Paris

Posted on May 16, 2011

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How shall we begin, Paris. Wow, how do you start to talk about a trip to Paris? It’s a hard one because there is so much promise, it’s talked up as the most romantic city in the world, the city of lights, the food capital of the planet,  and the thing is, for me it’s not a first. I have been there many times and found it to be all those things and more, but a few years back I had to say “enough is enough” broaden your horizons guy, stop searching.

You see I had a thing,  a habit,  a jones,  a monkey on my back,  an itch I had to scratch,  I had to find the perfect cafe /bistro.  So for years and years all my spare hols were spent on the search. Did I find it?  No! Did I have fun? Hell yea!  But in the end the love affair had to end, or at least the Goddess had given me the hard word.  The next time we needed a break she was not going to be dragged around badly lit, far out neighborhoods of Paris, usually at night and in the rain, with me peering in grubby windows and saying “holy shit this could be it, this could be the one”, Paris was off the agenda, at least for a few years. So now it’s a few years on and I am back, have things changed? We will see!

So first off, where to stay?  Well I know the city so I have an idea which area, but the main problem is that  as I get older I have certain habits and comforts that I like to indulge, one of which is that I only stay in good hotels. I need tea and coffee-making equipment, a bath robe, TV, internet access, and generally a high level of comfort something akin to ones home. This all sends the Goddess insane of course, and in Paris one of the most expensive cities on the planet to stay in, this is a big ask. But in the end we find a privately owned  apartment which has the lot. It’s just behind the Pompidou Center with the metro 100 mtrs away.

So we have arrived and, after dumping our bags and a quick lie down ( well it is Paris ) and a shower we are out for a wonder. It’s the same as ever, it just feels correct to be here. There are not many places I feel at home so fast, the familiar, the fact that I cannot walk more than 50 paces before I have to stop and  marvel at a patisseri or artisan butcher.  This stuff is not cheap but it is a form of art, dinner parties must be so easy in Paris.  In the window of the butchers I am looking  at the moment I can see what would be my choice of starter;  a terrine of rabbit cut to show that running through the center is a disk of foie gras, and in the center of this jewels of truffle and Riesling  jelly. For mains there are poussin stuffed with ceps, parsley and garlic just ready to shove  in the oven. So all I would have to do is then pop next door to the patissseri to buy a perfect, slightly bitter tart au chocolate  for desert,  then walk round the corner to buy the cheese. Oh, and right across the road there is a cave where you could pick up a bottle of fizz, a  few  bottles of Crozes Hermitage and a Barsac for the cheese, job done !

It’s time for a stop and a spot of people watching and there is a little place I know on Rue Vielle du Temple called le Petite Fer au Cheval. Inside is a beautiful zinc bar in the shape of a horse shoe which is where the cafe takes its name, but we sit outside and order a small carafe of Beaujolais, it’s barely big enough to get 2 glasses from and its 11 Euros, ouch.  But the day is bright and we are relaxed, I feel like I should be chain-smoking Gauloise even though I don’t smoke and that everything should be in monochrome, which I take as a good sign.

That evening for our first  meal out we try a place I have been recommended by Lebowitz  called Le Cafe Musee, it’s busy and just what I am looking for – a real bistro with real bistro classics. I start with a plate of smoked salmon that has been cured on the premises, its got just the right amount of fat and comes with a healthy side of watercress. For main a casserole of hare cooked in red wine with trumpet mushrooms  so earthy I can almost smell the forest. A fat slice of Pont Levec is the perfect finish to an almost perfect meal.

The next day, and while the Goddess goes shoping for perfume and lingerie ( I am not complaining ),   I have an engagement with a 70-year-old meat slicer and a chum of Woody’s  who I am told can get any seat in town. You see I want to eat at Regalade St Honore, it’s a new restaurant where the young chef  has decided to join the trend of  completely ignoring the likes of Michelin and simply wants to get back to serving great food at a reasonable price. It must be doing fine as at the moment it’s the hottest table in town, no wonder with great food and an astounding  33 Euro menu for lunch and dinner.  But I am told that you need to book  weeks in advance for a table in the evening, and as tomorow is Saturday it was looking like I was out of luck.

I decided on the offchance to  ring Woody who was filming Midnight in Paris here only last year. He suggests I speak to  some girl who had a bit part in the film, he tells me if this girl can’t get a table no one can, Carla sombody, I have not heard of her but that’s no surprise, I have been out of the film biz since the 50s!

