samedi, décembre 27, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 15: The Departuring

Considering how much I’ve re-calibrated my body-clock for nightlife, I was surprised at how easily I woke up at 5h00 this morning. Mind you, it still sucked, but it wasn’t nearly as sucky as I had expected.

I made it over to the family’s apartment in time to bring down the bags and then wait outside for the taxi. Once he got there, the ride to the airport was completely uneventful (thank you Jeebus), and Carla managed to check in and drop off her luggage. She still had a long time to wait until her flight and my parents flight wouldn’t be open for check-in for a couple of hours, so we found a café in the terminal and sat down for a while with some coffee and croissants.

After finally seeing off my sister, we walked over to the terminal for my parents’ flight (thankfully without having to walk outside) and headed for the Air Canada desk. They still hadn’t opened for check-in and there was nobody to be seen, so we sat down at another café for another round of caffeinated beverages.

An hour or so later, we checked back at Air Canada and they had opened. Alas, checking in wasn’t so simple for my parents. You see, my father has a very common Hispanic name, much like me, but he also has Columbia as his birthplace on his passport. This always creates problems with him when traveling, because clearly there have been other Columbians with his name that have done bad things and have gotten themselves on the no-fly list or something like that. So every time he tries to check into a flight, the desk attendant has to make a bunch of phone calls and pretty much clear it with the local version of the “Homeland Security” office before he can be checked in.

Anyway, it was time-consuming but not necessarily all that difficult, so we finally got him checked in and my parents got in the security line. I stuck around while they cleared security, as they had some chocolates in their carry-on luggage that they feared might be refused by security (these days, it’s never quite clear what’s allowed on board). The security line was a mess, though, and I couldn’t really see them once they got to the front of the line. About 30 minutes later, I got a call from my mother saying that they got through security OK, so we said our goodbyes and I headed back home.

I decided that I needed to reset my body-clock, since in a few days I would be going to Berlin for New Year’s Eve, so I took a nap until the late afternoon. From there, I fixed a light dinner of roasted winter vegetables and set about writing up my blog notes on the last two weeks. Also, today was the sudden beginning of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza, so I spent a large part of the evening transfixed by the news coverage and watching various political representatives tear into each other on news “debate” shows.

vendredi, décembre 26, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 14: Last Day of Shopping, Le Dome again

Since both my parents and my sister were going to be leaving town tomorrow, this was really the last day to see Paris and run any gift-buying errands. So my parents went off to the Bois de Vincennes to look at more trees, and Carla and I the morning doing what felt like a (stereo)typically Parisian shopping trip.

We got up painfully early to be at the Pierre Hermé shop around opening, so that we would be sure to get all of the flavors of macaron that we wanted. We get to the location near Place de la Concorde, and the shop is closed, despite the posted hours. So we walk over to La Durée, which was already open, to pick up some chocolate gifts in pretty boxes for Carla’s friends back in NYC. For some of her friends, she said, it was more about the pretty boxes from La Durée than the chocolates inside.

We decided to take a walk around place de la Madeleine, since we were already there, and we ended up going into Hédiard and getting a box-set of patés and foies gras for another friend of Carla. From there, we decided to kill some time at a café nearby, warming our hands with mugs of hot chocolate.

We walked back to Pierre Hermé and it was finally open, so we bought a massive box of macarons, only later realizing that we would have to eat all of them before tomorrow (macarons don’t travel well. At all.

My sister wanted to hit a store on Ile Saint-Louis to buy a hat for another friend, so we stopped by the apartment to drop off our wares and headed over to the island. The store was closed. So, again, we found a café on the island and sat down for a drink. After an hour or so had gone by, my sister went back to try the store again (theoretically, it should open no later than 11h00), but it was still closed. Thankfully, she found the same hat in a store nearby. Mission accomplished!

Our “big meal” for the day was scheduled for lunch instead of dinner, since they were going to travel very early the next morning and they didn’t want to be sluggish and half-drunk on wine when they got up. So we had made reservations at the Dôme du Marais, the same place we went to last week.

