Thursday, September 5, 2013

Manger et Boire à Paris/Eating and Drinking in Paris

We're back!
Nous sommes revenus à partir de la ville des lumières. (Sigh.) Paris, je t'aime.
Eiffel Tower
There is no place like Paris. Its historic buildings, romantic cobblestone streets, plentiful wine, stinky cheeses and oh, the lovely macarons. Chris and I recently returned to the beautiful city where we started out our married life 10 years ago, and I must say, I felt like a newlywed all over again, giddy and so excited to be back in the City of Light.

Our trip started out with a nonstop, overnight flight from the NYC area. We had booked pretty good seats (not coach), but right before we boarded, we were called to the front and given even better seats...in FIRST CLASS. Woo hoo! What a great way to start our vacation!

However, nothing actually started for another hour or so. Our plane was piloted by three captains and one of them was apparently stuck in traffic, so we didn't take off for another 90 minutes after our scheduled time. This could have been annoying, but Chris and I didn't care. We were sipping champagne and snacking on warmed nuts, with slippers on our feet and smiles on our faces. Our three course airplane meal was actually pretty okay (I had lobster), and they were even offering ice cream sundaes, made-to-order, for dessert. We opted for the cheese plate, of course.

When we arrived in a sunny Paris early the next morning, we met our driver and headed to our hotel, Saint James Paris, which is a lovely chateau in the 16th arrondissement. It is home to the members-only Saint James Club and is actually the only working chateau-hotel left in Paris. A fun fact is that SJP is also home to the first ever hot-air balloon airfield, and the magic and whimsy of that are seen throughout the building's decor and grounds.

Saint James Paris
Quirky but chic lobby of our hotel
Our sweet suite -- note the animal print carpet!
After checking in, we changed for lunch. I emerged in a dress I had worn at our first dinner in Paris in 2003, and joined Chris, who was dashing in a lightweight blazer. Then, it was a leisurely 20-minute stroll to our lunch at Alain Ducasse's Michelin-rated Le Jules Verne, 125 meters up, on the second-floor of the Eiffel Tower. The views were amazing, the champagne excellent, and the meal, elegant and tasty. The most memorable dish was the dessert: Baba -- a sponge cake with Chantilly cream, soaked in rum, although I think "soaked" is not quite the right word. More like "drenched" or "drowned" would be more appropriate. I could only handle a few bites it was so strong, but Chris didn't seem to mind that the dish I now refer to as "The Drunken Twinkie" was pretty potent. As we stood on the restaurant's private observation deck to take some pictures, I thanked the gods that I had stopped after a second bite, as I probably would have teetered backward on my high heels and right off the tower's ledge! Afterwards, as we took the restaurant's private elevator back down to solid ground, we overheard a conversation between another guest and one of the restaurant's hosts, who said he spoke three languages: French, English, and Woman.  Chris said he was going to add that to his repetoire. Ha. Vive la France!

LE JULES VERNE - MENU DÉJEUNER
  • SAUMON - salmon marinated with lemon/caviar/vodka, mimosa garnish
  • Dodine de VOLAILLE et FOIE GRAS DE CANARD - cold boned chicken and duck foie gras, purslane, toasted country bread
  • Pavé d'AIGLE BAR meunière - Meunière-style meagre, spiny artichokes
  • JARRET DE VEAU - tender veal shank, bone marrow, cooking jus
  • BABA - Baba with Armagnac according to your choice, lightly whipped Chantilly
Le Jules Verne
www.alain-ducasse.com
View from Le Jules Verne observation deck.
City of Lights -- from the top of the world.
Our first evening in Paris was rather magical as well. Although our suite was welcoming and whimsical, we couldn't resist sitting in the outdoor garden of our hotel, which was sprinkled with hot air balloon frames that now serve as patio umbrella-type shelters. We sipped a few glasses of rosé and noshed on canapés of foie gras, smoked salmon and thinly sliced jambon. The hotel's notorious black cat made a brief appearance, rhinestone collar and all -- heading straight for us, then veering off into the bushes at the last possible minute, as if to say, "Je suis désolé, but I'm too busy to stop for a scratch behind the ears, plus you just ate the last salmon canapé."

Balloon Garden at Saint James Paris
The next morning, we headed to the busy Avenue des Champs-Élysées and then over to the luxurious shops of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in search of some perfume for my birthday gift, which I finally chose at the famous Guerlain.

Birthday Parfum
We made our way easily through the city and stopped for a café lunch of salads (smoked salmon for Chris and one with goat cheese toasts for me), wine, and of course the amazing crusty French bread and butter. We strolled through the enchanting Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre grounds, gazed at the River Seine from the romantic Lovers' Locks bridge, then ended up at Notre Dame (en route to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore) where we came upon Paris Point Zero -- the spot marking where Paris began. As custom, I spun around on it three times for good luck.
Jardin des Tuileries
Lovers' Locks Bridge

Love Locks

Paris Point Zero

Notre Dame
We spent the rest of the day walking around and window shopping on the Champs-Élysées, then headed back to Victor Hugo Square for a drink before getting ready for Dinner. I capitalized the D because this was the meal we had been waiting for since we booked our trip.
Victor Hugo Square
Dinner with a capital D was at Epicure, the three Michelin star-rated restaurant run by Chef Eric Frechon. L'Hôtel Le Bristol is where we spent our honeymoon, and we had a life-changing dinner courtesy of Chef Frechon there in 2003 that put me in awe of the art of cooking. It's where I got bit by the cookery bug, you could say. We arrived (dressed to the nines) a bit early to Le Bristol and toasted with some rosé Tattinger in the elegant bar, before we were escorted to our table in the outdoor Summer Garden. As we walked to our table, a line of impeccably dressed waiters greeted us, saying: "Bienvenue, monsieur et madame!" or "Welcome back!"

