Aaah! It’s finally here! A blog post about Paris! I’ve trudged you kind people through the trenches of our first week in France and I apologize that I have neglected to be a more diligent blogger. I am making it my crazy goal to finish blogging about France by Christmas so I can start the New Year fresh, and without any more gloating 🙂
We left beautiful Honfleur and headed toward Paris. I was a bit nervous, to tell you the truth. Sometimes you don’t know if a city as big and stylish as Paris will accept you. I worried about behaving correctly, wearing the right clothes, having the proper look of irritation on my face to blend in with my surroundings. I should have known better. They like you if you: 1) Bring money, 2) Say “Bonjour” upon entering any place of business and 3) really enjoy their food, their culture and slow down long enough to remember to do all three.
When we drove in to the city limits, we saw this:
It’s unreal to see that sign. And then, taken with the iPhone because I nervously stashed my good camera safely in the back when I saw all the wackos on the road:
Holy crap, there she is. Just sitting there like, “no big deal, I’m the Eiffel Tower” Sigh. We’d arrived! And I will skip over the first truly dramatic story of Paris driving and say that as long as I live and as God and my dear husband as my witness, I will never willfully drive in Paris again. It. Was. Horrifying. See that little motorcyclist there? Yeah, they’re everywhere and they weave in and out of traffic as they please. And if the cars are small enough (which they all are) they’ll try to weave in between non-lanes as well. Hey, if there’s space, THEY’RE COMIN’ OVER! It took several acts of the Lord himself and three or four magic tricks to return our car to the car rental place. When we finally DID find the out-house sized facility, we slapped our papers down, mumbled something about wrecking our first car (still need to pay that bill…) and happily left. And walked 5 miles to our hotel. Little tip: Just because the Eiffel Tower looks close and you know your hotel is close to the tower, it could still be a mile away. It’s big. Don’t wear heeled boots just to try to look cool.
Matt – looking slightly scathed from having to drive in Paris. Eating a baguette that seemed like years since we’d bought that morning in Honfleur. This is our teeny room. Quaint, window always open. The bed is the same color as the floor because they have other things in common as well – like their firmness.
See that slit to the right of the photo? That’s the slit you wiggle through to get inside the shower. Those are towelettes on the sink, not condoms. Wanted to make that clear. And although not pictured (I do have pictures) the toilet was so close to the wall, I had to turn my legs to fit on it (I’m tall.) And if the day was particularly long, you could just lean forward 4 inches and rest your forehead on the wall in front of you as you sat. Hey, it’s all about comfort, right? We frankly didn’t care. If you come to Paris and your hotel is a big priority, you would do better elsewhere. Paris is OUT, not in.
Just another view. Okay, now on to bigger and better things. We scheduled our entire trip around food (naturally.) Our first and very exciting stop in Paris was at the #11 Restaurant in the World, Le Chateaubriand.
Chef Iñaki Aizpitarte runs a modest restaurant for such acclaim. A fixed price and fixed menu that changes daily. (the food, not the price. Although now that it’s famous, that might change daily, too…) We arrived a little early to our reservation and sat on a bench outside to just observe the place. It’s nearly a crime to go to dinner before 8 in Paris and so as we waited, we got to see the staff having their meal together.
That’s the chef waving. Someone he knew had just walked by. Whatever, we know he was really waving at me.
“James Green” in the picture behind the bar.
Everyone who works there has rogue-ish good looks and a casual swagger (all men.) They are helpful, polite and even accommodate you when your long-lost friend from high school asks if she can pull up a chair to your reserved table for two. At the #11 restaurant in the world.
My awesome friend, Angela Thomas, got to join us that night. She arranged flights and hostel stays and rented bikes just to come spend a day and a half with us in Paris. Because really, when else would that ever happen in either of our lifetimes?
Angela. Love this girl. She looks the part, don’t you think? She teaches English in France and was recently accepted in to grad school in Geneva, Switzerland. Hard to believe she was just another country-bumpkin like the rest of us in Portales, NM!
Okay, on to the food. We were given an amuse of classic gougères. Thin, crispy shell; soft, cheesy warm center. Topped with poppyseeds. Melt in your mouth.
