samedi, décembre 02, 2006

Magda, Krikor and Chloé at the Rex

Well, my disco nap Friday night turned into full on snooze-fest, so I was up rather early the next morning, wondering what to do with myself. I took a moment to enjoy the feeling of not having anything immediately pressing to do, did a fair amount of blogging (I'm still catching up on the last week), and then headed out for some groceries. Of course, I forgot that Saturday is the day that most people do their groceries, so the place was a ZOO. Nonetheless, there's a part of me that really enjoys crowds and confusion, so it wasn't unbearable.

I still had that cocoa pasta that I had picked up at the Salon du Chocolat about a month ago. At the grocery store, I picked up some onions, mushrooms, crème fraîche, a pair of chicken legs (thigh+drumstick). Later that evening, I whipped up the mushroom cream sauce and the chicken with the cocoa pasta and it was SO GOOD I JUST CAN'T STAND IT. It's probably not for every palate, but I'm pretty happy with it, so here's the recipe: (more on night @ Rex after the recipe!)

Mushroom Cream Chicken w/ Cocoa Pasta


  • Cocoa pasta (rotini), about 1.5 handfuls per person
  • Lots of butter. Lots.
  • 1-2 medium onions, frenched--i.e., sliced radially (or whatever)
  • 2-4 white mushrooms, sliced (substitute more flavorful mushrooms if they're in season
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed or sliced
  • One 500ml container of crème fraîche (sorry, you can't substitute with sour cream)
  • 2 chicken legs or something similar (I recommend dark meat and bone-in)
  • A cup or two of chicken stock or water
  • Optional: some dark, mushroom-infused soya sauce for colour & flavour


  1. If you want to be all gourmet about it, you should start by browning the chicken legs in a bit of oil and then using the rendered chicken fat as the base for the next step. If you want to skip this step to save time and oil-spatter (I did), you can simply reduce the amount of stock/water you'll add later, or remove the skin
  2. Melt a lot of butter in a skillet (even if you have chicken fat from step 1), at least 1/2-cup to start. Slice the mushrooms and start laying them in the skillet over medium-high heat. The mushrooms will suck up the butter quickly, and you want to make sure that they're good and buttery before you go any further, so keep adding butter as necessary to ensure an even coating. Cover over medium heat while preparing onions.
  3. While the mushrooms reduce, peel and slice onions, then add to mushrooms. Stir and cover again.
  4. Prepare garlic, but wait until mushrooms have surrendered their liquor and the bottom of the skillet has filled with liquid; then add garlic and stir.
  5. Once the garlic has mellowed out, nestle chicken legs in mushroom-onion mixture and add liquid. Add liquid to about half the height of the chicken legs or until most of the mushrooms/onions are covered.
  6. Leave to simmer, partially covered, for about 30-40 minutes, turning the legs once for even cooking.
  7. Move the chicken to a plate, along with as much of the mushrooms and onions that you reasonably can, while leaving the liquid behind.
  8. Mix the crème fraîche into the liquid. In a pinch, you can do this with a spatula, but a whisk gives more even results. Try to avoid lumps.
  9. Return chicken and veggies to sauce and mix to coat. (If you don't have much room left in the pan, you can leave the chicken apart until the plating.) Leave the mixture to simmer gently over low heat while preparing the pasta.
  10. Boil up pasta like you would any other delicate pasta (i.e., check frequently, as it overcooks more easily than regular pasta). Drain. Add a bit of the cream sauce to coat and lubricate.
  11. Create a bed of pasta on the serving plate, place one chicken leg on top, cover with a layer of vegetables from the sauce mixture, and then pour sauce over top to coat well.

Anyway, cooking that up took longer than I had expected (especially because I added too much liquid and needed to reduce the sauce later), so when I had finally finished eating, it was already 23h30 and I still hadn't showered or changed. Once that was quickly taken care of, I headed for the métro and caught was seemed to be the last train of the night towards the Rex.

