Ah Paris. What an amazing city. It was my first time visiting this gorgeous place and it couldn’t have come at a better time, my schooling at Le Cordon Bleu is just a week away from ending and my internship at a modern French Boston restaurant (Menton) is just about to begin. The stars aligned for this one.
Throughout my life, I have formed opinions of how the French people are, most of my influence came from movies, books, and stereotypes. Even cartoons such as Pepe Le Pew when I was a child conjured ideas in my head about the snotty and rude French. However, I must say, after spending seven days in this country I did not encounter one rude, maladjusted, or condescending person. I asked for directions, ordered meals, and participated in everyday language both in English and my horrible French without any problems at all. Perhaps it was my boyfriend’s ability to speak French so eloquently that enabled us to fit in seamlessly, but, then again he’s English and that’s a whole other story. (Why the French hate the British).
We arrived in France on a rainy and cold afternoon, after finding our way out of the Luxembourg station in the 6th arrondissement, near St. Germaine De Pres we were steps from our rented Parisian apartment (Thanks Airbnb!). Although I was too excited by all the smells, sights, cafes, and well-to-do-frenchies, we decided it would be best to nap off our jet lag a bit. I awoke to wine, brie, and a warm and crusty baguette…right! I’m in France! Yes I have the best boyfriend ever. I shook off my foggy head and got down to business with wine and travel guides.
After stuffing myself full of cheese, bread and wine, we went to hit the town around midnight. Although the French often eat later in the evening and restaurants’ usually stay open until 2am, this was not so much on a rainy Monday night. We found ourselves just a block away at a covered outdoor café that faced the Luxembourg gates. It wasn’t anything special, but my surroundings and company were, so we had a fantastic time. The elderly owner was still fluttering about serving us and the few remaining Parisians that still imbibed sipping wine and smoking. We enjoyed a wonderful bottle of Bordeaux until our teeth looked like wood and Dan splurged on a plate of frites while I took in all the sights and smells of the world around us. Our waiter/owner did not rush us albeit approaching two in the morning, he let us sit and sip and relax until we were the last people in the restaurant.
After three bottles of wine and ten hours of sleep we awoke without one trace of a hangover. How can this be we thought! A spot of coffee and a few croissants later.. ok and a pain au chocolate.. ok AND a bit of baguette with jam we made moves. Pastry overloaded and quite happy we decided to plop our carbed out bodies on a tour of the city by way of the Big Bus Tour. Two and a half hours later we had seen all the major sights and scoped out our adventure areas for the week.
On Wednesday we woke up to torrential rain, it was not what we had planned for, however we were in PARIS and it didn’t matter. After a few train rides on the metro, we ended up in the largest and oldest covered market in Paris. Tiny books stores, craft shops, wine boutiques, tiny restaurants, artisans, and the occasional empty space filled over 4 city blocks of undercover market places. It felt like true old world Paris. I could feel the tinkers, butchers, and cheese mongers who formerly occupied this space. It was very special.
While most of the lunch spots were bustling with customers, we were starving and a bit defeated when we stumbled upon a rather fancy but empty looking spot; Passage 53, located at the 53rd address of covered arcade. We entered a modern minimalist dining room adorned with simple art, and colorful place settings. The maitre’d greeted us in a smart-looking, sleek black suit, with a black skinny tie. He was very French looking minus the thin upper lip mustache, and with a bright smile he welcomed us. He sat us and quickly explained that there was no menu, only pre fixe gastronomique tasting menu; the lunch version, or if we wanted to go bigger, the dinner tasting menu. But before we were to choose he needed to check with the chef to see if he could accommodate two more for lunch. He further explained that they run solely on reservations. I started to get nervous. I felt under dressed; I was wearing a simple sun dress soaked in rain, and Dan in his t- shirt and shorts. I was convinced he was checking with the chef to figure out a way to tell us to leave. We were under dressed but that didn’t seem to phase the wait staff, the Maitre’d came back with excellent news that they had room for two more. To our delight, we began to discuss the menu options. Without question Dan and I went for the whole shebang, plus the extra course with caviar. We’re on vacation, bring it! My nerves were instantly calm, we had been accepted. As guests started to arrive, we noticed their anticipation and energy flooding the room and we quickly began to realize that we were somewhere unique.
If I could eat tasting menus everyday of my life I would. They are such a thrill, a rollercoaster for your palate, and always an adventure of new flavors and products. What I am about to walk you through is an endless homage to traditional French cuisine but in the most simple flavors and modern techniques of our culinary culture to date. It is and exquisite experience to eat such developed flavors and to understand their depths and difficulty. Fourteen courses of pure amazingness; some simple, some complex, but all fabulously harmonious.
Amuse bouche #1-Grilled salsify, first poached in butter.
Amuse bouche #2- Veloute of fresh pea with a quenelle of pea ice cream
Course Un- Caviar alongside potato strings with chive and chive blossom
Course Deux- Crab, English cucumber, pea gratinee, horseradish cream, poured cucumber jus with verbena
Course Trois- Gentle poached langoustine with cauliflower cream with crisp cauliflower shavings
Course Quatre-White asparagus, Parmesan cream, crumbled egg yolk and parmesan crisp
Palate awakener- Veal Consomme with a 3 minute egg, sorrel mushroom, chives and asparagus
Course Cinq- Turbo with peas, lima bean, and butter poached wheat berries with wood sorrel
Course Six- Veal breast with fingerling potatoes, celery foam, fennel foam, cabbage, mustard micro green and mustard seed puree
Course Sept- Squab, pumpkin cardamom puree, a micro brunoise quenelle of carrots vichy
Course Huit- Crème Brulee with an isomalt crackle
Course Neuf- Lemon curd ice cream with a lime candy and a cold lime crème sauce
Course Dix- Burnt caramel ice cream with a shaved white chocolate crumble
Course Onze- Season cherries, cherry sorbet, grated white chocolate and cherry grantinee on top of a white cherry ice cream
Course Douze- Chocolate ganache tart with citrus honey
All in all; 14 courses with champagne to start and coffee to end. Our bellies were full, our minds were swirling with excitement and my taste buds were dancing around in my mouth. It was one of the best meals of my life; simple, well executed, unexpected, and entirely memorable.
Paris Part Deux coming up soon!