When we first got there, around midday, there was an elderly and wealthy-looking matron who had just arrived, taking off her coat. She was clearly not used to waiting for anyone, let alone the rest of her family / future inheritors, so she was restless. She would sit down at the table, fidget, then get up and ask the maitre d’ if he had heard from the rest of her party, then she would check her phone, then she would get up and go to the washroom, and so on. About twenty minutes later, the rest of the group arrived to a somewhat frosty welcome.

The menu today was the same as last week, so mom and dad just chose different dishes from the same selection and my sister got to try out the same thing, but I decided to try another menu available, with slightly fancier offerings. My appetizer was a potato and leek pompadour (i.e., scalloped and covered in a cheese sauce), which came with a mountain of fresh shaved black truffle. I’m not talking little grated bits of black truffle, I’m talking whole slices of the thing, piled up in to a heap about the size of my palm. In North America, that much truffle would’ve cost half of the menu at least.

My main dish was a fish called courbine in French, otherwise known as maigre and meagre, which is apparently a kind of bass that lives in brackish water. It was, as you might imagine, fantastic; not too dry, not undercooked, and with a little shell of fried potatoes on top. The dessert was a soufflé flavored with Chartreuse liquor, which was exquisite.

Anyway, the meal was great and we left feeling full but not uncomfortably so, so Carla and I went off on another shopping mission. This time, we headed over to Denise Acabo’s “A l’Etoile D’Or” chocolate shop (now dubbed “la loquita” by my parents), where we bought a very fancy collection of chocolates for one of her friends, and then a little bag of chocolates for ourselves. On the subway ride back to the apartment, we ate the whole bag and felt a bit sick.

At the family’s apartment, they finished packing and then we took all of the perishable food items from the fridge and put them in a series of bags to carry over to my apartment. We hopped on the subway, got off near my place, and then passed by a bakery for some bread. Once we had climbed the stairs to my place and unpacked the various bags, we sliced up the bread and had a sort-of dinner of cheese and sausages and patés. A couple of hours later, I was shuffling them out of the apartment and back to their place to rest up for the trip home.

jeudi, décembre 25, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 13: Procope, shopping, Sichuan food!

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:

“Where’s dad?!”

“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
  • Wontons
  • 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.

mercredi, décembre 24, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 12: Xmas Eve

Today was THE DAY of THE FEAST for the holidays. Like good Latinos that have adopted the Catholic observances of continental Europe, we celebrate Christmas on the Eve rather than the Day. Ideally, you have a huge feast late in the evening, then you go to mass at midnight, and then you come home and exchange gifts. It’s been a while since our family has been motivated to do the full midnight mass with the throngs of un-lapsed Catholics, and this year was no different. The plan was to go to mass around 18h00, eat dinner around 20h00, and then stay up chatting and drinking until midnight, at which point we’d exchange gifts and call it a night.

I had ordered a duck to be roasted at a nearby butcher’s shop, which we would need to pick up before 18h00, but otherwise our day was pretty open. So we started the day making a final attempt at shopping for gifts; in particular, my mom wanted my sister to pick her gift out herself. So we made the rounds of the shops in the Marais, then through the gay area, then through BHV, and then down to Ile Saint-Louis. We stopped on the island for a coffee and some ice cream (Berthillon!) and then kept on shopping.

While we were walking, I got a call from a friend of mine from Berlin that was in town, saying that she had a bit of time to meet me for a drink. We made a date to meet in about an hour and I left my parents and sister to keep shopping. I took advantage of window of time to dash off to Colette to buy my sister a book of bird drawings that she had seen a couple of days ago and really loved. Despite my fears, the shopping dash was a success, in no small part due to the fact that the salesperson took me to the upstairs cashier rather than the downstairs one (which was totally rammed with customers).

I arrived at the Saint-Paul square just in time and grabbed a table at a café directly facing the butcher shop where I needed to grab the duck as well as the church where I would meet my family for mass at 18h00. As it turns out, my friend was super-late, so by the time she met me I had to go get the roast duck. The woman at the butcher shop had made it clear to me that I had to pick it up before 18h00, or else, and I was inclined to believe her. So the two of us picked up the duck, dropped it off at the family’s apartment, and then headed back to the café to finally have our drink. By the time the drink was done, however, I had a message from my mom saying that mass was over and they were walking home. !@#$! I said goodbye hastily to my friend, sent an apologetic text message to my mom, and rushed off to find them. I wasn’t sure how mad my mother would be about this, since she can be unpredictable about how important these sorts of family rituals are to her, but this time she was cool with it, thankfully.

