Skip to content

Most larger buildings in Paris have a concierge.

But before you think that I live somewhere that’s all fancy and stuff, it’s basically another name for the gardienne, normally a woman who takes care of things like delivering the mail and making sure repairs get handled. But even more importantly, she ensures that not even the slightest infraction of the rules or smallest detail of gossip gets by her, and at my friend’s apartment in the 5th, theirs has a one-way mirror on her front door…so be careful who you drag home.

In French, there’s an expression; ‘faire la gardienne’, which means to ‘make like the gardienne‘—’to gossip’.

They also leave notes just in case some American, who shall remain nameless, can’t take the smell of their stinky neighbor down the hall anymore and is brazen enough to crack open a window to air out the hallway.


I won’t get into the fear around here of the ‘open window’ or ventilation in general since the last time I did it raised another kind of stink around here, and I won’t bore you with the story of how the other night at dinner in an Indian restaurant, in August mind you, the Indian folks naturally had the door and windows open to let in the warm summer air and this woman sits down next to us then motions to the waiter to please close the door so we look at each other and we’re ready to flip since it’s pretty hot in there and the gentle breeze feels, well…rather nice, thank you very much and after all it is summer and the waiter looks as startled as were and refuses—and since we’re neither on French nor American turf there, we live by the rule of the Indian waiter…and the door stayed open.

…where was I?

Oh yes. Like the rest of the folks around here, except the stinky guy on my floor (who’s probably not able to go anywhere, since if he went to the beach, he’d have to bath first so he didn’t pollute the ocean) the gardiennes also takes a month off during the summer, and mine is no exception. Madame André took off on the first of July, which caused me great consternation last week when the water in my apartment was inexplicably cut off.

There was no one to complain to and no one to resolve the problem—and she’s tough, if you want a problem solved, she’s the one to do it. And since I ply her and her family with lots of cakes, cookies and yummy ice cream, things get done for me around here, pronto.

So I spent a couple of days without water (and luckily I had a non-stinky >houseguest), which meant no showers, no washing of hands or food. And no flushing. Meaning we dragged buckets of water up from the street for one particularly important task…comme au moyen âge, like the middle ages, until the water came trickling back in once I found the source of the problem. The contractors downstairs, I guess, figured I’d be fine without water for a few days.

Maybe they confused me with someone else on my floor?

Also, during this entire month, my mail is mysteriously not trickling in and I’ve received maybe just three letters all month, one being my rejected Vélib’ application: the bank form for the security deposit you need to leave on the bike that I downloaded off their site on the internet apparently isn’t good enough and they wanted l’original, so I am Vélib’-less. I know, I know…which begs the obvious: Why do they have the form on their website in the first place? But weeks and weeks have passed and I’ve heard nothing about my bike card while I gaze longingly at everyone else who’s been gliding around Paris on those spiffy new bikes.

And where is my other mail? Where is it all going? Did my bike application and check get lost? Will I ever get it? Do I have any bills? Any personal correspondence? Any offers to judge Top Chef Paris? I want my Vélib’ card!

None. Nada.
Pas de tout.

Not going to happen.

But what I do have are tomatoes.

And what beauties they are!
My houseguest lives in Switzerland where I presume organic heirloom tomatoes like this are abundant enough to haul across the border and unload some onto an appreciative friend. Although we had to wait a couple of days for the water to come back on so we could wash them off and eat them, they were worth the wait.

My favorite way to prepare summer tomatoes is simple. You can, of course, vary it to your liking. I happen to like a lot of vinegar, perhaps because I’m around so much sweet stuff, I use more than you might customarily use. (And if you don’t like it, get yer own blog. I’m certain is still available.)

But whatever proportions you use, like olive oil, be sure to use good vinegar too. My caviste threw a hissy fit when I showed up with store-bought Maille sherry vinegar one day in my basket, which I thought was a pretty decent bottle. Who knew je suis idiot? But I ‘got it’ when I upgraded to a better brand and will thank her more profusely someday. I should probably send her a thank-you note, but I’m a bit leery of sending anything this month.

Tomato Salad

Marinated Tomato Salad

Although this tastes great using fresh, in-season tomatoes, it also transforms ho-hum orbs into something much better. Let them marinade a little bit first, up to an hour beforehand. But for really good tomatoes, I simply toss and serve right away. A good rule of thumb is the better the tomatoes, the less you need to marinate ’em. Either way, you can marinate the shallots hours ahead in the vinegar with some salt as the shallots as they only get better and mellower after an hour or two. Then go ahead and put the rest together whenever you want leaving you time to do something else. Like read your mail…if you’re lucky enough to get it.
  • 1 small shallot , (And you do use shallots, don't you?)
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, (right now I'm lovin' my bottle of Picholine)
  • 3 medium tomatoes (1-pound, 450 gr),, rinsed (if possible...)
  • 1. Peel and mince the shallot, or slice it very fine. Mix it in a medium-sized non-reactive bowl with the vinegar and a nice pinch of salt and a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper. If possible, let stand a couple of hours.
  • 2. Stir in the olive oil. Slice the tomatoes then toss them in the dressing.
  • 3. Let sit a few minutes, stirring a couple of times, then pile on a plate and serve.

