Friday, October 17, 2014

Last Sunday, we had dinner at Volt's Table 21 in Frederick, to celebrate Heather's weekend home for her University of Maryland Medical School interview.  It was amazing.  The experience itself is not quite as special as Minibar -- the seating doesn't give you as good a view of the kitchen preparation; there is much less interaction with the chefs (at Volt, you're served from your side of the counter by a waiter; at Minibar, you're served from the kitchen side of the counter by the chefs).  So you don't feel quite as much like a VIP.  But the food is just spectacular.  I loved everything except the calamari bolognese (which was just sort of OK).  The smoked eggplant that came with the lamb was not especially good, which was OK for me but disappointing for my vegetarian brother, for whom it was the main part of the plate.  (The vegetarian version of the meal was mostly very good, but in some cases it was just "the meat dish, plus more side dish, minus meat," which was often not quite on target.)

I didn't take pictures of everything, but this should give you the idea.  We also had the wine pairing and I tried to remember where they matched the wine pours with the courses.

AVIATION creme de violette, maraschino, gin
A cocktail in the form of a sorbet.  A little strong for me -- I don't care for gin much.

DEVILED EGG osetra caviar, whitmore farm hen egg, celeriac
Yum yum yum yum yum!!  I love deviled eggs and this was like the ultimate deviled egg ever.

OYSTER yuzu, lemon cucumber

SCALLOP roasted pawpaw vinaigrette, habanero, spaghetti squash

RICE CRISP aged cheddar, our bay spice

SMOKED BEET yellowfin tuna, egg yolk, tonnato

HUCKLEBERRY rose wine, fresh cheese
pierre paillard, grand cru, bouzy, champagne, france, m.v.

LOBSTER MUSHROOM tosaka seaweed, pickled ramps, sea beans

FOIE GRAS arugula, pickled sour cherry
tegernseerhof, zweigelt, rose, mittelbach, wachau, austria, 2012

WHITE ASPARAGUS sea urchin, dashi, hickory smoke
This was so delicious I forgot to take a picture until I had finished it...

MUSTARD GREEN SOUP mussels, radish, brioche croutons
lucien crochet, sauvignon blanc, sancerre, france, 2012
This was maybe the most luscious texture of the evening.

SWEET CORN filet bean, pea miso, corn smut
This was my favorite dish -- I love sweet corn, and this dish just had a perfect balance of flavors.  I could have eaten a giant bowl of this and been happy.  It was maybe the only dish where I genuinely regretted that there wasn't a lot more of it.  (With 21 courses, you seriously have to pace yourself...)

CALAMARI BOLOGNESE squid ink cavatelli, pepperoni, parmesan
r. lopez de heredia, viura/malvasia, vina gravonia, rioja, spain, 2004
Like I said.  Meh.  Just sort of dense and heavy, and nothing special about the flavors.

OPEN BOOK FARMS CHICKEN sprouted quinoa, hen of the woods mushrooms, cipollini onion
Phenomenally tender chicken, perfectly cooked, perfect accompaniments.

SWEETBREADS mole, pickled butternut squash, masa
keller estate, pinot noir, la cruz vineyard, sonoma coast, california, 2009

LAMB summer beans, smoked eggplant, meyer lemon

WAGYU BEEF salsify, malt, charred leeks
catena alta, malbec, historic rows, mendoza, argentina, 2010

PLEASANT RIDGE carrot, sourdough, golden raisin

GOLDEN GINGER APPLE walnut, sesame seed, bay leaf
chateau pajzos, tokaji, aszu, hungary, 2006
Surprisingly, this was the best dessert -- normally, I would go for the chocolate option every time, but the sesame with the chocolate didn't quite work for me.

CHOCOLATE sesame, caramel



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Day 6.0: Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

Wow.  Hard to believe -- it was finally time to go back home, after five amazing weeks in Paris.

I had pretty much packed everything up the night before, so finishing up and heading out was pretty quick -- just one last check to be sure I hadn't left anything behind, and I was off.  Boy, was my suitcase heavy!  Getting down those spiral stairs was quite a trick -- I just lowered the suitcase down one step at a time and took it nice and slo-o-o-o-ow.

After dropping off the apartment key at the security office, I went back to my neighborhood quick-stop bakery for one last French breakfast (speculoos cappuccino and pain au chocolat).

Then I was off to the airport.  Pretty awkward with the 60-pound suitcase (about which more later), but I managed OK, with the kind help of a young French man who carried my suitcase up the longest of the staircases I had to navigate.  I had a bit of a panic moment at the RER station when it wouldn't take my credit card, and there was nobody on duty at the ticket window, but luckily I had saved just enough French cash to buy the one-way ticket to the airport.

