Monday, June 22, 2009

paris day three: the international sign for "i'm so stuffed i want to die"

Day three dawned in beautiful Paris and I realized that I had only had one croissant thus far. This was unacceptable and had to be remedied as soon as possible. So on our walk from the hotel to the Louvre, the natural stop was Laduree, another world famous patisserie. Though Laduree is probably more famous for its macarons and other sweet pastries, I went straight for the classic butter croissant. And there is nothing better, really, than a simple, flaky, perfectly buttery pastry. I realized when we reached the Louvre, however, that I should have gotten two - or five. I would need the energy to deal with the crowds and with getting utterly lost in the gargantuan museum.

After hours of wandering through several amazing collections and hitting the required big three - Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo - we thought we were making our way out but just kept circling around to the Marly Horses. Something like three times. I mean, they're amazing but we were just trying to get out at that point. By the time we finally escaped, we were famished, and did not have the energy to search far and wide for the best lunch. We ended up at a small bistro near the museum called Cafe de la Comedie. I have no doubt that this place was overpriced based on proximity to the museum, but in the end we were fairly satisfied with the food. J-Cat had a perfectly respectable burger, while I had a croque monsieur on Poilane miche. I figure it's pretty hard to screw up croque monsieur, especially when it's on fantastic bread, and I was right.

After lunch, it was time for more art and beauty. We strolled through the Tuileries gardens towards L'Orangerie, the small museum featuring Monet's Water Lillies, as well as other impressionist masterpieces. The circular room with the skylight roof where you stand surrounded on all sides by Monet's breathtaking lillies is an experience like no other.

And then it was time for the Eiffel Tower. We decided to walk all the way over, which took a good long while, but gave us the chance to see some other sights, like Place de la Concorde, Petit Palais, and the Invalides. Towards the end of this walk, I discovered an amazing little product called Compeed blister patches, which I can't believe they don't sell in the US because it saved my feet from certain agony after literally hours of nonstop walking.

We finally arrive at the Eiffel Tower to find a ridiculously long line for the elevators, so I'm especially glad that we found those blister patches because we walked all the way up. I felt pretty bad for some of the people we passed on the way up, they did not look like they should have attempted it.

After the stunning views, we had a little time before our dinner reservation, so we stopped for our now traditional early evening coffee. Look how tiny it is, you can't even see it in J-Cat's hand.

Our day culminated in a fantastic diner at the much-lauded Chez L'Ami Jean, Stephane Jego's invariably packed basque-influenced bistro in the 7th arrondisement. The meal started with an amuse of tinned fromage blanc made from ewe’s milk with piment d’Espelette and chives. This mild cheese curd was spread on rustic bread from Poujauran, a highly regarded boulangerie that supplies many three-star Parisian restaurants. J-Cat then had a perfect mussel risotto, while I had a starter of sardines, mozzarella, and tomato, all freshness come to life. J-Cat's main was a steak (he ate a lot of steak in Paris) with fresh morels. Mine was a guinea hen with asparagus and a giant marrow bone. The guinea hen was perfectly roasted rare, and I was just completely content scooping out the marrow with my little spoon. Dessert is where things got a little out of hand. J-Cat ordered a perfectly normal meringue with raspberries and vanilla creme. But I ordered something from another planet. It was listed as "Grand-mere riz au lait". In my flimsy French, I figured that meant "grandmother's rice pudding". I was right about the rice pudding part, but now I believe "grand-mere" must mean "big-ass". This was the most obscenely large bowl of rice pudding ever set in front of a single person. I mean, seriously, I was already quite stuffed, how is this the portion for one person? But it was amazing, with a ribbon of confiture de lait and served with a bowl full of dried fruits and sugared nuts, and a big wooden spoon to serve yourself. Oh how I wished I could take it all home and pull it out in the middle of the night, it was certainly the best rice pudding I've ever had. But that wasn't the end of our desserts.

At the table next to us, a Japanese couple had apparently ordered some kind of chef's tasting menu, because the waitress just kept piling on dish after dish to the befuddled couple. Not able to speak any French or much English, they didn't seem to know what was ahead of them. The giant platter of caramelized foie gras is the first thing that got my notice. But when the waitress brought them the same rice pudding as mine and told them that it was the first of three desserts, the poor man put his head in his hands and started sweating. I could only imagine that he was telling his wife that he couldn't do it, it was just too insane. She simply laughed and took tiny bites. The next two desserts came simultaneously, and she simply picked them both up off their table, set it on ours, and said in broken English "please, we can't". We laughed and tried to tell them that we were just too stuffed, but she would not have any of that. So we had a bit of passionfruit custard and a supremely rich dark chocolate quenelle. When the waitress returned to collect the dishes, she looked at the half eaten extra desserts on our table and just laughed. There are no language barriers when you're being stuffed with excellent food.

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