Thursday, October 2, 2014

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.)

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