The United checkin at CDG airport is just obscenely long.  They have no kiosks; they don't have enough clerks; and they are unbelievably slow.  It took me just under an hour to get through the line to check my bag and get a boarding pass.  Then another hour or so to get through the whole passport / walk / security maze.  I am very glad that I got to the airport super-early because I wasn't stressed out at all, knowing that I had plenty of time.  (By contrast, the people just behind me in line were on an earlier flight, and they were totally panicked the entire time.)

The one snafu (and it is relevant for the My Life in Food blog) is that CDG is divided up into little departure pods, with 8-10 gates after the security checkpoint.  So there aren't many services in each pod, and there was just one little cafe near the gate.  Remember how I told you I had just enough cash to buy my RER ticket?  Yeah, so when the cafe's credit card machine broke just before I got to the front of the line, I realized that I had no way to get any food (no ATM, no time to go back out to buy something else).  I really wished I had bought something outside, but how could I have known?  Luckily there was a convenience store that took credit cards even for small purchases, so I bought a soda, bag of chips, and package of cookies, and that tided me over until the flight.

The flight was pretty much uneventful.  Mediocre airplane food, of course.  Thank goodness for the on-demand entertainment system -- I watched three movies on the way home, and got a little bit of work and an even littler bit of napping done in between.

The passport line in the US was un-frickin'-believable.  It was just insanely, insanely long, snaking back and forth, and just as you thought maybe you were getting to the front, you realized that the line then wound over to another side area where you were channeled through a whole new maze of zigzagging rows.  Incredibly frustrating and a truly crappy way to re-enter the country.  We really ought to be able to do better than this.  The dumbest part is that when you get to the front, they ask you what you're bringing back to the country with you.  In passport control.  And then you have to go pick up your bags, and go through customs, another long (but not quite as long) line, where they ask you the same freaking questions as the passport control guy!!  So irritating.

Finally, finally, finally I made it through and got to an area with a cell phone signal, and called John, who came to pick me up -- and then I was officially home.

I'm writing this almost a week later, and I still feel a little discombobulated (waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning; wondering why people aren't speaking French; missing my early evening kir; and feeling a bit overwhelmed at times by having an entire walk-in closet full of clothes to choose from).  I am so grateful that I had the opportunity for this once-in-a-lifetime experience that I'll never forget.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's incredible celebratory meal (for Heather's brief homecoming for her UMd med school interview), at a location to be disclosed soon.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Day 5.7: My Father's Diamond Birthday

I couldn't have had a better last day in Paris.

I got up early and went to the Musee d'Orsay before they opened -- it is the first Sunday of the month, so all of the major museums in Paris are free.  When I arrived at 9:10am (20 minutes before opening), there were already more than 100 people inline.  Today was the first raw, chilly, windy day that I've had in Paris -- the only day that I was really glad to have my jacket (it was maybe 55 or 60 Fahrenheit, with a chilly, damp wind).  I spent a few hours at the museum, mostly in the Impressionist galleries but also enjoying the decorative arts galleries. I'm always amazed by how stunningly beautiful the building itself is.  It's hard to imagine that if things had gone differently, the Orsay could just be a big commercial mall or something -- looking at it now, it seems so inevitable that it was always meant to be a museum, but of course that's not the case.

My original plan was to pick up a sandwich and have lunch in the garden at the Rodin Museum, but given how chilly it was, I was too tempted by the menu at the Restaurant de la Musee d'Orsay and ate there instead.  The restaurant is in one of the gorgeous, classical spaces, with gold filigree, high windows, and painted ceilings.  And the food is extremely good.  I started with the chilled pea soup with smoked salmon:

and then had the fish and chips, which was light and crispy, with a really tasty, fresh tartar sauce.

Naturally, I had to end with the cafe gourmand, with a chocolate macaron, mango(?) jelly, and some other kind of yummy gelatin-like dessert.

Afterwards, I took the Metro back to my neighborhood and stopped at Gerard Mulot (a really awesome patisserie) to pick up macarons and chocolats to bring back home.

Then I went back to finish packing (NO WAY will my suitcase be under 50 pounds, but I have an collapsible carry-on duffel that I can hopefully offload enough to avoid the surcharge).

My dad and Flora stopped by just before 6 to see my apartment and walk over to our celebratory dinner for my dad's 75th birthday, at Joel Robuchon.  We had the tasting menu with wine pairing, and wow was it good!  There are few things in life that are more wonderful than having a world-class meal with the people who mean the most to you.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The first amuse-bouche was king crab with daikon, which was just light and refreshing and delicious.  The second was "half-cooked salmon" (seared on the outside, basically raw on the inside) with caviar and other garnishes.  Wow.  At this point, it was clear we were in for an amazing meal.

Next a perfectly cooked scallop, with lardon (bacon) foam and other delicious garnishes.