From there, we headed back to the apartment and cooked a massive dinner, which took us hours to eat and produced more leftovers than we knew what to do with. Gifts were exchanged, desserts were eaten, TV was watched, belts were loosened. And, at some ungodly hour of the night, I biked my way home in the cold.

mardi, décembre 23, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 11: walking, shopping, Les Trois Marmites

Plans for today were pretty nebulous. Carla was going to join me at my place to hit my neighborhood market. We were going to meet the parents at their place for lunch around 13h00. And then at 20h00 we had reservations at Les Trois Marmites. Otherwise, our schedule was open.

Carla did indeed join me at the market, while my parents went off to the jardin des plantes again so that my dad could admire more trees and birds. The trip to the market was pretty uneventful for us, with the exception of finding a lovely chocolate shop near Place des Vosges on the way back from the market. I think the chocolaitier was called Joséphine Vannier. Anyway, we met the parents back at the apartment and had a pretty substantial lunch of breads and cheeses and salad.

Well, what to do now? We hadn’t walked through the Nation area of Paris, so we headed over to place de la Nation and walked all the way east to the Porte de Vincennes. From there, we swung back down side-streets and made our way back to the Nation métro station and decided that it was high time we re-visited the Latin Quarter. We took a walk through the crowded, zigzagging medieval streets of the Latin Quarter, then walked along boulevard Saint-Germain until we passed the original Paris-Sorbonne medical school. We took a moment to contemplate the building. For my parents, both trained as doctors in South America during the 60s and 70s, the “style” of medicine they learned was the French School, so this was sort of the birthplace of their clinical pedagogy.

As we passed the statue of Danton at the Odéon, I pointed out the longest-running café in Paris, Procope, which kept serving food right through the French Revolution up until today. As it turns out, they were going to be open on Christmas Day, so we made a reservation there for lunch. Yay!

We ducked into a Célio store to look for gifts for dad, quietly conspiring with mom to keep him busy while Carla and I did the shopping. With purchases in hand, we kept walking until we got to the church of Saint Germain-des-Pres. There was a small but unexceptional winter market out front, so we ignored it entirely and went into the church for a quick walk-around. With our touristic impulse for the day satisfied, we headed back to the apartment to get ready for dinner.

Dinner at Les Trois Marmites was fantastic as always, but I somehow managed to forget most of what we ate. I know that Carla discovered the wonders of Martini Rosso as an aperitif (which is a kind of vermouth). For appetizers, I remember that my mom had a sort of soft fish dumpling made out of pike, and that my sister had the same savoury clafouti I had had the week before. I had boudin blanc, which is a white-meat sausage usually made out of veal or chicken or pork. Also, I’m pretty sure my dad had a crab salad at some point. Main dishes? I can’t remember. Desserts? I know they were delicious, but I couldn’t tell you what they were.

After dinner, we headed back to the family’s neighborhood and saw the parents to bed, and then my sister and I decided to walk over to Place des Vosges to have a post-meal coffee. The coffee went well enough, but we managed to totally space out on the bill. We didn’t dine-and-dash or anything. Rather, the waitress brought out the drinks while I was in the washroom, and my sister hadn’t been in France long enough to realize that, in cafés, the check usually comes right away with the drinks. I got back from the bathroom to find the drinks there and gave no thought to the bill, which was tucked under the saucer holding the milk for my sister’s tea. As you might imagine, the waitress also didn’t think that we weren’t aware of the bill sitting on the table. It was almost closing time for the café, so the result of this collective absent-mindedness was the following conversation between me and the server around 1h30:

“I gotta cash out for the night, so can we settle up?”







“Any time now…”

“I’m just waiting for the cash…”

I eventually realized that the bill was already on the table and I paid quickly, leaving a bit red-faced.

lundi, décembre 22, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 10: Shopping! L'Ilôt Vache

So today’s plan was to begin by securing ticket’s to the ballet currently showing at the Opéra Garnier, Raymonda. We’d buy them for tonight ideally, and then book a really late dinner after the show at Chez Denise.

