day 12 :
friday, 8 may
Just when we thought breakfast in Paris couldn't get any better, we made two new discoveries today: Le Fierbois yogurt with rhubarb, and Pierre Hermé Ispahan croissants. The yogurt, purchased at our neighborhood fromagerie the day before, had the perfect blend of acidity, creaminess, and rhubarb flavor. Although Eric claimed he could eat it every day for breakfast, that might be a bit much, given the richness of the lait entier (whole milk) it's made with. After breakfast at home, we made our return visit to Pierre Hermé for second breakfast, this time buying a croissant, pain au chocolate, and three new macarons. We almost stopped there until Dawn spied some Ispahan (rose and raspberry flavored) croissants in a basket. We had already declared the plain Pierre Hermé croissant as the best we've ever had, but his raspberry rose croissant, with a sweet rose-flavored icing drizzled over it, is "dreamy bliss" according to Dawn. Our taste memory is permanently etched with this flavor, and this croissant alone is reason enough to go back to Paris someday.
Instead of eating our pastries across the street in the park like we had done earlier this week, we followed the advice in Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris: "Just around the corner, at 8 place Saint-Sulpice, Le Café de la Mairie serves as the unofficial salon de thé for Pierre Hermé addicts: order drinks, keep your table tidy, and the waiters will look the other way as you dig into your pastries." We sat down, ordered un express and un thé, and somehow avoided scattering flaky crumbs all over our table. Thanks for the recommendation, Clotilde!
We had admired the Jardin du Luxembourg while walking by it earlier this week, and decided to finally take a stroll through it this morning. The garden is the largest public park in Paris, with acres of beautifully-manicured gardens surrounding the Luxembourg Palace. A surprisingly large number of people were jogging through the gardens; the unsurprising part is that most of them were dressed in very fashionable jogging outfits. We happened upon a large fountain in front of the palace, where a child dressed in a knight-in-shining-armor outfit fished a large toy sailboat out of the pond. What we didn't realize is that there would be a lot more sailboats in the pond soon thereafter; at 11 AM, the boat lady arrived with her cart of colorful rental sailboats. Minutes later, a fleet of boats was in the water, with toddlers, children, and parents chasing boats around the fountain, directing the boats by giving them a good shove with a long stick. We were tempted to rent a boat ourselves, but we would have been the only adults doing so! We eventually left the scene, scheming to come back some day with our child, so we'd have a good excuse to sail a boat. Not far from the fountain, we found an expansive kids' play area with every kind of toy to climb on, ride, spin around on, and slide down. Because today was a holiday (V-E Day), the area was packed with families, with kids laughing, screaming, and giggling. This was perhaps the nicest kid play area we've ever seen. It would be so nice to have one of these back home.
Watching all of those kids run around and get exercise worked up our appetites, so we beelined for Le Comptoir du Relais restaurant. Scoring a weeknight dinner reservation at this restaurant has been likened to winning the lottery – you have to reserve months in advance if you want to sample the five course gastronomic tasting menu, and we didn't plan that far ahead. But lunchtime and weekend meals are first-come, first-serve brasserie-style à la carte affairs. The key, as we read in Clotilde's book, is to get there a few minutes before opening to score a seat, otherwise you could easily wait an hour or more in line for a table. We were 6th and 7th people in line when we arrived just before noon, and got a great seat in the large open-air window, just behind all of the outdoor seating; it gave us a great street view with the feeling of still being indoors. The restaurant was completely full within five minutes, and there was a constant line of 10-20 people after that.
When our food arrived, we understood why this place was so popular. Dawn started with a rich and creamy croque monsieur (very good, but not quite as good as the one we've made from the Bouchon cookbook), accompanied by the green house salad with crunchy onion bits and the excellent mustard dressing. Her main course of stuffed duck with purée du moutarde was a tad too rich for her taste, but she could see how this would be great for someone who loves rich food. Eric went for a classic menu: escargots (snails in butter, garlic, and parsley), followed by a brandade of salt cod, which was served with the same salad that Dawn had with her appetizer. Both dishes had just the right flavors and richness without being overpowering, and quickly disappeared. For dessert, Dawn's financier au pomme avec glace caramel was "warm buttery apple goodness," with ice cream that tasted like it was straight from the cow. Eric's pot de crème chocolat guanaj didn't taste much like hazelnut, but had a milky cream sauce on top of the rich chocolate that really made the dish. When it was all over, we just wanted to sit, relax, and stay for the impossible-to-get-into dinner. This restaurant is definitely on our "must visit again someday" list.
We attempted to visit the nearby Pâtisserie Viennoise for their dark hot chocolate recommended in David's new book, but they were closed for the holiday and the rest of the weekend. It's probably just as well we didn't get to visit today, given that we had finished rich desserts just moments beforehand. With no other scheduled food stops in the vicinity, and given that the weather was gray and windy, we figured this was as good a time as any to check out a museum. Really – a museum. It's very unlike us, but we had read good things about our neighborhood Musée National du Moyen Âge (also called Musée de Cluny). The museum itself dates to the 14th century, and housed examples of medieval stonework, metalwork, tapestries, and religious artifacts. It's most famous for its set of six tapestries entitled La Dame à la Licorne ("The Lady and the Unicorn"). The twelve-foot-tall silk and wool tapestries depict the five senses on five tapestries, with the sixth tapestry entitled "To My Only Desire."
A trip to Paris just wouldn't be the same without a visit to Le Tour Eiffel, so we headed there next. As expected, it was thronged with tourists (like us!), but was still worth seeing again. And new since we visited Paris twelve years ago was the Wall for Peace, erected at the end of the Parc du Champ de Mars.
We had been looking forward to tonight's dinner at Hidden Kitchen for weeks. This private supper club was started by two ex-Seattleites, Braden and Laura, who are living the dream life: by day, they are food consultants for international companies like Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma, by night (twice a week) they create dazzling ten-course meals for up to 16 strangers at their beautiful apartment. Braden was at Dahlia Lounge in Seattle for five years, and when he and Laura visited Paris two years ago, they fell in love with the city and decided to stay. Laura is the front-of-the-house person, pairing interesting wines with each course and socializing with the guests. Their kitchen is the size of your typical tiny Paris kitchen, and yet they somehow produced 150 beautiful plates for our group this evening:
Amuse of squid ink cracker with marinated onions and goat cheese
Fava bean raviolo with sweet pea and herb sauce
Poached egg with chilled white wine asparagus and parmigiano mornay sauce
Seared salmon with rhubarb bay leaf sauce and kohlrabi lime slaw
Pan fried mackerel with glazed fennel barley and preserved lemon chutney
Palate cleanser – a "mint julep" with bourbon gelée and lime sorbet
Herbed stuffed pork roulade with cheddar grits and green asparagus
Buttermilk cake with strawberry tarragon sorbet
Petits fours – mini rice krispie treat, honey peanut caramel, paté de fruit, dark chocolate truffle
Our table of 15 mostly-Americans had a fun time swapping stories and recommendations for places to try in Paris. It's too bad we only had one day left and not enough time to try most of their suggestions. This was one of our most memorable meals of the trip, and we left with happy tummies and wishes from Braden and Laura to send back to mutual friends in Seattle.