November 8, DAY THREE--Settling In
Omissions from day two--The bread was good (but not too good--there is of course such a thing as too good bread in a restaurant), with two kinds of butter. I asked the origin of the salt butter (Normandy, of course--didn't get into more specifics) but forgot to ask about the sweet. We sat down at 8:15 and got up at 1:30AM. The Louvre's musuem shop has almost no postcards (or at least we couldn't find them). Everyone has to go through security to get into the major museums, which greatly reduces the convenience of the museum pass (which isn't that great a deal, 170FF for three days, unless you're into hardcore sightseeing, which we weren't). And the staff at Guy Savoy seemed quite young for the classical vision of top-end French restaurants.
We awoke on Friday still totally sated from the night before, and my head was still spinning from the excitement. We decided that lunch would be progressive, not exactly light, but not three courses in one place with wine. We took the Metro into downtown and visited Sainte-Chapelle, the small, very old chapel on the Ile-de-la-Cite within the Palais de Justice grounds. The art is only halfway restored, but there's a beautiful melange of styles in the stained glass and sculpture here; you can really see the progression of art through the years, particular in relationship to the depiction of eyes, gazes and expressions.
We then ducked into the Crypt next to Notre Dame. This small museum describes the various cities that exist in the ruins under "modern" Paris. The remarkable aspect of this short tour was the close resemblance of the building styles between the 4th and 16th centuries. Made us realize how much technology and techniques have changed in a relatively short time. That whole globalization thing again.
We then toured Notre Dame and trudged up the towers. Inside Notre Dame, there is a series of paintings representing the traditional May offerings of art to the Virgin Mary. While some of these paintings were only okay, there were a few that really stood out. I think cathedrals are wonderful venues for artI wrote a college essay about the small, brightly-colored fresco at the top of the apse of the Cathedral at Antwerp, and the Rubens triptych there, which just sort of stands there in a corner of the room with no fanfare at all, are the three greatest religious paintings to my mind. My wife does not agree. On either point. The towers were tall, the view was pretty good for an overcast day. It was a good workout.
The Rue de St-Louis-en-LIle is probably the most concentrated street of cool shops and eateries in Paris. Not a lot of high-profile things (Berthillon excepted), but the hits just kept on coming. We stopped at Ferme-Saint-Aubin for a wonderful, candy-sweet bite of goat cheese (or, rather, I did), then to Calixte for an (overrated) croissant and small pots of acacia honey and cassis jam. I broke the small pot of jam by dropping it, and I have yet to try the honey, but both looked very good and came well recommended in my readings.
Then, of course, we made our pilgrimage to Berthillon. We sat in the café and had coffee with our noon ice creamsvanilla and caramel for Christina, the vanilla darker in color and more concentrated than any Id ever seen or tasted, and the caramel shot through with little crispy bits of the stuff. Divine flavorings. I had agenaise (prune and armagnac) and marrons glacee. I found out I dont really like marrons glacee, though the ice cream in which they swam was quite agreeable. The agenaise was divine, a classic interpretation of an even more classic combination. I agree with Thor that there was some graininess, but its definitely its own style, and there was none of the waxy, eggy, off aftertaste you get in a lot of purportedly rich ice creams (like, say, mine). How would you rate it against Toscaninis, Thor? Id put them about on the same pedestal, towering over everything else (yes, yes, including Herrellsits so clear to me that smoosh-ins are just a ploy to counteract Toscis superior purity of flavor and richness of texture ).
We then crossed over to the left bank to begin our Christmas shopping in earnest. Our first stop was Diptyque, a fancy parfumier headquartered in Paris. We were there for candles, so strong that burning just a little while fills the room with very pure fragrance. We ended up buying a candle, a room spray and seven soaps in various fragrances, for various people. Christina and I enjoy perfume shopsshe lets me smell everything, and Im pretty opinionated. I dont like sweet scents (their quince, however, is absolutely balanced) and I dont like vanilla, chocolate or coffee, or very white flower scents. I like herb scents (blackcurrant leaves, fig leaves, basil) and the like. Of course, Christina likes everything I dont like. This makes shopping very easytheres only ever about one or two scents we both like, and we stock up on those for her and for gifts.
Next we plowed through the bowels of the 6th (Derniere Goutte was closed both times we passed it) and found Huilerie Leblanc, a tiny closet of a store selling Pariss most fragrant walnut oil. To my mind, walnut oil was the first priority for bringing back foodstuffs from Franceits legal, of course, and the French make the best in the world. I bought a little bit here, and more at Bon Marche later in the week.
Christina had been looking forward all trip to Pharmacie Fouhety, which looks from the outside just like all the other pharmacies in Paris. But their prices are the best in the city, and Christina wanted to stock up on some shampoo that has rum and egg yolks in it. Im sure after too many showers, your head turns into a giant crème brulee, but whatever. I took the opportunity to sit down and have a rest.
We then hit the food hall at Bon Marche, where I found some artisan potato chips that were way too overtly greasy (Pennsylvania has nothing to worry about), some culatello that appeared to be the real thing or close to it (anyone know if the laws have been relaxed? It did carry a DOC Parma), and the steal of the day, 1990 (!) Baumard Quarts de Chaume for $46!! Last bottle, unfortunately. Bon Marche also has some great Huet prices at the higher ends.
We found a bar, Sip Babylone, at the Sevres-Babylone square and settled in for our daily foie gras, this time paired with southwestern ham, smoked duck breast, a good salad and pain Poilane grillee on a cold plate. By this time, we had resolved to eat foie gras every day, at least a little, because of the sheer quality of it here and its very, very low price compared to the US (this whole plate, groaning with everything, was like $14, and that felt high for some of the places we went). We guzzled kirs and went back to the hotel for a nap.
We awoke about 10PM with not a whole lot of dinner optionswe didnt have a reservation, and Christina wasnt that hungry yet. So we headed to the Champs-Elysees for our first experience of the place at night. What an mélange of light, color and motion! We made note of shops to visit and strolled around, stars in our eyes. Then we got hungry, and thirsty. There was only one place to go.
Maison de lAubrac is a kitschy little place, with lots of fencepost décor and pictures of French cattlemen and their cattle. We slotted in at the bar, asked for a table, and cooled our heels with the best kirs royals of the trip, made (I believe) with Pommery Brut Royal. After about forty minutes, we were seated. This place is all about beef, specifically AOC Aubrac beef from the southwest. I had a wonderful beef terrine with some preserved morels and salad, while Christina had a salade de boeuf of greens and cold beef chunks that was exquisitely dressed. Then came the main eventa glorious entrecote for Christina, a pretty good-if-slightly-passed-saignant faux-filet for me, accompanied by potatoes fried in goose fat. Too mad this place is so serious about food. Itd never survive in an American city ;-).
With all this beef, we drank (from a great, pretty-well-priced list of Rhones and Southwesterns):
Dom. Font Douce Montpeyroux 1997: Big, big meaty nose, blackberry, blueberry, lots of meat and a little plum. Tannic, and still opening up when we drained the bottle about 90 minutes later. A big yum and about $30 on the list.
We were well sated (obviously more simply, but still very pleasurably) when we left. We walked down Ave. George V, but the Tour Eiffel was not lit. We walked back, found a cab, and strolled home about 2AM for a good nights rest.