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violist Apr 6, 07 9:06 am

Paris in the springtime (freezing rain)
 
Pre-trip
US1819 BOS PHL 1030 1153 319 4F

I made the plunge down to Silver, as I really don't think
US Air is worthy of my travel dollars (a pity - some of the
staff are real gems), so of course my upgrade didn't come
through, which was not a big deal at all, except for two
things - I didn't get a free boozie, and I became a famous
bin hog, being in the bulkhead (good legroom) but having
two carryons. One went above the last row of F, the laptop
bag on the opposite side. I sort of joked with the guy in
4C that he could manhandle my bag any way he liked; he sort
of joked back, how about throwing it out the window? I sort
of joked, sure, why not. Actually, the real bin hog was my
seatmate - miraculously the bin above our heads was full
when I got there, and he was the only one in our row; he
apparently had had three items not counting a coat.

I scofflawed it and kept laptop #1 at my seat for the whole
flight, figuring it easier than crawling twice over my
seatmate. Didn't sleep on the flight, tapping away at my
correspondence instead.

Plenty of time for beer and salty sweet crunchy junk at the
terminal F club. There was no keg, so I had a Sam. It was a
hair early, and the person behind the bar had to go find the
key to the booze. She had just sold a couple snack boxes to
a hungry couple. $11 each. What th'?

US3651 PHL BWI 1325 1409 CRJ 2A

They announced boarding for Chairman's, Platinum, Gold,
Silver, Signature, Star Gold, and Star Silver, all at once.
There was a guy on crutches waiting patiently. I told him
they'd let him preboard, but he hung back.

Found my way to my seat and got the successor-to-Attache
out of the seatpocket; did the half crossword that was
vouchsafed to me; and put the magazine back. The woman in 1A
gave me the evil eye and told me "you're going to have to be
careful with your knees." She really was a bit Princess and
the Peevish, and I thought I might have to resort to putting
my hands on the seat and pulling often or something, but I
merely pointed out that it wasn't my knees, I'd just got the
magazine out of the seatpocket and put it back again. The
flight was not full, and I was glad when she relocated.

Slept through this one. Landed more or less on time and got
the train to see my father.

My brother showed up only half an hour late, so we had time
to have a decent supper. He'd eaten late, so I decided to
take us to a place known for healthy food.

Rock Creek is a fairly trendy Bethesda restaurant row place
right opposite the garage, so it was convenient; it serves
food late, which was convenient; and it's an OpenTable
restaurant, which gets me 100 points (worth a buck tops).

It was still buzzing at 9, and they seemed reasonably happy
to see us, considering one of us was an 89-year-old who
looked unlikely to eat much.

On the table, comporting with the healthy theme of the
place, a basket of whole-wheat French bread (not bad) and
a dish of a heavily garlicked, scantly salted and oiled
bean puree; this was tolerated by my brother, enjoyed by
me, and eaten in great gobs by my father.

He started with Maryland crab soup, notable for having lots
of chunked vegetables rather than being the usual smoothish
red liquid. It was not particularly heavy on the crab, but
he liked it. Crab cakes were a different story, the most
expensive and likely the biggest serving on the menu. Two
full-size cakes, almost all lump meat, with a minimum of
binder and a few bits of apple and vegetable mixed in: quite
good. This came with a celery root and carrot slaw that
nobody tasted.

Jonathan, intent on breaking my bank, had the ahi carpaccio
appetizer - pretty standard except topped with a Japanese-
style seaweed salad, followed by a 6-oz medium-rare filet
mignon, which was good meat done just medium-rare and thus
underdone for him. At least he didn't pitch a fit, as he
was definitely in the wrong, but he did remark that if he
had known that the restaurant would do medium-rare beef as
ordered, he'd have ordered it medium.

I began with a very neutral, healthy-tasting (but not bad
for that) Jerusalem artichoke soup, followed by a fairly
modest serving of fairly yummy mussels in curry broth with
cauliflower. Finally, I had the tuna carpaccio, which was
thin sheets of seared ahi, nicely flower-petaled around a
smallish plate, with a large dollop of sweet-and-sesame
seaweed salad in the middle. I liked it better than my
brother had.

My brother ended with a brownie-like chocolate cake with
whipped light cream: the former was okay, the latter
pretty disgusting.

Through the meal I nursed a flight of I think Trimbach
Pinot Blanc and Sparr Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer.

violist Apr 6, 07 9:08 am

France with my sweetie

UA1215 BWI ORD 0900 1011 733 2AB

No food, in fact, no service to speak of, on this flight.

UA 942 ORD CDG 1916 0940 763 5AB

The wines we had were a nice lemony Duval-Leroy Champagne
(available at the local Casino supermarket at E30 for two
bottles, so good price-performance ratio) and an Haut-Medoc
that was Cabernetty but otherwise certainly not worth my
remembering the name.

Hot towels, warm nuts. Service okay, not much more.

to begin
Smoked salmon, pate en croute with pistachio, Wensleydale
cheese and vegetable crudite, Parmesan pepper sauce

This was actually pretty decent, the salmon being a nice
thick slice of quite good fish; the pate was respectable
though tiny. Cheese: Cheddar, the same stuff as they were
serving for dessert under the name Kerrygold. Crudite was
pretty dried up - carrot, pepper, and something else I
forget, one baton each, and a tiny asparagus spear that
wasn't raw. The sauce tasted just like ranch dressing.