Then we had a chestnut soup with crême fraiche.  It is impossible to describe how unctuous, luxurious, and simply wonderful this soup was.  It is one of the best things I have ever eaten.

The foie gras was absolutely perfectly cooked -- seared on the outside, meltingly sensual on the inside, served with -- well, it's hard to explain, but it's basically the world's most perfect fruit roll-up: apple strips marinated in hibiscus.  Again, one of the most absolutely memorable dishes I have ever had.

Then chicken gyoza (which I sadly was too busy lusciously enjoying to photograph) and John Dory with salsify:

We had a choice of three main courses, but luckily there were three of us, so we got to try all three -- lamb chops with essence of thyme, quail with foie gras and truffled potato puree, and steak with shallot confit and black cardamom.  All very good, but the quail was just remarkably tender, and the sauce it was served in was so intensely reduced, it was like pure wonderful flavor.  (And I was too busy eating to take pictures, especially since at this point we were on the third glass of our wine pairing, and I'd started with a kir royale...)

Then two desserts -- lime-coconut cream with rum granita and "chocolate temptation," just chocolate amazingness with mousse, cocoa nibs, and I don't even know what else.

Finally, decaf espresso (which of course came with a tiny madeleine and a petite caramel):

What a wonderful, unforgettable celebratory dinner, and what a perfect last night in Paris.

Now it is time to finish packing, go to bed, and try to get some sleep before tomorrow's departure.  It's just so hard to believe that this amazing adventure is over.  I will never forget this experience.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Days 5.5-5.6: Lots of Lasts

It's hard to believe that I'm in my last few days of this epic trip.

Yesterday, I had a speculoos cappuccino (so yum!) and brioche au chocolat at the counter-service bakery I'd eaten at the day before.  Work was great -- lots of good ideas being exchanged, and hopefully the projects will keep going after I return home.

Last night, I went to Café Louise, just across the street and had a kir mûre (blackberry) and a crôque monsieur -- I'd had one at another cafe that wasn't very good, so I thought I should have one more before leaving Paris.  Definitely better, but oh so rich!  (I couldn't finish it.)

Afterwards, I went to see Daniel Radcliffe's new movie, Horns, which is actually pretty funny and sort of intriguing (though I don't think Daniel Radcliffe is a particularly great actor).

Today, I went back to L'Enfance du Lard for lunch -- it was one of the first places I'd eaten at, so very nice to revisit just before leaving.  I had their terrine du chef (which was good but sort of odd -- mushrooms and chicken pieces in a mold) and onglet du veau avec sauce roquefort, which was really delicious -- super-tender and very tasty.

After lunch, I went up to the Montmartre area and met my friend Jérôme for a stroll and a coffee, then came back to the apartment for a while to pack and get organized.  For dinner, I went to Côté Bergamote, a restaurant that I'd seen my very first night but took a while to relocate because I was so turned around that night, so I hadn't been there yet.  It was really good and I'm sorry I hadn't been there before.  I started with the house special cocktail -- a kir bergamote.  Yum!

For an entrée, I had the fois gras, flavored with vanilla and tarragon -- it was pretty good but had a little bit of a bitter undertaste that I couldn't quite make up my mind about.  Paired with the bit of fruit jam and pain d'épices, though, it balanced out.

Since I had such a heavy lunch, I stuck with a salad for the main course -- but it was a huge salad, the salade Côté Sud, with ham, melon, parmesan, roasted peppers, and gooseberries.

I wasn't sure about dessert, but then I spotted the café gourmand, and I thought, crap, how is it that I've been in France for five friggin' weeks and I haven't ordered a café gourmand (which is coffee with several mini-desserts).  I feel that I have wasted my time here!  This one was extra-yummy -- a strawberry macaron, a mini crême brulée, and a super-rich gâteau chocolat.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Days 5.3-5.4: The Long March

Yesterday (Wednesday), I met a former student (Amy) at Le Mâchon d'Henri for lunch.  The food and the company were both awesome!  I had the roast chicken in orange sauce with mashed potatoes and a cheese plate (which was way more of three kinds of cheese than two people could eat -- all yummy, though!)

Later in the afternoon, I went over to Paris Dauphine to meet with their president.  That was an especially interesting conversation, because Paris Dauphine is really unique among French universities in that it is selective like the "grands écoles" but also a research university.  How they "got there from here" was the main focus of our conversation.  The president (Laurent Batsch) actually wrote a book about it ("Paris-Dauphine: Quand l'Université fait École") and gave me a signed copy, which I am looking forward to reading, although it will fully stretch my French abilities!

