Upon arrival at Paris’ Roissy airport, I notice that lots of people seem to be smiling and no one is trying to cut in front of me in line and many of the people are toting self-help bestsellers with semi-bald men grinning on the glossy front jackets.
Yes, I’m on my way back to the United States of America.
I got upgraded, which is like winning the lottery. I don’t know if those people at the airline check-in know how just tapping one extra key during their flurry of keystrokes can make my entire journey so much more pleasant, but there’s nothing better than sitting up in the front in the plane (instead of walking by, ruefully, on my slouch to economy). I’m able to stretch my long legs and have the possibility of a few treasured moments of real sleep (sans Ambien) before I arrive.
So here I sit, in United’s Red Carpet Club and I’m looking at a copy of USA Today. The headline reads, “Holiday sale dip, then they dazzle”. The International Herald Tribune, the paper of Europe, has the headline, “EU Warns Members of CIA Terror Camps”.
Inside USA Today, they’ve requested readers write about what they’re thankful for, and a woman writes, “….while I deeply resent the unchecked and increasing numbers of illegal immigrants streaming across our porous borders, I am thankful to live in a land of opportunity so sought after by those who don’t live in such a country.”
Note to Doris: Perhaps you might give thanks that you don’t live in a country where you live in fear for your life on a daily basis, where there’s plenty of food to go around, and you have a roof over your head, rather than using it as an opportunity to complain about immigration (something I’m sure her grandparents, like most of ours, benefited from.)
Since I wasn’t sure of my euphoria-inducing upgraded status, I packed a nifty lunch of two hard-boiled eggs from my local fromagerie, French yogurt (which I’ll dearly miss), salade de carrotte rapée (grated carrots with lemon juice, which is the national salad of France), and a split baguette smeared with butter and slices of silky jambon de Bayonne. I’m also fortified with a small packet of chocolate-covered coffee beans from Slitti, one of my favorite chocolate shops in Italy, which do double-duty for chocolate or coffee related urgencies.
On the plane, I flip through the airline magazine, which highlights some of Todays Hottest Young Chefs! Several of them have devised ways of using chemicals and stabilizers to create a celebrated new genre of cuisine.
Huh? Didn’t most of us spend the last few years trying to get people to stop adding chemicals and stabilizers to food?
So last week I had a final Paris food blow-out when my pal DL 2 came from Switzerland. We took the opportunity to visit one of my favorite traditional restaurants in Paris: A la Biche Au Bois. I’ve been eating there for years and it’s a favorite, with a well priced menu for only 23 euros and lively dining room that offers a wonderful tour de force of rustic French cooking.
I began with the salade Perigordine; a memorable slab of foie gras with a big pile of haricots vertes (freshly cooked and still a bit crispy, trés americaine). I almost couldn’t make it through the whole slice. As you can see, it’s was e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s….
I figured since was restaurant titled after la biche herself (deer), I should sample the namesake; tonight she’s offered in a casserole as a long-simmered stew with a dark, rich sauce. Alongside comes a smooth and excellent purée of celery root. My meal was excellent and hearty and I make a mental note to eat here more often.
Distractingly, our waiter kept passing the table with platters heaped with homemade, and remarkable-looking, crispy French fries. They were deep-golden brown, with wisps of steam rising, served on metal platters. So naturally I wanted to get a plate, but in Paris when you become a waiter, they implant special lenses in your eyes that allow you to only look forward and block out customers who might make special requests…so we didn’t get any.
The service was cheerful and accommodating and we drank a nice bottle of Burgundian Pinot Noir. I finished my meal with one of my favorite desserts: a towering mound of snow-white Ile Flottante, baked and caramelized meringue floating in icy cold creme Anglaise and a drizzle of dark caramel.
A complimentary glass of warming Armagnac was offered to fend off the frozen evening chill outside, and we made our way home.
The next day, we made a pilgrimage to Pierre Hermé, this time his large boutique on the rue de Vaugirard, which is less-hectic than the location on rue Bonaparte and has a tad more breathing room.
Pierre Hermé’s newest ‘collection’ was on full display and we first chose a few macarons Plénitude, a mélange of chocolate ganache and caramel with fleur de sel fused together with disks of almondy meringue cookies.
I’ve been looking for the opportunity to try Emotion Mahogany, but was scared of carrying the fragile little glass across Paris via the Metro (as regular readers to my blog know, I’ve had too many unfortunate experiences trying to navigate Paris, and Parisians in a hurry, while carrying a cake.)
As you can see, I need not have worried. I guess the folks at Pierre Hermé are used to customers having to deal with Parisians walking right into them carrying a fragile cake or dessert.
At the bottom of the glass were of coarsely chopped litchees. On top of that was a smooth layer of mango compote, then a bit of caramel mousse and topped with tender, tiny coconut marshmallows.
You’re meant to dig your spoon deep down into the glass and get a layer of each flavor in every mouthful, which is impossible without all the marshmallows tumbling off. (So don’t try to eat this on a park bench. The marshmallows are the best part!)
It was tasty, but I would have liked something a bit tangy to brighten the flavors. Perhaps a layer of dark rum or very dark caramel or citrusy lime mousse.
The other dessert we tried was a masterpiece of engineering. Le Instant, a bittersweet chocolate shell enrobing chocolate mousse and a nugget of Earl Grey tea gelés buried within. While tasty, it was awfully sweet and after so much eating (we’d had fabulously filling savory and sweet crepes for lunch and dessert at my favorite creperie in Paris, near the Gare Montparnasse) neither one of us showed much interest in it Pierre Hermé doesn’t like very bitter chocolate desserts…but I do. So we the rest was, unfortunately, left.
It was hard to eat without making a mess.
My last memories of Paris…