Fresh seasonal greens, buttermilk ranch or balsamic Dijon
vinaigrette

I had my salad dry. It was salad.

main course
Boneless beef short ribs with port wine sauce, twice
baked cheddar potato and green beans with red pepper
and marjoram

The meat was, as before, tasty and slightly fatty, the sauce
unduly sweet. It wasn't the exuberantly giant serving I'd
had before, in fact just enough, about 5 or 6 oz in one long
strip. I gave the potato to Carol and feasted on the green
beans, some of which were fine and some of which were old,
yellow, and nasty.

Pecan-crusted chicken breast with black peppercorn cream
sauce; rice pilaf with caramelized shallots and mixed
vegetables

The chicken was not badly cooked, but the crust was soggy
and tasted like varnish. Instead of rice, a potato as above
came; I'd arranged with Carol to switch her rice for my
potato and decided to give her my potato instead without
recompense; after one taste she refused mine, so I tasted
it: it was like wallpaper paste, only perhaps not so good.

Pasta rotollo
Egg, tomato and spinach pasta filled with ricotta,
mozzarella and Romano cheese and spinach with marinara sauce

The only one I heard ordered was the kid on the row 5 right
side window, and that was too far to snoop (we were in 5AB).

Please advise the flight attendant if you prefer to have
sauce served on the side

Express Dine
Today's Express Dine features an appetizer, a fresh entree
salad topped with a hot pecan-crusted chicken breast and
served with classic Caesar dressing and Eli's Creme Caramel
cheesecake for dessert.

dessert
International cheese selection
Kerrygold Vintage Cheddar, Port-Salut

The Cheddar didn't look like the Kerrygold they've served
in years past but was exactly like what had come with the
appetizer. I had had enough food so just had a Courvoisier.

Ice cream

prior to arrival
Continental breakfast featuring a fruit appetizer, yogurt,
breakfast bread and fruit preserves

I didn't have this, but it looked below average.

We arrived a little early, and we were pretty much first off
the aircraft and first through immigration (this was the
first time I've ever had my passport stamped in France, but
still the formalities took maybe 10 seconds). So we were
first at bag claim, first to get our bags, and first out of
there. A few minutes to get cash at the machine and to find
the shuttle bus to the RER (I guess I hadn't taken the RER
in a while, and the shuttle stop had changed). The station
itself was exactly as I remembered it a decade ago, and
there was a train presenting itself in just a few minutes.

So we got to Gare Austerlitz a bit early and wandered around
translating signs for practice until it was time to meet our
friend Denis's daughter for lunch.

It has been 6 years since we'd seen each other, and it was
hard to recognize Marlyse, who was a chubby adolescent back
then but who has grown into a cute young version of Philo,
her mother. Carol has cut her hair, and we both are a little
fatter, so the meeting was delayed by a few minutes while we
wondered whether we were us. Eventually we figured it out.

There are a lot of somewhat overpriced places near the
station, of which I picked the Relais de l'Auvergne. Not
a bad choice, but too much money for what we got.

Carol ordered the aligot, which wasn't nearly hot enough
and thus not nearly stretchy enough. I found it tasteless
(I'm not a Cantal cheese fan). It came with a saucisse de
Toulouse, rather porky but otherwise not interesting.

I got gesiers confits en salade, gray old duck gizzards
supplemented by pink new duck gizzards in a walnut-oil
vinaigrette over frisee lettuce: not bad. And then a
rather smelly andouillette made of at least three kinds
of tripe, the white honeycomb and two brown ones.

Marlyse had smoked salmon followed by her favorite food,
lasagne; she professed satisfaction.

Saint-Pourcain L'Ouvree 2004 was a light red wine, almost
a rose, not unpleasant but not at all notable.

After lunch we strolled through the Jardin des Plantes
until it was time to return to the station for our train.

SNCF 3655 PAR BVE 1647 2106 2/83-84

It hadn't cost a huge amount more for first class, so we got
that. There's not much difference: seating 3 across instead
of 4, 220V at every seat (but this day it wasn't working at
our places), somewhat comfier upholstery, but no free food -
just the man with the cart hawking Cokes, ice cream, ugly
sandwiches, and the lot. There are oddities of seating, too,
that I don't recall from second class, including facing
pairs of seats with legroom for one only - something they
seem to have sold with alacrity to unrelated parties, with
the frequent result that one person kept his legs in the
aisle at all times. The journey was okay and we arrived more
or less on time.

Ian and Jacquie were there to meet us in the snow and
freezing rain and take us the 40 minutes eastward into
the Correze. The main order of the day then, after a
quick wash, was what they described as "a light supper."

Started with Don Cavala pale dry - a pleasant and typical
Sherry - for aperitif, followed by magrets au gros sel in
a white wine - honey - thyme sauce that Ian generously gave
me credit for (apparently we'd discussed the ideal sauce
for baked duck some time ago). With this went potatoes fried
in duck fat with cepes and a salad with Jacquie's stunning
walnut oil balsamic vinaigrette. For afters, a sticky toffee
pudding. With this meal, we had a Merlot from the Charentes,
Domaine Grollet Merlot 2004, quite attractive, not very
acid, but the notable thing was it was bag-in-box.

For afters we did a comparison between a private bottling,
Calvados Yvonne et David 1964 hors d'age, pretty nice, and
an oak-aged English apple brandy, Somerset Alchemy 15 years
old, which was oaky, appley, leathery, and stunning and blew
the other away.

We toddled off next door to sleep in Room 1, the usual.

violist Apr 7, 07 5:14 pm

Breakfast is cereal and milk at will (I didn't will) and
bread and very nice croissants with jams, many of which are
homemade. As we had been very tired the night before, it
was 11:30 when we had this, and soon it was time for lunch.