Our meal was just as amazing as we remembered it to be all those years ago when we were in our twenties and still culinarily wet behind the ears. The top-notch service that had made us feel so special back then was just as fabulous this time around. Highlights of our meal include: a delicious bottle of wine chosen by Chris that made me want to sing; an amuse-bouche trifecta of a tomato and melon cup with marscapone cream, a smoked eel and foie gras lollipop, and a broiled frog's leg; as well as being presented with a gorgeous red rose and a chocolate Joyeux Anniversaire wish, complete with pink rose petals scattered on the table by our waiter as we stared in awe at our dessert.

EPICURE - CHEF'S TASTING MENU
  • AMUSE-BOUCHE TRIO
  • LARGE LANGOUSTINES AND CAVIAR - served cold, with a crisp taste of fresh celeriac and Japanese lemon
  • STUFFED MACARONI - with black truffle, artichoke and duck foie gras, gratinated with mature Parmesan cheese
  • LINE-CAUGHT WHITING FISH FROM SAINT-GILLES CROIX-DE-VIE - in a crust of bread with almonds,“New-Zealand” spinach and olive oil flavoured with curry and péquillos pepper
  • PIGEON FROM THE BRESSE AREA - laked with spicy honey, compotéed of fennel with cumin, à la diable juice
  • FINE SEASONAL CHEESES - we tried several: comté, gorgonzola, goat...all delightful!
  • ICED WHITE PEACH - with fresh verbena, ginger, almonds and redcurrant sparkles
  • PERU CHOCOLATE - in a cocoa pod, iced, foamy and crunchy, chocolate sorbet infused with lemongrass (And don't forget the edible gold!)
www.lebristolparis.com
Mementos from our 10th Anniversary Dinner at Epicure
The next day we walked off our dinner with a trek to the Marais and a trip to the Centre Pompidou, to see the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit, followed by a café lunch of Croque Madames and five-layer Club sandwiches, washed down with a carafe of wine. For dessert, a stop at Ladurée, the most famous macaron shop in Paris! Forget French chocolates -- the macarons are to die for! On our way back home, the Arc de Triomphe welcomed us back to the outskirts of our neighborhood.

 www.centrepompidou.fr
Macarons from Ladurée
Arc de Triomphe
Back to the Saint James Club for drinks with the balloons, and then we made ready for dinner at the Japanese/French fusion restaurant Passage 53, located in The Passage des Panoramas, which is the oldest Parisian walkway in existence, opened to the public in 1799. Down a hallway of antique shops and lively cafés is a nondescript storefront with minimalist white blinds pulled low. Inside, the sleek, white-walled restaurant seats about 20 diners total, and there is no menu. You happily eat what the 30-something chef, Chef Shinichi Sato (the first Japanese chef to earn two Michelin stars in France) wants to serve you. Our 10+ course meal was wonderful from start to finish. We didn't have printed menus, and I downed a flute of champagne and bottle of amazing French wine pretty early into the meal, so this is what I mostly remember (I could have some things wrong):

PASSAGE 53 - DEGUSTATION
  • CORN cappuccino - summer in a glass
  • Quninelle of CAVIAR - with a crunchy wafer-like biscuit and creamy bite of gnocchi at the bottom
  • CAPRESE - delicate, ripe tomato slices with a spoonful of creamy buratta and fennel fronds
  • OYSTER - with green apple and fennel
  • LANGOUSTINE - incredibly tender and smoky, with a dusting of cocoa and slice of stewed apricot
  • WHITEFISH - flaky and buttery, with a variety of sliced exotic mushrooms and an intoxicating broth
  • WHITE COURSE - paper-thin, shaved fresh cauliflower that reminded me of sea coral, grilled calamari and smoky cauliflower cream (see picture)
  • OIGNON - quartered onion, roasted in vanilla butter with thin slices of serrano ham nestled between each layer
  • GUINEA FOWL - with the tastiest, crispiest skin ever
  • PIGEON - rosy, tender breast; a mini ground pigeon pie, all flaky and lovely; and a side of "burned" eggplant mousse that made me think instantly of an end-of-summer campfire
  • PRE-DESSERT - frozen white peach and a cup of fresh sliced cherries with slivered almonds and almond cream
  • ELDERFLOWER crème brûlée - with honey and marscapone, and brandied sugar crystals
  • DESSERT TRIO - rich, bittersweet chocolat pie with a wee drop of spiced caramel; "tiramisu" cup with espresso jelly, crunchy, nutty praline, and a moist cream cake layer; with another cup of something frothy, fruity and refreshing -- a  bit of lemon curd, methinks?
The White Course, www.passage53.com
www.passage53.com
We continued to happily eat and drink with abandon: rich chocolat chaud, buttery pains au chocolat and croissants, strong cups of espresso, cheese and ham-filled baguettes and bottles of fruity, delicious wine -- and then with great sadness, we headed back home. Once we were home and unpacked, we opened a bottle of rosé (from France) and lamented the fact that we were no longer in Paris. We toasted to a trip well taken, then, resigned to continue our adventures, we decided to make a short list of our next destination...the Italian coast? A weeklong French countryside road trip? A Thailand cooking tour? Decisions, decisions! But, no matter where we end up, I'm sure it will be wonderful as always.

Jusqu'à la prochaine fois (Until next time)...
xoxo






Note, all photos except those that are captioned with urls were taken by moi, (c) Gourmess.

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