02 May 2011

European Adventure, Part 1

This is the second time I'm writing this because the one I was working on for 2 hours yesterday was eaten by the crappy app I bought to publish (Blogsmith, FWIW).  Now I'm using the iPad's Notes app to write this.  I know it is stable.

I apologize in advance to my Francophile friends because I don't have a French keyboard to type the accented and cedille letters.

I also apologize for not having pictures herein. But you can see those in my Picasa album. Just go to gregtaylor.com and click "The Pictures".

Day 1

Our flights from DFW to MIA to CDG were [thankfully] uneventful.  We arrived around 9:30 AM Central European Time (CET) and cabbed it to the hotel.  We rested a bit, fresshened up, and set out for our traditional first-day walk-about.  Having had an adequate breakfast on the plane just before landing, we decided to skip lunch in order to build our hunger for tonight's feast.  (More shortly...)

In 6,218 steps (count courtesy of my new HP-provided pedometer, err probably pedometre here), we walked from out hotel in the Marais near Centre Pompidou down to Hotel de Ville (City Hall), across the Seine to Ile de Cite and past Notre Dame, across the other brance of the Seine to Rive Gauche, back across the Seine to the Marais, then back to the hotel.  Time to get ready for dinner...

No one in the world (IMHO) can prepare and present a five-course dinner like the French.  As on our last trip to Paris in 2007, we opted to have our first dinner at Le Train Bleu in Gare (train station) de Lyon.  Think back to "Hello Dolly", and Dolly's fabulous entrance into Harmonia Garden.  Remember the energy of the waiters singing dancing and dancing around with reckless abandon?  Le Train Bleu is the Harmonia Garden of Paris.  The waiters don't sing or dance, but zest with which they scurry around the restaurant is invigorating to watch.  Even if the energy weren't there, the restaurant itself is a wonderful example of French Baroque (or maybe Baroque Revival) splendor.  And the place is HUGE.  The place is laid out like a French garden (formal and symmertical), with a wide central corridore flanked by perpendicular rows and rows of tables.  Unlike the cramped sidewalk cafes (more shortly...), the tables are close, but you have plenty of elbow room and privacy.  And the food?

Tom and I opted for the menu.  Here, the "menu" is what in the States we would call "chef's menu" or "tasting menu".  The menu was a five-course parade of food, including:
- asparagus mousse with a dollop of smoked salmon mousse (a courtesy of the chef, not one of the five courses)
- a trio of Vichyssoise, salmon tartare on a small biscuit, and mozarella atop diced tomato with basil puree
- fois gras with raisin and apricot toast
- fillet of turbot with sweated spinach
- raspberry sorbet in Champagne (the palate cleanser, not one of the courses)
- potato-crusted veal chop with asparagus risotto
- a dessert trio of chocolate mousse, berry sorbet with strawberries, raspberries, topped with a meringue; and a rum mousse served with a rum injector (think disposable miniature turkey baster with a sharp tip filled with a shot of rum)

Everything was delectable, and after three hours, our gastromonic parade was over.  We Metro'd it back to Hotel de Ville and walked the 4 blocks back to the hotel.  After a LONG day of flying, walking, and eating, it was time for bed.  We were eager to shake the jetlag...

Day 2

We awoke at 7:30 with our bodies comfortable adjusted for CET.  On our last visit, we discovered a small sidewalk cafe (Imagine that in Paris!) where we'd spend our mornings sipping cafe creme (what they call "cafe au lait" in New Orleans), grazing on croissant, and planning the day ahead.  We continued that tradition this morning, ingesting copious quantities of butter, puff pastry,  caffeine, and cream.

We charted our course for the day:  Musee Rodin, lunch on Rue Cler, Musee d'Orsay, and dinner TBD.

The Rodin Museum is great:  manageable size, pretty house and gardens, and smaller crowds than "the big boys" of Parisian museums.  The museums of Paris offer what is called "The Museum Pass", which has two huge advantages over doing museum tickets "a la carte":  first, you get admission to MOST museums in Paris for the price of the pass (50 euro for 4 days in our case), and immediate admission -- you don't have to wait in line with the other tourists who are queued to purchase tickets, apparently not knowing of the great deal the Museum Pass offers.  You can see pictures of our visit to Rodin's place in my "The Pictures" section at gregtaylor.com.

After Rodin, we hooved over to Rue Cler, which has to be one of the world's best market and cafe streets.  We popped in at one of our favorite sidewalk cafes, Cafe du Marche.  Another gastro delight, Tom enjoyed seared duck and I carnivorized (a new word!) steak tartare.  Apparently, most foreigners don't realize that tartare (whether beef or fish) is raw -- it's just seasoned with a few additives, like chopped olives and onions.  So the waiters always confirm that I know it's raw meat when I order it.  It's good stuff.

We Metro'd it back to the hotel to plan dinner.  We had a few places in mind from our previous trip, but wanted to try something new.

We asked the hotel concierge (also the desk clerk, as the hotel is small.  The recommendation was  Le Hangar, a small (friends in Dallas, think the late York Street) cafe at the end of a hooked dead-end alley that nobody would ever find unless you were looking for it.  We asked the concierge to book us a reservation for 9:00 PM, having come off such a meaty lunch.  The earliest they could get is in was 10:00, and so it was.  As you may know, Europeans eat late by our stateside standard, so we were fine with that.  We arrived at 9:50 and were seated around 10:10.  What was to follow was simple and sublime.

Tom had sardines with toast (These were not the canned salty kinds.) as an entree (The entree here is what we would call an appetizer.) and I had salmon tartare.  Both were sinful.  For his main course, Tom had "beef stroganoff", simmered beef and mushrooms surrounded by small bites of fried mashed potato balls.  No noodles here.  I had [drumroll here...] seared fois gras and potatoes.  The potatoes were very nicely creamed and seasoned, and spread in a thin layer across the bottom of the small plate.  The three slices of fois gras were beautifully sauteed, laid to rest (RIP!) across the thin layer of potatoes, then drizzled with olive and truffle oils.  Need I say more?

Back to the hotel, and another day of walking, Metro-ing, and grazing complete.  Oh, 14,274 steps.

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