Bacon sandwiches were from a pig that Ian and Jacquie had
helped with the butchering of, and the bacon was very nice.
More of that box Merlot, and a cheese board made up of
slightly less rubbery and mild than usual Cantal, a decent
Morbier, and an old almost orange Saint-Nectaire.

Our afternoon outing was to la ferme Marty, a pig-growing
establishment from which Ian regularly purchases meat.
The proprietress asked if we wanted to visit the farm
itself, and the answer of course was of course. They are
happy pigs, 450 of them, coming out to say hi to us, some
being a bit overenthusiastic and bumping (big squeals) into
the electric fence. There was also a barn full of piglets
that amused us by rushing forward en curious masse and then
fleeing to the other end of the barn in terrified unison,
then repeating the cycle every thirty seconds until we left.

I bought some interesting stuff, including a few cans of
fritons (chicharrones) and some boudin made with apples.

Dinner back home started off with a foie gras mi-cuit,
rather salty and a little veiny (Ian got a big clump of
vein, I got a strand or two) with the excellent Monbazillac
Tirecul la Graviere 1996.

The main course was a pork roast with thyme sauce (pork
from that same sainted pig, thyme from the garden), with
which a Mercurey 1er cru 2000 (Tremeaux) went very nicely.
Sides were a little bitter for the wine but fine with the
meat - scorza nera (black salsify) marinated in lemon and
EVOO, and broccoli rabe.

For dessert we had Jacquie's tarte tatin, which Ian says
he'd put up against anyone's. It is in fact a very fine
tatin, started off with a painstaking caramelization of
the apples and then carefully put together. Harmonious.

A nice couple from Brittany joined us in the B&B; with
my schoolboy French from the '60s and Madame's schoolgirl
English from about then we got on okay. Carol, who is
learning French, contributed as well.

=

Next day, we went to Tulle, where I was saddened to hear
that the Taverne des Sommeliers, where we had an excellent
meal last time, has gone way downhill. Then Treignac, where
we stopped to buy dessert at Borzeix-Besse and make sure
the salon would be ready for us to take tea in in a few
hours. And thence to the Suc-au-May, a 3000-foot volcanic
hill that is said to have excellent panoramic views. Sadly,
it was snowing quite hard when we got there. Ian pointed out
proudly that this is often the coldest spot in France!

We had a picnic lunch down just around the snow line and
then proceeded to Sarran and the Jacques Chirac presidential
museum, not my cup of tea at all, especially at E4 a head,
so we just wandered around the grounds, the bookstore, and
the bathroom. And returned to Treignac for our tea.

Treignac is a lovely mediaeval walled town, and we wandered
about seeing the ancient churches and bridges before
returning to Borzeix-Besse (there's another at Limoges, for
those who love chocolate and don't want to trek through the
countryside), which takes the already delectable Valrhona
masse de cacao and turns it into some very fine confections.
We all, as it turns out, had the hot chocolate "Ecuatorial,"
which was tasty but not so rich as Ian and Jacquie had
remembered it as. Oh, said the proprietress, that's because
in season they use fresh milk, but as it was the wintertime,
ours was made with UHT. Be that as it may, it was still some
very nice chocolate.

Our desserts bought here and consumed on the picnic, if you
can call huddling in a cold car with freezing rain all round
a picnic: Charles-Lachaud, a layer of hazelnut praline, a
layer of cake, and a layer of excellent chocolate mousse,
all coated in a dark couverture: this is named after a local
lawyer (!) who made good in the big city sometime during the
reign of Napoleon III or so; a normal tiramisu; and an
almond praline cake for Jacquie. Carol had the dome-shaped
Suc-au-May, named after the hill on whose flank we were
eating. It was a big old meringue stuffed with vanilla
custard and blueberries - pretty yummy, but no chocolate?!

I was really hopped up after Mr Lachaud and the hot chocky,
so when we got back home I had a hit of an artisanal very
plummy Mirabelle to settle my head and tummy.

And then on the Rendezvous des Pecheurs at Saint-Merd de
Lapleau - a two Michelin fork restaurant in the middle
of absolutely nowhere, half an hour from the metropolis
(population 3000) of Argentat. Ian serves on some sort of
tourist board with the formidable proprietress, Mme Fabry,
who greeted us warmly, despite her having had to keep the
kitchen open for us (no other reservations that evening!).

Amuses: little tarts filled with kind of nothing, cheese
and/or mushrooms; also some pretty nice foie gras on a
rather too-sweet brioche.

Ian and Jacquie had a smoked salmon brik with agrumes,
deftly done with a sauce that tasted of grapefruit, lemon,
and a touch of lime, in that order. Carol and I, as we
don't get the stuff often, had foie gras poele with mango
chutney, first-rate foie gras, good but too abundant
relish (luckily, not too many spices in this).

The Bellefon de Besserat Cuvee des Moines blanc de blancs,
horridly overpriced, as were all the Champagnes on the
list, went well, layers of lemon and toast and perhaps
some apple as well.

Ian had filet of red deer with blueberry sauce and puree of
celery root, quite good, though the sauce was too copious
and perhaps too fruity and definitely not stocky enough.
With this the Chateauneuf du Pape 2001 (Guigal), good
Syrah berriness, some tannin, not bad.

The three of us got fried fillet of pike-perch with onion
sauce and mashed potatoes with cepes - grassy but tasty
fish, cooked just right, the onion sauce quite wonderful,
the potatoes superb. Ch. La Laulerie (Montravel) 04, with
a goodly amount of Sauvignon Blanc, pointed up the green
aspect of the fish but was not at all unpleasant, with
lemon on the palate and some tropical aromas.

