Saturday, June 12, 2010

One Night In Paris

On my last morning in Bordeaux, I was rushing back from la Marche Capucine and walked by Pub Saint Aubin, which is a popular pub that makes it's wait staff of both sexes wear skirts (kilts). Love that!
I had meant to come here and have a drink, but now there was no time as I had to rush back to the hotel and get packed and leave for the airport. He actually looks good in a skirt. Those French so fashion forward!
I needed a coffee fix so I popped into this little shop on Rue Ste Catherine (the longest pedestrian street in Europe). The coffee (pictured below) was a nice strong double espresso just the way the French like it, but can I just say that coffee in France is not a happy making experience for me. It was funny actually on our day away in Margaux an Australian women commiserated with me on the lack of good coffee here. And of course by that we both understood that what we meant as a good cup of 'Joe - like we'd get back home, like what we were used to - not some little demitasse of mud that was gone before you started, that didn't pack the same caffeine punch you wanted, craved and needed only left you with a literally bitter taste in your mouth and an unsettling feeling that somehow you didn't get what you want. There is no drip coffee in Bordeaux, there is amazingly not a single Starbucks that I came across, which is a good thing and for us pour coffee junkies a bad thing. Luckily I discovered the Grand Cafe at Karl's, but with a busy schedule it was impossible to make the time and go to Karl's every time I needed a fix. This sounds more like Confessions of a Caffeine Addict than a food blog!
So before I knew it I was in Paris arriving at my oh so chic not so cheap and very petite, but nonetheless wonderful hotel for a night, the Hotel Jules.
My room was on the sixth floor with a view of the rooftops of Paris, compact and impeccably designed I loved it and didn't want to leave, but leave I must! My only small criticism of this small slice of Parisian style was the unfortunate stain on the brown fabric wall behind the bed (looked like a hand print) and then there is the fabulously well lit piece of undersized, pink abstract painting that was, well, so ugly it didn't even have camp or ironic value. You wonder how people who have made such a brilliant hotel could go so wrong. But as I said this was a very small point - I loved my room and everything else about the spectacular Hotel Jules . I wouldn't have been able to afford to stay here had it not been for a credit I'd been hoarding on Hotels.com - hotels in big cities don't come cheap these days and this one cost $249 for the superior room, for about 20 Euros less you could get a standard room, which is smaller, which is hard to fathom (think walk in closet with a fold down bed). Anyway what I loved about Hotel Jules other than it's friendly staff and stylish hip but comfortable vibe and look is how it is perched in between real Paris and tourist Paris in the 9th arrondissement. If you go north you're very near Gare du Nord (which is great because this is where the train from the airport stops) and a very real neighborhood where people live and work. If you go south you get this:
L'Opera one of the most ornate over the top beautiful opera houses in the word (not to mention large!) and Paris has 2 of them! The second a very modern thing.

I couldn't linger long site seeing I had to go eat! So I headed back north to Chez Michel a restaurant I had read about on David Lebovitz's blog (David is an ex Chez Panisse pastry chef who is now living in Paris and making mind blowing desserts and writing all about his exploits in Paris - read it! He's wonderful!). In truth I didn't read his entire description I saw it was in my neighborhood and just went. Turns out it is a restaurant with quite a reputation and reservations are highly recommended. I got lucky, as a solo walk in I was able to sit at a large table in the rustic basement and enjoy one of the best meals of my trip.
This is the upstairs room as you enter.
This is the downstairs space. Which I preferred (although a little bit of a dimmer approach to lighting would have been appreciated, but that can be said for most of Europe which tends to like bright, where as at my age I much prefer dim!)
That piece of wood on the chair is the menu du jour and the woman standing was my lovely waitress. After a week of a lot of meat I had this fish dish (I can't remember the name of the local fish that it was made with) perfectly cooked on a Provençal Style ragout of eggplant, onions, a little tomato, chive, topped with an olive tapenade. It was perfect, except of course I felt it needed some salt and pepper, but that is easily fixed, The French, I find, are not keen users of salt and pepper - food is prepared with minimal salt and pepper - it's up to the individual to season it at the table themselves if they choose to. A very handsome plate of food.
I had the 32 Euro menu du jour which included appetizer, entree and dessert.
I'm not sure why I didn't take a picture of my soupe du poisson it was amazing and the most amazing thing about it was the way in which is was presented. The waitress came to the table with a bowl and a huge jug/pitcher filled with soup. In the bowl was a very generous shaving of Parmesan, finely chopped chives and the cutest little mini croutons which were dark in color almost like they had been made with pumpernickel bread. The jug is filled with the soup a wonderful thick fishy tomato broth that you pour into the bowl. The striking thing about this is the amount, it was HUGE you could have fed a family of four on the amount of soup in this jug, After my second helping I realized that this was not all to be eaten, but rather like the cheese courses in France was to be sampled with lots left over to be reheated and served again. Cheese courses in France are typically served on a large board filled with big slabs of cheese, the idea isn't that this is all your cheese, but rather you have some time with the cheese board, enough so that you can have a nice sampling of the selection and then after a while the waitress will come and take the board away and give it to another table. Ditto the soup. Only this was my first experience with the soup so I was a bit taken a back.
The highlight of the meal, really the highlight of my trip was this little brown piece of bread that was served to me for dessert with a steak knife on a wooden cutting board. Not exactly my idea of dessert. I had ordered Kouign Amann at David Lebovit's urging with little to no idea what I was getting myself into. This little piece of dough is one of the most transcendentally delicious desserts I have ever had. Redolent of caramel and butter it's a yeast based puff pastry that is a traditional desert of Brittany. Each layer is coated with sugar and butter then folded, then more butter and sugar are added and so on and so forth ad nauseum then it is all baked into a caramelized bomb of wonder.

With two glasses of wine (5 Euro each) and a big bottle of d'leau avec gas the bill came to 50 Euro (plus a tip - I was very New York about my tip as I feel uncomfortable just leaving a few Euro coins as is typical). Not as cheap as I really had wanted, but once I got there and was seated I realized I was in for a very special and memorable treat, so I just went with it!

Finally, in my after dinner wanderings I came across the Maille mustard store, established as the sign says in 1747 and now sitting in a very fancy part of town. On some funny level this little store says everything there is to say about France and food, even a humble little condiment like mustard has a chic store dedicated to it, because the French seem to intuitively understand that even the smallest ingredient is important and should be treated with respect and attention.
It's been 15 years since I was last in France, this most recent trip makes me realize how I have to make sure my next trip doesn't take as long! Oh and for the record, one night in Paris is better than no nights in Paris, but it is certainly no where near enough!

1 comment:

Kurt Brown said...

Oh my. Such a great post.

* sighs *

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