I love serving this alongside, or piled atop, some grilled chicken or tuna or even alongside some ‘interesting’-flavored tuna, perhaps with prunes or lime and coconut added. (Just can’t bring myself to do it…yet.) It would be good on swordfish as well, except I don’t like eating swordfish. With apologies to all the swordfish out there, in the restaurant kitchen we used to call you “The garbage cans of the ocean.”

Other tasty additions you ask?

How about pitted, chopped black olives, rinsed and chopped capers, a dab of Dijon mustard, good anchovies (yum!), fresh thyme, chervil, tarragon, savory or flat-leafed parsley—or even better, a chiffonade of fresh basil leaves. (Tip: If you live in Paris, oddly, the best and biggest bunches of fresh basil to be had are at Monoprix.)

There’s no law around here or there (er…yet…) that doesn’t give one the freedom to toss a handful of plumped farro or cracked wheat in there, and I also like to scatter feta cheese or crumble chèvre or ricotta salata over the top and pile them over arugula.

Then serve it for dinner with toasted levain bread drizzled with olive oil before toasting in the oven or over the grill, if you have one. Then rub the slices of bread, hot out of the oven, with fresh garlic cloves while still warm. One fragrant whiff and you’ll agree that it’s one terrific smell that doesn’t require cracking a window open for.

Not that you could.


    • carrie

    Those tomatoes are beautiful. So hard to find good tomatoes around Paris these days. And velib, I know! I have been waiting as well for that stinking card. BTW/ great writing, love your blog, you were an inspiration to start my own.

    • Lu

    You have a knack to be informative and hilarious all at once. Great read. The tomatoes look simply divine. Farmers market here tomorrow, can’t wait. Bon weekend.

    • YouGottaReadGuyDebord

    I am French and I will not repeat this: French tomatoes taste like water.
    I have lived in Italy, and I cannot forget the huge difference: their perfumissime tomatoes must come from the paradiso through a wholesaler in il Vaticano.
    Which begs the question: could you spill the beans about your tomatoes, matey?
    You can get some nice vinaigres in organic stores.

    • ann

    This window thing confirms my suspicions of the French…. We’re in the middle of a heat wave here in NYC and I’ve yet to turn on my a/c, preferring to have all my windows flung open to catch the breezes. Evironmentally friendly and a great way to learn gossip about your neighbors in one move!

    I like to make a salad like this and toss it with some hot pasta for a quick dinner.

    • liz

    I love tomatoes and can’t see anything wrong with the amounts of vinegar you used. Made my husband recoil, but I love the sour stuff.

    My favorite thing to do with tomatoes, particularly ones that are heading a bit past their prime, is chop them up and drain them and toss them in a pan with some olive oil and salt and garlic. Add some fresh basil right before serving and give the pan a flip so the basil wilts a bit. That’s it. Heaven on a plate.

    • flavia

    Ohh god… I miss tomatoes…Good tomatoes are paramount .Here in Brazil , for reasons I DO NOT comprehend, we are besieged with a bland, tasteless, odorless, tomato that does not deserve the name…To diminish my frustration I keep thinking, at least we have amazing mangoes and passion-fruit… But still—- I do love my tomatoes!

    • Andrea

    Oh, the dish is beautiful! It made me realize my absolute need for tomatoes.
    I grew up in the South with tomato plants in the backyard and (now in NYC) have turned into a tomato snob of sorts since I can’t always find that kind of quality..

    • materfamilias

    my husband makes a very similar tomato salad to which he adds a cut-up avocado. It was the first thing my 12-year old nephew asked for when he came for his annual visit! Apparently, his mom had tried to recreate it throughout the year, but couldn’t get the dressing right — probably not enough vinegar!

    • Lucy Vanel

    Beauty in simplicity. I agree that tomatoes and basil are very good together. Your photo is absolutely beautiful, David.

    • Lindsay

    Beautiful tomatoes! I am so jealous.
    (I love vinegar too, I could practically drink the stuff.)

    • Terrie

    ( lol.

    • Hillary

    With giant heirloom tomatoes like those, and the clever genius to make such a delicious-looking salad out of them, what more could you possibly need?!

