cafeteria-like due to the intensity and brightness of the lighting.  Ideally, a restaurant's lighting would be more dim and intimate than the lighting for the rest of the hotel.  Such a contrast assures the diner that they are ensconced in a special place.  

Now that that is out of the way--the good.  While the menu is similar to most French restaurants here in Tana--it is executed perfectly.   We had a starter of crisp and perfect flavorful calamari followed by the steak au trois poivres for me and the duck breast for Emily.  The duck breast really was a revelation with a honey-vanilla sauce that nearly elicited inappropriate moans from me.  They also have an affordable wine list--a rarity for Madagascar.  We had a delightful bordeaux superior that we capped with top of the sparkling water bottle and took home to enjoy the next morning day evening.

The service, however, was what amazed me.  Service here in Mada just is not a priority at most places.  Waiters here don't hawk your tables like they do in the US--they aren't paying attention to water levels, wine levels, meal progress.  Instead the mass majority of servers here display if not a french indifference then a decided obliviousness to the idea of customer service.  Our waiter Nirina chez 313 refilled our waters and wines, monitored our progress and checked--yes he checked!--if our main dishes were prepared to our liking (if you live here in Mada you realize how astonishing this is).   

Finally, our waiter had stamina!  There's nothing worse than a great meal and service and then the staff peters out when are finished--leaving you languishing in a desert of can I just get the check and pay and leave pretty pretty please?!  Our check was brought promptly and our credit card processed expediently.  

The only downside to such a pleasant experience is the chance that it was a fluke--we would be crestfallen to return and not experience the same high quality service and attention to culinary details.  

No one will tell you that you can't leave with your half drunk bottle de vin

The Rabbit hole:
So supposedly, Eiffel was in Madagascar on another project when he was tapped to consult on the building of the Louvre.  Now the italian wikipedia entry notes that he was in Madagascar in 1899 (but the English one does not) to design an "appontement" which I translated to a "landing stage."  His official website, maintained by his living descendants, notes that the appontement was in Tamatave.  This is in contrast to the hotel website that states he was working on a bridge in the northern part of the country by Nosy Be.  

A few points to note:

  • Gustave died in December 1923.  The construction on the Hotel du Louvre began in 1928.
  • In February 1893, Eiffel was found guilty of the misuse of funds in the failed French project to build the Panama Canal.  He was fined 20,000 ($120,000 today) francs and sentenced to two years in prison but was later acquitted.  
  • After the trial (in 1893) he resigned from the Board of Directors for his company saying that "I have absolutely decided to abstain from any participation in any manufacturing business from now on, and so that no one can be misled and to make it most evident that I intend to remain absolutely uninvolved with the management of the establishments which bear my name, I wish to that my name should disappear from the name of the company."
  • All this to say, that is is highly unlikely the Eiffel himself was in Madagascar in 1899 or anytime thereafter.  It is much more likely that his former company worked on the Hotel du Louvre fabrication and other projects in Madagascar.  

For instance the 1978 Lonely Planet makes note of a Eiffel-designed chimney at a hotel in Joffreville near Diego Suarez:  Le Domaine de Fontenay (033 11 345 81;; r €120) This luxurious and charming hotel is one of Madagascar’s best. It has eight very chic bungalows with stone floors, huge wood-and-marble bathrooms and fourposter beds. The restaurant in the old farmhouse features a chimney designed by Gustave Eiffel, of the Tower fame. It also has an orchid garden, giant tortoises and a private nature reserve with lemurs, reptiles, birds and great views over Diego’s bay. English is spoken

Again, highly unlikely that Eiffel himself designed this fireplace--rather his company.  

The official Eiffel website does corroborate the work of his company in Madagascar on steel railroads (see page 49 of this document).  

The website also notes that his company--really his former company--constructed bridges near  l’Ambovaroa et le Lohaomby in Madagascar between 1904-1912. 

Finally, I will leave you with a picture of a lovely lighthouse that was "prefabricated by the firm of Gustave Eiffel" in 1909.  Again, my research shows that he was not part of this firm anymore in 1909.  An interesting note is that following his retirement from civil engineering he had a successful second career in meteorology and aerodynamics.  

If anyone has a good biography or film recommendation on Eiffel, please comment below as I am discovering him to be a fascinating individual.  

Lighthouse in Nosy Iranja

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