Our first horse-meat steak tatare in the
South of France.
There’s an interesting Matisse exhibition at the Centre Pompidou called “Pairs and Series.” An exhibit of works in plural. As others, Matisse did the same scene or pose several times capturing or experiencing with each another aspect of what was before him. He is quoted: … one must know the end of the painting when you start - describing his process as …. almost working backwards.
So we’ll start with the end of Renée’s birthday. She started the day saying at 76 it was important to celebrate the fact that one is still alive and well at this age more than to celebrate the day of one’s birth.
We looked forward to the end of the day and dinner at the much talked and written about, Spring. And that’s a story in itself. Exactly a month ago, we had gone to the Swan Bar on Montparnasse – remember our blog about finding the bar and the New York owner, Lionel Bloom (yes he is a Joyce scholar), as our newest friend? That night we went to the Swan (yes, he’s a fan of Cezanne and the painting of Leda and the Swan) because a Parisian friend of many years, Malou Beauvoir, was singing. We chitchated with Lionel, had a few glasses of Bergerac (a rather robust red wine from South West France – the Dorgogne) and heard Malou go through her varied repertoire. As always she was full of life, captivating her audience with her voice and style.
At the bar Renée met an American (lots of them at the Swan) who owned an art gallery in Washington, D.C. In the course of the conversation - naturally about Parisian food and restaurants - he mentioned Spring, where he had a great meal. But, he cautioned, it was as hard to get into as The French Laundry in Napa.
It’s been said that luck is often a question of timing. We had talked about splurging on a great meal for R’s birthday. In our six years coming to Paris we’ve been to one 2 star and one 1 star Michelin restaurant and weren’t impressed with either except for the bill.
Having heard of Spring from other sources we decided to take a stab at a reservation at Spring for R’s birthday, two weeks hence. Mostly we believed it was a lost cause. That night, when we got home, E googled Spring Restaurant, and found glowing reviews about Daniel Rose, a Jewish kid from Chicago who didn’t speak French or know how to cook when he first came to Paris in 1998. Since then and after much experience cooking and training in France, he opened his first restaurant in 2006. He was an immediate success and now he’s celebrated as one of the best chef’s in Paris.
There are no email reservations. They have to be made by phone or in person and like The French Laundry, they suggest the best bet for a reservation is to call in the late afternoon and hope there’s been a cancellation.
It was almost 1 AM. E dials the number of the restaurant. After many rings, a man answers. E goes through his telephone routine, “Je parle francaise petit peu … parlez anglaise, s’il vous plait.” The male voice answers, “Oui.”
So E goes through his speil and asks for a reservation for R’s birthday. The man on the other end of the line asks E if he’s from New York. E’s accent is a dead giveaway. E confesses and there ensues a long conversation between him and Daniel Rose, who had answered the phone. He is still there cleaning up. E says it’s his wife birthday and she was born in Chicago, the birthplace of Daniel himself. “Her birthday?” Daniel says. “Yes,” E replies. “She’ll be 76.”“Maybe I’ll bake her a cake?”
By the time E hung up (it’s almost 1:20 AM) there was an email conformation of the reservation.
We arrived at 6 rue Bailleul in the 1st Arrondissment. A tiny one block street behind the Louvre, paralleling Rue de Rivoli and Rue Saint-Honoré. When we look in the window, we see that most of the tables are occupied except the best one, right in front of the widow.
We walked into a pleasant room with an open kitchen and five or six chefs bustling along with Daniel Rose, in his black chef’s apron and matching black beard. Immediately, as you walk in the door and into the kitchen/dining room to the greetings of the team working at the restaurant and DR himself, you feel part of a family event. Daniel greeted us, remembered the conversation of that night the reservation was made. He told us that this morning he woke and looked at his notes for the day which said Roumanian salami and birthday cake. A part of the repartee was E’s willingness to get him a Roumanian salami from Chicago in exchange for a reservation for his wife’s birthday.
Of course, we were seated at the table in the window.
Seated at the window looking out at a small cobblestone street in old Paris surrounded by the soft buzz of conversation in a what seemed a fairly large but cozy dining room of a well furnished but unpretentious house, life was good.
The wine book was well furnished, running from a wine for 28 Euros up to a DRC at 2,600. One has the option of choosing the wine pairing dinner as well as choosing one’s own. Since there is one menu (unseen, unwritten) for every diner, the pairing sounded perfect. The chef chose the food, made the food and who would know better not only what wine will compliment the food and the way it has been prepared.