Pineapple "carpaccio" with rum-raisin ice cream was okay,
good pineapple and ice cream that tasted as though it had
come from a Haagen-Dazs factory.

Ian had a plum extravaganza that I didn't taste; I had a
plum sorbet with plum eau-de-vie that was very plummy.

Mignardises came with the bill, which was fairly
sensible (E60 a head).

violist Apr 8, 07 1:20 pm

gradually getting there ...
 
Next day's adventure took us to a bio dairy where Ian and
Jacquie get their milk and yogurt. We went to see their
cheesemaking operation, despite Ian's warning that the
cheeses were yucky. We set foot (literally - one foot)
in the facility, and Carol recoiled in horror. Stale milk
odor all over. No thank you. We sat in the car while Ian
did his business.

On the way back we visited the farmhouse that had been the
headquarters of the Resistance in World War II - I wonder if
my high-school French teacher, Mme Storck, had seen this
place - she had been a courier shuttling in guise of young
schoolgirl among the various Resistance locations between
1943 and 1945. And then we pased a stele marking the site
where the Allies had dropped 400 tons of munitions, which
went to the liberation of the Correze - a good investment
as it turned out, as the Resistance efforts prevented the
Germans from getting back from the South to reinforce the
defenses of Normandy during D-Day.

=

Ken, a correspondent from one of the wine newsgroups, and
his mother and stepfather Leslie and Kiwi, were joining us
for dinner. Ken lives in Auckland, and the others in KL;
this had been a trip to celebrate Leslie's getting a degree
in English Literature - off to London to pick up her diploma
and then wending their way through Europe. Sounded like fun.

Mixed but friendly group, Ken enthusiastic about his wines,
Leslie reserved but polite, getting on pretty well with
Carol and Jacquie, and Kiwi (odd name, I didn't ask the
origin, as he's not Kiwi at all) quiet but pretty well
in touch with things. Kiwi had done his degrees at King's
or Queen's or whatever it's called in Belfast. Well-traveled
interesting bunch.

We started with the Franck Pascal 1998 Brut Equilibre
Cuvee Prestige, a lovely toasty wine and perhaps one of the
best Champagnes I've had. Story is that Mr Pascal the elder
had given Franck a small vineyard to prove himself prior to
handing the whole Pascal operation to him, and Franck was
working like a dog to prove himself: anyhow, the product was
excellent.

El Vino Full Dry Sercial was pretty sweet, rather nutty, and
went quite well with the soup, a consomme of duck and cepes;
it was designed to carry over to the next course, but I
thought that the acid and spiciniess didn't fully agree with
the wine: this course was an aubergine in tomato sauce from
some famous hotel that I'd forgotten the name of (though
Leslie and Kiwi had stayed there) - you fry the aubergine in
oil and then cook it with a sauce of tomato and Indian
spices - rather like eggplant parmigiana with a south Asian
twist.

Time for the arm-wrestle of the day. We had two glasses, one
marked and one unmarked. In these were poured two wines, one
marked and one unmarked. This was supposed to be a blind
comparison. Ha; we all figured it out immediately.

A Hartenberg Shiraz 1996 (Stellensbosch) was light red,
beginning to go over the hill; good acid, flavor reminiscent
of red fruit; medium red berry finish.

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Block 14 Shiraz 2002 (Craggy
Range) had been offered by Ken as an example of what New
Zealand can do: it was plummy, chocolaty, and delicious.
My only possible issue is that there was perhaps not enough
acid to allow the wine to age a long time.

With the wines we had Heston Blumenthal's recipe roast beef
- you sear the meat the night before with a blowtorch (Ian
and I shared this - the only kitchen work I did the whole
time), then pop it into a 65F/150F oven for 20 hours or as
long as you care to do so. The beef was a well-aged Limousin
rib roast, a real beauty, and the flavors were intense and
concentrated. I thought the texture just a bit soft, but
then I have always preferred a bit of chew. I wonder what
the result would be for long-hanging, say, a chuck and then
cooking it in this way.

Side dishes included delicious "cheesy parsnips," made with
Parmesan and cayenne pepper, carrots, potatoes in duck fat,
Yorkshire pudding (Ian claims to having a bad record with
the popping of these popovers, but you could have fooled me
as the result was magnificent), and a sinful cabbage braised
with lardons to unctuous softness.

The usual range of cheeses, including a young St. Nectaire
to augment the older one from before (the taste was very
similar, despite one being richly orange and the other sort
of cream-colored - the main difference was texture).

Finally, a vanilla bavarian cream that was delicately
flavored and not very sweet - lovely.

Vin Paille 2003 from Mas Vidal, despite its overpowering
stone-fruity aroma, turned out to be a pussycat of a wine
with not enough oomph to stand up to the dessert; further,
it wasn't sweet enough for a dessert wine by a good margin.

