Christmas Day! Since we celebrate on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is usually a day of sleeping in and lounging around, followed by the annual Garcia Family Trip To The Movies Because We’ll Be The Only Ones In The Theatre And We Hate Other People. Although there was still some sleeping in, this year’s Christmas Day was a bit different.
To begin with, we had lunch reservations, rather than eating leftovers at home. We headed off to Procope for lunch, the restaurant that has been in business since 1686. We got there a bit too early for our reservation and the sky was nice and sunny, so we walked along rue de l’ancienne comédie up to l’Institut Français and back before claiming our table.
As we waited to speak to the maitre d’hôtel, a family came in behind us with two completely out-of-control children. They were two boys of about 10 or 12 years of age, and both parents were exercising the worst kind of parental reaction to bad behavior. As their boys tipped over chairs and banged on the aquarium and nearly tripped a server, the mother would half-heartedly ask them to stop in a whiny voice without doing anything to physically stop them, while the father would alternate between being completely oblivious and then snapping and roughly yanking them back by their jackets. It was a disaster I could hear behind me before I had even turned to look over my shoulder.
As one of the servers walked us to our table, I said quietly to her, “Please tell me that we’re not sitting next to those two kids.” She smiled uncomfortably and didn’t say anything, which I understood; it’s a bad idea to badmouth one client to another, regardless of the temptation. In contrast, we ended up being seated next to an Italian family, whose children practically marched in lockstep. They were quiet and well-behaved, without looking subdued or depressed. A whole series of books could be written on the various parenting styles of Europe, but I’ve always noticed that Southern-European kids are kept on a much tighter leash than in Northern Europe. South America certainly seems to have adopted some of this from the Spaniards; one of the worst insults to parents in Peru is to call their children malcriado (“poorly brought up”).
Ironically, it was the father of the family who ended up making a scene. They had ordered kids’ meals for the two children (a sign that Le Procope has become primarily a tourist restaurant), which had the option of chicken or fish for the main dish. They had picked the chicken, but apparently the kitchen ran out of the chicken dinners as they were making their meals, so one got chicken and the other got salmon. The restaurant screwed up by not coming out and telling the family right away that they had run out of chicken dishes and perhaps offer something else instead. On the other hand, the Italian family took the salmon without complaint when it came to the table and then complained about it when they had finished the main dish and the daughter had eaten the fries and left the fish untouched. After a bit of arguing, the waiter took that one kid’s meal off the bill, but the father insisted that they make another dish for her. The waiter said that the table had already accepted the main dish and eaten half of it, so any “replacement” dish wouldn’t be free. The waiter wouldn’t budge on this, and eventually the Italian family accepted a complimentary crêpe instead, but not before some stereotypically Italian fireworks.
Anyway, the meal here was great, although I’m a bit foggy on what everyone had. I had os à la mœlle (marrow bone) as an appetizer and the rest of them had salads (I think). For the main dish, I had a really lovely coq au vin, my dad had a plate of shrimp, my mom had trout with meunière sauce, and my sister had roasted Bresse chicken with morel mushrooms and potatoes in a cream sauce. All very, very tasty. Also, I had “cocoa sorbet” for dessert, although I’ll admit that it tasted more like regular chocolate ice cream. Nothing like the dark chocolate sorbet at SOMA back in Toronto.
As we left the restaurant, the sky had gone grey and the temperature had dropped, but we still wanted to go for a little walk. And by “little walk” I mean “walk all the way along the Seine to Invalides, across the river, and all the way up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe.” Good times, but was it ever cold. There was another winter market at the Champs-Elysées, but at this point we had realized that there was the same set of 10 or 15 types of booths at all of these winter markets around Paris, so we pretty much walked right by it.
We presented the Arc de Triomphe to my dad, who was mildly impressed; then he became much more interested in identifying a flag flying over some random building nearby. How very dad.
At just the same time, as we were getting ready to head into the subway station, all the lights on the trees of the Champs-Elysées were turned on at once, which was pretty impressive. Of course, my mom had to take pictures of this, so my sister accompanied her over to the street, so she could take a picture from the “center” of the road.
So as my mother plunges into Paris traffic with my sister trailing behind her, my father says, “I’m going to go check out that flag over there” and disappears around a corner. Carla comes running back without mom and we have the following conversation:
“He’s over there somewhere, looking for a plaque to explain some flag or something. Where’s mom?”
“She’s standing in traffic, taking a picture of the Champs Elysées.”
“It’s like babysitting hyperactive kids!”
“I had been warned about this! It has come to pass! The roles have been reversed!!”
After a good laugh, we collected our parents and guided them into the subway before they could get into any more trouble.
By the time we got back to the apartment to drop off our stuff (we had made a few purchases) it was almost time for dinner. So we had a leisurely coffee at the apartment, re-heated ourselves, and then started walking toward our dinner destination, a fantastic Sichuan restaurant up in the Strasbourg-Saint-Denis area. The walk was long, but good for building up an appetite, and we were able to take a detour through the Turkish strip of Saint-Denis, down the passage of Indian restaurants, and (of course) past all the hookers in that area. My dad’s tour of Paris was very comprehensive.
I’ve been to this Sichuan restaurant, appropriately named Le Restaurant de Chengdu, once before with a group of friends, including a Mandarin Chinese pal who declared the restaurant “authentic.” This time didn’t disappoint, either. Here’s the pile of food we ordered:
- Dry-roasted chicken and vegetables, Sichuan style (i.e., very spicy)
- Ma-Po Tofu (spicy tofu)
- Chinese eggplants simmered in pork broth and sweet soy (AMAZING! ORGASMIC!!1!)
- Breaded and fried shrimp
- Cantonese fried rice
- Ginger Beef.
The dry-roasted chicken and the eggplants were the real stars of the meal, although all of it was tasty and satisfying. We actually ordered a second portion of the eggplants.
So, now spectacularly full, we walked back to their apartment, this time passing by République and rue de Turenne, hoping that we would feel less excruciatingly full by the time we got home. From there, I hopped on a vélib and slowly pedaled my way home.