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!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Days 3.4-3.5: Work, a boat ride, and another amazing meal

On Thursday, Caroline rode out to La Défense to do some shopping, and I went over to Paris Dauphine to visit some colleagues.  We tried to have dinner at Relais de l'Entrecôte, which a friend told me has the best steak frites in Paris, but there was a line of about 20 people waiting when we got there!  So I guess it really is very good, but we weren't going to wait that long.  We ended up just up the street, at a little bistro called Au Saint Benoit, which had live jazz (a Brazilian singer and guitarist) and decent (but not spectacular) food.  We had soupe a l'oignon, saumon fumé, steak au poivre, and magret de canard.  Their desserts were the best part -- really interesting and very tasty -- we had a Nutella molten lava cake and banana eggrolls.

Today, we rode the Paris Canal boat up the St-Martin Canal.  I've never been in that part of Paris.  It was really nice -- the boatride was pleasant (although we couldn't understand most of the narration -- even when he was talking in English, it sounded like French, and was too quiet and very mumbled).  When you turn up the canal off of the Seine, you first go through a lock (I've never been through a canal lock before, so that was pretty cool), then through a 2km tunnel that feels ancient and mysterious, then through four more double locks through the neighborhoods of eastern Paris before you arrive at Parc de la Villette -- about a 2.5-hour ride altogether.  A very pleasant way to spend a beautiful morning!

I've never been to the Parc de la Villette before, either.  It's really great -- very large and spread out, with lots of different areas -- incredible playgrounds for kids, quiet hideaways for adults, a bamboo garden, cafes, strolling paths and benches.  We wandered around and down to the southern side of the park, had one of the best lunches I've had in Paris (see below), and then tried to go to the Museum of Musical Instruments -- but sadly, they are closed for renovation until mid-October.  It looks like they have a really amazing collection, so I will try to go back the next time I'm in Paris.

Lunch was at Le Local Rock, a tiny bistro on Avenue Jean Jaurès.  We sat at outdoor tables with just enough shade (and wonder of wonder, nobody near us smoked the whole time, so we could enjoy the air too!)  As Caroline pointed out later, sometimes the restaurants with the smallest menus have the best food, and that was certainly the case here.  They only had maybe half a dozen appetizers, half a dozen main courses, and half a dozen desserts -- but the formule midi (appetizer/main or main/dessert) was only 14,95 and all of the food was wonderful.  I had the croustillant St-Nectaire, not sure what it would be but thinking it might be something crusty/crunchy.  St-Nectaire turns out to be a kind of delicious cheese, and the croustillant was basically baked cheese en croute.  So good!!  Caroline had boeuf tartare (the waitress looked surprised and said, "Ce n'est pas cuit -- it's raw -- it's OK??" -- not the first time somebody has been surprised that a 17-year-old will eat anything), which was very good and even I (who don't usually like steak tartare) enjoyed it.  I had the baked salmon, and it was incredible -- meltingly, perfectly cooked, with a crisp skin, in a cream sauce that was to die for.  For dessert, we had a crême brulée aux amandes amères, and each had a cafe express.  Such a perfect, perfectly French meal!

Since the museum was closed, we were somewhat aimless, and decided to go back to our neighborhood and see whether there was a movie playing.  We decided to see Les recettes de bonheur (which is the French title for the Helen Mirren movie, "A Hundred-Foot Journey").  We had a little time to kill, so we sat at a cafe and had a chocolat chaud (Caroline) and a kir vin blanc pêche (me) -- both very refreshing!

The movie was wonderful -- uplifting and heartwarming without being cheesy, and full of delicious food!

From there, we went directly to dinner at Shu, a Japanese cafe I had read about online, on rue Suger near St-Martin. (Yes, the door is really that tiny! You have to duck going in -- the restaurant is half a level below the street.)

Wow.  Just wow.  Really terrific, creative, delicate food -- every bite was a work of art.  Again, it was a tasting menu that included an amuse-bouche, sashimi, three "seasonal dishes," nine skewers (their specialty), and dessert.

Amuse: tofu with horse mackerel

Sashimi (not shown): sea bream, yellowtail, and sea bass

Seasonal dish #1: scallop, salmon roe, and seaweed

Seasonal dish #2: minced chicken and dashi

Seasonal dish #3: sea bream en croute

First three skewers (which were all incredibly crispy outside and delicately cooked inside): shiitake mushrooms stuffed with shrimp, chicken with miso sauce, eggplant (not shown)

Next trio of skewers: rice ball with mushrooms, scallop (the best one of all of them, I thought -- perfectly cooked inside), and baby corn

Last trio of skewers (not shown): shrimp, broccoli, and crab

Dessert: yuzu(?) jelly with grapefruit.  Note where we were seated -- at the counter by the kitchen, the two best seats in the house.  Really special and a wonderful evening out!

