lundi, novembre 27, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 6: Taillevent and other minor expenses

Tonight was the night we went to Taillevent for dinner, so allow me to reduce the rest of the day to bullet points:

  • We started the day at La Durée teahouse. Our first waiter was a dick; he told us that the only thing available were the pastries, but the guy sitting next to us got an omelet from a different waiter. Mercifully, there was a changing of the guard and the waiter for the rest of our meal was quite lovely. The place is known for its macaroons (soft meringue cookies filled with creamy stuff) so we got a huge order of them, a couple of croissants, and some tea. The macarrons were delicious, but the tea was served in BAGS. We were horrified. On the way out, we bought a few pastries from the counter, including a rose-flavoured religieuse.
  • We were near Faubourg Saint-Honoré (luxury and high fashion strip of Paris), so we went to Furla and Carla bought a rabbit-fur purse (we cried for the rabbit...then bought it).
  • Then we went to Hermès, where we window-shopped for a while and then bought Carla some perfume.
  • Then we went to the Maison du Chocolat and got some chocolate for the folks at home. When I usually shop here, someone materializes to attend to you and take your order. This time, none of the 5 employees in the tiny shop could be bothered to help us. And when we finally made our purchase, the guy at the register grabbed the 100% cacao bar and said "This bar is very strong, you know," in this condescending tone that suggested that: a) we couldn't read, and b) we couldn't handle dark chocolate. I'm disinclined to return.
  • Then we went to Fauchon and bought several packages of marrons glacés, fruit candies and chocolate for various people at home.
  • Then we headed over to TATI to pick up my tailored suit.
  • Then we headed over to Au Bon Marché to check out the Grande Epicerie (see here for previous visit), but the place was insanely packed. Instead, we headed to the second floor for a quick bite to eat. On the way out, I got some of their fantastic ham from the deli counter.
  • Then it was back home to start preparing for Taillevent. Shower, shave, change.
  • Carla came over to my room when she was ready and helped me pick out a tie-shirt combo (we went with pink shirt and grey tie with pink-gradient polka dots on the diagonal; I swear it looked better than it sounds). We realized that the shirts I had bought on Friday were still wrinkled from the packaging, so I pulled out the iron and Carla did a quickie-iron while I tried on a few other tie-shirt combinations.
  • We head outside and miraculously catch a taxi and head over to Taillevent.

Which brings us to...


So, to echo a review posted on Chowhound a while ago, everything about our experience at Taillevent was perfect (or, as you'll soon see, everything within their power was perfect). The service was door-to-table-to-door (they even guide you personally to the restrooms), with a balanced tone that was never unnervingly subservient or affected. The décor was an interesting mix of masculinist "smoking room" wood and austere minimalism. Amber-coloured wood paneling would frame white-on-white abstract canvases or recessed niches of painted-metal sculptures.

The layout of the restaurant was very interesting; the whole place was arranged to maximize the amount of banquette seating by using half-walls to divide the rooms into smaller squares. Each square had a ring of banquettes followed by a ring of tables, and then the centre of the square had a small table that was used by the waiters as a "command central" station. The waiters would write your order on a little piece of paper and leave it on the table, and then the busboys would quietly read the paper to figure out which course you were on and what sort of silver to (quietly) bring out. What was most interesting was that pairs (such as my sister and I) were seated at what would normally be a 4-top table, with both of us sitting on the banquette and facing towards the central waiters' station. I suppose part of this was to ensure that we could summon a waiter by merely looking up (not that this was ever necessary), but it also had the felicitous effect of clearing the inner area around the waiters' station of any obstructive chairs. Also, the waiters seemed to use the space between the tables and the waiters' station to store your white wine bottles, water bottles, decant your red wine, and so on. (Note: this is one of those restaurants that use wine cradles before decanting and candles during decanting. Classy!)

