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P is for Paris, day 4 [long]

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P is for Paris, day 4 [long]

Jake Parrott | Nov 17, 2001 05:58 AM

November 9, DAY FOUR-Modern Art, Grizzlies and Cassoulet, Oh My!

Omissions from yesterday: We tried to go to the Delacroix museum, but it was closed—big bummer; he’s my favorite French painter. Then we headed to the Musee d’Orsay, where we saw the eternal Olympia and a selection of Gustave Courbet’s greatest hits, including L’Origine du Monde, which you either know or you don’t. If you do, you know what I mean; if you don’t, you’ll be curious sometime and look it up. All I gotta say is, can you believe they were selling postcards of that thing???

We awoke on Saturday knowing it was the last day of our museum pass, so we decided to see the modern art museum at the Centre Pompidou. It didn’t open until 11, so we had time to scarf our culatello (very good, very truffly and garlicky, not as good as the best paleta iberico, but a hell of a lot better than anything that shows up on these shores. We also tried some of the fromage de Pyrenees that I picked up at Ferme-Saint-Aubin, but it was not so good. It’s nice when the price for trying a new cheese is one dollar, not seven as it too often is for a good cheese here in the States.

We rode the metro down to Etienne Marcel and strolled the bustling Montorgueil market street, one of the best in Paris, according to various guidebooks. And it was great, with the smells of roasting farm chickens intermingling with the beautiful perfumes of stinky cheeses and dry-cured hams. Of course, we stopped for pastries at a prominent patissier whose name I did not note. Christina’s pain au chocolat and my pastry, a sort of star-shaped thing, made from croissant dough, stuffed with hazelnut paste, were the best we’d had so far. Emphasis on so far, and not counting that mushroom brioche.

We found the Centre Pompidou, took the obligatory outside pictures, then strolled up the escalators to the modern art museum. Normally I’d go on in great length about the art, but other than a few Picassos (I sorta feel like I at least understand him from an artistic point of view) and the odd Magritte, the rest of the place was filled with randomness, packed too tightly. I firmly believe that a single piece of modern art can have a great deal of meaning, but if you put so many of these absurdities together, it dulls the senses. Of course, many of the pieces have to be showcased in a museum to attain their value as art. A paradox. I guess I lost the song when the titles of artwork started to have meaning (see Courbet, Gustave). Besides, we were hungry.

Le Grizzli has recast itself as “Grizzli Café,” presumably to attract more folks for those nice high-margin café tabs. We sat down on the heated patio for lunch at this place. Christina had a kir and I had a demi-pichet (25cl) of an unnamed Cotes de Gascogne wine that didn’t taste like cheap wine at all, and better than every Beaujolais I’ve had in my life, with rich plum, some earth and structure.

Christina had French onion soup (Jones #1 gone), which was light and flavorful and in the traditional style, with only a smattering of cheese. I had an unctuous cream of lentil soup with shards of duck confit. Mains were Fresh pasta with tomatoes for Christina, cooked a little past al dente, as is proper for very fresh pasta (and it was very fresh), but piled so high on itself that it continued to cook in the bowl. Christina liked it, but thought the sauce could’ve had a bit more punch. A nice August dish on a cool November afternoon. I had wonderful lamb chops with a potato gratin and a pan sauce made with stock. Simple, extremely flavorful (recently slaughtered lamb, maybe a smidge older?) and just right. No dessert today, so we paid and left, feeling proud that we were able to conduct the entire meal in French—slowly improving.

We then Metro’ed toward Place Vendome to shop at Comptoir Sud Pacifique, a perfume and couture boutique, whose Paris prices are about 50% less than the US prices, when you can find the stuff. We sniffed fragrances for about forty minutes, conversing all the while (in English) with a charming saleswoman. Christina bought some perfume for herself and several more gifts and we hit the Detaxe milestone—score! Note to everyone, their new “Rizieres” fragrance is out of this world—and again, it was the only one we really agreed on (well, that one and kumquat).

Next we headed to Place de la Madeleine, food shopping mecca of Paris. On out clockwise loop around the rather uninspiring central building (church?), we stopped at several places. Maille, the mustard folks, never noticed us, so we left without buying any of their blackcurrant mustard. Whatever. We had better luck at Verger de la Madeleine, the wine shop just off the Place, where I scored an absolutely pristine bottle of 1989 Coulee de Serrant for $34.

We broke our foie gras duck for the day at Hediard’s tea salon, where Christina had unctuous jasmine tea and I a glass of the 1997 house label Sauternes, which was a little chippy and earthy, which meant it went great with the thin slices of foie on Poilane grillee and some apple compote. There were slivers of roasted red pepper on the toasts too, which added absolutely nothing at all. Hediard’s wine selection is nice, though I didn’t pull the trigger on any of their small but interesting Loire and port sections.

We cruised through the rest of the Place, gawking inside and out at Maison de la Truffe and finding no deals on wine or spirits at Fauchon before returning for our evening nap and Eurosport before heading to a late reservation at Baracane in the Marais. Here we encountered the most bumbling service of our trip, as they brought us the red version of the white wine we ordered (they didn’t have any trouble taking it back, even though it was opened—nice thing about half-bottles), then forgot to charge one of us for our menus (they caught the error before we left—I hadn’t even looked at the slip when I signed it, bad me), but couldn’t figure out the credit card machine, so we paid the rest in cash. All that said, it was a lovely meal. To wit:

Christina started with a kir royale and a mussel soup with saffron, which, while salty, was well balanced by the white wine we ordered (Baracane has a three-course-plus-coffee-plus-half-bottle prix fixe, so we had a half of white and a half of red—notes to come), followed by cassoulet (Jones #2, gone) which was also a bit salty but incredibly robust in every possible way, with excellent sausage along with the confits (no lamb).

I started with a black Muscat petillant (didn’t catch the producer), which was interesting, though not quite as refreshing as your basic kir royale, then an absolutely fabulous green salad piled with tenderly cooked duck gizzards. My magret de canard was perfectly saignant (if I cook the magrets I get in this country to this color, they are tough), with potatoes fried in goose at with lots of garlic.

And, the wines:

Domaine Dulucq Tursan blanc 2000: Crisp, overtly mineral with lemon oil. Like a light Savennieres, though not that serious. Blown away by my salad but great with Christina’s soup.

Chateau de Lastours Gaillac rouge 2000: Fresh cherry and plum, doesn’t taste expensive (it wasn’t), but none of the bubble-gumminess of cheap-tasting wines. Solid if unspectacular.

Desserts were fun too. Christina had crema catalana which was a little overcooked to my taste, but not so much that you would notice. My apple tourtiere, apples cooked in armagnac and piled with shards of very thin pastry (I don’t think it was feuille de bric however) was great crackly fun and very tasty. Espressos were fruity, not bitter, but not all that noteworthy. After the bill hijinks, we metro’ed home on a cool night.

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