Day 3.3: A Gourmet Feast

On Wednesday night, we had dinner at La Table d'Eugène.  I mentioned in my earlier post that it is in an unprepossessing neighborhood, but the cognitive dissonance between the neighborhood (rundown and gritty) and the restaurant (upscale and elegant) is really startling.

There is no menu -- you can choose a 4-course, 7-course, or 10-course dégustation, optionally with wine.  Of course we had the 10-course menu, with wine for me.  I won't try to explain the dishes too much -- words don't really do them justice -- but every single bite was absolutely delicious.  (The wine accompaniments were all very good, but the only one I remember was the Cuvée Marie for obvious reasons -- also because it was incredibly good, a dry, buttery Jurançon sec.)

This dinner took us four hours from start to finish.

(1) Foie gras with cucumbers

(2) Fresh tomatoes with tomato sorbet and tomato jus (for those of you who know me well, you will know that it is startling that I actually really enjoyed this dish -- yes, with raw tomatoes!)

 (3) Tuna tartare with compressed watermelon and radishes

(4) Grilled scallions with balsamic, Parmesan, and quail egg

 (4) Monkfish with artichoke chips, artichoke hearts, and herbal sorbet

(5) Veal with various vegetables

(6) Squab with mushrooms, puree of something delicious, vanilla foam, and chocolate glaze

(7) Cheese course, with grapes and guava gélée

Entremet: Basil sorbet and meringue stick

(8) Figs in cassis with almond cake and herb sorbet (maybe lemon verbena)

(9) White chocolate, choux creme, and raspberries, with another herbal sorbet

(10) Chocolate bombe, melted with chocolat chaud -- I wish I had a video.  When they put the bombe down, it was smooth and perfectly round, then they poured the chocolat over it and it just -- dissolved into this succulent, perfectly chocolatey dessert with just the right amount of crackly texture.  Possibly the most amazing chocolate dessert I have ever had.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Days 3.1-3.3 - The Arrival of the Prodigal Daughter

Caroline arrived Monday morning -- her flight was a little delayed, but not by much, and she successfully navigated her way to my apartment.  We went to Cafe Flore to celebrate over breakfast -- legendary chocolat Flore (note the cute little insulating "flag" covering the handle of the pot), sandwich jambon et beurre, and a tartine and oeuf dur for me.  The eggs were a bit of a surprise - after I ordered, he reached over to an empty next to us, picked up a plate of four eggs that were just sitting there, and put them on our table.  I guess they just keep the eggs on hand for anybody who might want them?  I only ate one egg but wasn't sure whether it was an all-you-can-eat sort of deal or whether you were charged by the oeuf.

After breakfast, we walked through the Jardin de Luxembourg and then over to Montparnasse, where we saw a movie.  (Along the way, we had another round of gelato at Amorino -- I figured sooner or later, if I was going to meet my goal to try all flavors, I'd have to have some less preferred ones, so I thought I'd get it over with -- vanille bourbon Madagascar (sounds fancy but is just vanilla), figue (yes, fig; meh), and stracciatella (aka chocolate chip).)  Our idea was to see a movie we had already seen in English, figuring we'd know it well enough to follow the French.  But it turns out they mostly don't dub movies into French; they just subtitle them.  So we saw Guardians of the Galaxy in English, with French subtitles.  Still fun to try to follow the French subtitles (and see how things are translated that sometimes just aren't translated that well).  The best non sequitur translation was when a character referred to Jon Stamos (as an example of an minor famous person) and it was translated as David Hasselhoff.

After the movie, we took the Metro to Île de la Cité, walked through Notre Dame, and then sat at a nearby cafe for a kir and crêpe confiture.  The only blemish on the day (and it was unfortunately rather a big blemish) is that when I got my wallet out to pay, I realized I had been pickpocketed somewhere along the way -- I had had about 25 euros in cash, and the cash was all gone.  Very strangely, the credit cards and ATM card were still in my wallet.  I wasn't that upset about the cash, though I was really perplexed and honestly couldn't figure out how they had managed it (or why they hadn't taken the credit cards, since it would  have been easier to just pinch the whole wallet) -- but I was really upset later in the evening, when I realized they had in fact also taken my Nexus tablet.  :-(  (Which is bad not just because tablets are expensive, but because that was my source of books while I'm in France -- I had read all of the print books I had brought with me, and was reading e-books borrowed from the library.)