We both had the big seven-course tasting menu, which was prefaced by a velouté soup made from foie gras (that's right, a whipped foie gras soup). I can't remember every course (Carla, do you?), but here's what I recall:

  • A cold preparation of tortoise meat (sort of like crab) in a cream sauce with a layer of fine radishes
  • Noix de Saint-Jaques (scallops), seared and served over a purée of celery and watercress
  • Langoustines (large European prawn) with some sort of buttery vegetable preparation that I can't recall
  • Roast duck breast with a dark, sweet sauce that seemed to have soya as a base.
  • Ossau-Iraty cheese (a sheep's cheese similar to a soft Parmesan), turned into a mousse and topped with a black cherry marmelade.
  • A "millefeuille" of chocolate mousses that was actually four dollops of differently-flavoured mousses arranged in two rows and separated by layers of chocolate.
  • A plate of chocolate bonbons.
  • Some other cake-like thing that I seem to have forgotten.

In addition to all of this, we started the dinner with an apéritif and finished with coffée and a digestif of Poire Williams liqueur. Our sommelier was fantastic and, although he appeared to be twelve years old, managed to telepathically read our fragmented requests and turn them into a perfect white wine and a similarly perfect half-bottle of red for the duck course. I can't recall the precise wines, but Carla has them written down somewhere.

All in all, a fantastic dinner. Definitely once-in-a-lifetime (although I hope to make it multiple times if I ever have a money-making career). The only hiccup in the evening was our neighbors in the table to the right of us. A somewhat oddly-dressed couple came in shortly after us; the man was wearing business-casual slacks, a heavy-cloth shirt and a cheap-looking tweed jacked that didn't match anything else. His companion was wearing relatively standard black dress pants, but she had a one of those semi-sheer polyester ruffled-neck peasant blouses that screams "Reitman's 2002!" If you're not Canadian, think of the Dress Barn or something like that. Also, she had bright white bra straps showing through.

All in all, they had an air about them of "mid-life crisis and his slightly inappropriate date." Or possibly "Middle-manager and his secretary." Either way, the creepiness turned into annoyance quickly. The man eschewed the tasting menu and made an elaborate show of ordering à la carte, pointing out banalities to his date (who made a good show of being impressed) and asking for pointless details from the waiter. Once he finally made his order, he called over one of the sommelier (there were two on staff that night) and started to put him through his paces. He would ask for a wine pairing recommendation, then immediately find a myriad of problems with the recommendation. He would argue about the character or taste of the wines offered, and would again try to make his connoisseurship as public as possible, proclaiming, "Well, we all know that grape variety is useless after six years," or "Obviously that wine region is too smoky to be paired with shellfish." From the sound and appearance of things, the sommelier found most of his "obvious" knowledge to be categorically wrong, so he had the unfortunate task of pretending to concede to the patron's opinion, then re-wording his disagreement as an extension or modification of the patron's opinion, and then pretending that the final result was in fact the patron's idea all along.

Once the wines started actually being served, it just got worse. As each wine came out and was opened, he would go through this passive-agressive (and again public) process of saying that the wine was lovely, but...just not [insert abstract word here]. He would complain that it wasn't "pointed" enough, or too "evanescent" or some other adjective that is difficult to contradict in empirical terms. He was ordering exclusively by the glass (a great expense to a restaurant with wine cellars such as Taillevent) and sending back nearly 2/3 of them with some form of rejection.

The whole process was excruciating to watch, but thankfully we had already put nearly a bottle of white wine into our bodies by the time this man got into full swing, so we weren't too bothered by him. We just felt sorry for the poor sommelier. After a while, we noticed that the head waiter and eventually the maître d'hôtel came out to "check" on his table. None of this seemed to deter him, and by the time that we were leaving (and we were one of the last tables to leave), he was still going strong, ordering individual plates and then demanding elaborate wine-matching services. As we headed out to meet our cab, I made my best effort to subtly express my sympathies to the maître d'hôtel. "Good luck with our neighbors," I said. After a brief pause while he figured out the reference, he said, "Ah...yes. They're in the middle of tasting, I believe." "Mmm, yes. It appears so." What's missing from this conversation are the facial expressions and other non-verbal cues, which turned this conversation into: "So sorry you have to deal with that asshole." "Thanks, we hate him and, in advance, any progeny he may have by that polyester-wearing hooker he brought with him." "Ew."

But aside from that little story (which was amusing in its own way) dinner at Taillevent was perfect and magical and overwhelming. Carla and I couldn't find the words to describe the taste of anything at that moment, let alone a week after when I finally wrote the review. After all of that, we took another cab home, staggered to our rooms, and passed out with easily 750ml of wine and liquor in us.

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