Gloomy gray clouds shrouded the March sun. The waters of the Seine were dull and dismal. No flowers blooming in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
It was spring in Paris, the week before Easter. Hardy souls braved the chill and sat outdoors at sidewalk cafes, but bundled up in their winter wardrobes.
Like in much of Europe this year, winter in Paris was not about to make a timely exit. Never mind. For me, Paris is always fabulous. Even without the warmth and sparkle of sunshine, husband Bob and I enjoyed good food, museum visits, fun shopping, and meeting friends during our recent stay in my favorite city. And, we did have a few hours of glorious sun.
The reason for this trip was a watch. Not just any watch, but an antique enameled pocket watch my mother had given me years ago. She said it was worth ”thousands” and I should take it to a museum. It has been buried in a drawer for years. I decided I’d like to sell it and was advised to take it to a classy auction house in Paris. My dear mother suffered from visions of grandeur. Alas the precious watch was not even gold, and not of great worth – but that’s another saga, perhaps another blog.
Watch aside, we kept busy in Paris. Chagall is the focus of a popular exhibit now in the city until July 21, 2013. We set out to see “Chagall Between War and Peace” at the Musée du Luxembourg. Merde — long lines to get in. We are short on patience, but decided to wait it out. The exhibit is extensive and impressive. Unfortunately we found too many people crowded around the chef d’oeuvres. Many stop to photograph the paintings with their cell phones. All a bit claustrophobic, and a pity. I adore Chagall, but could not enjoy his masterpieces in that congested ambience.
The Musée d’Orsay is always a delight. Here too there were long lines for admittance. But, book tickets on line and you can waltz right by the crowds and in the door. We wandered around the second floor admiring magnificent art and Art Nouveau furnishings.
All very pleasant. Then up to the fifth floor to see the Impressionists. A mad house. Groups of school children sitting on the floor around paintings as teachers lectured. Hordes of on-lookers crowded around the famous works. We gave up.
A tiny museum with no crowds recommended by a friend is the Musée Dapper with exhibits on African art. We enjoyed an exhibit on African design – strange
chairs and weird wooden head rests which serve as pillows. Interesting, but more so was the collection of large photographs of tribal kings and chiefs from all corners of Africa in all their colorful and amusing regalia. We had the museum to ourselves, and I found an unusual and striking necklace from Senegal in the gift shop.
The best trip souvenir, however, is the pair of Oniongoggles that Bob spotted in a kitchen shop. Brilliant. Chop away at onions and never shed a tear. I love them. Two musts for Paris shopping are La Grande Epicerie Paris, the
food hall next door to Le Bon Marché, and the basement of the BHV department store. Food products from all over the world can be found at the former where we head straight to the USA section. We were overjoyed. They stock canned pumpkin (two brands) as
well as whole cranberry sauce. Bob goes for the cranberries. I use the pumpkin in numerous recipes. Of course, they stock other Ami favorites not available in French supermarkets. Beware: All cost far more than they would at Kroger’s.
The BHV basement is the mother of all hardware stores. They even have a shoe repair section where you can have belts
made, as well as shoes repaired. We like the large selection of off-the-wall signs.
Food is always at the top of our list. As Paris is very expensive, I did extensive research before departure to zero in on good but affordable eateries. Fancy Michelin starred restaurants are beyond our budget. There were winners and losers.
In Paris, we always stay at a charming chambre d’hote (bed and breakfast) in Saint-Germain-des- Prés, the 6th arrondissement and the perfect
neighborhood. Our hostess, Geneviève Cuirot, has a beautiful apartment with a room that she rents to tourists (90 euros per night for two with breakfast).
Our first meal this trip took us back to a favorite, Chez Fernand, near our
abode. We split an entrée of ravioli de Royan, tiny raviolis in a tasty chive cream sauce, then each had fish – one cod and one sea bass. Both prepared to perfection and served with spinach purée. A meal is not a meal without dessert for Bob. He ordered crème brulée. Tab with a half liter of wine: 80,50 euros. ($103)
The most amazing bargain was in the 13th arrondissement at Lao Lane Xang which specializes in Laotian, Vietnamese and Thai cuisines. A luncheon special of four different dishes plus a glass of wine: 10,80 euros. ($13.80) I chose Huong Lan, a Vietnamese combo: Pâtés impériaux au poulet, salade de papaye vietnamienne au bœuf sèche, poulet au caramel and riz blanc parfumé. Bob went for the Thai plateau with a main dish of poulet au lait de coco et curry rouge. For dessert he tried Mokeng coconut flan, a creamy green concoction that was excellent.