We came back to the apartment and Caroline crashed -- fell asleep completely for a few hours -- then I dragged her out of bed and out to dinner, back to Le Mâchot d'Henri, which I had enjoyed so much on Friday.  This time, Caroline had the foie entiere, and I ordered a random thing that had the word porc in it, which turned to be a plate of salami with vinaigrette and shallots.  Unexpected, but not bad.

For dinner, I had the canard au gingembre et orange and Caroline had the steak echalotes.

For dessert, we went to Amorino (yes, again!) -- this time, I went more mainline, and decided to start repeating some of my more favorite flavors, with speculoos, fraise (strawberry), and salted caramel.

On Monday, we were going to take a cruise on the Canal St-Martin, but Caroline hadn't slept well and was just wiped out, so I let her sleep.  Instead, we went over to the Latin Quarter, had a picnic in the botanical gardens (fresh baguette, salmon pâté, jambon, country pâté, and nectarines) and went to the zoo (lots of pictures on my Flickr site!).  Then we found our way to Shakespeare & Co., where I was able to buy enough used books to hopefully tide me over until I get home.  (I could not possibly go for three weeks without books!!)  We were planning to go to Chartier, a Paris classic and one of our favorite restaurants, but a fondue restaurant near St-Severin called out to us, so we ate there instead: escargots, salade mixte, three-meat fondue (chicken, duck, and beef, to be cooked in oil), and three-cheese fondue (which again, and inexplicably, came with potatoes in addition to bread).

On Wednesday, I went to work for the day, and Caroline slept in, then went over to the Champs-Élysées on her own -- very adventurous!  For dinner, I had made reservations at La Table d'Eugène, in the 18ème arrondissement, which had gotten great reviews on TripAdvisor.  The neighborhood is not at all nice, and you wouldn't expect a decent restaurant to be there.  When we got there at 7:10 for our 7:00 reservation, the door was locked.  We could see people moving around, so we knocked a few times, and eventually a woman came to the door and said that they didn't open until 7:30.  It was very odd that they took my 7:00 reservation without mentioning that they weren't open yet, and we were really hungry, so we almost left -- but just then, another couple came up (also American) and said that their concierge had highly recommended the restaurant, so we decided to stay.  And boy, were we glad we did!  That meal is worthy of its own post, though, which I will work on tomorrow.  So stay tuned!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 2.7: Laundry Day!

I had heard that there was an organ concert at St-Sulpice every week after Sunday mass, so I went over there around 11:30 and watched the second half of mass (it's always interesting to see different religious observances, and a Sunday mass in French is quite elaborate, with candle lighting, censing, and sung prayers).  Sure enough, in addition to the organ music during the mass, afterwards there was a complete organ recital (called an audition), by a guest organist from Québec of all places.  I really enjoyed it and will try to go back again before I leave France.

I went out to lunch afterwards and had my only really disappointing meal so far during my stay.  I went to Bistrot d'Henri, which I think is the sister restaurant of Le Mâchot d'Henri, one block over (where I had dinner on Friday night) -- a lot of the menu items were the same.  I ordered crab bisque and the quenelles, which seemed to translate as fish dumplings -- I'd tried to order those on Friday but they were out.  The bisque was... okay.  Not especially crabby, and it didn't have that rich sherry flavor that I usually associate with bisque, but it was creamy and rich.  Tasty, not great.  There were small croutons of toasted bread, which would have been good but there were about 50 of them and it was just too high of a bread-to-soup ratio.  The small slices of tomato garnish were odd, too.

The quenelles (two long cylindrical "dumplings") had to be one of the most bland things I've ever tasted.  I couldn't detect any fish flavor, or really any flavor at all, and the texture was... I don't know, weird.  Extremely smooth, but not really creamy, just sort of spongy, maybe?  And it was in a brown sauce that tasted pretty much like the crab bisque but had even less flavor.  The rice was just rice.  The picture is blurry but honestly the food seemed kind of blurry, so it looks more or less the way it tasted to me.  I managed to eat most of one quenelle and then gave up.  They asked if anything was wrong, but I didn't have the heart (or sufficient knowledge of French) to say it was bland, so I just smiled and said I was plein (full).

After lunch, I went back to the studio to collect my laundry, and made my way to the laverie near the marché St-Germain. Yet another adventure to be had!  I had to ask somebody how the soap dispenser worked (you had to pay at a different, central machine, and enter the red number that was posted on the soap machine, and then the soap came out in a packet of two tablets).  Based on that, I figured out the washing machine (you put in your clothes, set the temperature (I just did one load in cold water), put in the soap tablet (another thing I had to ask somebody about, though later I found the sign that explained it), and pay centrally, entering the number of the washing machine to start it.  I didn't have a lot of change but the machine took a 5 Euro bill.