Afterwards, I decided to walk to the Arc de Triomphe, since it didn't seem that far.  Actually it was farther than it seemed, but once I had made it there, I decided I really should walk down the Champs-Élysées, which I hadn't done yet -- and that is always farther than one thinks it will be.  Still, after I had gotten to the far end, I thought, well, I may as well just continue through the Tuileries to the Louvre -- and that was much farther than I remembered it to be!  In the end, though, I walked nearly 4 miles from Paris Dauphine to my apartment.  Whew!  It was a lovely night for it, though, and I'm very glad that I had that adventure.  

I ended up eating at a cafe very close to my apartment, but in a direction I hadn't walked before (east).  I sat outside and had escargots and pizza, thoug there was either something wrong with the waiter's hearing or the walk had somehow made my French speaking muscles tired.  First he apparently interpreted "six escargots" as "Caesar salad" and brought me a salad instead of snails.  (I could not possibly have eaten it in any case -- it had a gargantuan "American-sized" quantity of dressing on it, nearly as much dressing as lettuce!)  He was very polite about the mistake, though, and eventually brought me the snails (which were delicious, garlic-parsley-buttery, and served with crusty bread, as snails should be).  I decided not to bother correcting the second error, which is that he brought me the entirely wrong pizza.  I ordered "pizza quatre fromages" (which is really not that hard to say, so I don't think I said it wrong), and this is what I got:

Ham, onions, arugula, and balsamic.  One cheese, as far as I could tell.  It was yummy, though.  I do feel that I must again remark that when I talk about American eating habits with French people, they all comment on how large our serving sizes are -- but whenever I eat at a French restaurant, a meal for one is the size of this pizza.  Still can't figure out how that works for them -- you definitely do not see an awful lot of heavy French people (though they do exist!)

Today I went to a "counter bakery" restaurant nearby and had a simple formule express - espresso and a pain au chocolat.  Yum, and much cheaper than the bistros I've been having breakfast at.  

I lingered there for a while, working a little and reading a little, then walked down to Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie, where I gave a talk in their seminar series.  Very enjoyable -- attentive audience, good conversations afterwards.  On the way back, I stopped at a store near campus where I was finally able to buy some gifts to bring back home, then went to a nearby counter-service Turkish place and had a gyro-style sandwich (though I think the meat was a mix of lamb and turkey) with the best fries I've had in Paris.

Afterwards I found the shop where Shakespeare & Co. buys books, and tried to sell back some of my books.  In retrospect, I wish I had just turned down their offer and left the books in some public place for an American tourist to maybe find -- of the six books I brought, he was only willing to pay for four (though said he'd take the other two and put them on the free table), and only offered me 1 euro each for those books.  Three of the books were brand new, and had all been on the NYT top-ten book lists in the last year -- these aren't some junky old books.  And one of the books was not brand new, but I had just bought it from them for 5 euros, so surely they should have been willing to give me half of that?  (Though he didn't look inside the book to see that it had been bought from them.)  Anyway, I really didn't feel like carrying them home, and didn't have a better plan ready, so I took the four crummy euros and felt a bit ripped off.  Oh, well.  At least I don't have to carry them or find a way to abandon them where they might find a home.

Later in the afternoon, I went back over to Paris Dauphine, where Alexis had offered to introduce me to a friend/colleague (same general research area) who is the Rector (effectively equivalent to an American or French university president) at Istanbul Bilgi University.  That was a very interesting conversation, because his path into the presidency was completely different from anybody else I've talked to.

When I got back (via Metro) to my neighborhood, I went back to Sushi House where I'd eaten a few weeks ago and had a bento box (soup, salad, sashimi, sushi, maki, and gyoza) -- a nice "sampler platter" and just what I was in the mood for.  Then I went to Amorino (yes, again!!) and this time was completely free to choose what I would -- which was mango, speculoos, and (surprisingly) orzo.  It's hard to describe the orzo flavor -- the closest I can come is the barley tea that is often served at Korean restaurant.  It's sort of a nutty, grainy flavor -- but of course sweetened to become an ice cream.  It sounds weird but is surprisingly mellow and satisfying.

Days 5.1-5.2: Last week in Paris!

On Monday, I had a cafe and croissant at Le Pré aux Clercs, then ended up working through lunch.  So I thought I would have an early dinner, and decided to try Le Relais de l'Entrecôte, which a friend had told me had the best steak frites in Paris.  But my "early dinner" plans were somewhat foiled when I found that they didn't open until 7:00 (early by Paris standards, but not mine).  So I went to Cafe Flore, just up the street, for a kir (and a danged expensive one -- at 9,50E, twice what they charge at most cafes.  But it did come with some spiffy seasoned potato chips as a snacklet, so that tided me over until dinner).