=
The Tours de Merle are a major historical landmark in the
Xaintrie, a heavily-wooded region flanking the eastern
Dordogne: these were castles overlooking the river from
which the Merle families could control all commerce up
and down the valley. They are imposing and, when Ian and
Jacquie first took me there a decade ago, largely ruined
and extremely spooky. Carol had not seen them before, so we
took a field trip. They're still imposing, but it appears
that the owners have woken up a bit to the commercial
potential, and they now look as though they are being fixed
up. You can see the evidence: multicolored pennants flying
from the battlements, a parking lot (closed when we went by
as off season), a driveway marked "delivery entrance."
This time we climbed on a little bluff and took pictures
from afar; sightsaw a bit, and the took some country roads
back to Forges so we could pack and get out of there in time
(our train tickets, though first class, were nonchangeable).

violist Apr 9, 07 12:35 pm

Off to Brive, where we dropped Jacquie and Carol off at the
Kipling store and then visited "the first place in France
dedicated to bag-in-box wines," check out vinomania-brive.fr
to see what it's about. We tasted over a dozen wines, most
respectable, none calling my name: for some reason, the
manager poured us several Sauvignon Blancs (and one totally
atypical unripe unoaked Chardonnay) followed by an unduly
large number of Roses. Of reds we tasted few, but one, a
Gaillac, was definitely above average. Also for sale is a
Margaux for upwards of E50 a cask, by far the most costly
box wine I've ever seen. I don't know if that would have
been offered for tasting if we'd had the time, but it was
time to pick up the ladies and get to the train station.

SNCF3670 BVE PAR 1613 2011 12/83-84

This ran express from Limoges to Paris-Austerlitz and so
took 45 min less than the milk train down. Our in-seat
power worked, too, so time passed quickly.

It was dark and drizzly when we alit, but still we decided
to save five or ten bucks and toddle through the atmospheric
streets of the Left Bank to the hotel that Carol's travel
agent Marnie (Diplomat Travel, ask for her special, she's
great) arranged for us. The Grand Hotel Saint-Michel isn't
particularly grand but is a comfy place in a quaint and safe
neighborhood (right by the Sorbonne). Our room was small but
adequate with a generous and recently renovated bathroom.

It was kind of late, and we were hungry. The recommended
bistros were packed to the gills, so we decided just to
wander until we found something that suited us (appetizing
but not-too-expensive carte, fairly busy but not bursting)
- Restaurant Perraudin on Rue St. Jacques fit the bill.

The service is pretty friendly and geared largely to an
English-speaking clientele. The ladies in the window next
to us were Belgian or something, but the waiters addressed
them in charmant somewhat broken English, and they answered
back in excellent slightly accented English. I spoke my
usual polyglot olio illiterate in all languages and master
of none talk, and Carol chimed in in schoolgirl French (at
least as comprehensible as mine, I admit). We had standard
bistro food. It was very acceptable.

Escargots a la bourguignonne were fine but kind of subtle, a
trait I don't associate with restaurants of this sort. I had
the foie gras mi-cuit, a goodly slice, rather oversalted, of
decent-quality liver, with slices of tasted vanilla-scented
brioche.

Carol's main was leg of lamb perfectly medium-rare in a
neutral brown sauce accompanied with a most luxurious
potato gratin with Cantal cheese, a serving perhaps designed
for two but which she ate down to the last crumb without
assistance.

The lamb had been my choice as well, but for variety's sake
I ordered boeuf a la bourguignonne, which turned out to be
a fairly classic presentation, with the baby onions and
lardons and things: the mushrooms were domestic but better
tasting than the norm; the sauce was surprisingly
underseasoned.

With this one of the most neutral red wines I can recall
ever having had: La Fleur Fonrazade (St. Emilion) 05.
Almost completely dumb, a bit of background red fruit and
green herbs. With a little acid, it might have been pretty
good, but as it was, the balance was way off.

For dessert I vaguely remember an above-average creme brulee
- don't recall Carol's, maybe a tatin or something.

A five-minute walk to the hotel, just enough to tamp down
the generous servings of food. The proximity was welcome,
as a cold rain continued to fall.

violist Apr 10, 07 12:34 pm

On our last trip we'd stayed mostly in the 7e with forays
across the river; this time we wandered through much
of the 4e, 5e, and 6e, with a trip (under my protest) to
Montmartre, which I dislike as a tourist trap.

I guess we could have chosen destinations and then taken
taxis and the Metro all over the place, but both Carol and
I prefer to wander - myself to look at restaurant menus and
food shops, Carol to marvel at bric-a-brac and jewelry
stores. This morning we walked all through the Luxembourg
Garden, then out into the commerce-driven 5e; when the rain
started really coming down, we ducked into the Bon Marche
and spent an hour or two in the food section; sampled a nice
Chardonnay, Henriot blanc de blancs, which the house is
launching various places including New York; picked up some
chocolate and then went on to lunch at Midi Vins, which is
appropriately on the Rue de Cherche-Midi. A nice little
bistro with a not too expensive prix fixe. We started off
with skate spine meat with sherry, which turned out to be
made with sherry vinegar - though the fish was first-rate,
the sauce of vinegar and lemon juice and hardly any oil at
all was sort of tooth-enamel-curling. I should perhaps have
asked for a little olive oil, but I didn't think to do so.

Carol went on to a pretty good 6 oz or so of hanger steak
with Camembert sauce; my excellent veal kidney, ordered rare
and received medium-rare, came with a mustard and cheese
sauce that tasted like the Camembert sauce with a teaspoon
of whole-grain Dijon. It was twice as big as the hanger
steak; one eats more abundantly on a prix fixe if one
orders dishes made of cheaper ingredients, no big surprise.
Good mashed potatoes.

Lots of cheap bulk Bordeaux, palatable enough, went well
with this simple food.

Afterwards, coffee for Carol and a snifter of Calvados hors
d'age (the waiter opined that they had the best around)
completed the meal. The Calvados was excellent.

