dimanche, décembre 14, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 2: Markets, Churches and Shellfish

Sunday is the day of the big market at Bastille, so of course that’s how we started our day. We walked over to the market on the boulevard just north of the Bastille plaza and started our shopping in earnest. I can’t keep track of everything we bought, but there were some roasted chestnuts, fancy dry sausage, Jordanian dates, olives, and fruit of various sorts.

With our arms heavy with various tasty things, we walked up along the boulevard Richard Lenoir until we got to my neighborhood. We walked around my area and stopped at La Bague de Kenza (WARNING: crazy Flash-intensive, browser-crashing site; try this review instead), a fantastic Algerian sweets shop. We bought a ton of sweets (24, I think), a bunch of flavored flatbreads, and an olive loaf. We climbed the 6 flights of stairs to my apartment and made a late lunch out of the breads and olives we had bought, and then headed over to my parents’ apartment to drop off our purchases for the day.

We had reservations that night around 21h00 at a brasserie specializing in seafood, called La Rotonde. It’s located down near Gare Montparnasse, so our plan was to change into some more formal clothes and then wander around the neighborhood between Saint-Germain and Montparnasse.

After my mother and I spent a while cajoling my dad to put on something reasonably formal (he wanted to go in cargo pants and a hiking vest), we headed over to the Sèvres / Babylone métro station and wandered around the original grand magasin (department store), Le Bon Marché (“The Good Market”, but also “good price” or “good deal”). This remains probably the most high-end and non-touristy of the grands magasins; others, all located on the other side of the Seine river, include Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, BHV, and Samaritaine. We only walked through briefly, taking a moment to check out the elaborate Christmas window displays before leaving the store and walking toward the nearby church, Saint-Sulpice.

It just so happened (by total coincidence! I swear!) that the path to Saint-Sulpice goes right by the store of Pierre Hermé, a famed pastry and chocolate maker who is especially well-known for his adventurous and divinely-executed macarons. Now, I’m pretty sure that I’ve described French macarons in previous posts (nothing like North American “macaroons”) but it bears repeating: macarons are little sandwich cookies made of discs of soft meringue and flavoured cream, ganache or jelly filling. When properly made, macarons are soft, bite-sized clouds of AWESOME.

Of course, we couldn’t just walk by the Pierre Hermé shop without buying a few “for the road,” and I rationalized that a little bit of meringue wasn’t likely to spoil our appetites. My parents were rather easily convinced, and I bought a small collection of 6 macarons, including a salted-butter caramel one, a chocolate-passionfruit one, a coffee-flavored one, and a wasabi-grapefruit one. They were gorgeous.

The square in front of Saint-Sulpice had a Christmas winter market running, so we wandered through and checked out the wares available. Most of it was rather tacky tchotchke and/or from areas of the world outside of France (wooden bowls from Africa, “ethnic” jewelry, Southeast-Asian silks, Peruvian alpaca wool products, etc.), so we didn’t find anything to take as gifts for family and friends back home. If you go to Paris for Xmas, the expectation is that you bring back “French” gifts—whatever that might mean. Nevertheless, we did buy some roasted chestnuts and a few tantalizingly stinky Corsican sheep cheese.

We finally walked around the interior of Saint-Sulpice, a massive Baroque church built on a truly grandiose scale. As we were slowly walking around the church, dad seemed to wait until mom was well out of earshot before looking up at the vast vaults and saying to me, “What a waste of space and resources. Imagine the number of people you could house here; imagine the help you could give to the poor with the money spent here.” I wasn’t surprised at his reaction, considering that he had grown up on a rural cattle farm in Columbia and had always been endowed with a practical, pragmatic mindset. But there was something striking about the fact that he gazed at a monument and asked where the humanity was. My parents are hitting the phase in their lives where I sometimes think about what I’ll say at their funerals, and already at that moment I was bookmarking this remark as something that would encapsulate my father’s view of things.

After leaving the church, we found that we still had a fair bit of time, so we took a leisurely walk around the Luxembourg Gardens and eventually down rue Vavin to where the restaurant was. We circled the neighborhood for a while, popped into another church (with a sideways smirk from my father) and then eventually went into La Rotonde to claim our table. The meal was excellent and a great introduction to French seafood for my dad, but it was a pretty simple affair, so here’s the run-down in point form:

  • The main dish was a huge platter of oysters and other shellfish, which all three of us only barely finished.
  • We had a delicious sauternes [LINK] wine, which was a bit expensive but so worth it when paired with the brine of the oysters.
  • We were total gluttons and had dessert, despite the fact that we were stuffed to the gills with shellfish.
  • Including all of that and coffee, the whole thing came to 203€ for three people, 93€ of which was the seafood platter and 50€ of which was the wine.

And, despite the near-fatal doses of protein and phosphorous from all that shellfish, we all made it home OK, I actually biked back from my parents’ place, and I slept like a baby. A very well-fed baby.

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