Not wanting to be gauchely early, I decided to walk down to the Seine and come back to the restaurant around 7:15.  But when I walked past around 6:50, I saw there were already about 25-30 people in two rather disorganized lines, waiting for it to open.  So I decided I'd better get in line, even though I couldn't figure out which end to join.  (Turned out they both kind of came in in parallel, and the other one was shorter, but oh well.  I managed to snag the last outside table.  I waited for a while, eventually had a waitress (note that this is the only restaurant I've been to in Paris with an entirely female waitstaff, all in kitschy little black-and-white short-skirt outfits) come by to take the extra glasses (table was set for two).  When she came back again, I thought she'd bring a menu, but non.  There is no menu.  There is one menu (fixed-price dinner):  green salad, steak, and frites.  Well, then, I guess I'll have that!

The salad was just so-so (very heavily dressed, very strong horseradish flavor in the vinaigrette).

But the fries were the best I've had in Paris (hot and crispy) and the steak was very good -- tender and perfectly cooked, with the "house sauce" (basically garlic-parsley butter sauce).

My only complaint would have been that the serving of steak wasn't very large -- but then, as I was finishing up, they brought more fries (a ridiculous amount of more fries) and more steak.

I chose to pass on dessert, and instead went to Amorino for the final chapter in my grand challenge:  I finally had the banana (which was OK for banana, given that I don't really like banana-flavored things), and then repeated the L'Inimitabile (chocolate hazelnut) and pistachio.  Ta-da!  I have now eaten all of the flavors of Amorino gelato!  Success is mine!

Today (Tuesday), I just had yogurt for breakfast and then met Pavlos to walk to the main building of the university to meet with the president.  First of all, his offices are in a very old part of the main building -- the room we waited in was a gorgeous classically French style drawing room, with 30' ceilings, and his office was not much less spectacular.  We had a really interesting conversation, ranging from recent changes of French universities to become slightly more autonomous, to managing a staff and faculty that consists entirely of public servants (== lifetime tenure), to innovation in the classroom, to the transition from the research laboratory/classroom into an administrative position.

Afterwards, I walked back, worked for a while, met with Bruno and then had lunch with him and some other faculty at the university cafeteria (followed by a café on their fabulous 7th-floor terrace that looks out over the entire city).  After lunch, I was reviewing the slides for my 3pm talk when the fire alarms started blaring -- apparently they have fire drills every few months, and I got lucky with the timing.  They evacuated the entire building (none too quickly; it's a huge building with only a few entrances) and then we all waited outside until shortly after 3, when they let us back in.  We went straight to the presentation room (luckily I'd brought my computer and VGA connector with me), gave people a few minutes to show up and settle in, and then I went straight into the talk.  It went pretty well -- there were about 30 attendees, mostly students, and they were very attentive and engaged.  (Considering that I'll give the talk at least four more times here and at home, it was a good investment of time to prepare it!)  Afterwards, I met with Pavlos for a while, then came back to the apartment to crash and cool off a bit.  (All those trips up and down 8 flights of stairs did me in!)

For dinner, I went back to Chalet Grégoire, where I'd had fondue the first week here.  I was planning to try their raclette, but that seemed too heavy, so I ended up ordering the crême brûlée foie gras (yes, just what it sounds like -- a sort of creamy mousse with foie gras, brûléed like a dessert), veal scallop with mushroom cream sauce, and fondant au chocolat (which turned out to be basically a really outrageously rich and delicious chocolate lava cake, with vanilla ice cream).  So much for not heavy, but it was all very good!  (Well, actually, the crême brulée dish was a bit on the bland side, but the texture made up for it.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 4.7: Around the Neighborhood

I slept really late today after my walking adventure yesterday -- such luxury!

I caught up on my email, ate a banana, washed dishes, and did a bit of laundry (I figured if I washed out a few things, I would be able to make it until my return home without going to the laundromat again).  Then I went to the movies (stopping on the way to pick up a sandwich from the corner shop, which I ate during the movie -- they seem much less concerned about outside food at the movies here, and they don't understand about movie popcorn and hot dogs!)

I had wanted to see Gemma Bovery since I saw the trailer for it. It's about an English couple (Gemma and Charles Bovery) who move to Normandy and their French neighbor who realizes that they are reliving the story of Madame Bovary.  I thought I would be able to follow it better because part of the movie is in English (the main characters and some of the others speak English at times).  I also studied up this time -- I read a synopsis of the plot of Madame Bovary and also a summary of the graphic novel Gemma Bovery that the movie is based on.  Moderate success!  I understood about half of the French (and of course all of the English...), so I followed most of the movie except for a few details here and there -- even the ending, which is different from the novel.  It was fun to watch a movie in French that I actually (mainly) understood.

After the movie, I had a kir pêche at a nearby cafe, then sat on a bench reading a book for a while, then went back to the first restaurant I ate at in Paris -- La Jacobine.  I had had trouble finding it again, but had the business card they'd given me with a little map, and finally remembered that it's down a sort of alley off bd St-Germain, not a drivable street.  They didn't have any tables, but they took my name (I was very proud of managing that particular transaction in French! - although they also speak English there, since they cater to a lot of tourists...) and I only waited about ten minutes.  This time I ordered a dish that had intrigued me the first time -- camembert rôti, which was just broiled/melted Camembert with a bit of salad and some bread.  Really yummy and simple.

