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Le gastronomie de Paris

I hope you’re hungry. This is a long one…

Paris Part 2
All week I called her “Mademoiselle.” Not “Madam,” mind you, but “Mademoiselle.” Sure, I’m just a beginner with the romance language, but she’s forever young to these eyes… Early in the week as we walked yet another rue de Paris, some dirty Frenchman caught Mademoiselle’s eye and suggested, “La Belle et la Bete?” From that Parisian moment, “Be Our Guest” became a soundtrack in my head. It was appropriate accompaniment then, and will be now, for le gastronomie de Paris. Actually, other B&tB song lyrics slithered through my grey stuff like, “Marie, the baguettes” the many, many times I saw the French carrying one or two home, and of course I covered the whole oafish “Gaston” thing in my first Paris post…

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) said, “Bread is the staff of life” and it was for us in France. Whether it was crunchy baguette, layered croissants or thin slivers of crepe for galettes, starch satisfied. Of course it was almost always paired with delicious French cheeses and wines, while Creme brulée and some last jagged chunks of fine French chocolate melting on our tongues still linger.

Go on, unfold your menu
Take a glance and then you’ll
Be our guest
Oui, our guest

“Put your menu down,” my hungry girl strongly suggested. “You’re supposed to put your menu down and then try to catch their eye. Then they know you’re ready.”

Le Café De La Mairie was our spot. I’d like to reason that its history as the meeting place for Paris intellectuals in the 1950’s or that it was author Henry Miller’s favorite Paris café was our calling, but really it was location, location, location, a three minute, hand-holding stroll from our hotel, and just below the towers of Eglise Saint Sulpice. Just trailing “Bonjour” and “Merci,” “Café au Lait” showed in the third spot of my most used expressions Francaises during the week and the first uttered at Café De La Mairie. Our most popular morning fare was the “Croque Madame,” a toasted ham and cheese sandwich on Poilane bread with a perfect sunny side oeuf shining on top. Yum! [Gastronomical note: I do not recommend the goat cheese on a baguette. The baguette is about 3 feet long and well, that’s a lot of cheese and I’ll just leave it at that.]

Most of our breakfasts were enjoyed a couple hours after our Café au Lait’s (btw, the coffee was usually delivered to “Mademoiselle” in our room by yours truly) and included samplings of soft boiled eggs, fresh yogurt, granola, sliced meats, and of course French bread and cheeses. We typically didn’t eat “lunch,” but rather watched the world walk by at any convenient sidewalk café offering vin et pain et fromage between 2 and 3PM. One day we did have sort of a late lunch at Musee d’Orsay, but it was unremarkable, the exception the room itself and my dining partner. I hope this image provides an appropriate impression…

Maintaining a mid-day focus, a nice surprise was dueling galette’s we enjoyed at the Aux Epis d’Or Creperie in the ancient walled city of Saint Malo on France’s Northern coast. The whole wheat crepes were filled with a thin layer of white cheese with an egg on top. Joyce ‘s had ham while I opted for cousin bacon. They were a perfect light day break for two visitors wishing time would slow to extend our Saint Malo day.

Try the grey stuff, it’s delicious
Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes

The night before the scrumptious galette’s, we enjoyed our only “fine dining” experience of the trip at Le Cap Horn, beachside in Saint Malo. Well, it looked “fine,” and our 4 servers made a polite effort, but I couldn’t help but feel they were a bit put off that we arrived last minute for a 9:30 seating on a Wednesday night. C’est la vie. In addition, the waiter pushed us into one of their “inclusive” menus when we simply wanted a la carte. Anyway, the highlight for me was the foie gras. Hey, I was in France and hoped the transaction would inoculate me from having to try escargot or sweetbreads… It arrived as two small, yellow-grey hockey pucks on a fine china plate. I sliced through the first disk and took a bite. It reminded me of the time I snuck a whole stick of butter under the kitchen table at Auntie Bev’s house, except it was richer and tastier. Then the toast points arrived… “I think you’re supposed to…” “Yeah, babe, I think I got it now.” We wanted the Cap Horn to be great; it just wasn’t.

That’s one thing about Paris, and as we discovered, France in general. It’s not really a late night place. If you don’t have your butt in a decent restaurant chair by 9:30, well, you’re not eating, or you’re eating at Pizza Gino…

We’ll sing you off to sleep as you digest…

Our church-gallery-shop-café-outdoor market hopping in Honfleur left us tardy for the last 9:30 seating and yes, we ended up at Pizza Gino. It wasn’t “La catastrophe” as one tripadvisor lamented, but that’s only because the wine (once it arrived) was decent, and I got to alternate looking at Joyce and the Barcelona – Real Madrid futbol game. The pie wasn’t bad either, but we didn’t go to France for pizza. I do remember the slow, cobblestone walk back to our quaint boutique hotel and another very restful sleep.

Life is so unnerving
For a servant who’s not serving
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon

Climbing the hills of Honfleur from worst to first, Le Bistrot d’Henri and our wonderful waiter Regis was the gastronomical and service highlight of the trip (for me, and I’m writing the blog…)! The room is small, with only about 10 tables, so the chef can really focus on individual meals with no concern about processing volume. Regis truly lives to serve, and has done so as a golf instructor in Australia, a ski instructor in Switzerland, and finally, his higher calling as a waiter in Paris. Regis was perfectly attentive while giving us just the right amount of space to enjoy our meal and each other.

Joyce ate a lot of poulet on the trip and on our first “last night” in Paris, she enjoyed sautéed chicken breast with a light jasmine rice. Beef called me and was grilled, accompanied by a pepper sauce kick and perfect scalloped potatoes. Of course vin blanc, vin rouge et le pain sat with us for dinner, but not for long… The beef was done perfectly, and the pepper sauce magnified its flavor with every satisfying bite.

Come on and lift your glass
You’ve won your own free pass
To be out guest

We splurged on a Creme brulée and the gracious Regis splurged on after dinner drinks for us – gratis.  Joyce sipped something citrusy on ice after requesting absent Limoncello, and Regis snared me a snifter of “Calvados,” an apple brandy from the French région of Basse-Normandie. It had the consistency and color of Grand Mariner, but with apple replacing orange and far less sweetness. I liked it.

I think Joyce and I went to France with high expectations about the food and the experience of dining itself. She mentioned how food prep and service are distinguished professions in France much more than in the States. While the food and service was consistently very good, Pizza Gino notwithstanding, only Le Bistrot d’Henri blew me away, but still, little gastronomical gems like it are everywhere in Paris.

With all this recollection of restaurants visited and Euros eaten, my warmest memory is being fed Spanish orange slices and bits of chocolate as we drove through the sprouting green countryside and sun kissed coast. Mon amour…

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