Neither of these things came to pass. Raymonda was sold out for the entire run, and Chez Denise didn’t have any tables open tonight. Nonetheless, we managed to make a good day of it.

My sister and I set out to the Opéra to try to buy the tickets, while my parents went off to discover the jardin des plantes (the botanical gardens). When we found out that the tickets were all sold, I sent a text message to my mom to break the news, and then Carla and I consoled ourselves by shopping. I took her to the nearby Galeries Lafayette and Printemps to look at the famous display windows (much like I did last week with my parents), which she loved. She was especially smitten with Lafayette’s Alice in Wonderland theme.

We also checked out purses, all of which Carla declared to be boring. It’s a bad season for purses, apparently. After hitting C&A to buy some stockings (Carla says they’re better here) we headed down rue de la Paix so I could show her all of the super-fancy jewelry stores.

Once we made it to rue St. Honoré, we walked over to Colette, the posh concept-store that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. We ended up buying a set of really adorable vinyl wall stickers for Carla’s apartment, but I couldn’t help being annoyed by how invasive the store employees are there. I just want to shop, thank you.

We decided to cross the river and hit the other grand magasin, Le Bon Marché. We did this partially to check out the hat section for some gifts for friends of Carla’s back in NYC, but it was also partly so we could hit Le Bon Marché’s Grand Epicerie (“Great Big Grocery Store”), which is like the Saks Fifth Ave of foodstuffs. Carla wanted to stock up on some flower-scented syrups that she hadn’t been able to find since her last trip to Paris. We only found a couple of them, but I made a note to myself to come back after the holiday season to see if they had been re-stocked.

We had the bright idea of hitting the winter market in front of Saint-Sulpice, which had the (totally unintended!!) advantage of taking us right near the Pierre Hermé pastry shop. When we got there, however, there was a lineup all the way down the street, so we said—and I quote—“Fuck it” and kept going. The winter market netted us little in gifts, other than some interesting chocolates made with olive oil (gifts for friends back in NYC). So we headed home to catch up with the parents.

So, after recounting our respective days to each other, we got ready for dinner. I called over to Chez Denise and they actually had no tables available at all the whole night (except for something like 23h00), so we gave up on that. I tried calling Le Dôme du Marais, but they were closed. We were ready to give up and just wander around the neighborhood looking for a likely place when I had a thought: L’Ilôt Vache!

L’Ilôt Vache is one of those painfully cute restaurants makes food several notches above its décor. The restaurant is named after the history of the island on which it is located, l’Ile St.-Louis, which was first a grazing pasture for cows before being populated. The décor is this odd mix of mismatched plates, cow-themed kitsch on every available flat surface, and yet toweringly elegant and exotic floral arrangements on every table. And the wine list is nothing to sneeze at.

Anyway, I called ahead and booked a table, and then we walked over to the island. After a brief stop at an "ethnic" shop called Diwali to buy some of those light crinkled-cotton scarves they sell (chech scarves) as gifts to various people back home, we headed into the restaurant. Again, here’s the point-form roundup:

  • Very fine food, good service, excellent Berthillon ice cream and sorbets.
  • Appetizers: foie gras for me, the house terrine for mom and Carla, and a salmon-citrus marinade.
  • Main: magret de canard (breast of fattened duck) in raspberry sauce for me, a goat cheese salad with smoked magret for my sister, the catch of the day for my mom, and a large beef skewer with béarnaise sauce for my dad.
  • Dessert: tarte tatin for my dad, nothing for mom, and Berthillon sorbets for my sister and me.

In a welcome contrast to the last two nights, we returned home feeling only mildly overfull.

dimanche, décembre 21, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 9: Versailles! l'Astier


We had waited until Carla got here to go to Versailles, despite that fact that she’s seen the place before. The difference for her was that, this time, there was a Jeff Koons exhibit going on. I had already gone to see it a couple of months ago, but it was pretty amazing and I was more than willing to take them all there again.

So we got up rather early and headed over to Versailles by RER, but by the time we got there, there was already a long lineup to buy tickets to get into the palace. We resigned ourselves to waiting for a long while in line, but then a young employee came out with a little loudspeaker and announced that those interested in guided tours could buy their tickets without waiting in line. That was all my increasingly impatient mother needed to hear, and off we went to buy guided tour tickets.