For the main course, I had filet de mignon de porc à la sauce moutarde - very tasty, tender pork medallions in a mustard cream sauce, with potatoes and vegetables.  The sides were just OK, but the meat was really delicious.

Continuing my quest, I walked by Amorino for dessert -- chocolat Amorino (a repeat), coconut, and bergamote (which I didn't know what it was, but after tasting and looking it up on Wikipedia I realized it's a kind of very tangy orange that's most well known for being the source of the essential oil that flavors Earl Gray tea).  I'm just one flavor (banana) away from trying them all!

Hard to believe I've been here for nearly a month, and will return home in a week.  It feels weird and unsettling -- I'm definitely ready to go back home, and yet there's some nostalgia creeping in, knowing that I'll probably never do anything quite like this again.  Every time I do something feels like (and probably is, at least for a long while) the last time -- last movie in Paris, last visit to La Jacobin, last visit to Amorino (but not that, yet!)

Day 4.6: A Walking Adventure

Saturday I set out to walk across Paris -- from my apartment to Sacré-Coeur (about 2.5 miles according to Google Maps).

I made sure to build up my strength by sleeping in!  I brought a few things from the fridge, stopped at the local épicerie for more supplies, and ate a picnic lunch on a bunch near the Louvre.  Then I started the real walk.  It's almost directly north, but since the streets don't always go straight, I followed 11 different streets along the way: Rue de Rom, Avenue de l'Opéra, Rue St-Anne, Rue de Gramont, Rue Laffitte, Rue de Châteaudon, Rue Flécher, Rue des Martyrs, Rue Lallier, Bd de Rochechouart, Rue Danton, Rue des Trois Frères, Rue Chappe, and Rue Gabrielle.

I discovered some interesting neighborhoods and areas that I had never seen before.  Rue St-Anne is Paris's Japantown -- there are dozens of Japanese restuarants and stores, as well as a scattering of Korean and Vietnamese ones.  Rue des Martyrs is the beginning of the Montmartre area (Montmartre means literally "mountain of the martyrs") -- steep, narrow streets with lots of funky stores and cafes.

I celebrated my arrival at the summit with a walk inside Sacre-Coeur and then a pint of cider: from the sublime to the somatic!

I wanted to explore parts of Montmartre that I hadn't been to before, so I went into the Église St-Pierre du Montmartre (the second oldest church in France; though I couldn't explore too much because they were just getting ready for a mass or some other service, and people were arriving for that).  I thought about going to the Dali museum but it was 11,50E and I'm not that keen on surrealism.  Instead I went to the Musée du Montmartre, which is in a really lovely setting -- the front building is a house where Renoir and other artists lived and painted, but the rear area includes several gorgeous gardens, looking out over the vineyards of Montmartre.  (The vineyards were replanted in the early 20th century -- all of the original vineyards had been destroyed during the period of development -- and are still actively harvested, to raise money for Montmartre-area projects and events.)  The museum itself includes paintings and other documents from the history of Montmartre.  It's a small but very pleasant museum.

I walked back down and took the Metro back to my neighborhood.  I went back to my room, took a shower, rested for a while, and then went out again to see an organ concert at Notre Dame.  They just finished a multi-year, massive restoration project on the Grand Organ, and last week was the inaugural concert.  They have a series of concerts to celebrate the restoration.  I got there around 8pm (for the 8:30 concert) and was glad I had come early, as the church was quite full.  Of course, it really doesn't matter much where you sit for an organ concert!  The program included music by Dupré, Wagner (Prelude and Liebestod), Liszt, and Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring, a four-handed piano arrangement played on the organ with a second organist accompanying).  In all honesty, I can't say that I exactly enjoyed the Stravinsky (I'm not a big fan of modern music) but it was an extremely interesting experience to hear Stravinsky on one of the most famous/best organs in the world, in a 350-year-old church!

Somehow I never got around to having an actual dinner -- I ate some crackers when I got back to the room and then decided napping/resting would be more useful than eating.  So on the way back to my apartment, I picked up a crêpe Speculoos (if you don't know what Speculoos is, it's kind of like peanut butter but with the flavor of a gingerbread cookie).  That hit the spot!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Day 4.5: Authentic Greek

Today I had several breakthroughs at work, so it was very productive!

Breakfast was simple -- a café and croissant at the corner bistro.  Lunch, with Bruno and Marc, was the galette du minute (today's special - ham, cheese, and vegetables, with a fried egg) at Café Galette, across the street from the university.