We love Italian food. Unfortunately in the area of Provence where we live, except for pizzerias, Italian restaurants do not exist. A Paris favorite in the 6th is Il Suppli, a tiny, cozy romantic spot on two levels. Here we split a mixed salad, then each had an excellent pasta creation. Bob’s dessert, Tiramisu, was a disappointment. But the wine, a bottle of Montepulciano, was good. This, plus two coffees: 87 euros. ($111)
Another bargain lunch awaited at Au Rocher de Cancale, a place dating back
to the early 19th century that was mentioned in a New York Times article. We dined upstairs surrounded mainly by young Parisians, all indulging in enormous salads. The restaurant must have at least a dozen different salad combinations. We split an Italian salad (14,50 euros) then each had one of the specials of the day (14,60 euros each), cod with copious quantities of green beans and cauliflower purée. (We like fish). Here the dessert boy had to pass. He was stuffed. Total for above plus a half liter of wine and two coffees: 64,90 euros. ($83)
Most fun meal: A la Biche au Bois which was also recommended in my reading, including kudos from Patricia Wells, former food editor of the International Herald Tribune and one of my food idols. It is also close to the Gare de Lyon, so we could eat and then catch the train home.
The restaurant is a typical bustling Parisian bistro — crowded, noisy, with very good, basic bistro fare. Our waiter, Bernard, was chatty and helpful. He had lived in Canada and was happy to speak English. The price was right, four
courses: entrée, main dish, cheese and dessert, 29.80 euro per person. The entrées were not that exciting – a poached egg creation for me and rillettes of salmon for Bob. For the main course, I ordered the daily special, partridge, and Bob went for a restaurant specialty, Coq au Vin. Both very good. Bernard recommended a wonderful white wine, Menetou-Salon, Domaine Phillipe Gilbert (near Sancerre). And, he gave us each a shot of cognac for a “bon voyage.” Two menus plus a bottle of wine: 84,10 euros. ($108)
In our neighborhood, we tried two other restaurants, La Boussole and La Giara – neither worth a repeat.
We also had a very delicious (Osso Buco) and memorable meal chez friends Leonard and Claudine. Leonard is a former colleague of mine from the military
newspaper Stars and Stripes in Germany. He still lives in Darmstadt part time, and part time with Claudine in a lovely apartment on the 28th floor of a building in an area called Olympiades. The huge apartment windows offer great views of the sprawling city with Sacre Coeur on a distant hilltop.
My Japanese sister-in-law who lives in Boulder has a cousin in Paris whom she has never met. We met Sachie at a café and had a delightful chat. We hope she will come to visit us in Provence – and that my sister-in-law Yoshie will get to meet her charming cousin one day.
Sun would have been welcome, but even without it, Paris was wonderful. Of course, it would have been even better if I could have peddled the watch for “thousands.”
For friend Jane’s birthday, I made Rum Cake. See recipe in Recipe column at right. Comments on blog post and recipes are welcome. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome. Don’t miss future posts. Click on Email Subscription at top right.
Dapper Museum, 35 rue Paul Valéry, Metro: Victor Hugo, www.dapper.com
Musée du Luxembourg, 19 rue de Vaugirard, Metro : Luxembourg, www.museeduluxembourg.fr
Musée d’Orsay, 62 rue de Lille, Metro : Musée d’Orsay or Solferino, www.musee-orsay.fr
La Grande Epicerie Paris, the food hall next door to Le Bon Marché, 24 Rue de Sèvres, Metro: Sèvres-Babylone, www.bonmarche.fr
BHV, 52-64 rue de Rivoli, Metro : Hôtel de Ville, www.bhv.fr
Chez Fernand, 13, rue Guisarde, Tel: 01 43 54 61 47, Metro: Mabillon (open 7 days a week)
Lao Lane Xang, 102 Ave. d’Ivry, Tel. 01 58 89 00 00, Metro: Tolbiac
Il Suppli, 2, rue de condé, Tel. 01 40 46 99 74, Metro: Odéon
Au Rocher de Cancale, 78 rue Montorgueil, Tel. 01 42 33 50 29, Metro: Châtelet-Les Halles
A la Biche au Bois, 45 Ave. Ledru Rolllin, Tel. 01 43 43 34 38, Metro: Gare de Lyon
Geneviève Cuirot: firstname.lastname@example.org
More on Paris at www.parisinfo.com