mardi, septembre 05, 2006

More dépannage and more food

The evening before, Val secured permission for me to be absent for most of the morning today, which gave us time to go on a quest for the best croissant / pain au chocolat in Paris. My only limitation was that I had to be back by 13:30 to give a presentation to the incoming students on the Rive Gauche site, which was put together a couple of years ago as a compilation of orientation materials for visiting students.

So, after a fair bit of research the night before, Val located a number of articles and reviews dubbing the Pâtisserie Jean Millet as the best viennoiserie (specializing in croissant-type pastries) in town (7ème arr., between Invalides and Eiffel). And let me tell you: they indeed make the best freaking croissant I've ever had. Val took a few pictures of the whole adventure, so I might post them here as an update later if Val sends 'em to me. I got a croissant and coffee, and Val got a pain au chocolat and tea. Both of our pastries were very, very dry and flaky, with the outside layers flaking off at a finger's touch and the inside full of huge air bubbles. The whole thing tasted like it had been made with a whole stick of butter, it was neither too sweet nor too salty, and the top had a brown singe to it that showed it to have been aggressively baked at high heat. Hah. Agressively baked. I like that.

After all of that fun, Val bought a few of their attractive-looking chocolates and headed off. Of course, we weren't done. Val had also read about a boulangerie only two blocks down called Poujauran, so we headed there for another round of pastries. Val got her pain au chocolat and I tried their apricot-filled croissant. Then, we headed north towards the Seine. Right where some random street met the quai near the Seine, we found these (see images). There was this corner portal on an otherwise unexceptional office building, with beautiful glass doors and statues/reliefs flanking the doors on each side. To the left was a strange mix of iconography that suggested a biblical Eve character (serpent), stereotyped native american (grass skirt, hair), and african (the shape of the face and the body). It's a bit hard to tell from these photos, but click on them for a closeup. To the right was a figure helpfully labelled as la seine, using the trope of wavy hair and rippling robes to suggest the river. Ah, for the days when the seine looked as clean as that! Mind you, I haven't caught a wiff of the seine since I got here, so maybe they've cleaned it up a bit. In addition to these two, check out the detail on the door handles:

Now that is some sexy metalwork. Val immediately recognized the mermaid figures as a character from a legend, but I totally forget the name, so Val: if you're reading this, could you post a recounting of the tale in the comments?

So, after that moment of decorative loveliness, we headed over to the gravel path along the seine, sat down a few paces away from a dozing homeless man, and ate our Poujauran pastries. They were delicious, and knocked the socks off of anything you could find in N. America, but it didn't create the sort of gastronimic orgy in my mouth that the Millet croissants did. But of course, that's like saying that a Lexus is somewhat lackluster in comparison to a Porsche or Ferrari.

Afterwards, we headed off in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, thinking we might look around, dash up to the top, get a few pictures, and then make it back to the Centre in time for my presentation. This seemed like a fine idea, although I noticed that it was already 11am and I should be on the RER by 12:30pm if I'm to reach the Centre on time. So we headed over, then got in a huge, sprawling line. It took a good long while before we hit the ticket booth, and then we got on the elevator to the second floor, where we were supposed to transfer to another elevator for the final ascent. What we should've expected (but didn't) was that there was another huge line running all the way around the second level of the tower just to get on the final elevator to the top. Clearly there was no way we'd get up there on time. In fact, just getting the the second floor had taken quite a while, and it was already almost 12:30. So, we cut our losses, took some pictures from the observation deck, then got on the elevator and headed back down. We dashed off to the RER stop and I made it back to the Centre—beaded in sweat—with just minutes to spare.

The presentation itself went fine. I just walked them through the whole Rive Gauche site, while constantly making it clear that the design was not my own. Don't get me wrong; the content of this site is profoundly useful (although requiring a bit of updating here and there), but the site's layout and organization was, to put it lightly, atrocious. It's like an explosion of mismatched animated gifs. Nonetheless, all went well and one of the students even volunteered to help with the re-design. Not bad, all around.

On a more amusing note, one of my co-workers came in after my presentation to speak briefly to the class, and he asked me "Is this your VGA adapter?" In fact, I had taken the adapter from his office in a panic while I had been trying to get my laptop hooked up to the projector. So I say to him "Oh, I stole it from your office." However, I mixed up one slang word for "to steal" (piquer) with a rather different word (niquer), which resulted in me saying "I f*cked you with it in your office," or something like that. Thankfully, he had a sense of humour and the students didn't quite pick up on it (well, I think some had an idea).