Dinner was special, though -- I took the bus with Pavlos back to his neighborhood in the 16th, and we had dinner with his partner Jacqueline at a neighborhood Greek restaurant called Chez Tony (quite a name for a Greek restaurant! -- apparently it used to be more Greek, I think Souvlaki Mykonos or some such, but they changed it to bring in a broader clientele, while keeping the Greek menu).  It was awesome -- we just had a bunch of appetizers/small plates to share.  First a round of phyllo pastries -- spanakopita, meat, and cheese triangles, all served with a small salad with balsamic and cilantro.  Next came flat pitas with cheese -- basically Greek quesadillas, just a little spicy and wonderfully toasted on the outside.  Finally was a round of dips -- taramosalata, tzatziki, and eggplant (basically baba ganoush) with warm pita bread.  They also were willing to indulge my taste for retsina (which is impossible to describe if you've never had it, but it's basically pine-flavored wine -- an acquired taste but really delicious and special once you acquire that taste!)  All in all, a terrific meal with wonderful company.

Late-night update:  around 12:30am, I heard a lot of yelling outside, along with what sounded like police whistling.  It went on for a while, and since I was up anyway, I went down to see what the commotion was.  After a bit, I saw some people coming past on the sidewalk, yelling something but also moving in a strangely smooth way, and I realized they were on skates.  Then another guy joined them, covered with flashing blue lights.  OK, now I am sure there is something odd going on, so I start googling around, and learned about Paris Roller, "the world's biggest weekly skating event."  So every Friday night, hundreds (thousands?) of inline skaters get together at Montparnasse and skate for a couple of hours, pausing only for a civilized wine and snack break.  The police monitor the event and close the street.  It's all very... French.  I think I have actually heard this event go past before, but I just thought it was rowdy people (and was already in bed so really not in a mood to get up and see why it was so loud outside).  Just as I was figuring this out, it really got lively, and I looked out in time to see the main group go skating past, right down the middle of Bd St-Germain.


Day 4.4: Low-key all around

Breakfast: The rest of the baguette with butter and plum jam.

A morning of semi-productive work (got down to a zero inbox, so that was exciting!)

Lunch: faux-filet at the university cafeteria with Bruno, and a café express at the cafe next door.

An afternoon of more semi-productive work.

Dinner:  takeout from a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place down the street (lemongrass chicken, roast duck, steamed broccoli, and Cantonese rice, all surprisingly yummy), and a chou au chocolat (which was full of this outrageously dense chocolate cream).

Like the subject line said, a low-key day!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Days 3.6 - 4.3: It's all a blur!

Having Caroline here, and then starting to think about my "re-entry" back home in a couple of weeks, has had me in a whirl, and the days are starting to run together. :-)

On the walk back from Shu on Friday night, we stopped at Maison Georges Larnicol, where I'd seen these intriguing pastries called kouignettes.  We bought four and had them for breakfast Saturday morning -- an almond, a framboise (raspberry), a chocolate, and a salted caramel.  These things are simply unreal -- basically each one is a half-stick of butter, bound densely together with a little flour, a lot of sugar, and whatever flavorings are mixed in.  Good but just outrageously rich.

We had slept in pretty late (noonish by the time the princess got up), but we still managed to squeeze in a full day -- a visit to the Musée de Cluny (a museum of medieval arts, where the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are housed), a stop at Starbuck's, a walk up to the Pantheon, a stop in the Tuileries to sit quietly and read for a while, then a run to the Metro station when the skies turned dark, and a race from the Grands Boulevards station through the rain to Bouillon Chartier, the restaurant and French institution that John and I discovered on our very first trip to Paris together.  

We ate cheek-to-jowl with strangers, as is always the way at Chartier, and had escargots (the toughest-to-remove little critters I've ever had), a salade frisée aux lardons, boeuf bourgignonne, and lamb chops.  The food is always decent -- not the best in France, but good, and way cheaper than almost any comparable restaurant you can find.  Instead of having dessert there, we stopped once again at Amorino (I didn't make any progress towards my try-every-flavor goal, since I only had repeats: pistachio, chocolate-hazelnut, and raspberry).
Caroline had a midday flight Sunday, so we took the train out to Charles Degaulle pretty early.  We had planned to buy a crêpe along the way, but I didn't realize that the kiosks would all be closed Sunday morning!  Very disappointing -- Caroline had to settle for the mediocre packaged madeleines from the Metro vending machine for breakfast.  Once I sent her off through security, I stopped at the airport Starbuck's and had the intriguing American pancakes with maple syrup (you can't get these at a Starbuck's in the U.S., interestingly -- they're not bad, actually) and an iced chai latte (which was disappointingly weak and watery; I guess I really will have to wait until I get back to the U.S. for my fix).