Wandered the St. Germain des Pres neighborhood (including
the obligatory visit to Lush), and Carol, whose walking
shoes are really bad in the rain, took a hard fall that
bothered her for the rest of the trip. So back to the hotel
for a rest; I went on to one of the places on my list to
make a booking - it had, luckily, by the time I got there,
one table for two left for that evening.

Ibuprofen works wonders, and I convinced Carol to walk down
to the Seine and then over and around and then to the
restaurant, where we had a reservation for opening time,
7:30. Le Pre Verre, 8, Rue Thenard, is known for creative
cooking and, as L'Express put it "fabulous price/quality
ratio." A little knot of people had gathered in front, and
at 7:35 or so, the doors opened and we rushed in and got
our tables. Ours was down at the foot of the stairs, but a
railing ensured a sort of private feeling nonetheless. This
is a jolly restaurant - people come in expecting to eat well
and drink heartily for not an impossible price.

You get good bread and excellent little cured olives.

Carol began with an exemplary watercress and crab soup -
bright flavors, not much crab though, as one might expect
for an E28 prix fixe.

Octopus with eggplant and preserved lemon was nice but
could have been better. The lemon was minced and served
over a slice of wilted eggplant; the octopus didn't seem to
need the lemon. It had been confit and was very soft though
good and strong to the taste - a sprinkle of toasted sesame
seeds redeemed the dish from a textural standpoint. There
was also a micro salad dressed in walnut oil on the side.

A Muscadet du Sevre et Maine "Fiefs du Breuil" (Landron) 04
was lemony enough to go with the soup and gutsy enough to
wrestle the octopus into submission.

Braised chicken with morels and carrots was very nice, a
full-flavored bird in a rather salty liquid with many
lovely mushrooms, but my suckling pig with exotic spices
and Savoy cabbage was the dish of the year: a thin cream
flavored with cinnamon, star anise, and long pepper
enhanced the smoothness and excellent pigginess of the
meat; the cabbage, just wilted, soaked up the sauce and
thus went from merely edible to a vegetophobe's delight.

My first choice Brouilly was out, but the waitress suggested
a Burgundy 04 from Ravant (someone I'd not heard of), which
started off a bit too acid but which tamed somewhat. Leather
and "smoked meat" to begin, red fruits and fenugreek on the
palate. Medium red fruity finish. On further reflection I
might have chosen a full-bodied oaked white instead of a
lighter acidy red.

Desserts are weird.

Strawberries with parsley juice and parsley ice cream was
one of the more interesting dishes I've had lately. A
strawberry, you know what that tastes like, and parsley, you
know what that tastes like, but if you put them together you
get something rather like a honeydew melon, but fruitier if
you have more berry and greener if you take more parsley
juice. Light, satisfying, and a lot of fun.

My chicory tiramisu with coffee was just plain weird, not
all that appetizing, a mild-tasting trifle thing with big
chunks of lemon-juice-marinated lettuce stems. I left a big
pile of the latter in my dish.

Coffee was the normal thing, actually very good, but the
vieux Calvados was harsh and unaccommodating - the stuff at
Midi Vins was much better.

violist Apr 11, 07 5:05 pm

FTer meeting
 
Carol wanted to see Montmartre, but I kind of balked, as
I recalled the district as having been wholly repellant
before, so it just had to be even worse now. We got off at
Gare du Nord and instead of changing lines decided to brave
the gypsies and thieves above ground and walk there. Walked
up through a flea market and then up to the famous plaza
via some horrid streets offering tawdry merchandise at twice
what it would cost anywhere else in Paris (and five times
what it would cost at Wal-Mart, where you could get half of
it anyway, same junk). Carol's knees being what they are,
and my disposition being what it is, we decided not to walk
direct up to Sacre-Coeur but to skirt the hill on the Rue
des 3 Freres and then wander up the backside. Much less
crowded (until we got to the top) and much more scenic.

Looked to visit La Famille, but it was closed, so we ended
up at Le Relais de la Butte on Place Emile Goudeau (where
Picasso and others had their studios in a building that
burned down about 40 years ago), to which I can give a
recommendation for value for price at lunch (dinner prices
are in keeping with the mystique of the neighborhood).

Got there right at noon and were greeted by a pleasant black
woman who told us to sit anywhere, so we sat at a window
overlooking the end of the Rue des 3 Freres.

We had a bottle of Cotes du Rhone Les Magerins 04 for E13,
a nice wine, probably the best buy we had in Paris, if not
the best wine period, which it might have been.

We had identical meals, the formule at E11.

One had a choice of vegetable tartare with smoked tuna,
which didn't appeal, or lentil salad, which was fine,
except that I got (and chewed) a pebble in mine. A simple
thing, lentils cooked al dente and mixed with minced onion
and a splash of vinaigrette and topped with chopped parsley.

A nice country French bread.

The main dish was a pork chop with mustard sauce and mash;
the chop of supermarket pork, but French supermarket pork,
so it was quite good, the mustard sauce much better than at
Midi Vins, but the potatoes watery. The other possibility
was a very fishy-smelling fillet of fish that also didn't
appeal.

We went down to Abbesses and window shopped for a while,
and then the heavens opened up again, so we took the subway
back to Sorbonne - I suggested returning to the hotel, but
Carol wanted to stay out and about. She suggested that we
go get a beer at Brasserie Lipp, so we walked down there
only to find the place elbow to elbow; Deux Magots was not
any better, so we went back down by the Lush and found the
Cafe Conti, where we watched the rain and watered ourselves
with a cappuccino and an Armagnac.

