Monday, March 05, 2007

Paris Weekend - an Exerpt

Well, the food was fabulous. And so was the shopping. My feet have been replaced by bloody stumps, but that is the fact of life that must be accepted when weekends in Paris are planned. One must think in advance and think sensibly or else they end up like this. But I am a bloody stump type of girl. I live life that way. Voilà.

First, I met some friends and colleagues for Lunch at le Violin d’Ingres, a lovely little place near the Eiffel Tower. Out of curiosity I ordered the “mille-feuille”, which Sophie instantly photographed. She is very good about not letting moments pass by which I find extremely admirable. Phyllis and Sophie both looked smashing and it was really wonderful to be in one place with them both, and with Angela, and the rest of the group.

She recommended the tête de veau, which was melt in your mouth delicious. I have learned through the years that following her advice always reaps rewards. Now we had a little discussion about how to translate things like tête de veau without giving the false impression that they’re going to light up a gothic candelabra and dim the lights and have coffin bearers come out of the kitchen to place in front of you the freakish remainder of a devil worshipping ceremony. It is really not that way at all. Tête de veau is good. And when properly prepared, it can be sublime.

The tête de veau is one of those dishes that was once the food of the people, you know, a cheap cut. It is now a food of the elite and can cost as much or more as the finest aloyau when it comes straight from the butcher, which bothers me a little bit because in my mind, everyone should get a chance at least once in life to enjoy a good home cooked tête de veau the way mamies used to do it at home. The butcher will advise you to simmer it long and slow with a bouquet, and serve it with a sauce gribiche. I do prepare tête de veau at home when my butcher has it, which is not very often but enough that I’ve got a pretty good recipe tested out in my kitchen notebook.

Constant’s dish tastes like it has been done with tender loving care. I agree, it is extraordinarily well prepared in his kitchen, and served very beautifully. Each plate has a sampling of the important parts of the dish. He does it the old fashioned way, no mystery about that but what makes it shine is that he takes the time to do it right, from A to Z. I would not be surprised if he separates it into parts and cooks certain parts of it respectively to perfection, reassembling the elements at plating. When I was served the dish I remembered that I had ordered at Café Constant last June and it was the same, down to the mimosa dressing. They don’t take reservations at the café so you can always give it a shot if you’re in the neighborhood if you haven’t taken the time to reserve. There is care coming out of that kitchen. They have got it down pat.

Aside from the tete, the highlight of the meal for me was the great conversation. I loved just talking about food in general and French, and stuff. When I meet people in person, I want to meet them and talk about what we share in common. I like to listen to people and get a feel for how they express themselves. We talked about common passions at lunch, and the ideas were fluid from the get go, with everyone at the table. It was a very refreshing meal. We closed the restaurant. Sophie had to get back to packing for her long trip in America that’s coming up and I continued my conversation with Phyllis for a little while on the metro before I got off to begin working on getting my feet good and sore.

I left a rather painful trail through the paper shops in the Marais and considered books as well, but in the end decided against it for fear of my back. I loaded a large shopping bag with lots of little things that only Paris boutiques can offer including some lovely clothes and jewelry, and tried to be careful but in the end I was slogging a large mustard colored sack full of what amounted to lots, even though I was careful not to buy too much. It was a very productive visit.

Dinner was extraordinarily good and exactly what I hoped for. I made a plan to meet with David. He suggested ethnic and I felt safe in his care.

We met at about nightfall. After hauling my large mustard colored sack to an art opening and strategically putting it down in a calculated place in the gallery so that it appeared to be a part of the exhibition, we went to dinner. I considered leaving the sack, because as people slinked by in the magnificently lit gallery they all looked at it and backed away from it as if calculating its significance in comparison to the Golden House on display. But I hadn’t walked my feet to stumps for nothing. I was not going to give up my paper products that easily!

I asked David if we could possibly descend by elevator because the little wooden Paris stairwells give me dizzy spells. The elevator was made of glass and only fit two people, much like a futuristic capsule. It was amusing to be riding it down and watching a girl spiraling down around us on the stairs at a similar speed. We’ve been talking about the elevator here in our building, a kleenex box from the 1960s that’s literally about to fall apart, and I simply adore the idea of getting a glass one as a replacement. I am going to suggest it.

It is clear that in many of the cities of France, people get stuck in elevators a lot. We once helped our neighbor from the one in the building where we used to live in on Cours Lafayette. Madame Arthaud who lives in our building was also trapped this summer. David recounted a recent tale of his own entrapment in which he had to wait for the elevator people to come back from lunch to be freed from an old Paris elevator. His only link to the outside world was a telephone that had someone telling him the men would be along to free him after lunch. I can’t decide if a glass elevator would be good in a situation like that.

People pile in the cars and act out all kinds of interesting scenarios in the Paris Metro. Everyone is aware that everyone is a spectator in that context. There is a lot of self expression going on in many ways on the Metro and it is not to be scoffed at for entertainment value. But when I come to Paris, It is the city that I come to see, so I take the bus when I can. I adore riding across the surface of it and soaking in the layout of the streets and learning the places.

We took the bus on a line that David said is one of his favorites (No. 29) to a Japanese place. The Japanese have a really great way of summarizing big things into completely accessible little packages. In fact sometimes their gestures can say much more than any detailed elaboration, in my opinion. The place we went to was all about little plates of things. We got to compose the table and it was delicious, and matched our conversation perfectly.

The waiter or waitress (not sure what the wait staff was) was caring it was clear, and moved fluidly and acted as a buffer but also a driver of the fracas that made up this wonderful place. We ordered just the right amount of food and warm sake. David shared a story in which he goes to Japan and is sequestered like a prisoner by day, forced to train people, but is fed the most amazing food he has ever eaten every night. The way he told it I imagined them pushing him blindfolded into cabs and cars and taking him to one restaurant after the next, leading him to eat without ever being allowed to see anything in Tokyo outside of a dinner plate. It sounded pretty good to me. It was simply a delight to talk to him and to sample all of the little plates between us. He paints a beautiful picture, grand gestures here, small details there.

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Anonymous bea at la tartine gourmande said...

This looks like a nice full visit, at all levels! I cannot wait to be there in April, I have to say. Too bad you live in Lyon, n'est-ce pas?

11:13 PM, March 05, 2007  
Blogger Mimi said...

Lovely recounting, Lucy, both elegant and edgy. Le Violin D'Ingres is a block or two away from the flat I've rented.

My feet have not fully recovered from my last visit to Paris, on a holiday weekend. I share your preference for the bus, over Le Metro. I want to see Paris - a heady feeling, always.

3:31 AM, March 06, 2007  
Anonymous David L said...

Perhaps it wasn't the staircase, but the art that gave you a bit of vertigo!

Yes, as much as we love French food, we all need our fix of spicy and/or Asian food every so often. Glad you enjoyed dinner too..although I hope someday to try their fried tofu too! ; )

1:14 PM, March 06, 2007  
Blogger Connie said...

what a wonderful little trip. good food, good conversation and good shopping! hope you got to rest those bloody stumps in a nice warm bath

1:42 PM, March 06, 2007  
Blogger Linda said...

i want to go to paris this instant!!!

8:42 PM, March 06, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for the comments!

9:57 PM, March 06, 2007  
Blogger Atammayata said...

I like Chef Constant's food, too, but unfortunately, my experience at Le Violon d'Ingres wasn't that pleasant.

Love your wrting!

2:20 PM, March 08, 2007  

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