    • Krizia

    That thing about the door and the Indian waiter and it being hot and the breeze being nice is one fantastic run-on sentence! That’s some writing, Monsieur Lebovitz :D

    • johanna

    well, at least now i know what people do when they can’t get into the academie francaise because they can’t spell: they apply for a job as a gardienne!
    i am religious about my vinegars, too – i have at least 5 different bottles open at any one time and spare no cost when it comes to this stuff! and i completely ignore the rule of 2 units oil to 1 unit vinegar: if you have good vinegar, there can’t be too much of it!

    • Linda H

    Often, living in the middle of the Middle West US, I feel I’m missing out on the finer things that can only be found in large cities, but right now I have my own beautiful and deliciously intense tomatoes, my own shallots and basil, a neighbor who makes great vinegar, and a friend who owns an olive grove! I make variations of your salad and bruschetta almost every day from now until it frosts. Fresh corn, blanched and cut from the cob is another good addition.

    When your water was off how many times did you turn on the faucet, only to get air, before you remembered there would be no water coming out? It takes me about 20 times. I must have a very flat learning curve.

    • Catherine

    Ok – I confess to actually owning the store-bought Maille sherry vinegar. Please educate me on the better brand of sherry vinegar that I should be using for that fantastic tomatoe salad . . .

    • therese T le Mignon

    L orthographe!!
    En anglais, GUardian, mais GArdien, chez nous en France.En tous cas votre gardienne, concierge ,ne fait pas de faute d orthographe quand elle laisse ses bilets doux .Quant aux tomates confites dans le vinaigre, not my cup of tea!!!
    Bon week end

    • therese T le Mignon

    BILLETS avec 2 LL…..

    • ReadingGuyDebord

    One more for the road: l’original not le original.
    Now your reward: you can correct Madame Andr�’s note: d�g�ts, not d�gats. And do not forget to sign!

    • Nan

    Yikes… if one misplaced U (from a foreigner, no less) can draw so much ire, you’re very tough to be able to live there and persevere.

    • Elizabeth

    In this long discursive post, the Culture of the Closed Window gets my attention most. Mon Dieu e/t Madonna Mia, it’s NOT just a French thing! Perhaps a “Mein Gott!” is in order in deference to the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz. The German government generously sponsors the best art-historical research libraries in Italy for the use of scholars from around the world.

    Since you’ve gone on chocolate tours with a long-time Florentine resident, you may know just how muggy summers can be in that valley beside the Arno river slash mosquito nursery where the brain bakes as the temperatures soar.

    For relief, Americans get up from the long wooden tables, and throw open the windows. There are no screens, but the position of the tall dark green shutters can be adjusted so that the room remains dark while a breeze slips between the wooden slats. Ahhh! Then, BAAM!!! We look up from our books to see a member of the staff has bolted the windows and is looking sternly in our direction. I don’t understand it.

    Look at pictures in the library’s collection and you see a transparent vase of lilies next to the Virgin Mary, a symbol of her purity since light penetrates the glass while leaving the vessel intact. Don’t these guys realize that light need not be divine to travel from one side of a pane to the other? Yet, they believe the room is more comfortable if you trap the cool (ha!) nocturnal air within. If you sweat, it’s because a foreigner opened a window and let in the heat.

    • David

    Nan: And people think I make this stuff up…

    • Hillary

    I did a roundup at Chew on That on all the tomato entries I’ve seen in some of the food blogs. I put you in it, so check it out if you have a minute :)

    • Jeanne

    Oh I am so making that this weekend. Nick loves tomatoes anyway (he snacks on them as if they were apples – weirdo!), but I never liked them. I only figured out recently that I love tomatoes, provided that they are RIPE! So much of the stuff yuo get over here is simply not ripe. It’s always worth paying extra and getting the good ones. Great photo of the salad btw.

    • Margaret

    All complaints about tasteless tomatoes! The problem is that the supermarkets, unlike fresh markets, refrigerate them. As soon as a ripe tomato gets below about 50 degrees – BAM! (as one may say) – away goes that wonderful aroma and flavour, leaving something only good for adding colour to a plate.
    Your salad is delicious as well as easy and attractive. Thanks!

    • Theresa

    I just returned from my garden, I live in Northern Minnesota. It is my first year to grow heirloom tomatoes, they are a hoot. And sooooo delicious. And sooo beautiful. I will marinate them and put them with some hot pasta. I am so excited to figure out what else to do with them. Sad to hear that yours in France are so poor. Maybe the climate is too mild, our winters are so severe up north, and this summer has been very cold.

    • Andy

    I am puzzled by the tomatoes in the photo? Are those green tomatoes? As in, unripe? Or are they a variety of tomatoes that remain green when ripe? Or are they something else altogether?

    • David

    Yes, they’re called Green Zebra Tomatoes, which remain green when ripe.


Get David's newsletter sent right to your Inbox!


Sign up for my newsletter and get my FREE guidebook to the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris...