Does not look like I will make that guided tour of the Mosque of Paris tomorrow morning at 10h15, now just a few hours away.
I figured I would just check out the nearby Marché Richard Lenoir from home base for this week, my humble flat in the 11eme. Take some pictures. And so I did, agog at the green trees, the fountains, the bustling Friday morning market-goers. I ogled the scarves. Did not buy. Resistance melted when I saw Made in France espadrilles.
Finding the right size amidst this system was - interesting. I spent 15 minutes looking for a particular coloration of a certain striped espadrille in a size 40, which I thought was my size. I finally asked if I could try on the shoes - the monsieur said, yes, of course - there's a chair right behind here. I tried on the size 40s I had finally found in 3 colors and patterns I loved. Too big. I'm a 39. Start over rifling through the bins for the 39s in just the right color combination of stripes. I end up with 2 pairs.
Having broken through the shopping resistance barrier (a friend calls this first blood--that first purchase that paves the way for the domino effect of more, and more purchases), it dawned on me I really did need to buy some food at the Marché. I go back to the bread guy. Those baguettes tradition had really made an impression on me when I sauntered by earlier.
By the time I get back to him, he is starting to pack up! I am barely back in time to secure the baguette tradition - but also a sampling of some of his specialty breads. I am a sucker for dark whole grain breads with nuts and fruits. Toasted, with butter - oh yea. I see one can purchase just a slice or two. When the clock is ticking to the market shutting down, one finally makes quick decisions. Unfortunately, my decisions ended up with my getting more bread than a single person living in Paris for a week really needs. I now have sliced whole wheat bread from the grocery store, a baguette tradition, two slices of that gorgeous what bread with nuts and, my favorite, the one with figs, raisins and nuts.
I realize if he is closing, then the other stands might be shutting down too. And so I start to panic. It dawns on me I really do need some food. Bananas, strawberries, some of those beautiful little mini-peaches or abricots I've been seeing at a stand here and there. I realize I should have done the produce first, the espadrilles second.
I start walking briskly. Where were those strawberries I liked? Sure, most everyone has strawberries. But the purpose of the market is to shop around, compare prices and quality. I had not done this from the outset. Now I was stuck there in the middle of the market - a large one - wondering where I saw those gorgeous strawberries??
I go to the organic stand. Surely these are lovely and high quality.
Yes, they were. They were also 6.5 euros. Uh, non. That seemed like a lot. Surely I could do better. But in fact there was no time to do better. I randomly pick a stand and get 2 bananas - and some avocados - and some apples.
Oh such a mistake. I forgot to tell him which ones I wanted. So I really have no one to blame but myself for the awful overripe avocados (managed enough out of 3 of them to make a salad) that I ended up purchasing because I did not take charge of that situation.
Did not like the look of his strawberries at all. I scurry along, briskly briskly as the stands are coming down here and there. Finally get the strawberries. Laden with several bags now, I decide I should stand in line for whatever everyone else is standing in line for at the sandwich stand. I am so laden with packages, I drop my bread, and a nice man behind me tells me I'm about to lose my "plan" (my booklet of Paris by Arrondissement) so I thank him and adjust all my packages and purse and backpack.
Yes, it was the bread that caught my eye. For someone trying to do paleo high-protein in Paris...well that's not going so great...this was not a great idea. But the bread is just a small thinly crisped on the grill vehicle for tasty insides it would turn out, so not a bad carb experiene in the end it would turn out.
The lesson learned here at the Lebanese sandwich stand applies to the producer stands at the market:
1. Follow the crowd can be a good rule. If no one is standing in line at one particular vendor, there's probably a reason.
2. Be assertive. I watched several sandwiches being made and asked about them before deciding on mine. Did not want to waste this opportunity. Same goes for picking out the produce. Take your time. Chat. I forgot this rule because I was being, well, American. I started to rush. Bad.
If they know you're a visiting tourist, just in and out for this one shopping trip for entertainment purposes, they really do not care about their reputation and selling you something less than stellar. You are not going to be a frequent customer, so why bother making sure you will come again by providing you with the best of the best of the vendor's produce. I get this.
3. Be assertive. Ask for a sample. My strawberries turned out to be fine. Not perfect, but not awful (like those avocados). And the breakfast this morning (day 3) of those strawberries, almond yogurt drizzled on top from last-minute stop in the Casino grocery store, chopped almonds on top -- while the TSF jazz radion station is playing and I am drinking coffee...all good.
As is Paris in June.
(house boat on Seine, looking back onto the Right Bank)
(Ile St. Louis...enough said)
(Place des Vosges...nap time for some person with the right idea)
For this France trip, which, despite the strikes, got underway officially today when I landed around 6:45 a.m. Paris time at CDG, I forgot my toothbrush, packed only two bras—one white and one black—for 4 types of short-sleeve and sleeveless white t-shirts. This would not be a problem but for it is a three-week stay. Telecommuting is a wonderful thing. I found the local Monoprix - love - and took care of those issues.
I soon learned that my flight to Paris, cancelled just two days ago due to the strike, was suddenly reinstated (just the day before I left) because the air traffic control strike ended June 13--today--to be followed immediately by a train strike. Train strike is code for all transportation in Paris besides taxis is not working per usual, or at a snail's pace if at all: metros, RER, the TGV, etc. I learn all this from the man sitting next to me on the plane, who flies every few weeks to see his new (of 2 years) French wife: they met as pen pals when he was learning French, and that exercise was considered the thing to do to help him learn French. He went to visit her. He got swine flu. She took care of him. Voila. He says his French is terrible, and he has given up. They speak English.
I think to get concerned about getting a taxi from the airport, as they should be in high demand with the RER commuter trains and Metro affected, but opt instead to spend the balance of the trip with a good cry with a tiny plastic bottle of red wine and Crazy Stupid Love on the high-def touch screen.
On arrival, no problemo with les taxis. I decide, with 4 hours to kill while awaiting the apartment's state of readiness, I will go to a comforting comfortable place where I can charge all my devices, get a fantastic bathroom break in, and enjoy lovely coffee and service before I head to the unknown territory of the 11th Arrondissement. This venue of choice would be the Hotel Burgundy, where friend Maureen and I have had some lovely phone-charging champagne or coffee-drinking sessions in between meetings. Getting there was a whole other issue.
With all of Paris and its regions' inhabitants taking to their cars given the no regular train service available, the route was packed. Crawling along at a snail's pace, I begin to fear the fare will consume the week's grocery budget.
The driver and I start talking. For an hour. His wife has a fabulous job at a big corporate American company, with global operations, where she is in charge of various highly technical import-export regulation matters. They realized early on that 2 careers was crazy with caring for the only child, a daughter. He would adjust to his wife's career. He made it so he woke up every morning, very very early, to finish in time to pick up his daughter at her school, a school just 300 meters from their house. He did this every day. It was he who decided, when she was 12, that perhaps he would wait for her a little off to the side somewhere. She was 12 now after all. "Papa" - she chided him, why are you doing this. He went back to his usual practice. He at times tried to alter the routine, but every school year, same routine. This was of course really hard on the working mom, but for her daughter, amidst this wonderful teamwork for parenting, this was an optimal arrangement. Two difficult careers and a child just do not mix well, he said. That leads to problems.... I said I knew something about that. He continued this tradition with his daughter until she ended high school, at that same school, just 300 meters from their house.
I find out he is from Valencia, so we speak some Spanish. And talk about Sevilla, and the dialects and Catalan. And we talk about cabrito.
His daugher is now married to her high school sweetheart (who also has parents who are French (the mom) and Spanish (the dad). This cute couple used to live a few hundred meters away from her dad (my now totally intriguing taxi driver) and her mom, that high-powered also multi-lingual wife of my taxi driver. This only child, who now has a precious baby boy--the first, and maybe only, grandchild--then moved back next door to her parents.
Now, as retirement for this world traveler taxi driver looms near for his wife, the days look even more charming. With his one and only grandson next door, he will now do for his only grandson what he did for his only daughter. He will take him to school, the same school his daugher attended all those years, and, as with his daughter, he will wait after school for his grandson and walk him home. He and his wife could have opted for the big "terrain," the big house, but they "live small." And they travel: California, Wisconsin, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, New York, Boston, Florida -- and of course back to Spain every summer as well. We talk about where he should visit in Texas. I marvel at the wonder of getting this driver and having this conversation about a special man's charmed "small" happy life.
I arrive at l'Hotel Burgundy. I have to explain no, not checking in. I, uh, have a rendez-vous later on nearby and want to have breakfast and a coffee (and use your lovely WC facilities and your Wi-Fi as well). Alas the lounge is not available, just the breakfast room. I am surrounded by Fendi strollers and demanding super wealthy and very young hotel patrons wanting many different varieties of cooking methods done for their eggs.
Service is impeccable at a 5-star boutique hotel. And so it was in summoning the taxi and loading everything up for me in the taxi. The driver is intrigued by my 3-week stay, my business plans - he totally nailed the business side of my trip in like 12 seconds - and he is amused at the change in scenery I am doing here with the taxi ride from the swanky swanky Place Vendome area over to the more real-life 11eme.
We find the little street that will be home for 8 days.
The apartment agent meets me in time to manage my suitcase up the two flights of stairs.
The drill was that I would leave the bags and wander around for another 2 hours while Sebastien, the agent, finished the cleaning of the apartment (he already was letting me check in earlier than the rules say). We go over the little booklet of information about local sources for wine, food, cheese, and where to not buy wine (no, never from the large commercial entities--go local; go local and smaller producer), and the best restaurants for very reasonable prices.
This turns into a conversation about the ways "industrial cuisine" has made its way into Paris restaurants and how to avoid bad food in Paris. One tip: Read the reviews - but pay attention to the bad ones, not the good ones (and dismiss the ones from Americans who sound like they do not know Paris. Have to agree with him there).
I also get a lesson on the chef/owner of restaurants in the area and more on organic wine and the purpose of preservatives in wine, etc.
(View from interior courtyard close to my building, looking out onto rue Popincourt)
Not that he is too different from any other French person who cares about where his food is from and the "correctness" of the pricing as to the quality, but I am taken aback by this impromptu food and wine conversation and the gravitas of it. I decide I will set out for one of the few places that make his cut for the small booklet for the apartment. I decide it will be "Le Petit Cheval de Manege." I stumbled around in a daze, literally, getting lost along the way, and finally end up there.
(front of restaurant, but Google images for this place - better than my pics)
Sebastien was spot on for this place. And, it turns out, my most reliable food review food blog Paris by Mouth is all over it as well. For good reason.
There is a very small "market" menu, but I still go for what I think might be especially good: the "formule" of the day - a set dish or two for a bargain price. A mere 15 euros for a starter (l'entree) and the principal dish.
Candidly, I was not sure what I ordered. Was losing consciousness because of exhaustion. I did order a glass of Bordeaux. That I could do and remember.
Apparently I ordered a warm salad with spizy homemade chorizo and capers. Good bread is served therewith--a good sign that this is indeed a quality place.
Shock. The young chef comes out and checks on me. He tells me how to eat this salad to get the best of it and all the juices of the chorizo and its drippings mixing into the salad's minimal vinaigrette. He asks me if the dish is pleasing to me. After I get over being agog at how young, and cute, he is, I speak: Uh, yea, totally (en francais of course).
Next: fish of some kind with tasty grilled and flavorful spicy sauced fennell. One bite and I get why this made Sebastien's cut.
But no. I am done. I get the check. I assure self I will come back. I walk home and trust I am just right on the timing for me to crawl into bed and deal with my sleep deprivation.
Sebastien was just leaving. I have to de-brief him on my meal.
He is horrified that I had a Bordeaux with the fish - I should have known better than to tell him - and, worse, I said I pretty much drink red with anything. I decide I need to rebuild my credibility. I tell him: did not know what I was going to eat when I ordered (well, that's a problem right there though) and the fish did have a hearty rich sauce that made it maybe not too wrong. I did concede the Bordeaux as the red was a little heavy. We discuss what fish may be ok for a red wine.
Finally. Nap time.
(so misleading...sort of sorry: this picture has nothing to do with sherry. It is from another trip to France, however, to Angers, to check out l'Atoll, a lovely outdoor shopping forum with some super edgy design elements)
Some readers may recall, from last April's trip to Paris--that triathlon training/pre-pneumonia trip--that I had an encounter with a certain Tio Pepe. I was in Paris looking for Verjus, for a long-awaited dinner reservation, and wandered in confusion around quirky multi-level, multi-staired streets around the Palais Royal, looking for Verjus, when I came across what I thought was the Verjus Wine Bar. Which I thought would be a good place to while away an hour or so before the dinner reservation. I was wrong -- about it being the Verjus Wine Bar that is. I had stumbled into another (maybe even more perhaps) fabulous wine bar--one with a much longer pedigree in this charming quartier. Juveniles. Unknown to me at the time, but well-known now, it is one of the best wine bars in Paris for some.
I asked for something cold and dry to just take the edge off before dinner in an hour or so. What I got was a glass of something cold, crisp and white and bright - just what one wants if one is drinking something white rather than red.
This was Tio Pepe, a Spanish dry sherry, fino style. As I am in party-planning mode currently, and though already up to two signature drinks for the evening, I am recalling I just have to add Tio Pepe into the mix.
I so agree with Tim League's pronouncement: not your grandma's sherry - in his BADASS Digest in which he includes my dear friend Tio Pepe. (Caveat: It's an older 2011 article and refers to a sherry tasting at The Highball. Long, long sigh that Highball is N/A right now.)
Poor sherry...so maligned. But I'm apparently not alone in my somewhat late to the party (as always) awakening -- to sherry -- thanks only to that wrong turn in Paris.
Sherry is having a comeback, however, in the US and in London apparently, per this Food and Wine article, Sherry on Top: "Given that sherry hasn’t been fashionable since the late 1700s or so, that’s quite a statement. But in London—and to some degree at restaurants in the US run by forward-looking sommeliers—sherry is having its moment."
There's too much technical detail in that article for me. But I heartily agree with the following based on my empirical study during that early spring evening in Paris. The Food and Wine article linked above reports for Tio Pepe, as one of "5 Great Sherries to Buy":
One of the world’s most popular sherries, this fino is also very good: dry, balanced and crisp, with a light minerally tang. Look also for the limited-production, unfiltered En Rama bottling (#25), which is more intense and exotic.
Yep, Tio Pepe, the time has come. It has been a year. A rough year, true. But still. I have not held true to my promise to stay well-stocked with you in le frigo, lined up there along with my many bottles of random sparkling wines from many countries and the V-8 Splash, which many days substitutes (at least in my mind) for my son's daily vegetable servings when I am not making him haricots verts in garlic and olive oil (the only vegetable he appears to tolerate), which is often.
But your day is coming, Tio, my friend. We will see if you are available at (i) The Austin Wine Merchant or(ii) last resort, Spec's. Hasta luego.
"French," as in French food, is a complex term to define these days. Paris would be, one might assume, full of "French" restaurants just as a matter of fact of being located in France, that lovely and charming but complex Hexagone of gastronomic glory. But when some of Paris's best restaurants these days are run by Americans (i.e., much beloved Verjus, as reported in Saveur and here), deciding what counts as "French"--especially in terms of dining in Austin, Texas--is tricky. In the end it just requires getting ok with very subjective parameters, and so it is for this Guide. All my baggage (the French major thing, the living/going to school-in-France thing, the 17 trips to France for food and other business reasons) informs what I considered "French enough" for this Guide. Do I love Lenoir with all my heart? Absolutely. Does Lenoir remind me of Paris dining (i.e., Verjus) with its dynamic culinary duo owners and emphasis on community and exquisite nicely portioned food and service? Absolutely. But if I include it here, it's a slippery slope and possibly quite divisive and controversial for what else gets included -- like whom to invite to a wedding once you've invited so and so. I may well have missed some very arguably "French" treasures. Feel free to debate any difference of opinion or offer a discerning critique. That is, after all, very French.
Justine's Brasserie First there was Chez Nous (see entry below after this one), a much-loved Austin icon for truly "French" French food. Then Justine's came along in 2009 and really kicked up the French vibe in Austin. Though off the beaten track for some out on East Fifth towards the airport, Justine's has a passionate following for this little white house, surrounded by ample courtyard/patio seating.
(credit for picture here, but the cute picture of just the house does not reflect the current all tricked-out outdoor area)
When I want a Paris fix, I head here and settle in to wait, at the bar, and sip as slowly as I can some of the cocktails, such as my favorite version of a French 75 or the Enfant Terrible. Nice and tart, not sweet. Then I order up either superlative escargots (buttery and hot and garlicky with good bread to soak up every last drop of the hot butter that has fresh garlic infusing it), or a hearty assiette de fromages. All this gets enjoyed, no, relished, while the jazz or Motown albums are playing on the turntable back behind the bar amidst the record library. If you find it too loud inside, which it can be, opt for outside seating in a still charming setting, near the black and white canopy and the Pétanque court.
Inside or out, you get the same great food, such as really tasty soupe à l'oignon gratinée, more escargots, a great steak tartare, coquilles St. Jacques basquaises. Or there is also, in addition to the usual yummy French fare, the daily "market" menu, which kicks up the gastronomy level here with such items as cassoulet, done right: "flageolet beans, duck confit, sausage, bacon, bread crumbs" ($22) and with starters such as "dandelion greens, fried egg vinaigrette, crispty potatoes, country ham" ($12). Crème caramel here is standard-setting and impossible to stop eating once you've started. Justine's is one of the very few (good) real restaurants in town for late-night eating, as well as star-sightings. Justine's has seen its fair share of them: David Byrne, Patrick Stewart, Kat Von D, to name a few.
Before Justine's, way before Justine's, there was Chez Nous, which opened its doors in 1982--when a gallon of gas was just $1.30 and the Dow Jones high for the year was 1,070. Nestled on quiet Neches Street downtown, just off the hustle and bustle of a crazy part of Sixth Street, Chez Nous early on won over our hearts and stomachs. It remains a mainstay and has a firm place in the heart of Austin's Francophile foodie population, despite the kitschy wall decor of painted scenes of Paris Metro stations. The menu remains classically French and consistently excellent. A house paté is offered daily, and a recent sampling of the duck liver one delivered big on flavor. It gets scooped up on what for me is more like New Orleans-style French bread (from Phoenicia). Favorite classics here are the Salade Lyonnaise (with lardons, $8.50, and, really, cannot see having it any other way), the egg poached just right and ready to be broken into at the right moment to run over and slightly warm the greens.
The salade de crudités (photo at left; with the addition of chickpeas in addition to the traditional beets and celery root) may be better than mine, hard to admit, but the Trout Meunière I could never even deign to try to re-create. It exemplifies tasty goodness in a clean, classic execution ($14.50). But if that sounds too high-end for a weekday lunch, the usual French fare for lunch is here too: the croque monsieur, the croque madame, and a sandwich du jour even--in addition to spinach crepes, chicken crepes, and a steak frites, of course ($19.50).
The dinner menu loses the sandwiches and crepes and adds heartier French classics, at a higher price point--worth every penny for a big night out for guaranteed good food. The dinner menu includes such main dishes as lamb chops crusted in herbes de provence and grilled ($33.50), an Entrecôte Béarnaise ($32.50) and a pepper-crusted prime beef tenderloin finished off with a brandy, stock and cream sauce ($37.50). All main courses are served with a side of vegetables (caramelized grilled carrots last time I was there) and highly decadent cream puff-like balls of potatoes, which are their pommes dauphines. A bargain: the "Menu du Jour" option at dinner. For $28.50 you get a three-course meal, with three choices in each category. Parking can be a challenge, but public parking garages ease tremendously what used to be a mild impediment to getting here more often.
In what is becoming a well-developed, and charming foodie and retail area in East Austin, Blue Dahlia bistro sits on East 11th, close to the 11th Street/Rosewood intersection. Though the beautifully composed tartines (open-faced sandwiches with various toppings and sliced into wide slivers) are served on a thicker-sliced soft, but still delicious wheat bread, and not the Poilâne bread used for Paris "tartines," I love Blue Dahila Bistro for, well, anytime. It is especially nice on a long weekend to soak up the feel of the place here: at the outdoor patio seating to be out and about feeling urban, or inside where there are nicely hewn wood tables, including an inviting community table right up front in the sunny front window, near overflowing shelves of breads and a giant basket of baguettes on the counter. A back courtyard is available too for dining, under an ample pergola with leafy vines climbing up into it--and ceiling fans.
Blue Dahlia offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but it really gets its French groove on at night, when it turns to such “Plats du Soir” (after 17h) as duck cassoulet; mushroom crêpes (with a yummy bleu cheese parmesan cream sauce); bouillabaisse with mussels, cod and shrimp ($15.95); and my two favorite classics of all the French classics: coq au vin (this one done with vin blanc and adding some prosciutto for good measure) and a boeuf bourgignon. Though perhaps not so great a beverage for dinner (wine and beer available), but yes for breakfast or any cold afternoon: steamed milk with a side of Ghiradelli chocolate. The bistro has gluten-free options available (both the original and Westlake locations), as well as local and organic produce, etc. as much as possible. Check the calendar for happy hours, wine tastings, and music, at both the original East Austin and Westlake locations. (East Austin location reviewed here.)
Artisan Bistro A loyal following makes this their go-to destination out in Lakeway off Ranch Road 620. With Austin getting smaller by the day it seems as it gets bigger, Lakeway is just not as far away as it seemingly used to be. Do not be put off by the terra cotta stucco exterior of the small retail center where the bistro is located. Get over it and just walk in. (Well, they do really prefer that you make a reservation: they run a lean, highly knowledgeable staff so they will adjust to make sure the loyal client base gets attentive service.)
On entering you will see charming bistro tables, a black and white tile floor, and an open kitchen with shelves piled up high with brightly colored crockery, red, blue, the brown for the soupe à l’oignon gratinée, where you can watch Chef Cesidio d’Andrea do his thing.
If you head for the long comptoir, or counter, as I do, you will get to enjoy your nice glass of wine while you order and watch Chef do his thing in the kitchen, by himself, with an efficiency and energy that makes one feel guilty for sitting there having a nice white Bordeaux.
But you may be distracted before you get seated by the area to your right as you enter the bistro. Here there are tables overflowing with pastries, breads, as well as gift items that would make perfect hostess gifts for a dinner party, such as a lovely bag of fleur de sel de gris, or basil infused olive oil.
Among the pains au chocolat, the croissants, the tarts, the macarons, there are also these little treasures you just do not see much at all around Austin. A bell-shaped pastry that is the specialty of Bordeaux: cannelles. But the real star in my book for the pastries here is a nod to French heritage and Chef's American surroundings: a breakfast bread/pastry that he calls French Toast. It is crispy sugar on the outside, moist and custardy on the inside, reminding of the moist inside of a crispy-on-the-outside French Toast.
Artisan Bistro is open for both lunch and dinner (closed on Mondays (very French)), to star the French classics but with variations on the theme: a boeuf bourgignon, a Cassoulet Toulaisain, a Confit de Canard, and, for starters, some Duck Foie Gras “au torchon” roasted peaches ($14). Of course escargots are an option as well: by the half or full dozen ($9, $13). For the lighter side, there is my favorite salad I order all the time in France (culinary rut): a hot goat cheese (chèvre chaud) salad, but this one adds sundried tomatoes and bacon. (A not too widely known fact: Chef leads gastronomic tours. A chateau in Normandy was mentioned upon inquiry into the details.)
Hopfields Hopfields is styled as a gastropub, and may be more well known for its fine craft beers than its wine selection, but it’s very French. Francophiles rejoice at seeing items not seen since the last trip to France, sandwiches such as the Jambon Beurre ($8), the Merguez Frites ($9), entrées (as in main course) such as a tarte du jour ($8; leek and manchego cheese being a favorite), moules frites ($16) and what is truly the superstar of this lean but high-quality menu: a steak frites ($18).
This is a superlative steak frites. The cooks refuse to cook the steak anywhere above medium (or it used to be this way pretty much…Paris superstar artisanal butcher Hugo Desnoyer would so approve). The quality and cooking of this meat are superb. The steak arrives with a tart dijon mustard artfully swirled around the plate and a round of compound butter sliding off into meat juices and all of it blending into the fries sitting there alongside to sop it all up. Dig in. If the salade verte (with the charming departure from French tradition of adding of a wedge of camembert), leads to your thinking you are back in Paris at a café in the Marais, you are not off base here: the house dijon vinaigrette is the recipe of owner Bay’s Parisian mother in law (Bay’s wife, co-owner Lindsay, is one-fourth French). Along with the expertly selected craft beers and wine choices, you can also enjoy looking through the short but varied list of cocktails—such libations as the 75 Years in Provence or a Port of Havana run $8; some others, such as the Au Fait (Madeira, honey syrup, grapefruit, bitters) run $9.
To accommodate the growing number of Hopfields groupies, the back patio seating area is larger--and full food service out there. In addition to the pub format in the original space, they’ve expanded out into the back portion of the building to add a “traditional” dining room, comprised of charming small nooks that house a few tables where you can have traditional table service (on the pub side you just place your order at the bar). A calm yet simply-staged glamorous, way-in-the-back place is there for bringing your cocktails, beer flight, or bottle of wine back to chill in a quieter seating area. I’m partial to the original pub side of the house. Sit at the community table and make some new friends, or just enjoy sneaking some of those frites doused in butter and steak juice off the plates of your old (as in longtime) friends while you polish off the Cotes du Rhone.
Péché Péché is already well known for serving up Prohibition-era cocktails down on 4th Street, in Austin’s warehouse district, in an upscale ambiance that evokes the lore of absinthe. Péché just feels luscious and decadent as one slips into one of those banquettes and sips on an absinthe cocktail amidst the exposed brick, wood-beamed ceilings, and chandeliers.
But it is also well worth a visit for the good, French-esque food to go along with those cocktails. Owner Rob Pate tells me he has indulged his talented cooking team with an additional two burners to work the food magic back there: from four burners to six. Yes, all this food on just that small amount of real estate (very French).
Péché in my book has the best frites in Austin. They are served up with chipotle and salsa verde. The "Bar Menu" is seriously mouth-watering (they change it up every four months or so), and the more French of those items they are serving up now include a Roasted Marrow and French Fries with Truffled Egg ($20), add escargots for $7; or a hearty Pot au Feu, done here with brisket, ideal for those occasional chilly evenings in Austin. In addition to the extensive bar menu there is a daily menu that is tweeted daily. Examples of recent offerings: crispy duck breast with red wine braised cabbage ($28); boullabaisse ($32); and charcuterie and cheese boards that could easily make a meal. Péché has some great happy hour deals, lasting all day Sundays and Mondays (after the late afternoon opening), and is definitely a food destination in addition to a preferred destination for beautifully crafted Old World cocktails.
épicerie This new addition to the Rosedale neighborhood on Hancock Drive, near Fonda San Miguel, comprises a charming blue bungalow, with fig ivy-covered courtyard walls, and bright orange lettering reflecting the venue's name that immediately connotes France. An épicerie is a little grocery store, not to be confused with a larger, more commercial "supermarché" or "magasin alimentaire" such as a FranPrix and its ilk. Non, une épicerie oozes charm--such as the Epicérie Générale across the street from my last studio rental in Paris, on the rue de Verneuil.
This Austin version of an épicerie is light and bright. White painted chairs, light wood tables, white subway tile behind the counters, great light fixtures; shiny chrome and lovely marble platters display piles of homemade brownies and salted chocolate chip cookies. The white painted shelves comprising the "grocery" include shelves upon shelves of wine, including a Stump Jump Sticky Chardonnay dessert wine from Australia, and numerous other food items, such as orange blossom honey and Mast Brothers chocolate. Once you’re done, for now, drooling over the food items in the “grocery,” it's time to think about food at the café part of épicerie.
Here too favorite French things are featured: there is a grilled comté (cheese) sandwich with tomato soup; an oxtail stew (with anson mills grits, japanese turnips, oven-roasted tomato; $11.99); a comforting roasted chicken (roasted chicken leg, grilled Brussels sprouts, French lentils, mustard; $12.99); tri-tip steak (with frites, grilled green onion, aiilo; $14.99). Salads include an arugula salad, rounded out with a great French bleu cheese (forme d'ambert), pears, marcona almonds, all finished off with a sherry vinaigrette ($8.99). Seating can be outside in a nice courtyard or in the sunny bright interior. Owner Sarah Macintosh has hit on on something special here with the café/grocery concept. In fact, I wish I had done thought of this.
Bakeries & Creperies & Etc.
Baguette et Chocolat Chef Tyson Cole of Uchi and Uchiko fame says this is his go-to place for anything chocolate. The line here on Saturday mornings attests to the quality that gets a superstar chef over there out on Bee Cave Road (a/k/a FM 2244). Regulars know to get there on a weekend morning earlier than later in case a favorite sells out. Enjoying a basket of buttery flaky croissants and a couple of hot chocolates in the Lavazza cups, with Chantilly whipped cream overflowing and dripping down the sides of the cup, is a good way to start a Saturday or Sunday.
Baguette et Chocolat has a considerable array of menu items--definitely something for everyone here: salads, crêpes, paninis, sandwiches (and, of course, the two croques: croque monsieur and his better half the croque madame). The crêpes range from classic flavors and combinations such as the Paysanne (Mornay sauce with chicken, mushrooms and swiss cheese), to a Texas twist: the Texane (chicken, red onions and BBQ sauce). My favorite combination: the Cabri, mixing up for its filling some prosciutto, goat cheese and tomato. The pastry case is so full of classic French pastries, if you close your eyes and squint you would think you were doing some window shopping at a Patisserie somewhere in France. No mistake that: the owner, Chi-Minh, is from Versailles, just outside of Paris, and is a graduate of l’Institut National Boulangerie Patisserie (INBP).
Housed at ground level of the Hampton Inn downtown on San Jacinto near The Four Seasons, the owners of now closed Dreyfus Antiques (I still miss that giant Eiffel Tower structure every time I drive down North Lamar), thankfully opened up Le Café Crepe a few years ago to accommodate what was apparently a pent-up need for something different downtown. The Café quickly gained a following for offering a delicious option for the downtown lunch routine. Downtown diners are lucky they can get here just about any time – crowds permitting – because they do not have to deal with parking. With downtown construction eating into already limited parking, access is a little tricky on a weekday, but always worth it once you settle in.
With charming interior décor, those cheery yellow walls and French signage, the Cafe's crêpes here are on the classic side, but with a nod to the local vibe with The Hampton (turkey pastrami, blue cheese, spinach, tomatoes, green onion, and avocado ($8.75)) and the allure of all things French (for some of us), with The Eiffel (chicken, provolone cheese, tomatoes, asparagus ($8.25)). And though the sweet crepes have classics as well, I am partial to one of the fancier ones, La Fromagère, with brie, pear, walnuts and honey ($8.10); the classics (nutella, la canella (cinnamon)) will run from a modest $5.50 to around $7.
En plus, and très français as well for spending an afternoon, there is WiFi access at the café. So while away an afternoon sitting outside, at a café table under an umbrella, and enjoy those classics with a big bowl-like cup of café au lait, or an Orangina. (Or with wine and beer options as well, and save the coffee for after.) Construction downtown as of March 1, 2013 has Le Café Crepe boxed in for a time, but it is still open and still the place for a crêpes fix in the heart of downtown.
Flip Happy Crepes (trailer)
Austin’s most relatively famous creperie, Flip Happy Crepes, is a refurbished silver trailer (some say it’s an avion; in video footage the owners call it an Airstream) is just off Barton Springs Road, behind the building at 400 Josephine Street. Here, surrounded by condos and a vibrant commercial area of new eateries, is a plot of nature with giant trees towering over bright red picnic tables and colorful café tables and chairs. Here sits Flip Happy Crepes, which received national exposure in 2007 when Bobby Flay of Food Network fame came to town with his Throwdown series to take on the crepes of owners Nessa Higgins and Andrea Day Boykin (they have been friends since kindergarten).
Weekend mornings bring out families or those taking a pause while walking the dog on the Lady Bird Lake trail to linger here for a break. Line up at the window for placing your order for sweet and savory crepes: the most popular sweet ones being cinnamon sugar (ground almonds, buttery hot and sugary with whipped cream) and the vanilla pastry cream with blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries (pictured below). If you’ve really worked up an appetite, the Peanut Butter Delight usually is ample enough for two persons, or one person who just did the 5-mile loop.
The flavors on the savory part of the menu include classic French creperie items: roasted chicken & mushroom & caramelized onion, or another one with tarragon, mushroom, goat cheese, spinach and caramelized onion and tomatoes. Other show some funky Austin flair, such as in the shredded pork with carmelized onions and white cheddar ($6.95).
Worried about the kiddos not liking a full-sized crepe at the full price? Check out the Kids Menu: a "Mini Crepe" option exists ($3.75), for cheese only or ham and cheese or chicken and cheese, and a Nutella Roll-Up for a modest $2.50.
Prepare for a bit of a wait – but enjoy the sun, the trees, and the fact that you’re in Austin. Pick up orders are available, call 512.552.9034, but time it just right. You want that buttery hot cinnamon crêpe (pictured at left) the minute it’s ready. Limited hours, so check the website frequently.
On a crowded corner on South Congress at Gibson Street, away from the heavier concentration of food trailers, is the shiny Airstream trailer for Crepes Mille. Run by two (very) young and adorably energetic women, this spot gets crowded with folks vying for room to sit at the picnic tables plus line up and place an order for one of these super funky creations. There are deliciously well done twists on the classic crepes. You will not see Oreos or Marshmallows on the menu for a typical crêpe stand in Paris, but the combinations here are right on and gorgeous upon arrival. Case in point, one of the most popular: The Parisian, including brie, milk chocolate, strawberries and whipped cream.
If the combined effect of the busy corner and the line and the tables feels too claustrophobic, just be patient because heaven awaits: grab the crepe (figure about a 5-7 minute wait most days) and take it to go. Walk down esoterically scenic South Congress, with a big smile on your whipped cream- or powdered sugared-face once you take that first bite of crepe: a hint of a crispy outside, yet tender, with butter or chocolate or whatever you selected. Lots of lovely combinations are available in addition to The Parisian, such as The Caramelized Pear and French Toast, but make up your own crepe too for $5. Pick from a line-up of fillings, such as almond butter, honey butter, or classic crepe ingredient nutella, then pick a topping from another list of toppings, such as bananas and bluebell Ice cream. Do not worry that whipped cream is not on the list of options for a topping. You will be asked when they call your name and you pick up with crepe. Enjoy mixing it up with the South Congress crowds among other nearby hotspots, Perla’s and Hopdoddy, and maybe even work up an appetite for another one. Check the web site for their current (limited) hours.
Melvin's Deli * Comfort (trailer; 53rd/Duval)
Melvin's, this cute red trailer, makes this list because of one food item. No, better to call this item an event. It is the Melvin's Croque Monsieur. It does not matter where you are in Austin between the hours of 11 and 2 on a weekday (the only hours Melvin's is open for business). You really owe it to yourself to have Melvin’s Croque Monsieur. Sure, it’s a little out of the way for some, at 53rd and Duval, but you should really have this Croque Monsieur. But have it only if you really like great (Gruyere) cheese, finely cured high-end meats and bread and béchamel sauce all mixed in together with a stout Dijon mustard. If you don’t like cheesy messes, then you can skip this. And if you're not into finely crafted and cured meats (such as the superlative ham on this food event), then you can skip this. And if you’re being really French and not too keen on eating a café classic with your hands, this may not work for you. But you’d be missing out. Other sandwiches coming out of this humble trailer are also recognized around town by foodies because of the fine meats. But the croque monsieur is the show-stealer. Eat it while it’s hot. Right there in the parking lot where the trailer is parked.
Thanks, Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide, for giving me an excuse to go eat more and park illegally all over Austin getting the pictures.
I got back from France on Tuesday, with what I have taken to calling "my Parisian cold," crammed in the work, and made it to the Food, the City, and Innovation Conference at UT (specifically, The Food Lab at UT) this past Friday/Saturday. In fact, that trip to France was compelled for many reasons, but primarily for getting up-to-date intel on what the France start-up scene looks like in the food systems sector. Not just so I can be a part of that dialogue as well and connect us with the innovations over there, but also to figure out which one of the many ill-fitting, half-made hats I am trying on these days -- putative food entrepreneur, food system critic/problem-solver to entrepreneurs -- suits me best.
Between the head cold, the work, the brain-smashingingly awesome new jargon I learned (e.g., "hyper-local" and "restorative ecosystems" and "food system resiliency" and "bio-economy") that infuses the debate about local, sustainable, urban agriculture, by the time Friday night's dinner rolled around I was doing good just to get myself there. I had no idea what it was that I had purchased a ticket for months earlier. But someone had come all the way from Delaware just to see her friend, Molly O'Neill, run this show. I started to take it all a bit seriously.
All I knew was the space was gorgeous. We were there early, Melissa and I, to be almost first in line at the bar (tequila tasting, etc. and an actually pretty darn good Texas wine) and take in what this place, this thing was going to be.
As in many, many things, I was starting to learn that I am a little late to the party on this food systems stuff. Yet I come at it from such a different perspective - funding/legal challenges these folks face as they (we) seek to change the world (lawyers, we're such total buzzkillers) - but even though I am late, I am delighted to be seeing my city in a whole different light. Much like I saw Paris for the first time in a very different way this time: the young, hipster, smart entrepreneur/challenge the system side. (Young being an operative word.)
I had just learned about Hope Farmers Market that day, and it so happens that this particular market, when it happens, is at this Pine Street Station where the LongHouse Food Revival Dinner was happening. It is a complex of old barn buildings or lean-tos, with rafters, soaring ceilings, and metal siding and roofing, just east of I-35, which can be rented out for private events. Exquisitely rustic. I take pictures. I look for snacks to accompany the really not bad at all, and really pretty good, Texas red wine. Melissa finds Iliana de la Vega. They do their gorgeous Spanish thing. I do not even try to keep up.
Soon we are herded from the now very energetic crowd of folks around the bar, under the lights, into a separate room, one that is not the dining room. This concerns me, as I am very hungry. And the dining room looked so adorable all set up improvised like in a farm to table dinner-at-the-field/farm dinner.
But as the music starts -- guitars, some percussion, some singing -- I am easily distracted from the crankiness of no food. (The tamales out for aperitif dining were great, but I stopped after a couple of halves....practicing moderation.)
I am handed a gorgeous program. I am very critical of printed products. This one is really well done: lovely font, lovel graphics, right size. I sit on a back row with new friend, whom I figure out I must have partied with here in 1990 in the early post-grad school transition year to law school, and long-time friend Melissa from that same era (who also knew said new/re-met friend).
Now the magic begins. LongHouse Food Revival is a multi-media performance art statements of sorts about food. Our food stories. Our communities and our food, our personas and our food. Including recipe demonstrations -- Iliana de la Vega - poems, with powerful visual background of a daughter's recounting her memories or mother's soup juxtaposed against the loss of her mother to dementia; more music, interviews - with Gustavo Arellano of the Ask a Mexican column - with Melissa Guerra, a Nortena, whose husband, Kiko, we learn is the one out there cooking the cabrito. Ah, so there's a goat on the fire. That's what that's all about out there.
We hear this other Melissa's back story, her 300+ year old cattle ranch around the border, the many hours of getting here, the many hours her awesome husband (her words) has been tending the cabrito - just for us to eat.
It is cumulatively charming, inspiring. Even with the flawed sound system.
Molly has some serious verbal skills. I was a little jealous, yea, but between my cold and the red wine, I just sat back and delighted in her prose in setting up the various stages of this event, in explaining what she does - to those of us who were clueless.
LongHouse Food Revival is this:
Based on the 19th century American Chautauqua movement, LongHouse Food Revivals are a series of annual gatherings of thought leaders across the United States. The Revivals are designed to stretch the boundaries of how food stories are told, raise the bar on the nation’s food news agenda and, most of all, foster the community between generations, regions, cultures and media platforms that support innovative work of the highest quality. Produced by CookNScribble, the online educational resource and virtual editorial office for food writers, bloggers and producers, LongHouse Food Revivals are intimate gatherings that are large in vision. No two Revivals are alike. All are serious fun
After that, I lingered. I loaded up on beads, set up in the bottom bin of a rustic wood display stand. Molly applauds me for getting that I needed to get some beads. The NOLA thing in me I guess. I see beads. I grab. Told Molly, genuinely, this was so well done. I love it. Needed it. Have found my people.
At the end of all that, and then the meeting of new friends--the Shrimp Boat Projects guys, a landscape architect professor specializing in urban agricultural designs and rhetoric (I felt very out-intellectualized)--there were small cups of Mexican hot chocolate. Some ice cream. I went for the chocolat chaud.
Said newfound old acquaintance of mine, who does a lot of cool things in Austin, echoed my own random thoughts at about that same time when she said: This is the coolest thing I have ever done in Austin.
I have been stalking Frenchie, one of the most sought-after reservations in Paris, for some time. And then, after months of attempting, a friend in Paris gets me a reservation weeks before my trip. I am agog. I look forward to this - for all those weeks - to Thursday night, January 24, at 19h. Yea, I made it there. Barely. But because of something like a stomach flu that morning, I was not in prime form. Indeed, I could not eat the main course at all, and barely held it to gether to take a stab at the beautiful entree. Yes, after all that anticipation and longing and yearning. The best laid plans...just sometimes are not the best thing at all.
Instead, I prefer to look at the Frenchie bust amidst some amazingly unexpected and wonderful food events here.
First: the invitation of faculty at the University of Angers to sit in on the high-end intense wine-tasting class - and, even better, lunch with the gastronomy faculty, including Olivier Etcheverria and Jean-Rene Morice, and the well-known sommelier/wine professor/professional, Jean-Michel Monnier, also on the faculty, Although the chemistry of wine, aromas - and the physiology of taste through the nose and mouth were heady stuff, especially in French - I may have grasped, for the first time, just how one can actually start to discern the many layers of nuance in a wine. Once you learn to taste and experience, all of that starts to come to light. Lunch with this group, discussing gastronomy, agriculture, tourism/economic development - and how it works with Austin's food scene - totally unexpected. Totally fortuitous. Much good work and dialogue to come in the realm of Austin-Angers connections.
Second, the surprise of such an unassuming facade, for such a tiny footprint of a storefront that is Chez Remi in Angers, could be such an utter delight inside: in terms of setting, the welcome, and the food. Chef Remi will be in Austin for SxSW. I hope he plans to make some of the creamy bright orange squash soup with chorizo that I had there as an entree (starter). Pretty sure I am going to like anything he makes.
Third, later that night, before the expectedly very classy meal at Une Ile, there was a quick stop for a pre-meal drink (sometimes my favorite part of a meal actually) with some Angers music professionals/agents at a wine bar: all organic wine. Great place to prepare the palate for the fine wines at Une Ile. This is Le Cercle Rouge. It is just the kind of ambiance I like: stone walls, rough and tumble mismatched furniture for seating, sort of loud music/surroundings for an old person such as myself, but not too hipster that I feel totally awkward. I was with cool (and much younger) people so that helped.
Fourth, the generosity of the complete strangers I have been connected with to get insights into how France is handling its food system issues with technology and/or plain ole innovation. As part of that effort, I am introduced via email to web developer/entrepreneur/food addict extraordinaire Cedric Giorgi, founder of Cookening.com. (Cedric will be in Austin this March for SxSW.) Cookening connects people wanting to have the in-home dining experience - like a dinner party in someone else's home, when you get to meet other people, from other countries ideally, just as interested in eating and meeting new people as you are.
Cedric not only says sure, let's talk when you're in Paris, but organizes a lunch for me, for Friday January 25. After blowing me away with the menu for his dinner party the night before - crazy - he introduces me to folks from La Ruche qui dit oui, including Marc-David Choukron, joining us for my "Paris Food Startups 101" class of sorts. (Marc-David was in Austin last year for SxSW.) I meet them at a really nifty wine bar in Paris, Chez Pierre, in an area I've been having to be in quite a bit these days. Delightful place. Cute staff, informal, good food, fast, inexpensive. Cool furnishings: wood, stone, 1960s-ish simple furniture. I learn there is a genuinely gorgeous cave down below, for private parties, with a huge long impressive table. Maybe for my birthday some year.... And it was very gratifying that Cedric felt sorry for me and my failed foodie dream at Frenchie. He was amazed I could even get a reservation - impossible - he says, is the rule there for reservations. Yea, I know. Sigh.
Fifth, I unexpectedly run into an event that allows certain myths to live on: the French beret. On a bitter cold day, a very gregarious and generous man is bellowing out in the street, outside a restaurant, where he is standing with a hot cauldron of the classic winter libation in Paris, vin chaud. He is just giving it away. He is wearing a beret.
I was delighted to get the chance to eat with the family again. Amazing leftovers on the last Sunday night supper with them a few months ago. But this Sunday night was very different. They still called it a simple dinner....Here are the courses, in the order in which they were served.
Cream of Pumpkin Soup. With an extra dose of awesomeness: slices of foie gras, which we were told to place at the bottom of the bowls into which our pumpkin soup was then ladled. This was, um, very tasty.
Salade. With the "house" sauce - the balsamic vinaigrette they make up regularly and always have at the ready in a glass jar for serving.
Homemade Quiche. Imagine an enormous ceramic quiche dish, the size of a small wagon wheel, or so it seemed. And two of such vessels for the quiche(s): This was dinner for 12+ after all. One type of quiche was not enough for Matriarch (and superb cook) Anne apparently. She made two, each with a superb buttery homemade crust, one a cheese quiche; the other a leek and goat cheese quiche. One slice of each was served to each of us. (Whew, because I was going to be hard-pressed to pick which one I wanted.)
Cheese. Anne announced that because there was cheese in the quiche, she was not planning to serve cheese...(so reasonable and moderate these French), but would anyone want a little taste of cheese? She looks over at me. I look at her. I really want some cheese. The cheese here is no doubt, again tonight, from master cheese vendor Laurent Dubois. Liz, would you like some? Well, okay, maybe just a taste. They were raving about this particular goat cheese after all. And the wine that night, a nice Bordeaux, yes, that sounded so right for a nice Laurent Dubois cheese.
An array of cheese arrives.
The guys go nuts over one of them. Me, my eye is on this chevre (pictured here in the middle). I will need to ask Anne, again, for the name of it. The one they are loving is, I learn, a Mont-d'Or, and comes with a spoon to scoop it out. That's all I need. Another cheese to add to my favorites list.
Benoit and, I think it was Gregoire, are digging into the Mont d'Or remains. They love it. And I understand why after I try it. This, with a garlic bruschetta as in this recipe, it's almost too much decadence to think of consuming, but I am absolutely going to make this. Soon.
Anne exclaims how happy she is when the family finishes up the little pieces of cheese hanging around. I, in the meantime, am sneaking sliver after sliver of this goast cheese. Benoit: can you please pass the wine?
Dessert. Yes, there is more. Anne says she has a very very simple dessert.
It is lovely and classic: A tureen of pears poached in red wine. Anne says it is the first recipe she ever made. I agree with her: the sauce this dish creates is divine. Some little butter cookies go around to go with it. I do not get many pears - all that cheese you know - but nevertheless try the little biscuit to get in the sprit of things.
And then we are done. The kids (adults all of them) do the dishes. A new batch of sauce is made to replenish the glass carafe that is almost empty of the week's supply of truly a "house" vinaigrette. The guys start to gather around the TV. A big (soccer) match is on TV.
I say my good-byes. I would catch an early train the next morning for Angers. I go out one last time into the Paris night in this unbelievable snow and near the Seine and the vistas of the two islands, to get some cash. I meant to be gone for a few minutes. I was gone for an hour. Paris, on a Sunday night covered in snow, was very quiet. Hardly any cars. Hardly any people. Could not help but walk. And walk.
It had been a great food day already. I did not need much else. I considered a simple goat cheese tartine, on Poilane bread, at Le Pick Clops, a favorite from long, long time ago trips to Paris. I settled in at the bar at Le Pick Clops for an aperitif and some of the popcorn they were serving therewith. With the Michael Jackson tunes going (Pretty Young Thing, Beat It...), and the place bubbling over with activity when outside was bitter cold, it seemed right to stay all night. But the unwelcome conversation from someone next to me, about trash pick-up services in Nantes, Paris, Lille and Toulouse, finally got the best of me.
In what I thought could be a flash of inspiration (after two small glasses of red wine), I decided to brave the hot dog stand there on the rue Vieille du Temple. There was a line after all. How bad could it be? ....
I see they have a Tex-Mex version. Chile con carne. I order it, saying I'd like to check that out as there is a fair amount of Tex-Mex in my part of Tex. I started to be a little afraid though, so asked the proprietor what the most popular hot dog is. He said people mostly go for the "onion confit." Well, I'll take that instead then. And when he showed me the "chile con carne" I was glad I made that call. The "chile" was just black beans and corn. I ask him how popular the place is, who the clientele is. He was a little evasive. I get the hot dog.
Now, I am not a big fan of hot dogs. But the last one I had was awesome. Grilled outside on an open fire on a beach, with a toasty bun likewise grilled outside over the open fire. I walk back toward the Hotel de Ville with the dog. At least it is warm. One bite. Oh. Not quite the crispy grilled beach-side dog of recent memory. One more bite to confirm maybe I'm missing something. No. Not missing anything. It can be disposed of. Too soft; too bland; too - just not right at all. At least lunch was spectacular.
Lunch was at Les Papilles. It had been on my list for a couple of years. It is close to home base. It is a Saturday. I figure a nearby & casual wine shop/spice shop, whose menu says you can tailor your meal to as large or small as you like, would be a great option for a wintry snowy day.
The lunch did not get off to a great start. I walk in; hardly anyone is there. Great! But it is a little more formal than I envisioned. I ask whether I can sit just anywhere - hilarious - and the proprietor asks me : Vous connaissez le restaurant? I pause for a very long period of time pondering this question. I think to myself: Well, I'm here aren't I? So yes, I know the restaurant. Not sure what he means, so he repeats in English. Ugh. Dude. I KNOW what you're saying : I don't get what you're getting at. What he was getting at was this: reservations only, one set meal for the day, no choices. Ah, sure, I'm cool with that. He guides me to a table for 2 right in front of the front door with the 20 degree wind whistling through. I question (nicely) whether there is something else maybe not right next to the door where it is Siberia? No- only thing left that is not reserved. Well, I will be delighted to take it then, I say. And when he turned down a couple that came in right after me, because there were no more places and they had not reserved, I smugly settled in, wrapping all my scarves around me.
As I settle in, he tells me I can pick whatever bottle of wine I want in the place to accompany my lunch. One entire wall of the restaurant is nothing but rows and rows of wine bottles. Well, I only need like 2.5 glasses I mention to him. He offers up why don't I start with a glass of white, then red (they will choose) and handle it that way. Perfect!
The first course was a cauliflower soup, with swirls of lovely olive oil through it, poured over creme fraiche, lardons, thick buttery garlicy croutons. Posted on that yesterday. I noticed, later, that every table got a tureen of soup. But as I was just one person with no one with whom to share, I alas on this set menu got the same amount. In short, I should not have had those extra ladles of soup. Oh, but it was so, so very good. I could have stopped there and been very happy.
Next, some very slow cooked pork - terrine - almost but not really - simmering in some tiny white beans, snow peas, roasted carrots. Served in a copper vessel. Again, I think this was for 2-3 people. But I was one.
I know there is a cheese course coming, and a dessert - a banana panna cotta (!) - so I just cannot do this lovely dish justice. I do take my time with it though because of the group of people next to me. Obviously very wealthy - (American) parents and their adult son - with exquisite taste in wine, and frequent visitors to this place. They were planning their trips around the world for the rest of the year. But I would soon get to hear all about, without really even trying, the son's upcoming marriage, the parents' concern about how to handle his fortune and inheritance - the pros and cons of a pre-nup, etc. Fascinating. All discussed in an extremely nice way, with the son against the idea, as it did not seem like a nice way to welcome someone into the family. Even more hilarious : They were definitely from Texas, and maybe even Austin.
When the proprietator checks on me and my status with the lovely porc, I know he is dismayed at my not finishing it. I know this is such bad form in France. But I just cannot. I look up at him. I tell him, imploring him: "I can't, I just can't - I know the cheese and the dessert are still to come." Oh, but the cheese....it is very small, he says, smiling.
Sigh. I go in for just a few more bites. They were good ones. Glad I did.
Finally, his helper clears that all away. And then, yes, the really lovely bleu cheese.
I had been reading a French newspaper from 2 days ago to make sure the American aristocrats next to me did not censor their conversation because it really was so intriguing. Not the subject matter necessarily. I was just really impressed at how well all of them handled the touchy subject. No drama. Just logical arguments, a conflict in their points of view.
The food finale finally came. The banana panna cotta. And then I had to order coffee. Just seems incomplete to have that kind of lunch and no shot of espresso after. And the bill came. It was not bad at all for this experience. I will definitely go again - with a larger group of persons besides one (1) - and I will reserve.
And I will not be trying a hot dog again in Paris.
I read a lot about Paris. Food, restaurant, wine bar reviews. But I know enough from flawed experiences that someone else's good review and experience may not be mine. It was with optimistic anticipation that I nevertheless headed to l'Avant Comptoir yesterday, a wine bar, for a quick re-fueling after 6 a.m. Paris arrival at CDG, RER trip into the city, coffee with my hosts--where we discussed the U.S. jury system and the purview of the judge and jury in questions of law and fact--and a five-hour nap.
The obvious choice was to use the first of the limited, not already-booked nights in Paris to try the Verjus wine bar. The restaurant, yes, sublime experience in April, but need to get in and try that wine bar my fav food writers love so much. Closed.
What now. Paris by Mouth's list of wine bars, by arrondissement, comes in handy. If I am not walking all the way to Palais Royal in the bitter cold, I should try a new place that is close. L'Avant Comptoir, already on the list I always keep in my head (when my post-45 ailing memory can recall the list), is on their list. Done.
It is a short walk away, over at the Carrefour de l'Odeon. Straight shot down Boulevard St. Germain.
Enter. Let's see what this is all about.
Unassuming at first. A group of young 'uns from a country in Asia is placing a large order for crepes and gauffres (waffles). I ask them, after politely waiting and studying the food items signage hanging from the ceiling, if they are waiting for wine. (When I am hungry, and food/wine is just right there, I do not mince words). They were not. I squeeze by and settle in at the counter (the "comptoir") and work on figuring out the drill here.
I ask if I order right there, from the master organizer of everything I figure out (and whose name is Eric/Erik/Erich (with red hair, en plus)). I admitted I wanted a little help with the red wine selection. Well, he says, what do you like? "Uh, everything?" I say. (Bad start to new year's reoslution to increase wine vocabulary).
He says, smiling: "What matters is what interests you right now."
Me: "Well, I just arrived from Texas this morning. I have not slept much, have not eaten much, and am starving." (rough English translations from the French, or what I recall of it...)
He ponders. He turns around look through the wine array. I order in the meantime what Dorie Greenspan must have been talking about as "voluptuous" in terms of some fried ham croquette thing.
The wine comes. One sip in and I am writing the name down to email Austin Wine Merchant and see how this can become the new go-to red wine at Chez Liz. Because what do you know, it is a Cotes du Rhone. I'm not sure I need to drink any other wine for the rest of my life.
At the comptoir, there are plates of enormous blocks of butter, with butter knives plunged deep into them. There are giant crocks brimming with cornichons, wire baskets of a Poilane-like bread. And Eric the Red is preparing all of the delectible bites in a space the size of tiny Manhattan closet, a tiny "kitchen," right there (cooktop and toaster oven), with all the ingredients incredibly well-arranged in plastic containers in a tiny regrigerator.
As Eric left the bottle of my new favorite wine right in front of me, I ask if I just help myself, as he had chosen to place the entire bottle right there in front of me. He smiles again and says, non, though it does look that way, j'arrive to pour your wine for you. (I really love having wine poured for me.)
Next item to order: I opt for the foie gras brochette. Eric asks if I am from California - non, I say, foie gras still legal in Texas. Thankfully.
More orders for crepes at the window. Eric manages the food orders, deliveries coming in. He handles all the food prep - except the crepes and gauffres. He handles the friendly banter with old and new friends. He speaks great English to the English couple that had come in and, to my surprise, just stared ordering in English without even asking if he spoke English. It is an amazingly well-orchestrated operation in this small space.
The fois gras brochette arrives: hot, seared tiny pieces of yummy fatty melt-in-your-mouth foie gras, roasted red pepper bites in between - a balsamic vinegar tangy glaze. Now this just feels dream-like.
I tell Eric this wine could not be more perfect for me tonight. He chose well. Thank you. And when he launched into the tutoyer with me too, I get that everyone gets the friendly tutoyer, not just longtime friends. And, enfin, I say:
"Monsieur Eric - I will need the addition when you have a minute."
He stops in his tracks. Stares at me.
"Madame Texas, I will get that for you right away."
He smiles and asks my name. We shake hands. Tell him I will see him again very soon.
I wonder why people never listen to me when I try to steer them away from what they think is a quintessential Paris experience. A friend of a friend told me her family would be dining at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower over a holiday. I had on good authority from American almost-chef friend that the food there was lifeless and a waste of time. This was someone who could afford to eat and drink anywhere and everywhere in Paris - and has, so knows full well there is far, far better food to be had in the city. I tried to subtly suggest to the friend of a friend not doing this - a stupendous waste of money. Why not hang out and see what Paris is really like?
I said something to Eric like this place was "pas mal." He smiles, getting the joke, because he knows it is awesome, and says I came at a good time to really enjoy it. Not the huge crowd (I can barely move by now it is getting so crowded).
I step out into Paris and it starts to snow.
Later on, in a cozy cafe on the Ile St. Louis, over French Onion Soup, and a nice chat with a table of Professors from Toronto, whom I let have the last of my carafe of Bordeaux as I could not polish it off, I watch the snow come down harder, and watch snowball fights in the street in front of me.
There is nothing quite like a hunting expedition to get one back to nature and thinking about the food production cycle. Here in the so-called (but fondly labeled) granola-like People's Republic of Texas community that is Austin, which I love, there is not much talk of hunting in my neck of these woods. There has been as part of recent gun control debates, yes, and it is here in this climate that it just never came up for me to mention that my son shot his first deer over Thanksgiving - a nice 8-point buck. I get the sense that talking about such things around here might be a little inappropriate politically, so I said nothing about it until recently. (As he also was the only one in our group to catch a fish on the family fishing expedition in Galveston over the summer, which fish we thoroughly enjoyed for dinner soon thereafter, I am thinking I want him on my team when it comes to some outdoor survival situation.)
Truth to tell though, I grew up around all this. Grew up hearing about deer leases and quail and dove hunts. Grew up seeing the freezer full of plastic bags with tiny little birds (quail). Hunting - and guns - were all part of this. When I lived in France in that idyllic Junior Year in France time, my host family in the pre-Paris phase, in Tours, took me out with them to their country home. Out around all the hunting dogs. And around all the guys setting out on foot with their hunting rifles. Or whatever they were. All I remember are the adorable dogs, dozens of them, and being relegated to a small bicycle to keep up that had my knees up into my chest.
In terms of sustainability and organic local food, getting out and hunting or fishing is as basic and primal as you get. The deer? All being processed into prime cuts such as backstrap, as well as jalapeno cheddar sausage, and also mounted (European style). No waste.
We do not think too often of where our food comes from. Out in the countryside, catching and hunting your own food, you get a bigger picture of the food cycle and how we end up with the food we enjoy so well in our favorite restaurants. Though the world is sharply divided into what items are appropriate for human consumption--meat/no meat; dairy/no dairy--it would probably surprise many to know that, at least from my limited experience with this hunting world, there is considerable respect and even love for the land and its bounty.
Which brings us to another love for the bounty of the land, of a different sort. This brings us to artisanal butchering in Paris and Hugo Desnoyer. Hugo's butcher shop in the 14th arrondissement of Paris is right next to the well-respected Jeu de Quilles restaurant. Friends dining at Jeu de Quilles recently, who apparently told Hugo (who had stopped by the restaurant to visit with his colleagues, the owner/staff of Jeu de Quilles) of a certain American foodie friend who was a little starstruck when she met him back in February 2012, scored a copy of Hugo's book. (He is after all, said to be by some the best butcher in Paris, if not in all of France.)
Hugo even signed the book. The inscription reads (per my rough translation): "To Lisette (what my friends and certain French persons call me in France), hoping that this little work gives you a better image of our wonderul metier (profession)! [something I can't read/translate well] Merci la vie! Hugo D--
I did not know what to expect. I recently read it. I get it now.
For any great artist--be it a chef, a painter, a baker, a candlestick maker--there has got to be an almost incomprehensible to others passion for the subject matter. And so it is for Hugo. I get that he is passionate about the subject matter of the butcher's work: the animal, the animal's happiness in its life, its comfort at the time of slaughter, the poetry of just the right cut of the meat to bring out the best of the animal, and the optimal cooking of it to respect the purity of a perfectly raised, slaughtered, and aged piece of meat.
Hugo's view of meat, the animal, the right treatment and the right cut does not purport to engage in the sometimes rabid debate about meat and no meat. He quotes a former President of the National Cancer Institute of France as contrapoint to others decrying the consumption of meat for health reasons: "In eating meat, think to verifying the meat's origins, choose French meat fed naturally. Do not overcook it." He eschews the debate and does not purport to take sides. He wrote the book instead just to communicate "la passion de ma vie : celle pour la viande - cet univers gore, puissant, sexy et puissamment vivant. Bousculant tant, c'est mon metier de boucher. Et vous verrez : la viande, ce n'est pas l'ennemie." Hugo, p. 12 (very rough translation: ...the passion of my life - for meat - this universe of gore, this powerul, sexy, and powerfully alive universe. So disruptive/upsetting this my metier of butcher. And you will see : meat, it is not the enemy.")
In the book we learn that Hugo was rather non-conformist. Not all that great at school. Kept getting into trouble. He left at the age of 15. He went out into the world from his small town of 739 inhabitants, to Paris, to learn his craft from the ground up. He was disgusted at the slipshod nonchalance and deficient work ethic at Paris butcher shops at which he was apprenticed.
Now he can practice his art, his metier, his way. He writes that he spends two hours a day with his guys (les gars) preparing his shop window to make it look its very best. He takes considerable pleasure in wrapping up the meat, for the most pleasing presentation for his customer. He enjoys thinking about his work being extended into its next life, in the kitchens of his customers, once the carefully-wrapped package of meat leaves his shop.
He cultivates close relationships with farmers. He learns which ones care for the animals and ensure their happy, stress-free lives. He visits the farms to keep an eye on the operations to make sure they live up to the standards he requires to care for the animals.
He even has a philsophy and instructions for the moment of slaughter. Hard to imagine this moment. If I saw it, I am sure I would never eat meat again. But we eat meat all the time, those of us who do, and we live in the denial of that reality. For Hugo, this moment is critical to exercising his craft in the way that has made him so renowned and sought after for the final product. The animal must not be stressed at the moment of slaughter. (p. 44) It must be completely comfortable. To help with the de-stressing, Hugo asks the small number of hand-picked slaughterhouses with which he works to play classical music at this critical moment. Any stress in the animal -- the meat quality suffers. He avoids the quick money in selling the meat immediately. For him, there must be a wait to secure the optimal quality. Money sacrificed for quality: the essence of a locavore movement and slow food.
All of the extra steps he demands to respect the animal and the meat add up to limited volume: the additional time he takes before he can sell the meat, the limited quantites of meat to begin with given the rigors of how the animals must be cared for : all this severely constrains the volume of business. Truly the essence of what we know as artisanal, and are beginning to take note of in the US -- even for butchers.
Some of the same principles that inform Hugo's craft are found in this trend in US artisanal butchers. Such as a vegan who sought a way to ethically get meat back into her diet (besides bacon, which was her gastronomic slippery slope into eating meat) and ended up being a "game changer" for "well-raised meat" in the meat production world.
My son keeps asking me when the meat from his first deer will arrive. Soon, I say, reluctantly, as I wonder how on earth I will cook all this. I will never tell my son that this outdoor experience of food production--the hunting and the eating--is more than a little French and rather foodie-esque. I am subtly working on the foodie side of him. But the next time I am in Paris, enjoying Hugo's melt-in-your mouth charcuterie at Jeu de Quilles, I'll have that picture of the son with his 8-point buck handy. Will help give me a little street cred. And maybe get me a nice recipe for that venison tenderloin.
I had the illogical compulsion in this holiday party/holiday get-together season to get in a dinner at Lenoir before Christmas. Maybe because the last (and first) time I went, I vowed I would go once or twice a month. At least. Or maybe it is because the Paris/France trip is looming, and my France longing is in full swing, and Lenoir reminds me of Verjus and Paris. And now suddenly it is a few months later and no second time, much less a third or fourth time, for a return trip to Lenoir for that long-ago promise. We know how these things go.
So I made the reservation. Couple of noteworthy points for that recent visit.
1. Service here is as service should be. (We had Clinton helping us out.) That is to say, it is more French than what we sort of think is ok and expected in the USA. By that I mean there is no intrusive frequent slew of inquiries into how is everything. Instead, there is the just right amount of ensuring all is well and the just right amount of attentiveness and intuitiveness to know when something might be needed. Compare with Freedmen's from the Thursday night mescal cocktail night (was a rough week), and the 3-4 persons who each made a round about every 5 minutes to interrupt and ask how things were for us, while I was busy solving the week's problems with a friend. I like the place, really, but brilliant streams of consciousness over the great cocktail were interrupted far too often for my 47-year-old brain to get back to that stream after assuring everyone several times that everything was fine. (Sort of cute in the over-eagerness. Loved the smoked turkey though.)
2. Back to Lenoir. I liked everything we had. But one item was exceptional. Fortunately Anne was there early enough to beat me for the 7:30 reservation and get seated at the bar to be there when someone else, who was eating dinner at the bar, exclaimed over whatever she was eating: "Oh my God. This is amazing." Anne found out what it was. We each ordered it. It was this:
butternut mole tortelli / roasted brussel sprouts / amaretti crumble / lime butter
We asked for bread so we would not have to lick our plates to get the last of the crumble and the butter off.
We asked how long this unearthly delight would be on the menu - forever?
Clinton told us: yes, lots of good reviews on this one, yes we'll keep it on the menu----for a couple of weeks.
Oh. This is sad news. Just a couple of weeks. The window of this happiness opportunity will be closing soon. Run. Go try it. The tang of that lime with the crumble texture and the crispy Brussels sprouts (chopped up tiny and crunchy, as a garnish almost) with the smooth richness of the butternut mole - it's pretty darn awesome. Served up in that nice (French-like again) small portion. Just enough to thoroughly enjoy it. Not too much a serving so as to get too full and not fully appreciate the next course.
Well done, and see you very soon, Lenoir, before 2013 rolls around here any day now.
For my last night in Paris, a Sunday, friend Maureen had wanted to treat me to a cocktail at the Plaza Athenee, which any other time would have sounded fantastic. But on this exhausting trip, and on this last night staying with a family in their large, elegant home tucked between the Quai de Montebello and the Boulevard St. Germain, what sounded fantastic to my tired self was the Sunday night dinner invitation the family had extended to me.
Don't expect anything fancy, Anne (the multi-lingual matriarch of la Maison d'Anne) warned. It is Sunday after all : Sundays are very simple she said. We'll have "une salade, des tomates...." That sounded good to me, with my jeans almost too tight now from too much foie gras and three too many attempts (three attempts) to find the quintessential tarte tatin.
So instead of the Plaza Athenee, friend Maureen joined me for one last glass of wine sitting on the family's terrace, crowded with potted succulents and ivy, overlooking Notre Dame. Night fell. Then it was time to tell Maureen good-bye. She would go to her favorite cafe down the street over on the Ile St. Louis. I would go start packing.
At last, it is dinner time on the 4th floor.
In the kitchen there is much activity despite the alleged simplicity of this simple spread for dinner. Anne announces what there is spread out, making herself heard over the din of her sons and her husband watching the soccer match between Paris and Marseille. This was no ordinary leftover night.
I had already been given the royal treatment Thursday night at dinner. Anne tells me on this night, leftover night, to take whatever I feel like and re-heat it. I go for the zucchini soup. It is already nice and hot in a huge stock pot. As I am happily slurping up soup, and using some Eric Kayser baguette chunks I had pulled off to help with that, Jean-Louis, the dad reminds me: "Sers-toi, Liz" - no one waiting on you tonight.
I loved it.
But those were just the main courses.
There was also a large apple tart, still partially wrapped and mostly uneaten from the week. One of the sons took two slices.
And then I saw it. Something wrapped up in that hallmark elegant grey paper of prestigious fromagier Laurent Dubois. I unwrapped it. I may have been too intimidated to figure out how to reheat the baby boar casserole without interrupting the menfolk watching the big game, but I had no qualms unwrapping the beautifully packaged cheese treasure within the Laurent Dubois paper. I sliced off a piece. I taste. I slice off a bigger slice, and a few more slices, and include them around my second bowl of zucchini soup. Soup, cheese, bread. Anne insisted that the white Burgundy that night was really quite nice. So, yes, I had that. Just a tad. I figure out this cheese from L. Dubois must be the well-aged Comté from the other night.
That cheese was a revelation. Jean-Louis explained to me Thursday night that Comte could come in very much older, aged versions - this was one three years old. See Wikipedia Entry ("Most Comté cheeses are aged from 12 to 18 months, though some are aged as little as four months and as long as 24 months. Some places, especially high-class restaurants, can carry Comtés aged for a longer time. The restaurant L'Arpège in Paris, France, is known to carry a four-year-old Comté.). It was nuttier and sharper than a more usual Gruyere, yet more subtle and interesting. And it has such an addictive quality.
They ask if I have enough: please, help yourself, Liz. Oh, no, I am so very happy with this cheese. I say, this is the aged Comte, yes?
Surprised faces. How did you know?? Did you have it here?? I think I earned some points. I think this because Jean-Louis had carefully preserved from a previous night a certain red wine. I tried so hard to remember exactly what it was. I do know it was a grand cru classe from Bordeaux. I think I saw the Chateau Margaux verbiage on there. This was so the big time. That I know. He asked if I would like some [of this very special, extraordinary Bordeaux].
He went to get special wine glasses. Three-year-old Comté. A fine, no great, as in grand, Bordeaux. This is the life. And this is leftover night?
But there was more. Dessert.
In addition to the apple tarte, there were a couple of chocolate pots de creme left from the Thursday night dinner. And there also was what would become my favorite: a platter of special traditional desserts of Bordeaux: "Canneles de Bourdeaux." So Anne told me. She said they did not turn out so great. They were so great to me. They have a carmelized outer shell then a custardy tender soft not too sweet inside. The contrast of that crunch on the outside and the tender inside - this too, addicting.
Before I ate 4 more of those things, I called it. I was done. Time to finish packing. Anne and I arrange for my timing in the morning to get to the airport. She orders a cab for me. Before heading back downstairs in the elevator, I thank Jean-Louis for letting me in on that extraordinary red wine.
The next morning, I tell Anne good-bye over a quick espresso - there would be les bises - and then a good-bye, until the next time.
The following Sunday night, I am back home in Austin, Texas. I have my own leftover night, with my smaller family of two: my son and I. We have ESPN on. We are most definitely not watching soccer. I make tortilla soup with some of the leftover grilled chicken from this week of my back-to-reality food life.
And to go with it, it may not have been a legendary Bordeaux, but it was as good as I remembered: a wine I had at Barley Swine back in December and so loved I bought a bottle eventually. Figured no good just staring at the label admiringly waiting for a special occasion. Time to dig in.
But I was home, reminded that leftover night really is just a good reminder of family nights and simple food. And a good enough reason to open up a new bottle of wine.
(Le diner chez Sophie...yes, fine cuisine, but first, superlative munchies for the aperitif ritual, accompanied by this perky rabbit-eared gadget for serving up the toothpicks; who says the French are stuffy?!)
I am back from France. I am back with a newfound love for foie gras, which I think I just thought I liked or pretended to like more than I did (gasp!).
I also bring back a renewed wonder at the learning process of a person growing up French in French culture. I base these observations from a field study including pointed questions of real French people, maybe about 8-10 of them. They include people I like to call friends in Angers - Pierre, Sophie, and Anne-Sophie; and Jean-Luc in Nantes, as well as the superb concierge/front desk man at the Hotel La Perouse in Nantes (we also talked about food) who spent some time in St. Louis, Missouri. And of course I base this on the advanced studies in French cultural/gastronomic life done in the kitchen over meals with the family in Paris, my hosts, Anne and Jean-Louis, at surely the most elegantly unique "bed and breakfast" ever.
I fell in love with foie gras over a lovely dinner at Sophie's house outside of Angers in a village-like atmosphere of her backyard that is a grassy knoll along the water. Along with the other elegant food items for the before-dinner aperitif time, which included Anjou specialty rillaud prepared by her husband, Sophie says she has made a foie gras. She swears it is an easy recipe and that I could make it too. Well, I confess I did not realize you had to "make" foie gras. I know, I should be ashamed of myself. She asks if I would like to have some. Uh, yes.
I follow Sophie into the kitchen to check into this.
I am surprised to see her take out of the refrigerator a big fat roll of stuff in plastic wrap that looks like an on-steroids roll of refrigerated Nestle Toll House cookie dough. This thick round of stuff in plastic has string wrapped around it. Sophie is unwrapping. I can't help but pick up some of the strings. She chides me for getting my hands all greasy because - attention - it was very fatty. And, yes, she is right. Very slippery, fatty those strings from being wrapped around that plumped plastic wrapped foie.
I learn that hers is made with white wine and is well cooked. This I figure explains the lighter color for this - far lighter than I had ever seen for a foie gras (ok, have only had twice: Jeffrey's in Austin (now closed alas) and Boulevard in San Francisco (before the ban)). This foie gras was a revelation. Maybe it was the thinner slices. Or the well-cooked style of it. I had 3 slices. This is a lot in foie gras terms. Especially when dinner is not even served yet.
At Christmas time Sophie says, there may be several foie gras made to get everyone through the holidays. Heaven forbid one run out of foie gras over the holidays. (Yea, I hate it when that happens.) Indeed, she says, one of the most treasured holiday moments: on Christmas morning, early, one makes up with coffee and perhaps takes just a tiny smidgen of foie gras onto a piece of toast for Christmas morning breakfast. She sighs wistfully. Done. I am convinced. I will ramp up the gourmande-ness this holiday season chez moi with my very own foie gras recipe, and it would be Sophie's, and we will smear it onto Poilane bread from Paris.
I would learn the next day, from Anne-Sophie who would accompany me to the opera in Angers that sunny Sunday afternoon, that there is an ugly side to foie gras preparation. No, not the gavage. The actual making of it. I learn this as we sat outside the opera house in Angers at a cafe near the small harbor, with the Chateau d'Angers to our left, the opera house with its wide open enormous 3-story tall sliding glass doors to the right, and the Maine river, a tributary of the Loire River, in front of us. Here, over a glass of red wine and slices of wild boar sausage, I have my disenchantment. I learn the making of foie gras requires extracting and tearing out by hand all sorts of tendons and strings of stuff. This sounded disgusting even in French. I am sad. There will be no foie gras making at my house after all. I cannot even handle touching boneless chicken breasts some days.
I also learn though from Anne-Sophie that she has a signature foie gras recipe too. She does hers with cognac or armagnac and will do it to a mi-cuit, or less well done on the cooking time. And so obviously families can have their own foie gras recipes and thus very strong opinions about a proper foie gras. I asked if this is a problem when individuals marry and they are brought into a household with a conflicting foie gras philosophy. Oh, yes, she says. Not a problem with her extended family though, where her style of foie gras is warmly welcomed.
I would have foie gras again on Monday at lunch, at a really lovely restaurant in the countryside, Le Rabelais, to break up a day full of meetings that Pierre had organized for me.
Here, Pierre tells me about a fish on the menu, sandre, and how the wine chosen matches this local fresh fish based on how the vines grow and how the soil lends itself to a particular type of vine and a particular type of grape.
The next day, Tuesday, I would be in Nantes, with another colleague, Jean-Luc, also hosting me for meetings. A couple of slices of foie gras and aged ham atop greens was the special entree of the day at the hip restaurant along the Loire that was our lunch venue.
And, yes: I said yes to the foie gras. I tell Jean-Luc I am smitten with foie gras and share my newfound knowledge from Angers.
But, really, I ask him--though I have been going to France for years I just want to know from the source: how is it that everyone with whom I had dined thus far has what seems to me an elegant and high-level vocabulary and knowledge that only (very generally speaking) food magazine writers in the US have, such as the fact that the vines for a certain wine grow to a certain depth that will create a particular taste that goes so well with the fish from the river nearby, or that the aged quality of this particular cheese means it goes better with this particular wine.
It is the French connection with their food he tells me. They just feel connected to it. So they want to know, and they grow up knowing about these issues, being surrounded by others who also are asking or telling where it came from, who made it, and why or how it's here. And so agreed the concierage/front desk man at l'Hotel Perouse in Nantes, when I brought up this subject on checking out the next day from his lovely hotel. I tell him I am intrigued by the signage at his minimalist yet delicious "buffet" about personal responsibility about the buffet to avoid waste, the local sourcing, the organic everything. I mention my conversation the day before with Jean-Luc about this connectivity the French have with their food.
He says he did not realize he was different, as a French person, until he was in a gourmet club in St. Louis. Not that there was anything not lovely about everyone there. He loved St. Louis and his time there. It just was not until then that he recognized the difference in his and his wife's profound attachment to the food and the sourcing and the ritual of the food. I asked how: how do you get that way? Where does it come from? He says you just grow up with this to be like this. Your parents are like this. Their parents were like this. It's part of the environment. As natural as learning the language that describes that food.
Of course many similarities can be said to exist here in the US. There is organic produce. There is slow food, concerns for sustainability, and community gardens to avoid sourcing from far afield. But it's just different at the basic level. Having said that, I myself am still so not French, though Anne in Paris described me one night as "presque française" (almost French). I have yet to learn moderation but am getting there. But I have learned one thing. Again on this trip, I am told that for my French family in Tours back in my student days of 1985 to call me "gourmande" (meaning likes to eat, loosely), well, that was a huge compliment. And it remains so.
Or so they tell me, as I take that third/fourth/fifth slice of foie gras...
I've been planning this business trip to France for like 3 months now. The talk in Paris for Friday 5 October is set. What I am going to say is not.
However, as I am also visiting Rennes, Nantes, Angers - for insights on their technology/incubators and to get Austin on the map more so than that annoying competition known as Silicon Valley...I figured it was about time I actually organized those meetings. It's a mere 2.5 weeks away now.
So I calmed down from trying to map out and schedule where to eat in Paris...there's just not enough time in the days...and started checking out what on earth I'm going to do and stay and eat in Rennes, Angers and Nantes. The email introductions in French are now done; I now have a headache from getting all the accent marks just right in the emails; and I am wishing I had more time for this trip. But there is this thing known as a day job...
The timing for the business trip is being planned around making sure I get to see my friends in Angers (Austin's sister city), and see a performance at the Angers-Nantes opera on Saturday 30 septembre, something good and relatively obscure (Les Deux Veuves) -- as I tend to like my opera. Oh, and maybe the Paris all-night art, performance art party that is Nuit Blanche is the day after the October 5 talk. That may have had something to do with it as well.
It is really too bad I cannot fit in Brest, up on the coast.
In all this prep work, including the idea now that I should just rent a car at CDG airport in Paris and drive to Rennes, then to Angers, then to Nantes, come to find out that Rennes is having "UN FESTIVAL GOURMAND" (food festival type thing) while I am there. It's like the universe telling me it is so very good and right to do this. And I for the first time thought about shaving some time off the Paris part of the trip. And, yea, I may have mentioned in my (French) email to the Chamber of Commerce in Rennes the serendipity of their festival and my food blog called "gourmandemom." I should not write business emails when fatigued perhaps.
If Rennes is all booked up for the food fair, there is this lodging (a/k/a un chateau) outside the city proper...even if they don't have WiFi, it may be a nice option. All for the sake of bringing you enlightening information about la jolie France.
After a week of technology failures as a big deadline for Friday afternoon loomed, a coma-like fatigue descended once the project was done and done. But after going and going for so long on so little sleep, and then with that grand finale being so very anti-climactic after the drama of years of litigation, all I could manage was a short nap.
Sleep could come later - Saturday - but a Friday afternoon, with good friend Maureen in town (Maureen of Paris fame...recall her Ile St. Louis studio where I stayed for that Feburary trip to Paris, which trip ended with singing alongside Flavian (the piano player) at the piano lounge at the George V), and the work deal done, well, one should mark the occasion.
Flash of inspiration. We would go to Weather Up.
True to the reviews, this place - at 1808 East Cesar Chavez - takes its cocktails seriously. But not so much that it feels pretentious or unwelcoming. Thanks to visits to Austin from serious New York City bartender Kathryn Weatherup, whom the New York Times calls the "Anti-Banter Bartender," Austin now has branch no. 3 for Weather Up, in addition to the locations in Brooklyn and Tribeca.
Some differences from Austin: the Tribeca location serves caviar.
On stepping inside, it feels and looks warm and casual yet well-styled, with all that sepia-toned leather seating balanced against white, such as the white subway tile ceiling. Cocktail blogger/photographer Melody Fury has a lovely photographic display of all this ambiance here. My favorite touch - votives already, at just 6 p.m., on the small tables in the lounge-y banquettes, in cozy brown leather. I so love a banquette.
Despite my banquette predilections, we sat at the bar. The bar stools are architectural statements: each one comprised of a loose s-shaped chunky thick piece of steel, curving up to the generous (brown leather) seat. It felt like a saddle, Maureen commented. The metal is affixed to the floor, so there is no adjusting, no moving around. This makes for a lovely sculptural vignette, with the exquisite forms all lined up. Always perfect in their immobility. Lovely to look at. Uncomfortable for actual seating.
No matter. For this place that "takes its cocktails seriously," and to see up close how these special drinks are made with that special ice from a Clinebell ice machine, the bar was the place to be to watch the show. That show included noticing how the bartenders hand crack the ice cubes with one of those tall vintage-like cocktail stirrers, holding the cube gently in a hand and cracking away at it. As mentioned above, these are not your usual bag-o-ice shards from the plastic bag of ice at a local Randall's. The ice from the specialty Clinebell ice machine (used for ice sculptures) ensures a pure clarity of ice that will not cloud your drink.
The single-page menu of Summer Specials was on a lovely texture of paper, with a lovely font and typeface for the specials. There also is a (brown leather) bound volume of the larger usual drink menu. but that was too overwhelming for that Friday afternoon. I wondered out loud to the bartender: "So hard to pick....absinthe versus tequila cocktail." He suggested both! But to stay on the sour rather than sweet side, I went with his recommendation for a Siesta. How appropriate.
Maureen ordered the Hotel Nacional.
The drinks arrived.
Maureen comments, based solely on taking in the glassware, the presentation, the way the libation looks in the glassware.
"I love it. It's so French!"
She was spot on. It is "so French" because it is perfectly proportioned. Perfectly composed. It is not upsized. It is about quality, not quantity. And that, yes, is totally French.
(Left, Hotel Nacional...beautiful pale yellow with frothy white layer; right, Siesta, tart with grapefruit juice and lime juice, Campari, tequila)
Maureen was on to something with the observation on the Frenchness.
Turns out that Kathryn Weatherup had her cocktail start in Paris. Per the New York Times article:
"Ms. Weatherup began her bartending career in Paris somewhat ignominiously, serving shots at Stolly’s Stone Bar, a sort of Les Deux Magots for hard-drinking Anglophone expatriates in the Fourth Arrondissement. 'Back in those days everybody wanted cranberry juice,' she said, with a hint of despair. 'I made a lot of tequila sunrises and sex on the beaches.'”
Then she moved on to another venue, non-cocktail related. It was a waitressing gig at a French bistro, Les Enfants Terribles, on the Lower East Side. And other stuff happened to her and, voila, long story short, we now in Austin have uncloudy ice for beautifully proportioned in a French way very American cocktails.
I've always found the issue of dinner resevations at Paris restaurants very annoying. That is, the fact that for a good place you just have to have them. And for really good places, this may mean weeks or months in advance. (Oh, speaking of which -- Frenchie, the wine bar part of it, in Paris is expanding!) Sure, I get that these are small places. I get that planning ahead for a lovely meal is part of the French respect for the dining out experience. I also get that small places cannot just rely on random folks coming in, and I get that my annoyance has a lot to do with the fact I hate constraining the do-anything-I-want-for-dinner paradigm of being able to pick and choose a place on a whim.
But I may be over that. All that annoyance with the reservation thing in Paris ended Tuesday night -- when I tried Foreign & Domestic ("F&D") for the first time. F&D does not take reservations. F&D opens at 5:30.
The plan was to meet there at 6. I got there early. In Austin these days, it is a ridiculous 103 degrees about that time of day. Just walking from my car, where I had parked a block away, I had gotten seriously cranky about the heat and was sweating already.
I walk in. Not crowded yet. Whew. A very sweet and kind petite hostess, tells me: "Oh, we cannot seat incomplete parties." Oh, sure that's ok, I say, I'll just stand here at the bar.
She: "Oh, I'm sorry, it's such a small place. There's really no room. There is a wait area outside with seating."
Me: "Seriously?...But it's really, really hot out there...?" I thought she was kidding. And then I thought I might cry or scream. Post-pneumonia, I really cannot handle the heat.
She: "Oh I know, but there are chairs out there in the waiting area. And water. I'm so sorry. And here's a drink menu, we have drink service out there." I leave and go outside. I find the seating area. There is water, yes. There is a fan, yes.
I lie down on a wood bench against the building and take self-portraits of myself in case I die out here.
A really nice young man does come outside to take a drink order. The other person orders something. I say, no thanks. [I just want to sit here and pout.]
Friend running late. I relay the fact I'm about to go hormonal on someone as I am sitting out here in the Sahara. It is suggested by friend that perhaps I misunderstood, that surely people are not expected to sit outside in 103 degree heat. Perhaps I could sit at the bar. Right, sure, that's got to be the case. I just misunderstood. We consider calling the whole thing off if I did not misunderstand.
I go back in, time no. 2.
She: "Oh, great! Is the rest of your party here? Come on over here," as she grabs menus. (She seriously could not have been any nicer.)
Me: "Uh, no, not quite yet (I look around, longingly, at the open seats at the bar). But I was wondering...could I just sit at the bar? I'll even drink for 2? I just have a really hard time with the heat post-pneumonia." [She looks around, wondering if something can be done to help out.]
She: "Well, no, I'm so sorry. People usually end up eating there so no, I'm so sorry."
Me: [Crestfallen.] "Uh, ok. You know, I think I'm just going to wait in the car."
She: "Ok, I'm so sorry."
I walk back to the car. I get in and crank up the AC. I wonder if this is worth it. This had better be worth it. Seriously? No standing, it's big enough of a place. I'm just one person, it's not packed or anything...I think on all this. And I think about the no reservations thing. And I think about the Paris rule of having to have a reservation. I get it now.
Friend arrives. I walk in, third time, sweating, again, from the walk to car to F&D front door. Having committed to sticking this out, and because the end is in sight, I rally:
Me: "Hey! Me again, third time's a charm I guess. I think we're ready to go."
She: "Oh, great, and I am so sorry. I feel so terrible when I have to tell people they have to wait outside."
Me: "Oh, do not even worry about it. So not a problem. Thank you so much."
By then - 6:20 p.m. - F&D was packed. People were being sent outside to wait.
Good thing I rallied. This was not just a good time. It was a great time. And by the time we sat down, and got a nice bottle of cool rosé that the superlatively knowledgeable and good-natured waiter recommended over a white, I could not hear a thing because the din of happy diners was a bit much. I did not care. I was just happy to be there. And it was great rather than just good because of a few key reasons, the usual reasons that make an experience great rather than ok:
1. Decor - the decor here is young, casually sophisticated. Subtle mid-century modern via thrify shop sort of style. Well done.
2. The wait staff is fantastic. It's obvious that everyone who works there loves the place, loves the food, believes in the food and feels that the whole idea of this new Gastropub place is something special. I learn that it was a good thing we got there on a Tuesday night. Other nights are insane I am told. I hear about the lines and lines of people that the staff can see descending on the place before they are even open. And then there is a charming discussion about wine, which included a digression into African geography, and a detailed description of a rarely-seen cut of beef that being used that night for the "bistro fillet." (I did not hear many details. The din...)
3. The young culinary star couple/Gastropub theme. F&D is run by a husband and wife team, Ned and Jodi Elliott, with solid culinary credentials - including stints with none other than Alain Ducasse and Thomas Keller. I think of Verjus in Paris and the (seemingly) very young and courageous, gifted team there, Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian. I think of Lenoir, which I hope to get to later this week, owned and operated by husband and wife Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher.
F&D is known for a menu starring an array of meat parts I ordinarily would never think about eating - like beef tongue. But the menu seems to be lighter for the summer. The order:
Salad of Kale & Boquerones
Roasted Sockeye Salmon - Summer Succotash, Basil, Corn Curry (beautifully cooked salmon, crispy crunchy skin) (was pacing myself: but next time, like very, very sooner than later, I'm getting the "Fried Chicken Biscuit: Fried Egg, Black Pepper-Cheddar Biscuit, Romaine Slaw, Lemon Jam" that someone next to us had ordered and I just could not stop staring at it)
Smoked “Bistro Fillet” of Beef Stew of Peas and Beans, Peach, Hock Broth
German Chocolate Cake - Dried Cherries, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream (served up a la mode style in a small bowl)
Coffee (Would not have thought to order coffee, but I was not quite ready to leave, and I was smitten with the vessel used for a coffee cup I saw at the table next to us. A to-go cup from a Greek restaurant or Greek 7-11? Hilarious. It really is a paper cup. And the coffee, explained in detail by our waiter (but I could not hear a thing because ...the din...and I'm getting to be of a certain age...) was really good. Dark and bold and rich enough for picky me but not bitter.)
Nice waiter: "How about some cream sherry to go with that? [It was Alexandro Cream Sherry Jerez de la Frontera NV.]
And finally we were done. And they could call in someone else from out in the Sahara.
F&D is in a funky part of Austin, just past the array of circus-y strip of colorful stores where West North Loop just about becomes 53rd. So this evening also included a short field trip for me to see the lovely glass work available at a store nearby that specializes in attractive ways to smoke - you know, tobacco and such. This was new and news to me. Really.
The next planned stop, Tigress/The Tigress Pub, was right there (no sign, so hang in there trying to find it), but we changed course and called a friend and headed down south for Aviary -- also on my list for GM Olympics.
And this all reminds me. The next Paris trip is 2 months away.
Must make reservations.
Pamela Popo night
I adopted a new rule for my life back on Trip No. 12 to Paris, which has been refined on the last three trips, and which has yet to let me down when I am lucky enough to see it in play: Always let the French person pick the wine. [It really goes "let the Frenchman pick the wine," but that sounds really contrary to my postmodern/feminist/women's college educational background.]
Therefore, that this Saturday night dinner in Paris (i) would be at a venue (Pamela Popo) whose photo gallery on the web site set my aesthetic senses racing for a just right - unpretentious - hip vibe; (ii) would include Romain and Anne - with Romain being a great cook - and French(man), obviously; (iii) also would include their friends, one French/one American, and that this couple who lives in the Marais (confirming hip status pretty immediately) is on a first-name basis with everyone at Pamela Popo, would be joining us....well, I was just pleased to have another opportunity to watch and enjoy the spectacle of French men, and an American who had lived longer in Paris than the US by then, go through the lively debate about what wine to select.
The wine ... I do not recall too much about this. I did enjoy watching the ritual and hearing the dialogue of which wine and who was having what. I do recall my quasi de veau was as good as Adam had raved. I do recall a dessert - which must have been what la carte on line shows as "Tartelette tiede au chocolat...caramel a la fleur du sel." Perhaps one of the best desserts I have ever had.
All was happiness and light as we eased into Hour 3 of Dinner at Pamela Popo: The delight of meeting old friends, making new friends, sitting in a highly ambient ambience, on a lovely Saturday night in Paris, the night before our last full day in Paris, and enjoying post-prandial lively conversation.
And then it happened.
Someone appeared with a tray of 6 martini glasses. When the tray was lowered for serving one beverage to each of us, Shelly surely was as wide-eyed with wonder as I was. What? What is this? A cocktail?
Adam is grinning mischievously. Romain and Anne look amused by our surprise. I am just happy that, huh, wow, cocktails for after-dinner drinks ...in Paris? My old and new French friends repeat over and over what the name of this lovely libation is. I just cannot get what the word is. Pom pom cul cul cul? Now, the word "cul" - that I know.
Romain helped me out by translating it loosely as "spanky spanky."
Adam explains: it is half mojito, half cosmopolitan. And it has a liberal sprinkling of fresh mint. It was really lovely. A blush pink. Not an icky pink. Very fresh. We toast. It is very good. Very good. Way too good. Adam says: no more than two of these.
By this time Shelly is texting furiously to our group. You have GOT to get over here. Now. I believe that in my happiness, no, joy of the moment, I declared that I was never leaving Paris. Ever.
And then another tray arrived. Adam is really enjoying this. But probably not nearly as much as Shelly and I are really enjoying this.
We decide we must descend downstairs to the bar/lounge area to await our friends.
And another round of the spanky spanky arrives.
It is also a Serge Gainsbourg song.
And then there was, yes, the 4th round of Panpan Cucul(s).
I thought I could charm my way into getting the playlist for the lounge that night from the bartender who was continuing to ply us with those spanky cocktails - but no. It's the owner's own list. Not for sharing. But I was welcome to Shazam away. And so I did. And learned that "Shazam" can be used, and is used, as a verb in French. Some of my tags that night: I Follow Rivers (Lykke Li(; Knight Moves (Chilly Gonzales); Rock me Again & Again (Lyn Collins); All this Love that I'm Givin' (Gwen McCrae); Paid in Full (Rakim); Jungle Boogie ... the Kool & the Gang and the Michael Jackson later really pushed us over the edge. There was much singing. Maybe some chair dancing.
And then someone realized 4 rounds was enough.
Our Austin group that joined us departed for the 5-minute walk home across the Seine to rue de Bievre.
I was headed that way too. Until ...until I saw Shelly making after-party plans with our French friends. I heard something about a club and dancing.
And so it was that we would walk and walk, explore another venue in the Marais, decide champagne back at the guys' apartment sounded really great (especially as I had hyperventilated earlier upon learning that Jean Dujardin, whom I had loved way before The Artist, for his OSS 117 characyer, lived across the street from our new French friends.)
And so it would be that at 4:30 am or so, we would finally call it a night.
But not after we did grave injustice to Minnie Riperton's classic ballad: Loving You. You know you love it too....La la la la la. La la la la la....
I also made my 10 a.m. meeting the next morning, uh, later that morning for coffee with a lawyer friend at Trocadero.
But leave Paris I did. On a jet plane. On Monday.
And just in time for me to be checked into an Austin hospital not 48 hours after getting back for ... of all things: pneumonia.
I'm just getting back up to speed enough to, yes, at least harbor the thought of getting back to Paris.
And back to Pamela Popo.
Saturday finally arrived. That meant no more meetings, no more rushing around. To limit the potentially infinite choices that Paris offers on such days, I tell Maureen she should do everything she has always wanted to do and not had time to do because of work and networking and more work. Ideally, we would go to places neither one of us had seen or been before. We decide we will, after coffee at the St. Regis, of course, meander into the Ile St Louis shops all along the Rue St. Louis en l’Isle. And so it started…What we did on our only Saturday in Paris:
When Maureen said I could stay with her for my upcoming research trip to Paris in her petit studio on the Ile St. Louis, though the studio itself has no natural light she warned but insisted it would be such great fun to have me, I did worry how this would work out in such a small studio apartment and a small sofa bed for the both of us—for six nights. But as Maureen is the most easygoing person ever - and of such a warm, generous, kind spirit - I figured I needed to loosen up and enjoy this tremendous offer.
I have never really experienced the Ile St. Louis up close and personal like this. I have shopped there to be sure. I have known of the charming boutique hotels there. I have visited a Nuit Blanche (2010) exhibition there – marveling at the charming geography of the place - quiet, very expensive, very exclusive and primarily residential. And I have seen a classical piano recital concert in a small obscure theatre there. But lived there, or spent any appreciable time there, no.
So I also had never before had before the experience of walking out the front door of one's building onto, for example, Rue le Regrattier, the street that Maureen called home, and seeing the Seine right there, and the best view of Notre Dame right there, and having the usual neighborhood café be the Café St. Regis, right at the end of the main artery of the Ile St. Louis – the Rue St. Louis en l’Ile. (And, yes, the cafe really does have warm blankets placed on the chairs outside, as shown here in this late night picture, to sit and cozy up with a hot chocolate...or red wine, or whatever.)
I got to see the St. Regis treatment, and Maureen’s everyday café rituals, my first morning right after my arrival in Paris. Maureen leads the way into the cafe. She is greeted with cheery bonjours all around it seems – from a chorus of wait staff, and, en plus, kisses – reserved for the close friends – from Alain, the owner. Maureen introduces me. Alain decides to call me “Lizette.” And I would be Lizette, and greeted (almost) as warmly, every other morning (or afternoon), we ended up here.
The Ile St. Louis is not for the faint of heart for everyday life, however. It is charming, cozy, and small and feels like a little village when you actually can call it home. The reality check is that Maureen has to walk quite a ways for the St. Paul metro stop on Line 1, and for groceries beyond the little market on the Rue St Louis en l'Ile, which then have to be carried quite a ways home and up two flights of stairs (not a bunch of stairs in Paris terms). And, as I learned that first morning of my arrival, painfully, the RER and metro stops for St. Michel are quite a hike away from the Ile St. Louis when hauling a suitcase and carry-ons. Though it is indeed a plus that Line 1 is relatively nearby, that walk to the St. Paul metro stop can be long on a cold winter night, or in a frequent February cold drizzle, after a long day out dealing with Paris and the everyday frustrations of life in the big city.
We left the Island one night to make the hike to the St. Michel metro stop to get to the 14eme for an 8 p.m. dinner reservation.
Walking along the Seine being an integral part of my experiencing Paris, that night I really wanted us take a left turn out of the front door of the building to head for the metro instead of a right turn. Maureen said it never dawned on her really to take a left turn and walk along the Seine to reach the small park behind Notre Dame that provides a short cut to the left bank. She is always drawn to take a right turn because it takes her down the Rue St Louis en L’Ile and she can wave and say "Bonjour!" to Alain and the crew at the St. Regis and see who all is there.
We make the left turn for me, so I can walk along the Seine, which is less than even just a stone’s throw from her lodging on Rue le Regrattier.
The night is crisp, cold, still. The view laid out before us is predominantly Notre Dame's most exquisite architectural details, lighted just perfectly to create shadows and interest of dark and light. The light is so not yellow. It is bright and crisp and white, yet soft -- as if a halo is surrounding the cathedral. In the distance, there is the very tip of the Eiffel Tower and its beacon light circling the city -- just beyond and above this panorama of the islands and the splitting of the Seine and the bridges connecting the islands to the left bank and the right bank of Paris.
It is ridiculously, unbelievably gorgeous. I just had to laugh to myself and shake my head in disbelief. The lights along the quais of the Seine are reflected in the river. There are those Notre Dame light and shadows. Then, looking a little further to the right, I see twinkling bright white-blue lights. I realize, shaking my head again, wondering how it could get any better, it is the Hotel de Ville. As a vestige of the holidays, it too is providing a light show, a subtle one, in tonight's night sky.
I have no pictures of this particular night. It would have ruined the magic. And it would not have come anywhere close to capturing all of this.
I wonder if this will ever get old for me...This Paris thing...These sights I’ve seen since that first high school French class trip some 31 years ago. But this particular sight tonight, on this cold winter night, is definitely a first and is definitely one of the best visual experiences ever.
And I had it only because for six wonderful days, thanks to a generous friend, I could call Ile St. Louis home.