After yesterday’s somewhat frenetic mission to stay awake, today had a more leisurely feel. I added a couple of days to the beginning of the trip so I could acclimate, see friends, wander around a bit, and do some non-meat-related things that involved galleries and museums and such. Today was mild, once again rubbing catlike on the lower edge of warm, so I strolled around, heading South from the hotel into the Jardin de Luxembourg and beyond for lunch and more.
Lunch was to be at one of Paris’ legendary steak frites joints, but cruel time interfered. Lunch hours are pretty strictly enforced around here, so when I opened the door at 2:32, I knew what was coming. At least he was nice about it, saying “Désolé, Monsieur” with a smile and something approaching sincerity. He did suggest another nearby place as a good alternative, and he turned out to be correct. The service was classically Parisian, which is to say brusque, with nearly no eye contact, but the food was equally on the money. I had six fines de claire oysters, the larger size–they’re matured for a couple of months in “claires,” salt marshes that enhance their flavor–with a little mignonette. Honestly, I could have just put two dozen of these away and called it a day; they were so plump and briny and perfect with just a dab of the sharp sauce. I’m almost certainly going to get some more tomorrow.
But I had steak frites on the brain, so I ordered the “pavé de rumsteack, sauce au poivre, frites” as well, even though the word rumsteack contains two gratuitous misspellings. It arrived, just the right size, with an excellent sauce in a boat on the side. The frites were good, especially dipped in the sauce, to which I added a generous dollop of the de rigeur hot mustard that’s on every table to wake it up a little. I did wait until the waiter was looking the other way before I did it, though, because he was a dour dude and I didn’t need any more of his disapproval, either verbal or non. The meat was cooked perfectly, exactly the way I do it at home, and the combination of sauce and mustard and meat made for some contented chewing. Sadly, it was not a photogenic dish. This was old school; a piece of meat on a plate with an afterthought of parsley. So the pictures don’t look like much.
After lunch, fortified with a double espresso, I walked into the gardens. I’ve never been a big fan of Baroque landscaping; it’s so axial and regimented and unnatural. There’s a nice green asymmetrical part down on the southern end, but the rest of it is mostly gravel and trees planted and pruned in a meticulous grid. But it’s public space, and enthusiastically used, especially in the part that’s divided by low fences into courts for boules. Back when I lived in Provence, which is now twenty years ago, I remember fondly watching the old guys playing petanque in the town square all day long, drinking pastis the whole time. Fully sanctioned public drunkenness was a concept that took a minute to sink in with me, but now obviously it seems like enlightened public policy.
There were courts reserved for some private clubs, I think, and others open to the public, where the players were conspicuously younger and more female.
Maybe it’s because the Senate is right there on the North side of the park that they feel the need to keep the landscaping so harshly geometric. No doubt they all have serious Versailles envy, but this cropping of the tops of the trees so that they resemble nothing so much as the sulking Tour de Montparnasse down the road–an abhorrent violation of the Parisian skyline by all accounts–seems pretty ridiculous.
And yet it fits rather well with the plating in many restaurants: austere, unembellished, functional. I certainly understand the appeal of the grid, since it rather aggressively informs my paintings (even if it’s isometric), but the thing about nature is that it looks its best when it’s, you know, natural.
This just doesn’t strike me as that inviting. The sheer quantity of gravel boggles the mind. But it was a gentle day, although still laboring under the bright grey carapace of clouds that seems to lid this city so much of the time, and there were plenty of people of all ages enjoying the fresh air and comparative quiet.
For dinner, I met Jack–one of the sponsors and organizers of this wonderful trip– and Rosa, a Canadian expat living in Nice who writes and gives culinarily-themed tours in Paris and elsewhere. As has always been the case with such people that the Internet has brought me together with in person, they were absolutely lovely, and we spent over four hours at dinner talking like old friends. Rosa chose the restaurant: Le Cornichon, in the 14th, and it was notably fine: elegant presentations of food that, although classically Parisian in their restraint, were rich with color and subtly contrasting flavors.
So here’s what we had:
To begin, feeling obliged as the charcuterie dude, I ordered the pork terrine with big capers and date jam.
Very good, very livery. Jack had a caramelized carrot soup:
And Rosa ordered the caramelized beef tongue, which we debated a bit before hand. It was superbly tender, having been cooked for a good long time, and deeply flavored. The garnish of pickled vegetables was another sign that the kitchen knew what it was doing.
For main dishes, we enjoyed the following: Jack and I had the suckling pig with crispy skin and a velvety purée of potatoes and jus on the side.
Rosa had fish, the species of which I can’t remember. Perfectly cooked; I am pleased to report that the concept of à point is alive and well.
It was a lovely meal, and the conviviality and warmth of the company made it memorable. There’s plenty more to write about, but integrating the writing into the whole running around and doing stuff all day part of the program has proved a bit challenging. Today was insane, but I’ll have to write about that tomorrow on the train down to Gascony.