The sommelier was a charming young woman, Farah, who explained each wine as she poured it. They were each perfectly in accord with each dish. There were 6 courses since we chose to include the cheese course.
First course: reading from left to right, veal tartar with raw quail egg and parmesan tuile; top dish: puree of jeruselum artichoke and sea urchin, fish course was sea bass, next was a melt in your mouth piece of foie gras appealing to the mouth at every bite through the almost crusty outside to the tenderest slightly cooked interior, then a duck breast again perfectly seared exterior and deep rose color throughout in a oh-so-slightly-sparingly-spread sweet sauce, a selection of 5 cheeses at the absolutely perfect temperature, to the finalité of Chocolate sorbet and poached pair. A wine with every course subtly matched. One never notices how much is being drunk. Even the level of alcohol is restrained.
So … we could go through the menu and the wines, but who knows when they will be replicated.
What’s really important is the way Rose cooks:
He is a genius in the selection of and respect for the food. The seasoning, the combinations, the sauces and the wines support and allow the the taste of the food to be revealed gloriously. His food is absolutely French! He is an artist in his responsiveness to the raw materials. He’s subsumed his ego to the food
A few words about the wine pairings: all were French, low in alcohol and from small vintners; all wonderfully transparent, as they molded to fit the food, not to change or override the taste but to bring it to its fullest flowering.
So here we were, in Paris. R who was born in Chicago celebrating her birthday, having a quintessential French meal from a young guy from Chicago.
He didn’t make a cake, but a fabulous chocolate sorbet with pastachio granité with a lit candle.
Then the coup de grace. Rose is suddenly outside on the street in front of us. In one hand he has a bottle of champagne, the other hand holding a clever.
One karate chop of the clever takes the top off the champagne, the bubbles pour out and within moments we have 2 glasses of champagne at the table.
Like Matisse, Rose’s food is his art. He picks for the day that which he see’s at the market to be the freshest and at the peak of flavor. He then works backwards to produce the perfect stage on which to present the food using seasoning and technique which never overwhelms the perfection of it’s natural flavor. He composes it elegantly but simply, pairs each dish with a wine with exactly the right tones to further strengthen the composition, provides an atmosphere warm and casual yet formal enough to remind you that you aren’t “just anywhere” and Voila, a masterpiece.
Renée’s birthday was a little over 3 weeks ago. We’ve been too busy to put the above on the blog. But … the meal was so sensational that while we were there we made a reservation for later in the month. A long-time friend of R’s was visiting from LA and two extraordinary friends from Chicago. We went back the other night. And there was Daniel in the kitchen.
Of course, we were wondering if he could replicate our last visit. He greeted us with bises and champagne. We all agreed to have the wine pairing with the food. We were asked: “Is everyone okay with oysters and foie gras?” That was the introduction to another fabulous meal. We won’t go into the meal or the wines. No need to describe them. They were perfect. After our first meal, R had said it was the best meal she had ever eaten. Now there are two best meals we have ever eaten.
Bonjour - Good day, Hello, Hi, a French greeting when people meet. It’s the ubiquitous word in France. It is said when you meet people (unless it’s at night and then it’s Bon soir), when you walk into a restaurant you exchange Bonjours with the person who seats you, when you walk into a shop, even when you buy a newspaper from a kiosk.
It’s more than saying hello. It’s a verbal communication of community.
Yesterday I went to the gym. I walked up the stairs and passed the door of the director’s small office. The door was open and he was sitting at his desk. I looked in. I said Bonjour, he said Bonjour. As I passed around the corner and the opened side window of the office, he got up. I thought he wanted to tell me something - he does not speak English but we have managed to communicate. He put his hand out and shook it, saying “Bonjour.” That’s all he wanted to do.
In the locker room - almost every time I am there - when a new person enters, he says, Bonjour. When someone leaves they also say au revoir. In the gym, many times a new person coming in, walks around, shakes everyone’s hand and says Bonjour.
The club is next to a construction site. Near the entrance there is a long ledge and on that ledge, a homeless man lives in an orange tent.
The tent is supplied by the social service department of the mayor of Paris. Sometimes the man is standing on the pavement, leaning against the ledge. We’ve been going to this gym since December. When the man is outside, he always says “Bonjour” and we say the same to him. It would not enter our mind not to greet him or return his greeting.
The French Bises (kisses on the cheek) have the same community connection.
