Having traveled as much as I have, it’s baffling that it took me until now to visit Paris. I feel like I’ve wasted so much time not to mention so many meals. From the moment I stepped from our taxi outside Hotel Saint Jacques on rue des Ecole in the Latin Quarter, I was completely enchanted. Ralph put me and our luggage in the hotel’s tiny lift, while he ran up the circular staircase to meet me. Our room, located on the second floor, had two floor to ceiling double windows that opened onto a private balcony complete with table and chairs overlooking the streetscape. It was small by North American standards, but absolutely perfect for my Parisienne fantasy. Ever since I saw the movie Gigi with Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier, I’ve dreamed of strolling along the Champs Elysee and all other things romantically Paris.
Typically, when Ralph and I travel to Europe, we’ll spend the first four nights doing big city stuff then head to the country side. This time we decided to explore Paris then fly to Paros, a small Greek island in the Cyclades. Usually, I have ALL of our dinner reservations booked in advance. Vacations are too precious to waste time eating bad food! This time we decided to see what smelled good and follow our noses. If a restaurant or bistro looked intriguing, we’d have a look/smell at the menu and the plates that were coming out of the kitchen then decide whether to make a booking for dinner. It worked like a charm except the night of our anniversary. We’d landed on a newish spot near our hotel. I think we were both charmed by the swanky interior design. We arrived for dinner, were seated at a lovely table, welcomed by the hostess and left to peruse the menus. I knew we were in trouble when I read, ‘American Hot Dog with Calves Brain Salad’. We gave our server a lame excuse about me not feeling well which he clearly didn’t buy given his sneer as we skulked out. Thirty minutes later we’d talked our way into a crazy busy dining room, – I was following the old adage ‘eat where the locals eat’ -got sandwiched between two raucous parties finding our selves once again looking at a lack lustre menu. Ralph gave me the ‘really’ look, but since it was our anniversary he was a perfect gentleman and kindly assisted his ailing wife from the bustling bistro. He made a couple of jokes about how our photos would be plastered around the neighbourhood with the inscription ‘ do not admit – CRAZY CANADIANS!’ As we walked towards the Pantheon, I saw some vibrant ivy growing on the front of an ancient building at the end of a tiny hidden street. We sheepishly asked if there was room. Madame, we have one table left…please. Our wonderful maître d’ showed us to a romantic little table tucked away on the third floor of the 12th century building. We dined on pâté de foie gras, soupe à l’oignon, confit de canard, bifteck de côtes avec aligot, tarte tatin and a full-bodied red recommended by our server. The meal sounds rich but the french know the perfect portion size to allow you to indulge without feeling like you need a wheelbarrow to carry you home. Everything we ordered was familiar except the aligot. I’d never heard of, seen in a cook book or on a menu. Of course, I’d never been to Paris before.
Something I’ve done for a long time when I’m eating in a restaurant for the first time is to order a glass of bubbly before I order. I leisurely enjoy my libation while at the same time check out the plates being served around me. Once I have the lay of the land, I make my selections. While we were having pre-dinner drinks, our waiter served the table next to us. He sat a thick char-grilled steak on a large white dinner plate in front of the woman. I thought the steak looked a bit lonely until the waiter returned with a gleaming copper sauce pan and a large wooden spoon. He tipped the pot high over the empty spot beside the steak and poured the creamiest potato velvet I’ve ever seen. With the help of the wooden spoon, the waiter created a sumptuous effect as the voluptuous puree ribboned back and forth. I asked our server what he’s just served and the rest is magic! Obviously, I can’t write a recipe for my new favourite potato dish, but I can share a link from the gorgeous food blog Manger just in case you’d like to give this dish a try. It calls for Cantal cheese but a really good sharp cheddar will work.
From start to finish; walking along the Seine to Notre Dame, catching the Metro to Versailles to tour Marie Antionette’s digs, standing for two hours in the pouring rain for tickets to the Louvre, hot chocolate at Angelina’s, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place de la Concorde, bistros, boulangeries, open markets, posh shops, people watching and kissing beneath the Eiffle Tower, Paris was a dream.
Thanks for reading.