On the way back, I stopped at St-Sulpice for the weekly organ concert (a female organist this time, quite unusual I think!)  I had lunch at Café Six, which I'd walked by before and thought looked good.  It was pretty tasty -- taramasalata and duck confit (and odd combination but it worked).

I was supposed to meet a friend later for a walk and coffee or dinner in Montmartre, but I ended up cancelling and just falling asleep for a while in the afternoon -- it had been a long week!  That evening I went to a sushi/yakitori place I'd seen nearby, but made a booboo -- I walked in and sat down; they brought me a little amuse (plate of two snails -- I ate one but it was oddly fishy and not very appealing) and the menu.  I didn't see the combination meal I had planned to order, so I asked the waitress whether they had any formules or combinations, and she said, no, but the sushi meal (for 35 euros!!) included soup, but no salad or anything.  Um, this is not what I thought I was getting into.  Suddenly I remembered that there were two Japanese places on that street and I wandered into the wrong one.  I almost let myself be social-pressured into staying but decided that was just too ridiculousl (Tsukizi)y expensive and not even what I wanted to eat.  So I awkwardly excused myself, left, and walked down to the other place (Yushi), where for 15E, I had soup, salad, sashimi and five skewers.  It was decent, nothing to go out of your way for but perfectly fine.

On Monday, I decided to go out to breakfast, which I don't usually do.  I went back to the place I'd most enjoyed my simple café and croissant, Le Pré aux Clercs on Rue Jacob.  Very nice -- just simple, open and bright, nobody bothering me, so I sat for a while, did some work (no wifi, though, of course), read a bit, and lingered over the meal.  I wasn't actually hungry at lunchtime, but felt sort of out of sorts, so just wandered for a while, picked up a few more English books at a used bookstore, and ended up getting a snack at McDonald's (which I regretted; I really wasn't in the mood for junk food, especially not secondhand junk food, but I just couldn't make a decision).

Dinner, however, was wonderful.  Pavlos invited me (and his other colleague Yannis) out to dinner at La Petite Chaise, which is the oldest restaurant in Paris (they've been serving food at that location as an inn or restaurant since 1680, and still have the original iron grillwork in front).  I had the assiette nordique (three kinds of smoked fish, with lime sorbet), magret de canard, and the gâteau au chocolat. We shared a bottle of Beaujolais, and I thoroughly enjoyed the food, the wine, the company, and the ambience.

Yesterday, I just had yogurt for breakfast, worked for a while, then went to lunch with Bruno at a Japanese restaurant he had recommended -- Higuma, near the Palais Royal.  The menu is basic -- ramen (which they call "lamen"), a few sauteéd items, and donburi.  I had the miso ramen set - miso ramen soup with bamboo shoots and roasted pork, plus a plate of gyoza.  The miso soup was good -- basic comfort food, tasty and filling (and twice as much as one person could possibly eat!) but the gyoza were just fabulous, crispy on the outside, succulent juicy filling.  Really super.

Last night I thought I'd get an inexpensive takeout dinner.  I was two-thirds right.  I went to the épicerie I've been to before (but haven't bought prepared foods at before) -- asked for a small container of crevettes mayonnaise (shrimp in dill mayonnaise sauce) and a small container of mushroom salad, plus a plum clafoutis, a sesame roll, and a chilled bottle of rosé.  The total came out to over 40E!  I was shocked but figured, well, what am I going to do, refuse to pay after they've filled the containers?  When I got to the apartment, I checked, and it turned out that the shrimp (maybe about 15-20 small-to-medium shrimp) cost over 10E, the mushroom salad was an outrageous 8E, and the pastry was 6E.  Which means the wine (which was not particularly fancy) was probably 15E, which is a ripoff too.  Well, the food tasted good anyway, though not nearly 40E good.  At least it turned out there was enough of it that I made a second meal of it for tonight's dinner.

Today I had leftover sesame roll and jam for breakfast.  For lunch, I was aimless and wandering again, and ended up at Le Pré aux Clercs, where I'd enjoyed breakfast so much.  Really bad idea.  I ordered the roast chicken with fries, and it was maybe the least enjoyable chicken I've had anywhere -- really tough and dry meat, rubbery skin.  The fries were OK.  So then I was kind of mopey, thinking how I'd wasted the opportunity for a perfectly good meal, and figured I'd indulge in dessert.  I got the pear-Nutella crumble, and that was pretty good if not amazing -- gooey inside, crisp and buttery on top.

Dinner was the leftovers, plus a demi-baguette and le Royal pastry from Artisan Boulanger across the street (I love their bread!).  Le Royal turned out to be a chocolate mousse with a layer of crispy chocolate stuff underneath.  Really rich and yummy.  Too much dessert for one day, though -- I am going to force myself to get up and go running tomorrow for the first time since before Caroline came to visit!