We'd arranged to meet Spiff (heading for Budapest) at 6 in
front of Le Sergent-Recruteur, a temple of gluttony on Ile
Saint-Louis, and we hustled through the rather heavy rain
to get there, only to find him not there. Stood around for a
while, and about the time me feet and head were getting wet
enough for me to think about formulating dinner plan B,
Spiff came roaring up, victim of a late shuttle bus from the
airport, so all was well. Turns out the restaurant doesn't
really open until 7, but they said that we could be seated
right away, and they would start us off at 6:45 if we
wanted, which we did.

Le Sergent is a peculiar place: there's an a la carte
possibility, which would perhaps provide enough food,
but the main draw is the E39 all you can eat and drink
formula. You start off with vegetable cream soup, heavy on
the cabbage, all you want, followed by a huge basket of
raw vegetables (red pepper, carrots, scallions, red cabbage,
radishes (excellent), tomatoes on the vine, hard-boiled eggs
(why are these considered raw vegetables?), cucumber, and
maybe other things) and a huge basket of charcuterie (three
or four kinds of salami, andouille, chourico, leberwurst,
and maybe one or two others). Bread also comes, a decent
country loaf. When you slack off they ask if you are ready
for the main course, which can be boeuf a la bourguignonne,
cassoulet, roast chicken, vegetable omelette, duck confit,
or leg of lamb. Oh, yes, for E15 extra, two can share a kilo
of rib roast. We had one cassoulet (not the long-cooked
thing one loves, but still a respectable portion of decent
food attractively seasoned) and two confits. I cannot speak
for Spiff, but my piece of confit was somewhat overaged and
underconfit, the result being that one was reminded quite
distinctly of the fact that one was eating hindquarter of
dead animal. Decent but very greasy fried potatoes - I
drained mine on my napkin. For afters, a cheese board (I
had an almost properly aged Port-Salut) followed by dessert:
we had one of each; Spiff liked his chocolate mousse; Carol
had a creme caramel that she enjoyed but that I found a bit
stiff; and I had an apple tart, quite mediocre, sided with a
scoop of Berthillon honey walnut ice cream (very strong).
Also at this price one gets vins et biere a volonte. We did
not try the beer but demolished two or three bottles of red
and two bottles of white among the three of us. The red is
a quite pleasant VdP from the Bouches du Rhone, Sergent's
private label; the white is St. Clair, from the Pays d' Oc.

After which we wandered about, took pictures of us at Notre-
Dame, and tried to buy an RER ticket for Spiff; but none of
our credit cards (we tried about 7 or 8 all told) worked.
So up to a coffee shop, Le Notre Dame, where we had some
wine and got change for the machine. Carol's Alsatian
selection de grains nobles was pretty attractive, but the
pitcher of Cotes du Rhone that Spiff and I shared was quite
inferior. We au revoired Spiff at the station and walked
back to the hotel (about 10 minutes) and got to bed a bit
after midnight.

violist Apr 12, 07 1:18 pm

flight back
 
... and forgot about Daylight Saving Sunday.

Got up at 8, caught the RER at 9, checked in at 10:20, and
hoped for a chocolate croissant and a Remy at the club, but
it turned out it was really past 11 (I wonder how many
others had been caught by the time change); the check-in
agent highly discouraged our showing up at the club, so we
raced through emigration and got to the gate 11:30-ish. Huge
security line, and various other lines to get into, and we
were the last to settle into the middle cabin.

UA 943 CDG ORD 1210 1429 763 5EF

Warm nuts, hot towels, Channel 9, but the quality of the
sound was bad enough so it was virtually useless. Service
was okay but much better for the middle seats in row 5,
where the (male) passengers flirted heavily with two (male)
flight attendants who looked like twins.

to begin
Smoked salmon and coppa ham with arugula creme fraiche,
grilled pepper, kalamata olives

The salmon was less tasty than usual and the coppa was
more putrefied than usual. Good olives, decent boletti of
mozzarella, okay if slimy grilled pepper.

Fresh seasonal greens, peppercorn or balsamic vinaigrette

A chopped salad of mostly very bitter chicory; the real
selections were Asian sesame or balsamic. Apparently there
had been some catering cock-ups (I heard the F flight
attendant telling all those guys that their menu was
completely wrong, and they had a choice of filet or chicken,
take it or leave it).

main course
Pan-seared filet mignon with Madeira cafe de Paris sauce,
macedonian potatoes and sauteed spinach with garlic

I told the FA that I preferred this, and she smiled and
said, "and that's what you will get." There are some small
perks to being 1KMM.

My steak was done medium, which was okay, but wasn't a
filet at all! but rather a thinnish sirloin folded up to
resemble a thick chunk of meat. It had come undone sometime
during the preparation, and what I ended up with was a funny
Arc de Triomphe-shaped sculpture. The sauce was sugar water.
What are macedonian potatoes? Reconstituted hash browns with
lots and lots of bacon. The spinach was salty enough to give
you high blood pressure if you didn't have it before.

Filet of cod with zucchini thyme sauce, curried vegetable
couscous with pine nuts and asparagus, carrot and red
pepper saute

Porcini stuffed panserotti with creamy herb sauce, minced
vegetable ratatouille

To my surprise, Carol ordered this, and it was nasty. The
half-moon pasta were almost raw; the parsley sauce horrid.
Interestingly, the filling had a strong cep flavor, and if
one cut the pasta up and ate only the filling, that would
have been okay.

dessert

International cheese selection: Brie, Morbier

These were really Camembert and some other white moldy
thing, unlabeled.