Closer: Magda, Krikor and Chloé at the Rex

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0h00-2h40 : Chloé

I got into the line outside just before 1h00; the line seemed impossibly long, but after 30 minutes I was inside. I had this odd moment at the door, where the person doorperson (not the security guards) stopped me before entering and asked me: "Who are you here to see?" I started to list the DJs playing that night, and he immediately waved me in, as if I had said a secret password. I made a mental note to always memorize the name of one of the night's DJs in the future. I'm guessing that this was some sort of filtering mechanism, although I didn't see anyone get turned away from the door while I was in line. Perhaps I looked like a tourist that night.

Either way, I got in, sailed past the coat check (I nearly froze in a tiny hoodie, but at least I can roll it up and stuff it in my bag rather than check it), and headed off to the bar. I had the luck of finding an opening at the bar as I approached, so I was served in a few moments and I was off to the dancefloor with my 9€ vodka-tonic in my hand. If you have read about my previous exploits at the Rex, you'll know that I have certain reservations about the place. It tends to get way overpacked, the prices for booze are insane, and the last time I was there my bag spent a few hours steeping in someone else's vomit. The place was still packed and expensive this time, but at least my night was puke-free.

One of the upsides of the Rex is it's powerful and smooth sound system. I've seen Chloé around at Katapult events, but it was nice to catch her in a larger club with a substantial sound system. Her set would probably be classified as "techno" in a generic sense here, but it sounded to me like some sort of maximal microhouse. The tracks tended to always include a bit of house-y swing (especially the alternating low-hi signature) as well as microhouse's tendency towards glitchy sounds, but the overall weight of the sound seemed to be classic big-room techno. As it turned out, this was sort of a theme for the evening.

2h40-3h45 : Krikor

Krikor was definitely the surprise find of the night for me. I had already seen his name pop up a few times while skimming the Karat record label's offerings on Beatport, but his recordings weren't quite as arresting as his live performance. The set could've sat comfortably next to ghetto-tech sets from Detroit; it was a fair bit faster than Chloé's set, with lots of sonic jump-cutting between hacked-up samples, but with a pounding bass kick punctuating everything. The best I can recommend as an example is to listen to Krikor's solo EP on Karat records at Beatport (here) and then imagine a very punchy bass kick and a generally more frenetic texture.

3h45-6h00? : Magda

At around 3h40, Krikor turned down the volume on his set as if he were going to finish. Everybody clapped and cheered and called for an encore. After a moment, he started back up with another final track, but the encore didn't seem to finish. Instead, the tail end of his live set merged seamlessly with the beginning of Magda's set, and only 15 minutes later did I realize that he had finished and Magda had started.

Magda's set was sort of what I've come to expect of her. Good, medium-intensity techno, mostly minimal-sounding tracks, but executed with maximal effects. In other words, she would lay down the bass and treble of the tracks as she mixed them in such a way as to create a massive and often body-rumbling sound out of relatively sparse textures. My only complaint with her set was that she was fond of tracks that used feedback / squeal elements, which were sometimes excruciating.

At one point, a guy next to me leaned over to his friend and said, "She's minimal, but only in volume!" And he was right, in a sense. He was saying this in response to one of many pauses Magda placed into her set. After a solid opening of 30 minutes or so, Magda would more and more frequently finish a track by playing to near-silence, and then bringing up then next track on full volume, or by bringing in the next track very quietly, and then suddenly dropping the bass. Either way, it seemed like she was borrowing from Richie Hawtin's bag of tricks regarding departure and return (see my previous discussion here), but departing into near-silence, rather than into unusual or "experimental" tracks. Either way, she seemed to read the crowd pretty well, keeping her moments of quiet short enough to prevent people from getting bored and leaving the dancefloor.