I spent the rest of the afternoon doing a bit of IT support while Val started re-imaging the computers in the salle informatique with a new build. Unfortunately, there was some issue with permissions on the master disk image that forced us to update the computers one by one instead of en masse. Nonetheless, all was eventually taken care of. Since we were staying late, we decided to go straight to dinner and I checked in with Sebastien for a few suggestions. He gave us a short list of four, from which we eventually chose a spot in the 13eme, called L'Ourcine.

We made our reservations and headed over to the restaurant; we had managed to sneak in to an early first-seating (7pm, which is unthinkably early by European standards), so we only had two hours to eat our meal (also unthinkably short by European standards). Nonetheless the meal was amazing and we got out just in time for the next seating. I had a fantastic Sauternes apéritif (sweet white wine from the Bordeaux region), and then a poêlée de cèpes, avec echalottes et ciboulette (a sort of French stir-fry of a particularly meaty mushroom variety with shallots and chives); the shallots were browned to a candy-like flavour and the mushrooms had that perfect balance between high-heat sear and meaty firmness. I should have taken a picture, alas, but it seemed like this place was not the sort where photo-taking tourists were common or welcome. Maybe when my french is better, I can pose as a restaurant reviewer. I'll also need to upgrade my wardrobe substantially....

Anyway, my main dish was a noix de veau prepared with a milk marinade and a fair bit of garlic and butter (and parsley). At first, the shape and size of the noix, as well as the texture and complete lack of fat, made me think that noix was a french culinary euphemism for testicles. I've eaten bull testes before (thanks, mom) and I have to grudgingly admit that they are delicious. So this ball of meat was also fantastic, and I spent the night thinking I had eaten a massive and very well prepared veal testicle. Afterwards, I looked it up online and discovered that the name refers to a bundle of three muscles near the hip of the veal that are usually very tender and free of fat or cartilage. Sorry Val! If I hadn't told her that I was eating testicles, she might have tried them. It was delicious. Dessert was a molten chocolate cake (mi-cuit) with a sorbet of milk and mint. Again, fantastic. The whole thing together was a lovely night, and we also had the pleasant experience of arriving early to an empty restaurant, and then watch it slowly fill throughout the meal. By the time we left, the place was jumping.

So on the way out, I come across this:Amusing, n'est-ce pas? What some of you might not already know is that part of my project here in paris is to work on Electronic Dance Music (EDM), and that one of the more active sub-genres is minimal techno. Minimal techno, in turn, is often associated with a genre of lifestyle and personality that can be pretentious, faddish or ostentatiously austere. So there there's this Minimal Shop which you would expect to provide lifestyle products for techno geeks. Upon first glance, not so much.

3 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

Luis, how rivetting you must find my conversation -- it stays with you for, like, minutes. ;)

The door handle figures look to be Mélusine, a powerful fairy who one day a week was tranformed into a creature with the upper body of a woman, and the lower body of a fish with two tails.

The story of Mélusine is as follows: a rich and/or noble dude finds her while riding/hunting in a forest, falls in love with her after a long conversation and asks her to marry him. She agrees on the condition that he must never come to her room on Saturday.

He agrees (of course). But eventually breaks his promise (of course), discovering her in her bath with her two tails.

When she discovers that he has broken his promise to her (not before she had borne him many children, brought him great wealth and built him a number of castles), she is heart broken. Crying out piteiously, she transforms into a 15-foot dragon, and flies out of the castle, never to been seen again. We've all been there, am I right?

The iconography was borrowed by Starbucks, because nothing makes you think of coffee more than a half woman, half fish creature. Delicious!

You can check out more information at the folktale website -- the decription of the children is a hoot.

Well, off to my enchanted bath....


Anonyme a dit…

I love the Minimal Shop. Or rather, what I love is the quasi-Asian motif of the Minimal Shop. You know .. zen, meditation, etc. Apparently Asian = minimal. Hilarious.

Luis-Manuel Garcia a dit…

Yeah, totally. Them asians have are all minimal and austere and such. Just look at Hong Kong. Ah well, I suppose it's a relief that "minimalism=asian-inspired" isn't restricted to N. America.