There were only four seats in the laundromat --it wasn't very crowded, but two people were sitting in two of the seats, and one woman was sitting on a third seat with her feet up on the fourth one, watching a video on her ipad.  So I sat outside on the curb for a while.  Eventually the machine finished, and now it was time to figure out the dryer.  Transferring the clothes was nontrivial (there weren't any wheeled carts, and I thought there were two large waterproof bags at one point, but it turned out those belonged to somebody who had brought them along), so I had to use the shopping bags that I had carried the clothes in.  But the machine wasn't too complicated -- put in the clothes in, pay centrally, enter the number.  Except for the fact that the machine takes Euro notes sauf sêchage -- except for drying!  So I wandered around the neighborhood for a little while, and eventually went into a bakery, bought a brioche au chocolat and a drink, and got change that way.  They gave me a few Euros and a 5E note in change, which I asked them to break into coins -- good thing, because the dryer needed a second cycle.  (Turned out your 1,20E payment was good for ten minutes of drying time.)  Some things were still a bit damp after the second cycle, but I just carried everything home at that point and hung up the damp items.

Adventure accomplished!

Dinner was much better than lunch, on account of I made it myself.  Steak (sirloin or faux-filet) with red wine garlic sauce, pain naturel, and green salad.  No dessert -- I figured between the brioche and the fact that Caroline arrives today, I would need to save on calories!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Days 2.5-2.6: So very French!

On Friday, I just had yogurt and went to work, then ate with Bruno in the university cafeteria.  Nothing worth writing about, really... it's cafeteria food.  Nice that they have the option, though!

After work, I went back to my room for a bit, then strolled down boul St-Germain and had a kir (white wine and cassis) at a café on the main drag.  Very refreshing, and it even came with a complimentary amuse - a few toast points with a little container of smoked fish spread.

Then I walked around the neighborhood for quite a while, very indecisive about where to eat.  Some places just don't seem like they're going to be welcoming (especially to a single diner, as I've mentioned before).  Finally I ended up at Le Mâchot d'Henri, which turned out to be just perfect.  I was seated at a small table in a tiny back room that also had a table for four, and soon after I sat down, a couple was seated at that table.  It turned out that they were South African and spoke very little French, so I ended up helping them order.  We struck up a conversation, and they (Irma and Burgert) were so friendly and nice, it really made my day.  They invited me to come visit any time, and Irma gave me the URL for the nonprofit organization she had founded -- Kaross, which distributes handmade crafts by South African natives.

Dinner was really delicious and perfectly French -- a salade champignons with arugula and Parmesan, and saumon rôti with cream sauce and haricots verts:

(Also mousse au chocolat, though I forgot to take a picture of that...)  I had way too much wine, because the waiter thought I ordered a carafe of wine (75,cl) instead of the quart (25,cl) I was trying to order.  I need to work on that.  I think maybe I'll try un petit pichet next time.)

Today (Saturday), I very lazily slept in (I blame the wine!).  Eventually I got up, finished inflating the air mattress that a friend at the university had lent me for Caroline's visit (I couldn't get the built-in foot pump to work, so ended up blowing it up with "lungpower" in several sittings), then stopped by the local crêpe kiosk for a crêpe Nutella on my way to the Métro.  

I rode to the Rambuteau station near Centre Pompidou and decided to actually go into the museum -- in all of the times I've been to Paris, I've never actually been inside.  I must admit I'm not all that much of a modern art fan, but it was interesting and there were some things that I did really enjoy.

By the time I was ready to leave a couple of hours later, I was getting hungry again.  There are tons of little restaurants and sidewalk stands, but I was in indecisive mode and couldn't decide what I want.  Then my homesickness got the better of me, and I went to McDonald's for some fries and diet Coke (though in some ways, eating McDonald's fries and drinking diet Coke in Paris is just a way to become more homesick, since neither one tastes at all right!  Still, it hit the spot...)  That area is full of young people, and a mecca for any type of fast food that an ex-pat might want -- McDonald's, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, and even a Mexican restaurant all within a few blocks of each other!

I wandered through Les Halles a bit (a huge underground mall, with less familiar stores than Quatre Temps, though I did spot a Clare's), then took the Métro back "home."  I went into the Marché St-Germain but wasn't really inspired enough to overcome the intimidation factor of buying food there.  (It was kind of deserted by that time of day, so I felt out of place.)  I ended up just going to Monoprix and buying enough groceries for dinner tonight and tomorrow night (I remembered that everything is closed on Sundays!)

Tonight's dinner:  pork chops with plum glaze (which you may recognize from the chicken I made on Day Three...), ginger carrots, green salad, and pain nature au beurre, plus a glass of the Bordeaux that my officemate gave me last week.  Delicious!