At around 5h40, I finally tuckered out and headed for the door. Thankfully, my bag was in decent shape this time and my ride home on the métro was pretty uneventful. I passed by my bakery (which is open by this hour on Sundays), but decided against buying bread. I was tired and my hands were dirty and I really wasn't in the mood to shop for baked goods. Nonetheless, I did manage to brush my teeth, pull out my contacts, and put my party-clothes in a neat pile before collapsing into bed.

vendredi, décembre 01, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 10: Transport Mayhem

OK, for the record, we did everything we could to make this day go smoothly. Carla's flight was at 11h30, so we needed to be there before 10h00, so we left at 7h00 with the intention to stop for coffee and pains au chocolat at my local boulangerie (we made a ritual of it) and then continue straight on to the airport. The trip usually takes 40mins to 1.5 hours depending on traffic, so I thought that getting on the train at 7h30 was a reasonable plan.

We get to the subway station and there's a huge line of people waiting to buy tickets. Fuck. It's the first of the month, so of course everyone and their dog is buying their monthly carte orange metropass. OK, fine, I have a French bank card, so I can use the automated tellers and save some time. 15 minutes later, I have the tickets in hand and we haul Carla's (very heavy) luggage down to the subway platform.

On the way down to the platform, one of the information-display television screens has the message "Signal problem on line 11, traffic greatly disturbed." Aw, fuck. While on the platform, a train arrives quickly, but it is packed to the doors with people. Aw fuck. We let that train pass, and I notice that the "spare" train that is often parked on the next platform over is being pulled out. Good. This one comes along a moment later with only a few people on it. We pile in and position our luggage in a corner.

At the next stop, there a huge, teeming, angry mass of people who pile on until the train is completely full, with those left behind trying desperately to push their way on. Carla and I (along with everyone else) are smashed up against the windows and her luggage. Well f.u.c.k. After waiting almost a minute on the quay (with people still pushing), the doors finally close and the subway starts moving. Halfway through the tunnel to the next station, it lurches violently to a stop, waits for another minute, then pulls into the station. There's another crowd, even larger. Aw, FUCK!

What was terrifying at this moment was that we were only at the fourth station in a line with 13 stops. The train took nearly 5 minutes to lurch from station to station (when it would normally take 30 seconds), and each station had a larger and larger mass of angry morning-rushers who were behaving more and more like animals. By the time we were approaching République (where a lot of them got off), I was becoming truly concerned about a stampede/suffocation situation.

When we finally got to Châtelet, it was 9h00. We had only one hour to get over to the RER B platform (itself a 15-minute walk underground) and then to ride the train out to the airport, and then to scamper our way over to Carla's terminal (the furthest distance away from the RER station). AAAARGH!!!

Well, off we run with luggage in hand, getting an all-over workout as we slung luggage down multiple flights of stairs (mostly downwards, thankfully), maneuvering between rush-hour foot traffic at the same time. We get to the RER platform, and the next train is going to the airport, but it isn't an express train. This one will stop at nearly all the stations between Châtelet and the airport (the express only makes about 4 stops before the airport). Well, there's no use waiting for the next express train, so we piled on and enjoyed a moment of repose, even if we knew the battle wasn't over.

We had made the transfer in about 15 minutes, and the train ride up to the airport terminal 2 was another 40 minutes. By the time we got there, it was 9h55 and we needed to be on the other side of the terminal by 10h00. Carla was already making contingency plans if she missed her flight. Not easily discouraged, we zipped through the terminal on foot (hint: if you take the bus from the RER station to terminal 2A, it takes longer than going on foot because it's the last stop). At 10h05, we arrive, panting, at the Air Canada line. The flight still seems open, and there's virtually no line-up.

We approach the security guard in line, who asks for my sister's passport. He looks at her passport, then says "Columbia?" My sister is Canadian and carries a Canadian passport, but her birthplace is marked as Cartagena, Columbia. I wasn't sure why he needed to know that, and Carla wasn't quite sure what to say, so I just nodded. He smiled, clearly unperturbed by the fact that we were about to miss her plane, and said, "Ah, Columbia. Salsa!" Now, if there's something I've learned in my years of travel, it's that you agree cheerfully with whatever the person holding your passport says. So, nodding with my most "I'm not a terrorist!" grin, I say, "Yes! Salsa!" This was apparently the magic word, because his grin widened and he waved us through to the check-in counters. OK, sure. Fine.

After all of that mess, the check in took about 30 seconds and was problem-free. Boarding was beginning in about 40 minutes and she still had to pass security, so we still didn't waste any time. We took Carla over to submit her tax-refund papers, and then off we went to the security checkpoint. I said my goodbyes, waved her into the security line, and then headed back towards the RER station--this time not running.

After all of this mayhem, it was a bit of a relief to go to work. Sure, I had stuff to do, but there wasn't an intercontinental flight hanging in the balance. After work, I went home and relaxed for a while, then noticed that there were decent number of techno-related events going on this weekend. Well, I hadn't gone out to do what my doctorate thesis is supposedly all about since late October (thanks to Hawaii and then Carla's visit), so what the hell! Next weekend I have to prepare to return to Chicago and Canada, so let's have at it this weekend. I pick out something to do friday night, and then set my alarm clock for 10pm and take a disco nap.

I don't wake up until 6am the next morning

jeudi, novembre 30, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 9: Shopping and Cows

That morning, I took Carla to work with me, showed her around, introduced her to my co-workers, and then set her loose on the Cour Saint-Emilion region nearby (by way of the footbridge named after Simone de Beauvoir). The Cour Saint-Emilion village is named after the town and wine region near Bordeaux; this is because there used to be a train station here that would deliver all the wine from that area, and then the wines would be stored in little single-story buildings to age. As a result, the area is one of the few where there the equivalent of what you might call "simple" houses. Of course, most of them are trendy new shops rather than cute housing, but at least they preserved the buildings.

When my day at work was done, I met Carla at the métro station and we headed over to Galeries Lafayette (see previous visit here) so that she could finally see that amazing dome (and also so that we could shop like crazy). We spent a good amount of time hitting the first few floors, buying a couple of cute scarves, and then heading up to the top-floor observatory. Although Galeries Lafayette is certainly more affordable (and more "popular" in the French sense) than Le Bon Marché, the prices still weren't low, either.

We took a rather middlebrow high tea at the little Maxim's shop on the third floor, made fun of the high-fashion collections in the women's department, ogled shoes, went over to the men's section to make fun of their high-fashion collections (note to Karl Lagerfeld: what have you been SMOKING?!) and then had a good snark in the men's underwear section. The male undie mannequins were as iron-assed as last time, and Carla pointed out that they could also "lead a parade" with their huge, anatomically-correct-but-proportionally-alarming penises. I LOVE that you can buy underwear with a see-through ass in this store. Very posh.

I had been shopping for gloves (Paris doesn't really get into freezing temperatures, but the wet cold takes a toll on my hands), but I couldn't find anything satisfying. I have this now-romanticized memory of THE.PERFECT.GLOVES from more than 10 years ago and now anything else I see is always profoundly disappointing. On the other hand, I did leave with two beautiful french-cut Thomas Pink shirts (thanks, Carla!).

Afterwards, we finally headed off to l'Ilôt-Vache (scroll down on link) on Ile Saint-Louis for dinner. The place is adorable. The owner apparently has some sort of bizarre cow fetish, because the place is wall-to-wall cow-tchotchke; my sister even noticed a lovely oil painting of a mad cow behind my head. The table settings are mis-matched china and glassware (although the serving dishes that come out of the kitchen are of a uniform style), and the floral arrangements are massive, complex, tropical, and statuesque. Apparently, the floral arrangements change frequently and is part of the spectacle here.

For an entrée, I ordered this fantastic roquefort and pear pastry, while Carla ordered something equally cheese-intensive (I can't remember...). For the main dishes, Carla got a roast duck breast in a tart red berry glaze, while I got a steack aux trois sauces. This steak came with three sauces and they were HOLY CRAP! amazing. There was a pepper sauce, a roquefort sauce, and a béarnaise sauce, and they all explained to me why saucier (sauce chef) is the highest position in the French kitchen, after the head chef. When I ran out of beef to dip into the sauces, I turned to the bread, then eventually to a fork. I was shameless.

For dessert, Carla and I shared a coupe normande, which was essentially a large glass sundae goblet filled with Berthillon's green apple and pear ice creams, covered in an ounce of calvados (apple) liquor. It was to die for. And we might have (from over-eating), if we didn't order a coffee to kick us back up a couple of notches ("BAM"). We lurched home at a reasonably early hour (for us) and set Carla off to pack for tomorrow's odyssey to the the airport.

mercredi, novembre 29, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 8: Long Walks and Moroccan Food

Off I go to work. Carla stays behind and then eventually makes her way out to the Cluny Museum (medieval history). I go find her after work and it's not too cold out, so we start walking. After several days of TOO MUCH FOIE GRAS, we decided to go Moroccan that night, so I made reservations at a place that had been recommended by my boss and a friend. But it was 3pm and our reservations weren't until 7:30pm or so. So off we go on a brief walk past Notre-Dame and over towards Ile Saint-Louis.

By the way, I found this last Sunday in the same neighborhood, but forgot to post it. So here it is, as a quick break from The Walking Story.

click to enlarge
As seen near the Shakespeare & Co. Bookshop.
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Anyway, we hit Ile Saint-Louis and hit that olive store that I love, Oliviers & Co., only to find that the usually friendly saleswomen have been replaced by the most dispassionate and my-soul-is-black-like-my-turtleneck salesguy I've ever seen (and that's saying something in Paris). On the upside, there was this rather working class North African guy working on the heating duct right above the cash register, so it was a bit of fun watching the clerk ring through my purchase with his face about two inches away from this (brown)(non-élite)(rough-speaking)(slightly frangrant) HVAC repairman's ass. It had all the Marxist/Marx Bros. markings of "mass cult" comedy of the Chaplin era.

Then we hit Berthillon for a couple scoops of heaven. Unlike when we visited this place on a Sunday afternoon in June last summer, there little to no line this time (it ain't summer no more) and we were cheerfully eating our ices within minutes. Carla got pear and some sort of chestnut & liquor combo, while I got a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of turrón (an Iberian nougat, not to be confused with Peruvian turrón de doña pepa or similar things). All delicious and overwhelming. I had to stop walking just to properly take in the full power of its amazingness.

I realized as we walked off the island that there was a little restaurant on the isle, called l'Ilôt-Vache (the islet of the cow) that I had been meaning to check out. We walked by, wrote down their phone number, and agreed to try and make reservations for the following (and final) night.

Then we walked our way through the Marais to the the rue des rosiers, the main drag of Paris's oldest Jewish district (more Askenaz than Sephardic, from what I can gather, but I'm not an expert). We hit l'As de Falafel for a Lenny-Kravitz-approved falafel (apparently he dubs this the best Falafel in Paris). Luckily we were there during low tide, so we were seated quickly and not hustled out of the restaurant. The last time I was there, we were nearly shoved out the door when we took to long to pay and gather our things. In the evenings, there's usually a huge crowd outside waiting to get in. Anyway, it's worth the execrable service. This is the best damn falafel I've ever had anywhere (admittedly, I need to spend more time in NYC comparing falafels, but still...). There "special" falafel includes cabbage, eggplant, hot sauce, tahini, the whole thing. Anyway, we took our falafel-y pit stop, then passed by la boulangerie Matineau (on rue Vieille du Temple around the corner) to get a canelé (cinnamon-sponge pastry).

We headed north past Fragonard and Muji (stopping at each, of course) and by then it was getting close to dinner time. We headed towards place des Vosges to admire the gorgeous two-story ceilinged apartments, and then continued on to our final destination for the evening: Au Petit Cahoua (24 rue des Taillandiers, 11eme).

We got to this place (just east of Bastille) a little early, so we took a brief walk along the street and noticed a couple of vintage shops, a fondue restaurant, 3 (dance) record shops, and a DJ gear store. I made a mental note to return here during business hours. Looks like fun.

When we got back to the restaurant, they were ready to seat us and we got started. We didn't think to get mint tea (next time!) so we missed out on our waiter's spectacular tea-pouring style, but instead we ordered some Moroccan wine by the glass and some water. However, we didn't miss out on the tagine and pastilla. Carla's tajine was the chef's special, which included chicken, dried apricots and cinnamon. My pastilla was just pastilla (i.e., a thick spicy shredded-pigeon filling wrapped in phyllo pastry and covered in icing sugar), but that was all I wanted. It was delicious. Mere words do not express. Also, there was this little antipasto-style side thingy that I snacked on that seemed to be essentially vegetables in a simple pickle with a LOT of cumin. I have to try that at home.

For dessert, I had a simple "salade d'oranges," which was a purist plate of orange slices (peel removed) with a thin layer of icing sugar. Carla had this "pastilla du lait," which was essentially dessert version of my main dish, but substituting a milk-based custard with orange flower blossoms instead of the meat filling. It was also to die for.

Then, for no good reason, we each had a shot of liquor after the meal as a digestive, and staggered home.

mardi, novembre 28, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 7: Au Bon Marché and l'Ourcine

To begin with: HAPPY 100 POSTS! This post is the 101st post on this blog, which is great proof of my commitment to post every day (or nearly every day, and occasionally with delays). I've put a surprising amount of work into keeping this blog, but I've found it endlessly rewarding (from a semi-field-notes, shorthand analysis sort of way).

While at work, I managed to get through to l'Ourcine and make a reservation. L'Ourcine was this lovely (and very affordable) restaurant in the 13th that I had visited at the beginning of my stay with Val.

Meanwhile, Carla had gone off to Musée D'Orsay to see lovely pretty impressionist/art nouveau things. As I headed out of work, I text-messaged her and then headed over to the museum. By the time I got there, she was near the inside front entrance. The security line was insanely long, so I texted her again and she came outside and we headed off with the plan of getting a coffee at Les Deux Magots. I couldn't remember the precise address for Les Deux Magots, so we got off at the métro stop near Le Bon Marché and headed towards the southern base of rue Bonaparte. From there, we stumbled across the chocolate shop of Pierre Hermé, who apparently worked for such venerable institutions as Fauchon and La Durée (see yesterday's post) before striking out on his own. Although he is apparently known for his other chocolate desserts as well, we were particularly interested in his macarons (again, see yesterday's post and/or La Durée), which are reputedly more adventurous than those at La Durée. We bought a box of 7 varieties for tasting, and then stood in the alleyway nearby (it was rainy) and split each of them in half and ate them all. The surprise hit was the passionfruit and dark chocolate one, although I had a real passion for their caramel+sea salt one as well. They had a white truffle macaron as well, which the salesperson warned us emphatically "is to be tasted last." Quite right; while creamy and rich as you might expect from a truffle, the flavor was overpowering. There was a substantial chunk of whole white truffle in the middle, which sat rather heavily in the stomach and coated my mouth in a way that wasn't entirely pleasant. Nice idea, clumsy execution. But everything else in that box was flawless.

We continued up rue Bonaparte and eventually found Les Deux Magots, although not before stumbling on place du Québec, which, of course, had a Québécois bar right at the corner. It was amusing timing, since Québec had just been officially designated a "nation within Canada" (to the endless irritation of indigenous Canadians, no doubt).

We got a table at Les Deux Magots, got a salad and two glasses of champagne (we were avoiding coffee that day after a week of overcaffeination) and drank in the (slightly over-lit)(smoky)(alarmingly expensive) ambiance. I'll try this place again when it's nice outside and the terrasse is open, but otherwise I think I'd better leave this place to the tour-bus crowd. Nonetheless, I still need to find a good café in Paris where I can sit down with a book (or laptop) and not be bothered for hours. I miss that from my days in Le Mans (at Le Globe, place République).

We still had a bit of time to kill before dinner, so we headed over to Le Bon Marché and did a bit of shopping. We were hoping to find some nice scarves for various folks back home, but the price range was a bit high and the selection not quite as broad as the other grands magasins. On the other hand, the place was decidedly less crowded and touristy. In the end, Carla bought one of those special odor-control cheese containers (very important for French cheese!). And the off we went to L'Ourcine!

L'Ourcine has the "intimate" thing nailed right down. The place doesn't seem to hold more than 30 diners (with little space left over for walking), the kitchen is visible through a hole ingeniously cut through the back of a vanity dresser to create a sort of service window, and the bar is essentially a cubicle with low walls. I was seated facing the kitchen, so I had had endless entertainment watching the fun in the kitchen. The chef (and owner) was this tall, rotund guy with a shaved head and alarming teeth that looked like he might break you in two at a soccer riot. Under his command, he had two cringing but efficient assistants who seemed to do a lot of the cold preparation and plating. Since the service window opened onto the general dining room and thus a bell was out of the question, the assistants had mastered the fine art of clapping three times in a way that was audible to the servers, but not noticeable to the diners.

Anyway, onto the food. It should be noted that this restaurant is a menu-only place. That is, you have a prix-fixe 3-course menu of 30€ which you must order from, but you often have 5-8 options for each course. For entrées, Carla had a bouillion sauvageon (mixed wild game), with croutons and cubes of foie gras, while I had pan-seared baby squid with sprouted onions. For main dishes, I had a noix d'entrecôte (cube roll or rib-eye roll) with a shallot and green peppercorn preparation, while Carla had some complicated lamb dish (sorry, my memory is getting hazy). For dessert, Carla had some sort of cake thingy that most importantly involved their milk-and-mint sorbet (I don't know if they invented this, but it blows my mind, it's so good), and I've managed to forget what I had for dessert, although I remember raving about it at the time. Carla? Any help? (UPDATE: Now I remember! I had a banana + "exotic fruits" mousse that was delicious and had the most odd-in-a-good-way texture. And Carla's cake thingy was a praline & chocolate cake, with that amazing sorbet.)

We started heading back from there and, on the way, realized that we had been eating too much foie gras that week (don't ask how we knew). The return trip was also marred by a pile of dog poop that found itself under my foot. After having spent nearly 3 months without ever stepping on the dog leavings that are !@#$ing everywhere in Paris, I was disappointed to finally fall prey to them. I spent the rest of my walk home trying to find pointy things to scrape my shoe on. Of course, I was wearing shoes with deep treads. Go figure.

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.

dimanche, novembre 26, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 5: Brunch, Modern Art, Dinner

Well, we got up rather late (see yesterday), and then slowly organized ourselves for brunch over at a friend's place. She lives in a really nice are of Paris, a little bit South of where I am, where the buildings were never Haussmann-ized. The place still has a bit of a village look to it, even though it's mostly apartments.

After a delicious brunch, Carla and I wandered through the neighborhood and headed back to my place on foot. After taking a little break to organize ourselves, we headed back out onto the town towards the Modern Art Museum.

However, there was a little glitch. I had read the hours for the Palais de Tokyo museum (also modern art), which ran until midnight on most nights (including Sundays). However, the Palais de Tokyo is currently in the process of putting in a new installation, which means very little is visible. On the other hand, the modern art museum of Paris (which is right next door and part of the same building complex) has its entire collection open, but closes by 18h00 on Sundays. We got there at approximately 17h15, so we went straight into the modern art museum and saw as much as we could before they kicked us out. Then we went to the Palais de Tokyo and wandered around what was available in their exhibit (which was a grand total of two rooms). We took a moment to drink something at their trying-too-hard modernist café, and then spent a long time looking over the books in their bookshop. In some ways, the bookshop here is the height of the visit.

From there we headed out to the Latin Quarter, in search of a restaurant that had been recommended to us. The place was supposed to specialize in duck dishes, and we are both fans of duck, so we were ready to explore. Unfortunately, we only had vague directions and a name, so we never actually found it (for the record, it's L'Autre Domaine and it's at 6 boulevard Saint-Germain). Eventually, we fell upon a Beaujolais-region restaurant that had lots of nice-looking grilled food.

I had an amazing onion soup gratinée to start (I forget what Carla had) and then each of us had a roasted meaty dish that was well-prepared and tasty. The food was excellent, although I take a certain pleasure in saying that it was the culinary low-point of her visit. We ate very well that week...