Opened in 1979, Mousse Odile was a popular French restaurant at 18 East Cota Street for two decades, run by sisters Odile and Yvonne Mathieu. Cyrus Clarke is a songwriter and guitarist specializing in acoustic Americana who now lives in Lompoc.
According to Proust, few things focus the memory like food.
In my mind, Odile’s food was the best and the most delicious food in Santa Barbara. Her specialty was quiche; her daily special was quiche; her quiche was special.
Regardless of the savory ingredients, it was creamy and full of flavor, with a delicious thin and crispy buttery crust. This lovely lunch was a $1.79 and came with a salad dressed in Odile’s vinaigrette. Also included was a small plastic container of the most delicious chocolate mousse in the world. Hence the name of her place: Mousse Odile.
But there were also ficelles, roulés, steaks, chicken, lamb, remoulade, couscous … every delicious morsel created from her brilliant recipes and beautiful spirit. The coffee was the best I’ve ever had.
So where does one start?
Odile’s food sustained me for years. I was her most beloved acolyte. I loved her. She was witty, charming, affectionate, kind, temperamental, and very loyal.
But it wasn’t just about Odile. There was also Yvonne. They were sisters — born and raised in French Algeria, and, as Odile loved to say, they were creole.
Yvonne worked the front of the house; Odile ran the kitchen. Odile learned her craft, her art, her blessed skills in the house of a wealthy colonial family where she was the cook.
Needless to say, her couscous was beyond sublime; lamb and chicken essentially flavored in harmony with its ingredients. She didn’t make it very often, so I asked her to promise to call me when she did. Best phone call a guy could ever get in the morning.
Yvonne was a chain smoker and consequently had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth all day long. This was back in the day when people smoked in restaurants and no one was the wiser.
Once, during lunch, a friend I was with publicly castigated a very nice man for smoking. Casting an eye toward Yvonne at the bar with a dangler, I was embarrassed beyond explanation. Years later that former friend became a chain smoker himself. C’est la vie!
There also seemed to be a certain amount of luck associated with hanging around Odile’s. It was a lengthy stroll from my house on East Micheltorena to Cota. One day, as I turned the corner from State Street, a young man was getting a Martin guitar case out of his trunk. He was a nicely dressed fellow, wearing a tie. I happened to pass by at the exact moment he was taking it out of the trunk and couldn’t help myself.
I asked, “What do you have there?”
He explained that it was a Martin D-18 guitar, but he never played it and he really needed money so he was going to sell it at the pawn shop around the corner.
At this point I was hooked and couldn’t help myself, so I asked him how much he wanted for it. I tried to not look too eager but almost fell over when he said $60. I contained myself and kindly said, “Oh my goodness, I could probably pay $60 for that guitar if you could just wait a minute while I go down the street where my girlfriend works and get $60 from her?” To my surprise, he said okay.
That’s how I was able to buy a $1,200 Martin for $60 on the way to lunch. Some may believe I took advantage of this young man, but I could tell he was extremely grateful to get that $60, and I was extremely grateful to get that guitar, so it seemed like a good deal all the way around. Eventually I sold the guitar to one of my friends for a few hundred bucks. The luck continued for him.
After about 20 years, the restaurant became too much for the sisters to handle and they retired — after successfully marketing the vinaigrette. So the happy ending is that there was a happy ending.
Odile and Yvonne — I never got an opportunity to tell you how much I loved you; hope you can tell that I still do.
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