When she arrives 2 body guards come in first and frisk me, which is strange to say the least. When she finally comes through the door, by the look of the staff you would think she is royalty.  We have a few slices of ham and a glass of wine, she is a very charming  tall brunette  and seems amused that I have not heard of her or her husband who I assume is some politico.  She makes the call and does indeed get a table for the following evening.

I meet up with the Goddess  for lunch at Le Rubis, she has a salad of endive, Roquefort, and walnuts while I go for the Confit du Canard on a bed of red cabbage  which is the sort of dish should be on all pub menus at home but never is. I look around and see that most people are eating this daily special  and I can tell by the look on their faces that, like me, they are remembering  the kitchen of  their childhood. We share a bottle of white burgundy and the bread is from Jean-Luc Poujauran – perfect.

After some sight-seeing in the afternoon  we go to a favorite cafe of mine La Tartine on Rue de Rivoli in the evening. We sit at the fourth table in on the left, it’s the table where I once took 500 francs from Leon Trotsky by beating him at chess three games in a row. Later that evening he jumped out of a doorway disguised as an Indian squaw and tried to mug me, but only got a pistol whipping for his labours, but that’s another story.

We, or at least I, ate a large lunch so we order the tartines that the place takes it’s name from. Mine has Camembert and bitter leaves, the Goddess’ Bayon ham, and both are served on wonderfully chewy pain Polaine. We drank a 2000 vintage Madiran, it’s a masculine wine with aromas that remind me of mushroom hunting and the way that my father always smelled slightly of tobacco, and it has a long, chocolatey finish.

We end the evening huddled under gas heaters outside a tiny bar on the Isle St Louis overlooking the smokey Seine with a couple of massively overpriced Cognacs,  philosophising about the mechanics of romance.

The next day is spent  just strolling around and taking in the atmos of this great city. It always seems that we walk miles when in Paris – this is one of it’s great pleasures,  a very intimate city where there is a feeling of belonging. It’s a trick that Paris has perfected, even if it’s your first trip, after only a few hours some how you feel like you have come home.

We arrive on time at La Regalad St Honore and Chef Bruno Doucet comes out himself to greet us.  We are offered glasses of fizz on the house, wow Woodys chum must really have some juice, maybe she’s in a famous soap!!

Anyway, whilst the Goddess peruses the menu the smells escaping from the kitchen lead me in to take a closer look. Chef very proudly shows me a  cut of potrine, belly pork,  from the farm of Eric Ospital in the Pays Basque, who he believes is the most  important and artisanal pork farmer in the country, and I then know immediately what I am having for main. In fact I have enough confidence in the kitchen that I tell them to take the order from the Goddess but for me just send me what is good.

The restaurant although modern and a gourmet hotspot is very relaxed and has some charming old fashioned touches, for instance as one sits down a large  terrine and a bowl of crunchy cornichons is set down for you to cut a slice  while you check out the menu, this is than passed to the next table as they sit.

We both start with soup, hers a delicate pumpkin with dried seafood which magically reconstitutes itself when the pumpkin broth is poured over,  mine a hearty wild mushroom with a dollop of foie gras bleeding  in to the centre.

For main the Goddess tucks into pan fried bream with caramalised fennel pappadella,  basil oil, and an artichoke foam.

The potrine arrives on a bed of puy lentils and it manages to be both crispy and moist at the same time and the flavour is astonishing. I don’t know whether it is because of the provenance of the meat or kitchen magic but I suspect it’s both, whichever it’s a sensational dish.

I skip desert but enjoy watching my wife devour a lighter-than-air Gran Marnier souffle. I don’t need to ask how it is as I can tell by the look on her face. But I ask anyway, she gives me a look that makes me feel like I have just crossed to the sunny side of the street, and says  “did the waitress bring that or did it just float down from heaven” .

All in all a great meal, with a good bottle of white the bill came to just over 110 Euros. For this quality of cooking, for produce this fresh, in season and in this location, ( for a place in this area rents are in excess of 10, 000 Euros a month) a real bargain.

And so we come to the end of a wonderful weekend. I had not known what to expext this time around but it was the same old Paris that I know and love. Is it expensive ? Yes. Is it worth it ? Yes. But you have to give yourself a little to Paris to get the best out, let your senses guide you, forget any itinary and just find a neighborhood cafe to use as a base and slip into the Parisian way of life. Let the sights, scents and tastes pull you allong the streets and learn to take time doing this, sit at a cafe with a coffee and just hang out.

And if you want to get to Regalade St Honore  before the prices go up I suggest you do it soon, but remember to book in advance !

Unless you know a soap star  that is.

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