Sure, the Giants played an amazing 4 (ha! 4!) games to win the World Series – but credit where credit is due. Without my rally cap, rally shirt, rally underpants and rally cat with rally cape, there’s no way we could’ve won!
Also, Bye Bye Baby! And hello second championship in three years!
Well, clearly I’ve been too wrapped up in my visit to spend any time posting!
Anyway, I arrived on Sunday afternoon after a very nice train ride from Paris. I found the apartment I’m letting with no problem – and it is really lovely, with a charming, plant-filled terrace.
I was in desperate need of a beard trim. My host suggested a place right up the street, but it wasn’t open until Tuesday – so I found Strong Young Urban online (and yes I realize I am none of these things) was just a short walk away.
When I found the place, I asked if I could get a beard trim. Answer in the affirmative – with a price tag of €30. This seemed steep – but it was Sunday afternoon, I really needed to be de-scraggled and spending money on vacation isn’t real (until one gets home and receives the bill).
WELL! This was no mere beard trim. First he got my beard in tip-top shape with clippers and scissors; then a face-and-beard wash-and-scrub; a hot towel; a straight-razor shave of my neck and cheeks; and finally some skin conditioner. It was fantastic and worth every penny. Thanks, Ian!
After some dinner (I’ll be posting separately about my Amsterdam eating experiences), I decided to check out a few gay bars – though with so many, it’s hard to know which ones are “good” – or at least suitable for a cranky old tourist. Stopped by a couple of spots and wasn’t a lot going on. Finally ended up at Café Chez René. And, yes, I was the only patron there – but I really had to pee. Happily, the bartender, Bos, was extraordinarily friendly and chatted me up and gave me plenty of advice on other bars in the city. The place slowly filled up and I spent much of the evening talking with a local fellow. There was also another young man who was practicing his close-up magic skills – he was impressive. It wound up being a super-fun time and I was very happy I decided to stop in…
I didn’t get home too late, but I had definitely had too much beer – and paid dearly the next day. Besides waking up quite late, I didn’t feel so great. This turned out to be the theme for the day…
I left my apartment off to a place for lunch that sounded reliable. I got lost almost instantly and eventually discovered I’d gone the complete opposite direction the moment I walked out the front door. I did finally get myself turned around and arrived at my destination – to discover they are closed on Mondays. As were options B & C on my list… So, starving, hungover, crabby and dazed, I wandered in search of lunch. Eventually found a café that served me a decent smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. Did quite a bit more wandering about before heading back home.
Oh, did I mention the weather? Gray and rainy – not pouring, but pretty consistently wet. Didn’t do much to improve my mood – and I felt horribly guilty for not “doing” anything on my first full day here… Though in fact, I covered quite a bit of territory, including the Nine Streets and Leidseplein.
Since I behaved myself on Tuesday evening, I was up early and presented myself at the Rijksmuseum before 9:30AM. The museum is undergoing extensive renovations and most of it is closed right now (I was aware of this, so it did not come as a surprise) – what is on view is “The Masterpieces,” representing some of the finest work in the museum’s collection. The accompanying audio tour was really excellent; I saw some as-always breathtaking Frans Hals paintings (“Married Couple in a Garden” is astonishing); and certainly fell in love with Rembrandt. Frankly, having just the cross-section of the museums work on display made for a great visit – it was not overwhelming and I felt like I saw the things I was most interested in.
Next stop, the Stedijkmuseum, the just-reopened modern art museum here in Amsterdam, complete with a new large, very contemporary new addition to the building. They still seem to be working out the kinks in managing the crowds – getting a ticket was pandemonium… But once inside, it was a fairly reasonable experience and the new wing is impressive. The site-specific installation by Barbara Kruger was a highlight.
Wednesday morning I’d signed up for a bike tour, praying for good weather. Alas, my atheism came home to roost and it was the wettest, coldest morning of my trip. I showed up at the appointed hour at Dam Square and met my guide – he said he’d be happy to give the bike tour in the rain, though he also offered a walking tour as an alternative – which I accepted. Sigh – I guess I can ride at home…
Walked around the center, got some decent background on Amsterdam – but it was not in the pantheon of walking tours. Eh, what’re you gonna do? He did treat me to a stop at cheese shop (with samples!) and a Dutch pancake with cheese and ginger marmalade. Yes, please.
Visited the Amsterdam History Museum on my way home and quite enjoyed it. Dinner later (though per usual got lost on the way – but only a little…) and an early evening.
Thursday I took a short train ride to Haarlem for a visit to the Frans Hals Museum – it’s charming and of course his paintings are magnificent. The civic guard paintings are just so marvelous – his “loose brushwork” is wondrous in its vibrancy and modernity. As has been said of his work, it’s so incredibly lifelike it seems to breathe. I would go anywhere on earth to look at his paintings… I made a point of not bringing my camera with me – no photograph could even give a hint of what it’s like to look at these masterpieces in person.
Haarlem itself is charming, though I only really saw a bit of it as I ambled to and from the train station.
That night, I decided to try happy hour at one of the local boites and while there, struck up a conversation with two local gents. They were jolly and kind and insisted that I go to De Engel bar – to the point that one of them grabbed my little notebook to write down the address and directions.
And so, after dinner, off I went. A small, friendly place – and that night was “Deal or No Deal (German Edition).” I didn’t have a particularly clear idea of what was going on, but the host of the show was dressed in lederhosen and and was assisted by “Heidi”, a hairy and pneumatic Alpen maid. And, of course, at some point, my number was called (with each beer, you get another number to get drawn to be a “contestant”) and I was forced (hahah – I’m so shy) to appear on stage. It’s always risky trying to be funny the emcee who does this for a living, but I held my own. When I was asked if I liked porn, I said “no” and was roundly booed – until I added I like it if it’s art. When the emcee asked my favorite “art,” I responded, “Anal Invaders 5.” The emcee and the audience thought that was hilarious. Of course, I was also helped immensely when one of Heidi’s boobs popped during my Q&A. This was unintentional and the place was roaring.
Frighteningly, my “category” was to sing along with kitschy German pop songs. Mein gott in himmel! But the whole audience helped me out and I won my prize – a collection of kitschy German pop CDs. I guess now I can practice for my next visit..?
Believe it or not, this turned out only to be the beginning of the evening. Four other guys I’d been chatting with insisted I go with them to Church – a small dance place around the corner from my apartment (and no it was not underwear or naked night – I’m too shy for that!). Oh man. I haven’t been clubbing like this in years – drank, danced, met lots of nice guys and didn’t get home until 4AM. And I assure you, I was as shocked by this turn of events as you, dear readers! The last time I was up at that hour was to go to the airport…
Now, granted it was a great time – but last night’s revelry had a significant impact on my touring today – that is, there was none. Spent the day relaxing in my charming apartment – sure, I felt guilty about not going to look at a museum or rent a bike or anything. But I’ll have to save something for my next visit…
Drinks tonight with a couple of new friends – but I’ll definitely be behaving tonight. Still a couple of must-sees for tomorrow, then to the airport early Sunday morning. Darn…
I wasn’t quite sure if l’Office should get a whole post, what with there only being three courses (hahaha – “only”) – but it seems to get a lot of press and came highly-recommended, so why not add my two cents?
I must say, things did not start auspiciously. When I called for my reservation a week prior, the fellow I spoke with was a bit gruff. My request for 830 was met with, “No, we only have 730 and you will sit a the counter.” OK, fine by me.
When I arrived, there were only two other tables occupied. I was greeted by one of the two very friendly waiters and shown to my seat. The tiny counter is L-shaped and seats two on one side, three on the other – and, there at the corner of the bar in front of wooden post, they’d squeezed in a sixth bar stool – not one of the sleek wooden ones that occupied the other five seats, but a tiny metal one with a particle board seat. Sigh – the Mary Ann Singleton special. Well, at least they didn’t have a spotlight trained on me so the other diners could point and laugh…
But what’re you gonna do, right? Seeing as I was the only diner at the counter, I wasn’t cramped for space, so it was fine.
I was quite pleased to find that both waiters were kind and accommodating and described the menu in English – with the one bearded fellow complimenting me on my French (as I’m sure I murdered the language…) – I’m sure he was just being kind, but it sure makes me feel like a non-rube.
First course was a cauliflower soup with a single scallop in the center, seared on the outside, barely warm inside (it was excellent), along with a few bits of crispy pancetta and some cilantro. I think cauliflower is under-appreciated and this soup showed of how delightful it can be – sweet, creamy, just a bit earthy. The pancetta was a great addition with it’s salty crunch. I might’ve even liked a bit more, since I did salt my soup – of course, I’m also considering having an in-home salt-lick installed, so I’m not always the best judge of saltiness or lack thereof…
For my plat, I chose the rumsteak. And I’m going to go out on a limb and declare this the best steak dinner I had in Paris. The meat was perfectly cooked, tender but still chewy (dare I say “toothsome”? No, I daren’t use that most hackneyed of food adjectives – though I suppose it’s still better than “unctuous.” But I digress…) The accompanying assortment of potatoes was delicious – with the notable exception of the steamed purple potato which was disappointingly mealy. And, let me just say, I don’t really “get” purple potatoes – they’ve always seemed gimmicky to me. I’d’ve been a whole lot happier with a couple more wedges of the waxy and delicious white potatoes that came with this plate. The beets and carrots were fresh and vibrant and the presentation was simply gorgeous.
For dessert, I initially went with my waiter’s recommendation of the chocolate pie – a tarte of dark and white chocolates that was not listed on l’ardoise – but then changed my mind, opting for “chocolat/gingembre/orange.” Who could resist that combination? Well, it was fine – a small, warm chocolate cake flavored with ginger, a bit of ice cream with a wonderful tuile and some orange sauce. Very nice, though not spectacular. I should probably have listened to the waiter – when will I learn?
I really liked l’Office and enjoyed my dinner. Of course, it was difficult not to be a wee bit irked that the three counter seats next to me remained empty for my entire meal. But friendly and competent service and a fantastic steak put me into a forgiving mood – because, you know, I’m generous like that…
The last day in any city is always a challenge for me. Even though my train to Amsterdam wasn’t until Sunday morning, I was already worried about packing and making my way to Gare du Nord in a timely manner.
I didn’t get an especially early start to the day and was in a bit of a tizzy after I’d called several restaurants on Friday night trying to book for Saturday – “Non, complet” I heard again and again… Would my last night in Paris be spent at Pizza Hut..?
At around noon, I was going to take the metro to the northern part of Canal St. Martin and stroll back toward home. However, the weather was cold and very rainy – a walk along a canal just didn’t sound appealing… So, I stopped in at Jacques Genin again (did I already mention I had their caramels the other day? I quite liked them – but Hooker’s Sweet Treats in SF remain my favorite. Though I suppose it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison. But I digress…) and picked up a pastry to go… Oh boy, it was delicious.
Once home, I decided to start packing. Everything fit, despite my purchase of several unwieldy books. And I was able to reserve for dinner at Café des Musées – dieu merci!
The restaurant is a bustling little place in the center of the Marais. I was seated next to the door and watched as the maitre d’ repeatedly advised hungry patrons that yes, he could seat them – but they must leave in one hour to make way for those who’d had the foresight to reserve. Most accepted his ultimatum, realizing they had little choice at 8PM on a Saturday.
I could also see into the tiny kitchen as the chef worked carefully and calmly, turning out plate after plate while barely breaking a sweat. Meanwhile the waiters were piling empty plates and glasses into the dumbwaiter (I know, right?) and sending them off to somewhere…
For starters, I had a plate of luscious house-smoked salmon, along with some slabs of toast and crème fraîche. Simple and satisfying. My plat was an echine de porc with scalloped potatoes. Oh man – really, really good. The pork was ribboned with delicious fat. Honestly, I don’t know what it is about French pork – ordinarily, I don’t care for fatty meat unless it’s been cooked for hours and rendered into submission. But the fat on the meat here is never gristly or chewy or rubbery – just tender and yummy. I ate every bite…
For dessert, a baba au rhum. And I finally discovered – I think I just don’t care for baba au rhum in general. It’s like stale bread soaked in rum – which seems like it should be great, but I am never wowed by it. This particular version seemed perfectly well-prepared, but I think I’m not a good judge.
Stopped off at one of the gay bars in the Marais on my way home for a last beer. Ran into Sam, a Turkish-German fellow (yes, he’s beautiful, obviously) I’d met earlier in the week. Hung out for a bit with him and his friends, then bade them farewell and headed back to Rue de la Corderie.
Up early, made breakfast, met my taxi downstairs for a quick ride to Gare du Nord. Next stop: Amsterdam.
Pierre Sang Boyer was high on my list of places to try in Paris. I was actually both happy and a bit trepidatious that the restaurant doesn’t accept reservations – this can be either handy (especially if one dines earlyish by Paris standards) or have the makings of a catastrophe.
It was a Thursday night and it was raining rather heavily. I ventured forth into the soggy streets, armed with raincoat, umbrella, map and a list of alternative restaurants in case RPS was mobbed. I frankly wasn’t sure whether the downpour would make things better or worse – that is, would people simply stay home on such a crappy night? As I walked along Bd Voltaire, toward Rue Oberkampf, I became concerned. Cafés and restaurants appeared just as full as always – maybe even more so. “OK, Eric, be prepared to switch to Plan B,” I said to myself.
Well, imagine my delight when I showed up a bit after 8 and found the counter wide-open, save for the 4-top on one end. I greeted the waiter and was invited to belly on up to the bar. Quelle chance! And, being a non-asshole, I attempted to choose a seat at the empty counter that would allow any couples who showed up to have room on either side of me (oh, and to the the party of three who came later and got the last seats at the bar? Say a little thank you to us Mary Ann Singletons next time you’re out…)
Now, I should add here that Pierre Sang Boyer is a “celebrity” chef insofar as he was one of the finalists on the 2011 French version of “Top Chef” (Romain Tischenko, the chef at Le Galopin was apparently – and judging from his cooking the other night, deservedly – the winner in 2010). I tend to be quite leery of “celebrity” chefs – at least the American ones. They seem to be focused primarily on TV appearances and book deals rather than actually cooking.
I guess things are different in France – not only was the man himself right behind the counter cooking alongside his sous-chef, he greeted me and chatted a bit. Pretty cool, no?
After I was seated and advised my waiter (I believe it was Max, charming, handsome and extraordinarily good at his job) that “mon français n’est pas bon,” he responded with a smile and “Well, then we speak English.” He proceeded to explain the menu to me – it’s 6-course set menu, though he inquired as to any food issues or allergies I might have (I confessed my aversion to offal and this was not part of the menu, so not a problem). There was also a supplemental 7th course of something like wild duck (he didn’t actually know the specific term in English, so he said it was a duck caught in the forest – while also making a lock-and-load shotgun motion – I told you he was charming) – foolishly, I refused the supplement. Zut alors… I did however say yes to the wine pairing. Max would choose a wine for each course (at only €5 per glass!) – though he advised I could quit at anytime if it became too much (I did my best to stifle a guffaw at this idea of “too much” being used in reference to me and wine…)
First course, a bright orange soup. “What is it?” I asked Max. “Oh, I’ll tell you after. Yes, it’s a bit weird but that’s how we do things here.” Fine by me! It was a pumpkin soup, subtle and fresh. A bit of crème fraîche in the middle. And something else? Turned out to be a bit of Pastis (I did not figure this out on my own, but only when the dish was described after I finished it). A lovely start.
As for the wine, Max described each one after each course. I nodded sagely each time and then proceeded to immediately forget everything he’d said. So, for the most part, my comments will be limited to “the wine was really good!” I do recall that this one was 95% Chardonnay. But I did take photos – presumably the oenophiles among you will be able to make more sense of wine than can I.
I never did figure out what this slab of something was – though one of my favorite parts of the evening was when the sous-chef started slicing and plating it and M. Boyer scolded, “Check, check, check!” since the fellow slicing it hadn’t tasted it first…
Next course was a purée of celeriac, topped with a shrimp chip and some cured salmon and some fresh chicory. My notes say simply “it is sublime.” The celeriac was intense and creamy, the chip and the chicory adding some crunch, the salmon meltingly tender.
And this wine I actually remember as my favorite – spicy, though with a bit of floral.
Third course was pickled herring with a vinegary beet purée, topped with quinoa (which I initially mistook for mustard seeds). I don’t think of myself as a herring-lover (though this may just be due to it not being served to me with any frequency) but this may have been my favorite dish. The acidity and sweetness of the beet preparation went marvelously with the oily herring.
Another great wine – I wrote “flower bomb” and also detected a bit of honey.
The 4th course was clearly pork belly (even I knew that!). I’m not always crazy about pork belly – I tend to like my fatty meats cooked and rendered for hours. But, judging not just from this meal, but one I had another evening, I think the quality of fat in French pork must somehow be different – maybe it’s richer or less gristly or something? Whatever the case, this was great – had a hint of old-school “pupu” platter spareribs. Served with sushi rich and wilted spinach in a tangy Korean-seasoned vinaigrette. My only complaint was that some of the pork skin was too cartilage-like for my tastes.
And the wine. It was red! And I liked it! That’s about all I can tell you…
Oh, it was also at this point that I realized the huge slab of what I took to be cheese sitting just in front of me was, in fact, butter. You do know about French butter, right? As my friend Ralph (le Genevois) says, it makes American butter seem like wax. I’d had no idea before tonight how right he was – it was like butter meets crème fraîche meets runny cheese – plus salt! Oh man – it’s probably just as well I hadn’t dug into this right away or I’d’ve needed an angioplasty with my dessert.
Cheese course next, served with what with a bit of what tasted like strawberry yogurt. Max explained that it was actually a sauce made from a Korean fruit that is actually rather bitter – but that it was meant to stand up to the strongish 24-month-old cheese.
And, all too soon, dessert. Some sort of oat concoction with lemon curd and cream. I thought the oats were a simply too oat-y… by which I mean they had an uncooked quality to them and it felt heavy – not as in a rich, creamy dessert, but as is a bit leaden. This was the weakest dish of the evening.
A generous pour of bubbles rounded out the evening….
It was also during dessert that the lady on my right inquired as to how it was – and I was honest, saying it was not my favorite of the six courses. I got to chatting with her and her husband (she French, he British, they live in Paris) – OK, I may have been prattling a bit, but I WAS on my sixth glass of wine, so… Anyway, they could not have been nicer – fellow foodies, so we compared notes on Le Galopin (one of their favorites too) and other restaurants. We exchanged email addresses, me assuring them that if they rent an apartment in SF for a vacation, to let me know the location and I’d let them know the frequency of gun play in said neighborhood…
I think my evening at Pierre Sang was probably my favorite of my visit to Paris. Obviously for the food – but also for the hopping atmosphere; watching the show behind the counter as the chefs and the waiters put out plate after plate after plate; for the conversation, both with my fellow diners and the super-talented waiter Max. I left with a great big grin on my face and a full belly in a hail of mercis and au revoirs for a leisurely stroll home in the rain…
Oh, one more thing – the bill, including wine with each course, was €65. I actually exclaimed, “C’est incroyable!” – the quality of the food and of the dining experience was almost shocking at this extraordinarily reasonable price.
Up at a relatively reasonable hour on Thursday and I’d had the idea I’d go to the Edward Hopper show at the Grand Palais. I mean, it’s Paris – who comes all that way to look at American paintings, right? I figured this would mean an easier time getting to see the paintings – something that’s a particular challenge here, especially in the more popular museums.
Arrived at metro station Franklin D. Roosevelt – and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I felt a surge of American pride. Of course, then I just reminded myself that Americans coined the term “freedom fries” when the French (wisely) opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and I was back to feeling vaguely apologetic for my nationality…
Anyway, arrived at the lovely Grand Palais and discovered that the Hopper show is one of the hottest tickets in town – huge lines, most folks with reserved tickets. Curses, foiled again! What to do?
Well, the Grand Palais had a separate exhibition called Bohèmes, which looked at Bohemians in both senses – that is, gypsies who were originally called Bohemians and were a popular subject of art from the 1600s and on and the Bohemian movement in Paris of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Eh, as long as I’m here, I guess I’ll check it out…
WOW. This turned out to be one of the most incredible shows I’ve seen. The subject matter was fascinating and at times astonishingly beautiful. The audio-guide was extremely well-done and brought the history to life. And, of course, the second floor of the show which focused on Bohemian Paris was simply gorgeous and amazing for someone like myself who is in love with this city, both as a place and a way of life. I loved every moment here…
Laden with selections from the gift shop, I headed for the exit thinking perhaps I’d try and find some lunch nearby – and of course it was POURING when I left. So, I jumped on Metro and headed home to drop of my purchases and had some lunch in the ‘hood, followed by a nap.
Friday, I forced myself out of bed so I could be at the Musée d’Orsay when they opened at 930. Since I’d neglected to go shopping the day before, I had not breakfast in the apartment and, humiliatingly, stopped at McD’s on the way to the Metro. Quelle horreur! Though they do have free wi-fi, so there’s that…
Now, I don’t suppose it needs to be said the d’Orsay has one of the finest collections of Impressionist art in the world. It also has what has to be the crabbiest staff on earth – I mean, I suppose it’s understandable to some degree with the hordes of foreigners descending each day, but jeez! Sullen, cranky, impatient at the ticket counter, at the (mandatory) coat check, at the audio guide dispensary, at the gift shop (ok, she actually was reasonably normal). And I think what put me in an especially bad mood was, after shelling out an extra €5 for an audio-guide, I discovered that the audio guide for the special exhibition L’impressionisme et la mode was a separate audio guide that cost another €5! What nerve. I don’t really mind paying for museums – but this just seemed extra sneaky – the ol’ bait and switch! So, no second audio-guide for me – I showed them, all right!
The show was a good one, though, with rather clever set-up. Plenty of paintings and some quite lovely displays of dresses from the 19th century. And, despite the fact the Renoir tends not to be my favorite of the Impressionists (keep in mind, I am a philistine), my favorite painting in the museum was his charming portrait of Charles Le Couer.
A quick run around the rest of the museum – it’s lovely as always. And kudos to them for forbidding cameras and cellphones in the galleries. Helps make the hordes somewhat more tolerable.
From there, I took leisurely stroll along the Seine, headed toward la Tour Eiffel, with the goal of visiting Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine at the Palais de Chaillot. It was a rather long and chilly walk, but lovely nonetheless. And believe it or not, it was my first view of the entire tower – thus far, I’d only seen it’s top poking up above the horizon. I’d forgotten not only how large it is – but how magnificent. Yes, the area is swarming with tourists behaving like idiots – but there’s no disputing that the tower is glorious to behold.
Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine was very enjoyable. The first floor was filled with life-size casts of the exterior decorations from cathedrals and churches all over France. On the second floor, a variety of models and history of 2oth century architecture. There was also a small show of “paper architecture” – several artists who work with cut paper to produce marvelous work.
Located a “reasonably” priced bistro mentioned in my guidebook – though in this fancy part of town, reasonable turned out to be €50 or more. So I wandered a bit and found La Petite Marquise (that means “the petite marquise” in French) where I had a jamon-beurre-fromage sandwich and a Marquise – pistachio macaron filled with pistachio crème and surrounded with fresh raspberries. WELL. This was just as terrible as it sounds (that is, it was delicious).
After a bit more walking, I passed the Palais de Tokyo, one of several places on my list to visit – but at this point, I realized I’d probably had my fill of culture for the day and so headed home.
Dinner that evening at l’Office. Another great meal (here’s the detailed version of my visit) – I’m happy to say that all my research has paid off with some really fine meals.
I’d reserved at Joséphine Chez Dumonet upon my arrival in Paris, having read several reviews extolling their bouef bourguignon. Of course, by the time Wednesday evening rolled around, I was exhausted from being a tourist and the prospect of schlepping from my place in the 3me to the 6me was not one I was facing with relish. Plus, I’d started agonizing over my visit after reading this thread over on Chowhound in which a couple complained of terrible service (though, since I am an insufferable snob and Francophile, I figure it’s just Americans being being rubes… Yes, I realize this may be an unfair characterization and I can be pretty rube-like myself. But c’est la vie). It can be a struggle for me to communicate en français sometimes – was I prepared for the stereotypical snooty French waiter experience..?
But the siren call of bouef bourguignon was not to be ignored, so off I went, map and directions in hand, arriving on time without getting lost.
I entered and found a restaurant almost comically French. I don’t mean that as a mockery. Just that if you imagined a French restaurant from a movie, you’d imagine exactly this. The fellow behind the bar greeted me and may have given a bit of a sigh when I announced that I was the reservation for seulement un personne – but certainly nothing alarming. I actually got what I thought was the best seat in the house – the only table next to the curtained window to the street.
After I was seated, I was immediately presented with a glass of vin blanc – perhaps they noticed my hands shaking..? The fellow who presented me with my menu was extraordinarily gracious – I explained my lack of facility with French, he disagreed kindly and proceeded to address me in French that was surely, by design, simplified for my benefit.
Many of the entrées and plats were available in demi portions, which is ideal for all of us Mary Ann Singletons. I ordered artichoke hearts to start, followed by a demi bouef bourguignon, along with a half-bottle of CdR.
A tasty little amuse of cream of zucchini soup appeared shortly. Oh boy – it was delicious and really whet my appetite for the rest of the meal.
The artichoke hearts were lovely – served warm and carefully prepared. Is there anything worse than a sloppily extracted heart that still contains remnants of leaves or choke? This was all heart and a perfect start – though I was extremely tempted to ask the ladies next to me who started with foie grass stuffed morels if I could have a taste – not sure whether that’s considered acceptable here, so I refrained.
And now, the star of the evening, boeuf bourguignon avec tagliatelle. How do you say “swoon” in French? I loved it. The meat was fork-tender and beefy, the sauce rich and wonderfully seasoned, the tagliatelle cooked a bit past al dente, making them a perfectly supple foil for the meat. And, I have to say, I could easily have eaten a full order – though I’m glad I didn’t. The demi portion was just right, given the richness of the meat. The food lived up to the atmosphere, in terms of feeling quintessentially (and I suppose stereotypically – which I don’t mean in a bad way) French.
At some point, I had to use the john (le jean?) and as I sauntered to la toilette, it appeared there was a large contingent of well-off Americans in attendance (i.e. exactly the type who’d stay in Saint-Germain-des-Prés – this is not meant as a judgement, simply an observation. Well, OK, maybe I’m judging a little..). I, of course, was much more interested in making up a story for the French people seated next to me. At first I thought it was mother and father with their young adult daughters – but toward the end of the meal there were numerous very official looking papers (yet strangely, mostly filled out in long hand) and a check for €10.000 floating around. VERY SUSPICIOUS! Actually, they were quite charming, and we chatted a bit – they were very curious about my septum piercing and thought it was hilarious when I told them I needed a large ring to match my large nose…
And next, un soufflé au Grand Marnier . Oh, did I forget to mention that..? Yes, I ordered the souffle. It was not inexpensive – but, hey, it’s Paris. It was served with a tiny glass of Grand Marnier and an extremely generous serving of (I think) Sauternes – I simply asked the waiter for a glass of “un bon vin dessert, pas trop cher.” And he obliged me…
I enjoyed both my meal and my evening immensely. Sure, it was a little on the pricey side (about €90 including wine) but it exceeded my wishes for a “traditional” French meal – hearty, delicious, something that felt like it couldn’t exist anywhere but France. I toddled off from Chez Dumonet, happy and full and reveling in the decadence of finishing dinner at 11PM.
Mon dieu! Time is flying by – despite my perpetual feelings of guilt for not doing enough. But I continue to delight in this most wonderful city.
Tuesday was my first ever visit to Montmartre. I followed this guide which starts at the “back” of Montmartre and I must say, it made for a peaceful and charming ascent, largely free of tourists. With its twisting cobblestone streets, steep staircases and sites like the legendary Au Lapin Agile leading up to the soaring basilica of Sacre-Coeur, it’s a bit hard to believe it’s real. Until, of course, you reach the top and find a busy sidestreet filled with tourist tat for sale and pushy “artists” trying to strong-arm you into drawing your portrait. Despite this, though, it’s still lovely and the church is beautiful (though, €2 to light a tiny tealight candle? Way to gouge the pilgrims, Catholic church…).
Retraced my steps in search of couple of restos I’d read about – but had no luck since my map ended just north of Montmartre. I did manage to find Gontran Cherrier, the boulangerie I’d read about in Bon Appetit. I had a tasty ham sandwich on curry bread – very yummy! Though I’m not sure I’d make a special trip to this ‘hood just for the boulangerie. Sadly, M. Cherrier was not in residence to accept my proposal of marriage.
Home for a nap and a glass of wine, then dinner at La Bourse et La Vie, another well-reviewed place for steak frites. A tiny, funky place, with a rather boisterous though certainly kind proprietor. It was pretty good – I think the steak was not as good as the one I’d had at Le Severo, but the pepper sauce was tasty and the frites were very good. Why on earth I chose an appetizer of hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise, I’ll never know. I mean, they were fine – but it was a bit much to start. And the owner mock-warned me that I’d not be permitted dessert since I didn’t finish the entire plate of eggs… I was a bit alarmed when, after asking for a glass of good red, a bottle appeared and was opened before I had a chance to sputter any protest. “Great,” I thought to myself, “not only am I going to be drunk off my ass, that bottle probably cost €100.” But I decided that, at this point, the die had been cast, so why worry?
There’d only been a couple of other diners when I arrived and I was the last to leave, save for the owner and couple of his mates. When I asked for the check, he waved me into the back, where they were chatting and smoking. I was peppered with questions by this amiable bunch and had an entertaining conversation. The meal was good – not great – but the jolly host makes this place worth a visit. And that bottle was quite reasonably priced. My entire bill was around €60 (I think – I did make a quite a dent in that bottle, after all…)
On Wednesday, I forced myself out of bed at the crack of dawn (i.e. 830AM) so I could get my ass to Les Arts Decoratifs when they opened at 11AM in hopes of avoiding the lines I’d encountered on my visit the other day. My plan worked and I got in with little problem. My main reason to visit was to see the exhibition of “publicité” – advertising posters and other ephemera. But the big draw (and the reason for the crowds) was a special show of jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels. O mon dieu! It was breathtaking and fascinating. No photos allowed (which is frankly just as well) so you’ll have to take my word for it.
As for the “publicité”? Well, there was a special showing of super-cool CD and album covers and club flyers from the ’80s and ’90s. Super chouette!
Wandered off in search of lunch and found my way to Bistrot Victoires, which was recommended in Time Out. Very French, very friendly and oh-so-tasty. I was tempted by the steak frites but that seemed like gilding the lily after last night’s dinner. So I ordered a tart with potato, lardons and Emmentaler. I was expecting something quiche-like – but got something so much better… Et voilà.
Service was efficient and friendly. And I did my best to refrain from staring at the one waiter wearing a plain white and vaguely transparent t-shirt that gave more than a hint of his many tattoos…
A long amble back home, then a bit of a lie down before dinner at Josephine Chez Dumonet. Read this post for my full impression – but the short version? OMG, I loved it.
Dinner on Sunday evening at Terroir Parisien just a few steps from the Seine on Le Rive Gauche. I was interested to try this place, as it had a similar mission to Le Galopin – namely using locally-sourced, in-season ingredients.
I arrived for a quite early dinner at 715PM. And, despite being asked to arrive at 715 rather than 7 as I requested, the place was quiet. This isn’t surprising for Paris – though I still wasn’t quite sure why I’d been asked to delay my arrival by 15 minutes…
Anyway, this place is nothing like Le Galopin. It’s sharply modern and a much less casual atmosphere – which is neither good nor bad, just a very different atmosphere. I had a great seat at the large central counter, with a view of the kitchen and the restaurant.
A reasonably priced carte (with descriptions in both French and English – for everybody? Or just les americains stupide comme moi..? It was helpful nonetheless). I started with a salade des petits legumes – carrots and beets, both raw and cooked, endive, a bit of broccoli and cauliflower. All in all, very nice – but to a degree uninspired. It’s all well and good to present fresh vegetables straight from the garden. But there was nothing particularly inventive here and certainly nothing to elicit gasps (well, OK – it was gorgeous in color). Perhaps I was a bit spoiled by my previous night’s dinner…
For my main, I had filet de boeuf – thin slices of steak, seared and tasty, with some lovely salad garnishing it and a side of pastry stuffed with potato and cheese. Yes, that’s right – pastry with potato and cheese. I thought this was delicious – simply prepared, yes, but satisfying in it’s entirety. The beef was chewy but not tough and tasted of meat – something I really like about steak in France. I thought this dish was excellent.
Et maintenant, le dessert. I was torn between pistachio and cinnamon bavaroises topped with black- and blueberries or the trio of pots de crème – vanilla, chocolate and coffee. I wasn’t sure about the cinnamon, so I went with trusty old pots de crème. Sadly, this was disappointing. The coffee version was very gelatinous and not really creamy at all; the vanilla was more like an egg custard – not a bad thing, but not what I expect in pots de crème; the chocolate was the best of the bunch, in that it was wonderfully creamy – but not especially chocolatey. Quel dommage!
The wine list was reasonably priced and I had a tasty rosé, followed by a couple of different reds, both quite good. Service was accommodating, with the staff happy to assist me in English (but I still try my best in French!). I think given its handy location, its chic atmosphere and its reasonably priced and mostly tasty food, I’d recommend it.
Stopped for a drink or two on the way home through the Marais, but made a relatively early night of it. Was up at reasonable hour this morning and after my usual breakfast at home of eggs, ham and croissant, I headed for La Grande Galerie de l’Evolution. WOW! Really cool. And amazing interior, like something out of a Jules Verne novel, with four floors of every variety of creature.
Headed back toward my apartment and stopped at an Italian cafe just downstairs. One of the many, many (many!) things I love about this city is that sitting outside at a cafe is possible during virtually any weather. Today, it was rainy and cold, but thanks to heaters and awnings, I sat on the sidewalk, enjoying my plate of penne all’arrabiata.
After that, I spent an hour or so at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme – it’s small but well organized, with a helpful audio guide. Quite interesting and a testament (heh) to how little I know about that portion of my heritage. My next stop was at Hotel de Ville for a special exhibition about Jewish children in Paris during the Holocaust. It seemed fascinating, but was largely text-based and in French, so, regrettably, I wasn’t able to get much out of it. Next went to the Memorial de la Shoah – which was inexplicably closed today (or am I revealing my ignorance of October 8 being one of the High Holy Days..?). I’ll be back to visit later in the week…
Home again, home again. Had a lie-down, then, map and Metro ticket in hand, I set forth for Le Severo in the 14th, reputed to have some of the best steak frites in Paris. I must say, my steak, a filet de boeuf, was excellent. Beefy, meaty, full of flavor and cooked a perfect medium rare. I was surprised by the just-OK frites, especially given some of the delirious reviews of them from a variety of reputable sources. The Cotes du Rhone I had was very tasty. And dessert was a serviceable creme caramel. As much as I enjoyed my steak, I’m not sure it was worth the trip from my place in the 3rd… But certainly a great steak!
Also, I’m finally starting to get over the guilt I feel if I’m not doing SOMETHING CULTURAL every moment. I realized today that going to two different museums, an exhibition and two restaurants (plus walking several miles) is actually a pretty full day.
And now, I’m back home, with a glass of wine, having successfully battled the French washing machine into submission and now in happy possession of a bunch of clean underpants. Now THAT is something to be proud of!
Apparently, one of the hardest reservations to get in Paris (thanks to a recent mention in the NYTimes) is for a place called Frenchie, serving inventive and very good good food at a reasonable price. There are countless threads on the foodie websites with people agonizing over their failure to make a reservation, the difficulty of getting through on the telephone, how their trip will be ruined if they don’t dine at Frenchie. It all seems a bit much – and many of the Parisian locals seem to agree, i.e. the food is great, but the hoops one must jump through to get in are excessive.
So, one place mentioned several places as a good Frenchie “alternative” was Le Galopin in the 10th. I called from SF the week prior to my visit and obtained my reservation with no problem.
So, on a rainy Saturday night, I took the Metro a couple of stops and managed to make my way down a small street to find Le Galopin on a quiet corner. The place is quite small – I’d guess they max out at about 24, maybe 30 people.
There is a single 7-course menu offering that changes daily, depending on what is fresh and available. I’m always a bit nervous about a set menu, imagining that it will consist primarily of offal and Limburger or some other combination that I’m not crazy about… But Saturday’s menu all sounded fine by me.
First was an amuse – and I forget how exactly it was described. But it was little ittty-bitty lightly deep-fried fishies, with a few little garnishes. Tasty.
Next, a simple miso broth with scallions and tiny florets of cauliflower, still crunchy as they’d presumably been added to the soup raw. A simple dish, but with good flavors that seemed to grow a bit more pronounced as one finished.
This was followed by a salad of duck with radish and mustard. Here’s where things started getting interesting. The dish was served with the radish and some other vegetables thinly sliced and dressed with mustard seeds and some type of savory herb – so the salad started out crunchy with a slightly bitter edge. But then beneath that were several slices of barely seared duck, meaty and delicious, adding another layer of texture and some richness. This is also where the mustard dressing came into play, as it was at the bottom of the composition. It was sinus-clearingly zippy and when combined with all the other ingredients, the dish not only grew more delicious as one delved further, it grew decidedly more complex. I loved it.
The fish course was next: red tuna with corn and mushrooms. The combination of ingredients here was completely unexpected: fresh corn plus some salty capers an ingenious compliment to the fish – as was the green “sauce,” almost like a more assertive foam. And I remain unsure what vegetable was used to prepare it – obviously not peas this time of year, though that’s what it reminded me of. And a perfect little tempura baby turnip. Even the corn silk, which was not my favorite element texturally, gave a distinct grassy note to this wonderful dish.
The meat course was a filet de boeuf, prepared à point, topped with an anchovy filet and served with beets and a beet purée. Again, not a combination of flavors that would occur to most people – but the meaty steak and the salty anchovy played wonderfully with the sweetness of the beets. Using both a purée and braised beets ensured that textures changed with each bite. Another winner.
The first of the two desserts was figs with yogurt and red wine in both gelato and gelée forms – plus crunchy meringue bits and a couple of cilantro leaves (an astonishingly excellent addition) . Oh and a bit of streusel sprinkled about for good measure. It was superb.
The second dessert was described as “bread, hazelnuts and chocolate.” And that’s exactly what it was – yet so much more. Tiny cubes of sweet, almost doughy bread, served alongside an intensely chocolatey concoction – maybe a mousse is the best way to describe it, plus ground hazelnuts. I might describe it as similar to a deconstructed bread pudding – with dollop of chartreuse crème standing in for the whiskey sauce. And don’t forget a fat, juicy raspberry. Truly sublime – to the point that I got a bit verklempt. Though I suspect this had as much to do with the fact that I was lucky enough to be in Paris that night as it did with the wonderful meal.
I should also add that the wine was great – a small, reasonably priced list with a good selection by the glass (I had a Pouilly Fumé and a Cotes du Rhone – ok, maybe a few CdRs…). The waiters were charming (and adorable – this is France, after all. Le sigh…) and very kind to the sole English speaker in the place that evening. It was quite a treat to discreetly observe the other diners – a beautiful young couple, clearly in love, holding hands; two other couples, one with their adorable 6-month-old who smiled and laughed the whole evening while mom and dad took turns holding and kissing him; the other party of four who took got up in shifts to smoke out on the stoop; two boys next to me who only had eyes for each other… Really everyone in the place just seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, myself included. And I must say, it felt pretty cool to have found my way off the tourist path, if only for a couple of hours. Just a completely excellent evening in every way possible.
Oh, and if you can believe it, my bill was €70 – including wine.
My visit to Les Docks was quite nice. The Balenciaga show was small but quite lovely. His designs from the ’50s and ’60s were displayed with a variety of primarily traditional Spanish clothes and costumes that had inspired his work. All very fascinating. There was also a wacky Comme des Garçons show next door, with the mannequins displayed in large clear plastic globes.
By the time I left, it was raining a bit – and I’d foolishly not brought my raincoat. Decided to head back to the apartment but then couldn’t be motivated to do much more than amble downstairs to a cafe where I sat outside under an awning, enjoying a plate of charcuterie et fromage along with a glass of wine.
After such a strenuous day (and still-lingering jet lag), I needed a nap before dinner. Feeling much refreshed, off I went to Le Galopin, a tiny little bistro I’d read about on Chowhound. The meal was sensational – sufficiently so that it warrants its own post that I’ll work on soon – and shockingly reasonable in price. I left happy and full and peut-être un peu ivre…
Home again to change from dinner outfit to going-to-the-bars-and-it’s-raining-out outfit and headed toward the Marais. Saturday was also Nuit Blanche, an all-night festival of art that takes place one night every October. Last time I’d visited Paris, I saw Nuit Blanche and it was quite something… Sadly, this trip I hadn’t studied the venues, which are located all over Paris. But lucky for me, I stumbled across several of the installations and performances over the course of the evening. Here was a particularly charming one, especially on a drizzly Paris evening…
After this I wandered around among a few different bars. Chatted a bit with some friendly French fellows, mostly in English, though I did OK with my French, too. At some point, another English-speaking tourist overheard our conversation and interrupted to ask if we knew where he could buy some cocaine (or “Charlie” as he called). Charmant…
Wandered some more and saw a few more installations – though my favorite was one that used light and chicken wire sculpture to create a marvelous and ghostly set of apparitions in a series of courtyards.
Heading home, I passed a church and could hear some music so I decided to stick my head in. Mon dieu. Here inside this lovely church at almost 2AM was a vocal ensemble called Les Métaboles performing some stunningly beautiful songs. I actually got a little weepy – not only was the music wonderful, as was the church, but it was a reminder of how lucky I am to get to experience things like Nuit Blanche.
This clip doesn’t really do justice to how truly marvelous this performance was, but you get the idea.
Anyway, as I finally stumbled toward home, bleary-eyed since it was past 3AM, I realized I was a bit peckish. So, after the culinary high of Le Galopin, I sunk to the depths by ordering a “hot dog” from a street vendor (the only one open). It was a kind of like hot dog on a bun prepared croque monsieur style, i.e. with cheese all over. They popped it into the microwave and I scarfed it right down. Not my proudest moment français…
Slept in quite late on Sunday and didn’t have much of a plan. Decided to head toward the Louvre on foot, with the intention of looking for the new “magic carpet” canopy over the new Islamic art galleries. I also planned to visit Les Arts Decoratifs to check out their collection of advertising posters and art. WELL. I’d forgotten what a shit-show the whole area around the Louvre is – mobbed, noisy, traffic a mess. The canopy is apparently in an inner courtyard so not accessible unless one enters the Louvre, which I wasn’t in the mood to do on a Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, the line to get into Les Arts Decoratifs was hellishly long, thanks to a current exhibition of Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry. Will have to try again during the week.
Since I was in the ‘hood, I foolishly decided to see what the situation at the Musée d’Orsay was like. HAHAHAHA! Oh my god, what was I thinking? The line snaked all around the entrance plaza, down the street and around the corner – and it did not appear to be moving rapidly.
So, I had to content myself with a stroll through St. Germain, with stops at le Jardin du Luxembourg and Pierre Hermé for some macarons – which I finished just before I sat down to write this. And, I must say, although they were tasty, they were not my favorites. The meringue part was a bit cake-like and lacked the usual crunchy-chewy texture. I wonder if it’s because today is Sunday and they don’t prepare them fresh? Je ne sais pas… If I’m in the neighborhood of the main store, I may try again. But I still have plenty of other patisseries to try…
Et alors. It’s Sunday afternoon. I must say, I felt a bit guilty that I didn’t “do” much today, other than wander about, i.e. I didn’t look at any art or visit any cultural sights. But, hey – it’s Paris and I enjoyed my long walk.
Et voilà – I am in Paris. My flights were uneventful – an hour-and-a-half late leaving SFO, but I still made my connection at ORD with ease. Dieu merci that my flight to CDG was in the same terminal or my goose’d’ve been cooked. I actually arrived at the gate just as they started boarding. And let me just say that my new United Explorer credit card perk of pre-boarding is fantastic. Plus, I managed to switch seats and had an aisle and window all to myself for the trip across the Atlantic.
Didn’t sleep much and arrived CDG weary but alert. Train from airport to Gare du Nord (quel dump!) was really easy. Had a bit of trouble finding a taxi, but eventually found one (the driver was handsome and had a sexy scar on his face – o la la!) and I quickly arrived at my apartment, welcomed by my hostess Thuy-Tien. She was kind enough not to mention that I was sweating and stinky… The apartment is great, located on a small street in the 4th. And despite its compact size it has an amazing shower, which I jumped into as soon as I’d unpacked.
Had a quick walk around the neighborhood after a nap. Ahh Paris… I had forgotten how amazing life is here. Every street is filled with cafes and restaurants and nearly every one of them is filled with people all the time. Doesn’t anybody have to work..? Le sigh… La vie Parisienne… The other thing I noticed is that, while people certainly use their phones here, everyone is talking to one another rather than staring into a little screen and texting somebody who’s not with them. And people on their own are all reading books and magazines. It’s delightful.
Stopped in a pharmacy and was able to request and obtain Band-Aids and hydrogen peroxide en français. I was quite proud of myself…
Dinner later at Chez Jenny, an Alsatian place in my ‘hood, recommended by mon bon ami Ralph. I had the choucroute (though I forewent the version with the pork knuckle – it seemed a bit much…) and thoroughly enjoyed it. AND I did all my ordering en français – unlike the Brits next to me, who were handed English menus. Quelle horreur! Though I’d better not get too cocky – I’m likely to wind up ordering calves lungs or something at dinner one night…
Walked around later to the gay bars in the Marais – including the mysteriously named Le Bears’ Den. Some very lively places, though, as in SF, many people out with their BFFs, so I didn’t get to do much socializing. Oh well… We’ll see how things go – but I’ve certainly had plenty of practice at people not talking to me…
The thing that is kind of hilarious about most of the bars is that they are quite small, so everyone hangs out drinking in front. They put up ropes to designate the area that is still the bar and where one may drink – but have staff who regularly adjust to ropes to make more room and also scold you if you’re standing too far from the proximity of said ropes.
Got lost on the walk home (oh these twisty little streets) but a taxi got me there eventually. Up early this morning, grabbed a croissant to have with ham and eggs prepared chez moi and now I’m off to the Balenciaga show at Les Docks. À bientôt!