Alas, it was a bit misleading: you could buy your tickets right away, but the guided tour we were booked for was scheduled one hour later. Nonetheless, we were now free to wander around the gardens behind the palace before returning to the entrance for the tour.

The guided tour had the advantage of giving us access to the royal apartments—most of which are inaccessible to regular tourists—but the purportedly informative commentary provided the guide herself was reduced by her odd accent. She had clearly not been prepared to conduct the tour in English, as she had started in French until another employee jumped in and corrected her. The main problem with her accent was that she constantly mixed up vowel quantities, causing her to utter phrases that sounded absurd. For example, “fifty” became “fufty” and “leave” became “love” or sometimes “loaf.”

This finally surfaced as an issue when the tour guide pointed to a chest of drawers and said that King Louis XIV kept his “needle” collection there. My sister put up her hand and asked for clarification:

“Needles? He collected needles?”


“Like for sewing?”

“Eh, non….like coins and medallions…”

I cut in: “Medals, she must mean medals.”

There was moment of embarrassed relief as the entire group of confused-looking Anglophone tourists had a collective “A-ha!” moment. No, Louis the XIVth didn’t collect embroidery tools.

The most amusing moment from the tour was near the end, when the tour guide took us into the palace chapel. She got us past the barriers at the chapel door and into the chapel proper, where we stood in the middle of the space while the guide gave the last commentary of the tour. She muttered something about everybody staying close to her, but within half a minute, several people had started walking around the chapel. Some of them started taking turns having their picture taken at the altar, which my mother observed with some horror, as the chapel was still active and the altar should therefore be considered a sacred space. Eventually, one of the security guards near the entrance of the chapel noticed what was going on and came running over, interrupting the guide’s commentary with high-pitched French noises of outrage. Rather than apologize to the guard for her group’s behaviour or doing something to stop it, she just shrugged her shoulders and said that she couldn’t understand why these tourists would think it was OK to do that. The tourists involved were definitely being insensitive, but part of that was probably ignorance; not all tourists to France are practicing Catholics, and not all of them will automatically understand which parts of a chapel are sacred and which are not.

Anyway, after that odd moment, the guided tour was over and we were left to tour the public parts of the palace on our own. You can see some photos and more detail about the Jeff Koons exhibit in my original post on it. As before, I was really charmed by it, and my sister loved it. My parents were both endlessly amused by it. At one point, I overheard a scandalized Frenchwoman declare that the juxtaposition of Koons’s lux-pop art with Versailles was “obscene,” which we all agreed was precisely the point. Considering what life was like in France for non-nobles during the eighteenth century, Versailles’ opulence is truly obscene. Pretty, yes, but also obscene.

Once we were done with Versailles, we got back on the RER and headed into Paris. Our reservation for dinner was at 21h00, so we still had some time to kill. We got out around Saint-Michel and walked across the islands again, stopping at a café on Ile St.-Louis for some mulled wine before walking the remaining distance to the Marais. After a short pit-stop at my family’s apartment, we loaded onto the subway and headed to my neighborhood for dinner at Astier. Once again, here’s the point-form review of the resto:

  • This was the first time I’ve eaten here.
  • The overall theme is very “homestyle” and sometimes rustic, with heavy meat dishes and stews. Multiple orders of one dish often come in large shared casserole dishes.
  • However, their wine cellar is pretty kick-ass. You could easily triple your bill with wine if you’re not careful.
  • The look of the place is also homsetyle, with hardwood everything and red-checkered napkins.
  • Our server was very chatty and friendly (and a bit cute).
  • I had some sort of smoked sausage from Lyon called a sabodet [which I have since discovered is made from pig head and pig skin!] as an appetizer. I think the girls had an endive salad of some sort.
  • My dad had a braised beef shoulder, while the rest of us had chicken fricassee.
  • I can’t remember dessert… I think tarte tatin was involved for some of us…
  • We had a Châteauneuf-du-Pape (red wine from the Rhone region) that tasted nothing like the wines that usually come from that region. Still delicious, but surprising.

And at the end, we crawled home, painfully full.