Haagen-Dazs ice cream

Vanilla was very wimpy, and the other boule was vanilla
with candied pecans, pretty good (I tasted Carol's, didn't
have dessert of my own except for what ended up being most
of a bottle of Port).

midflight snack
Assorted treats are available between the two main meals.

The assortment: Toblerones and Walker's shortbreads.

prior to arrival
vegetable and cheese calzone, red bell pepper coulis

Cheese plate with fresh seasonal fruit: Cheddar, Brie,
bleu

They served back to front, and we were not offered the
cheese, which I think was pre-plated anyway. The calzone
was, oddly, not too bad, ratatouille and mozz in a doughy
but not horrid shell. The promised sauce was extremely acid
tomato with what appeared to be reconstituted minced onion.

featured wines
Champagne
Billecart-Salmon Brut NV

Duval Leroy Brut NV

The usual, lemony, rather nothing. Interestingly, the
preflight pour was something strange, the first pour in the
air was a nice nutty thing, presumably the Billecart. And
after that, the Duval, which costs less.

White wine
Jaffelin Rully 04

I remember Jaffelin Burgundies as being very lightly oaked.
This tasted primarily of oak with just a tiny bit of lemony
Chardonnay character peeking out. Not bad but not what I'd
remembered.

Estancia Pinnacles Chardonnay 04

Red wine
Chateau de Villegeorge 2004 (Haut-Medoc)

Warburn premium reserve Shiraz 05 (SA)

Very oaky, lots of blackberry fruit, not a bad wine all
told for the price, which was of course zero but which
I estimate at about $6-8 a bottle retail.

On the whole, I'd say that the meal and the service on the
flight didn't venture far above "barely acceptable." The
booze was acceptable.

Airshow claimed we were going to land at 1 pm, whereas we
actually landed at 2 pm, still early - the time change thing
had apparently foxed it as well; we cleared immigration and
customs in a jiffy (I'd checked yes for meat - cans of pate
and fritons), and after a quick consultation with a
colleague the guy sent me on my way). The first couple dozen
bags all came out bearing priority tags, ours amidst them.

Tried to get on the 3:45, but as we had checked bags, that
was deemed impossible. So off th the club to do a couple
hours' work and e-mail, which was fine. Carol, convinced
that as she was 0 for the last 3 on getting food in first
between Chicago and Baltimore, plied me with vast amounts
of carrots and raisins, the healthier and less disgusting
snack offerings, the others being Tillamook medium Cheddar
(actually not so bad) with Pepperidge Farm crackers, very
hard plums, very beat-up looking oranges and yellow and
red apples, Twix bars, and a couple kinds of granola and
breakfast bars.

UA 138 ORD BWI 1835 2126 752 2AB

This flight loaded up more or less on time and sat on
the taxiway for half an hour owing to what the captain
announced to be an inefficient runway pattern (he didn't
elaborate on that).

I was distinctly unhungry when supper was offered, but for
science's sake we tried one of either of the meals.

My Southwest chicken salad was surprisingly palatable -
better by far than any of the transatlantic offerings. A
half chicken breast rubbed with cumin, coriander, and what
tasted like ginger and lemon grass, warm and surprisingly
tender, over nondescript leafy greens with kernel corn,
black beans, American cheese bits, and fried noodles,
served with ranch dressing. On the same tray served at the
same time were a cup of warm mixed nuts, a tasteless
focaccia, and a little square of very sweet chocolate cake.

Carol had a hot deli turkey and provolone sandwich, which
she pronounced palatable.

We arrived at 9:41, suspiciously exactly 15 minutes later
than schedule.

bseller Apr 12, 07 1:58 pm

violist - As always, a great pleasure to read your reports!! Another fine one. FYI, Sweet Willie and I dined at Muthu's Curry last Saturday - food was good, and THIS time, not too much! Hope all is well with you!

Best, Dave

opushomes Apr 12, 07 4:59 pm

Not sure how a guy as skinny as you can sock away the amount of rich food and drink that you do. Perhaps it is flying mostly on a U.S. airline that keeps you so trim and fit.

Excellent gastronomic report.

BTW, I had Vietnamese brown crabs, 2 tiny ones, at a roadside stand in Phu Quoc. No comparison to those found further south.

Cheers

violist Apr 13, 07 10:54 pm

D - we did order too much at Muthu's last time, didn't we.
Sort of making up for the other FTers who didn't show.
Still makes me sort of full just thinking about it.

M - the small Viet crabs, I haven't had them - do you
know the species (I know, not a gastronomic question,
but ...)?

opushomes Apr 14, 07 12:23 pm

The small Vietnamese crabs closely resembled the "Mud" crabs that I had in Sandakan, Sabah. Since the menu was in Vietnamese with passable English subtext, I was able to determine that they were crabs. What I did not know was whether they were frozen, just plain dead lying around in the 30 degree C. heat or alive. Since I speak no Vietnamese and the proprietress understands no English except "Beer", I wiggled my fingers mimicking the movement of a living crab, she nodded her head and actually brought me the moving small creatures for my approval before preparing them.

Unfortunately, like the mud crab, they are small and not particularly meaty nor sweet. They were fine prepared in the manner they were. They definitely did not have a chile or pepper sauce although a bottle of chili sauce was available.

Next time you are in Phu Quoc, please stop in and view her crab offerings. Her open air restaurant is diagonally across the road from the Saigon Phu Quoc Hotel. It is to the right as you stand in the drive of the hotel.

Next time that you are in Seattle, Marsha and I will attempt to get up and we'll, with Missy of course, eat Dungeness. Of course best served cold with a tangy cocktail sauce.

M


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