Our wine for the night. I really like the wine in France. I wouldn’t say it’s better than what we get here, it’s just different. Brighter. More acidic. Newer:
Another amuse: an interesting blanched almond floating in a tea that was pretty heavy on the lemongrass flavor. Kind of a palate cleanser.
This thing was genius in a bowl. Beautifully fresh, raw sardines, mixed with heirloom tomatoes and a salty, tangy olive puree. The olive paste was the salt in the dish. Everything else was handled so delicately. The freshest ingredients, respected and allowed to shine. It was perfection and still one of the favorite things I ate on our entire trip. Funny how powerful simplicity can be.
Another amuse (amuse-bouche (mouth amuser) for those who don’t know, are little appetite “teasers” that chefs will sometimes bring out that are gratuitous. Stuff they were just playing with that night and wanted to show you. Aren’t you lucky?) This one was a very delicate squid in squid ink with shallots. Really meaty and bold. I really enjoyed it, although the thought was a little strange. I had always heard of squid ink but had never had the opportunity to try it.
The last of the amuses. Duck broth with shaved radishes. Simple, no-frills and another palate cleanser (my theory)
Just a shot of the inside of the place before it got really crowded. We were there EARLY at 7:45, mind you.
First course: Grilled mackerel (a nice, fatty, full-flavored fish) with leeks, leche del tigre (a ceviche water) and purselane (another weed – very common. Probably in your yard) So fresh. The menu was definitely more centered around fish and vegetables and it was a nice surprise. His restaurant is one of the best at being a good steward for food that is local and in season.
Second course: Lemon sole with fried potatoes and herbs (a lot of parsley and arugula.) This dish wasn’t WOW but it did have excellent flavor and balance of the soft, steamed fish and the crispy fried potato chips. Thin as paper!
Just wanted to show how tiny our table was 🙂
This dish was the star of the evening (besides the sardines) Lamb on top of charred eggplant puree (tasted like smoke – it’s the black stuff) with an unusual purple herb that was sort of spinach-like. We were shocked at the flavors that basically leaped off the plate. The dark, sultry colors of red and purple and black: colors not too common on dinner plates.
Leading in marvelously and cleverly into a matching first dessert:
I’m just now fully appreciating this dessert coming right after that eggplant dish. This was a shock to the system. Purple basil, raspberries, freeze-dried raspberries that had been turned into a powder and dusted all over the plate. Paired with some lemony meringue chips. It sounds weird. It looks weird. It tasted vibrant and alive. Playful, tart and danced around in your mouth. I all but licked the plate.
A quick pause to show you how full the restaurant became while we were there. Such a cozy place…
Last dessert. This one was fun. Corn ice cream, graham cookie crumble and buttermilk foam. That little ball of corn ice cream tasted exactly as if you had taken a raw cob of corn off the back of a truck in the summer and using the shuck as the handle, dug right in. The buttermilk was off-putting (for me) but all mixed up together with the sweetness of the graham cookie was…I have no word for it because (can’t say this about a lot of things) I’d never tasted anything like it. Completely unique.
Another shot from Matt’s point of view. All the people standing were waiting for a table in hopes that someone didn’t make their reservation. Unlikely. It should be noted here that Angela, rightfully named, was our Angel these first few experiences in Paris. She got us this reservation and 3 others (to be blogged later) Our trip would have been far less tasty without her. (and far less hilarious – so many more blog posts to come about our adventures with her!)
I don’t know what this is. Just a cool wall of names. I’m sure it means something important. If someone knows who has been there, let me know in the comments!
Matt wanted me to point out that Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert went to Le Chateaubriand and as some of you may know, those two guys are amazing chefs and KNOW good food. This is a clip from their time there. Watch and be inspired! When Eric Ripert, chef of a three starred Michelin restaurant says, “I wish I could have invented a dish like that” You know you’re in the presence of greatness.
And here we are outside. It’s hard to believe I will have an entirely new blog post about what happened this night between us leaving the restaurant and finally arriving back at our hotel at 2:30a.m. Everything in Paris was like that. Weeks lived in days, days lived in minutes. So much activity packed into each second. It’s the only way to experience this place. Especially if you are afraid you won’t be back for a really long time…
Up Next – our crazy cab ride with a drunken metro-lady