Last Friday was bitter cold - something like -6 C which translates to 21 F. COLD. But as you can see, R was ready for it.
Earlier in the day R had a conversation (in French) with the director of the gym we go to. At one point the conversation turned to food and he said, “Paris is about food.”
That evening we went to Bistrot Paul Bert. Dorie had told us about it, highly recommending it. A search online has glowing reviews – and of course as always a few sour ones. Gayot listed it as one of the 10 best restaurants in Paris.
I chose wine to get warm:
It was a terrific dinner! Loved the place, the service, the buzz and the food. R had a squid entrée (what we in the States call an appetizer) and a perfectly cooked Entrécote de boef béarnaise, frits maison (rare steak with French fries). E went a little more exotic: a sautéed rabbit liver (foie lapin) to start and Pigeon en fauille de chouau, foie gras set sa puree de celery. (Pigeon with foie gras wrapped in cabbage leaves, and pastry …. with mashed celery root on the side.
We consulted with the sommelier, told him we didn’t want to spend a lot of money (the wine book was fabulous, many great wines and very costly). He suggested a 2003 Chateau Moulin P’ey-Labrie, which was perfect.
As if we needed it, the deserts were delicious and humongous. R had a Floating Island and E had Paris Brest, a puff pastry filled with hazelnut cream.
We went to the movies yesterday. R has been recuperating from a sinus infection and she needed an outing. It has been bitter cold in Paris as in all of Europe for the past week and today when we left the apartment it was 21 F.
We walked to the Bastille and saw the movie “Detachment.” It is well made and tough, extremely tough and unflinching. Filmed in a NY City High School, it portrays a world of institutional and personal failure. It is a bold depiction of traumatized teenagers who have given up on wanting to learn, parents who are unable to take or have absolved themselves of responsibility, and schools and teachers who are trapped between the overwhelming anger of their students, their own personal problems and the general misguided politics of education.
Waiting in an area past the WC E hears R and a women talking in French. We meet in the corridor and R tells me M, a Frenchwomen in her eighties, has just seen the same movie and was so moved that she started a conversation.
We are all eager to talk about the movie so we move to our neighborhood resto. Our new friend, M speaks English so with an English/French mix we can make out just fine.
We went to La Cavetiiere around the corner from the Bastille.
The women owner greets us with a big smile as we have been there several times and E was in there, the other night with Bernard for a drink. One could call it a typical Parisian café, and we like it because like all things in this modern world, typical is fading away.
Everything about our newest friend is a surprise.
Her husband a rather brilliant academic was a professor of Public Law. He does not like Paris so he stays in Rennes, their hometown in Brittany. She stays here in Paris and they meet every 2 or 3 months. After all, she says, they have been married over 55 years and they each can live their own lives.
He has published umpteen books on Public Law and has translated books to French from English and Italian.
M, like a number of Parisians is crazy about the cinema, as they call it. She has seen and remembers all the worthy U.S. movies over many years. In the course of the conversation Henry James is mentioned and she tells us she loves him and reads him in English. She also tells us she is so sorry she didn’t know us earlier as she had a party last Monday where there was a journalist and a woman who is the French translator of James.
We talk about our mutual love of James and recall the paragraph in The Ambassadors when Strether (the protagonist) realizes that his first response at the wonderful new things he is experiencing is not that he is stepping outside of the frame of his life but that the frame continues to expand thus expanding his life as well as his idea about himself.
M avoids e-mail so we exchange names and telephone numbers. We will be in touch.
On the way out, E sees a sign that the Café will be having a degustation (a tasting) of Bordeaux wines the next day. We agree to meet.
That is what has been happening to us in Paris. Every year we meet new and interesting people, expanding the frame of our lives.
If R had not been sick over the past weekend, she would have gone to England this past Monday. We would not have gone to the cinema today and we would not have met M. Using movie language which M completely understood, we agreed it had been a “cute meet”, (R and M dans les toilletes).
On Sunday, we finished our umpteenth version of the treatment of our screenplay. It’s working title has been: “La Dame Qui est Tombé de son vélo.” Or as we say in English, “The woman who fell from her bicycle.” So we wanted to celebrate. Go to a good restaurant.
What a choice in Paris! Renée wanted steak tartare, and we wanted a place we hadn’t been . Easy choice was La Coupole. I made a reservation for two at eight. We dressed -
La Coupole was created in 1927 and still contains all the architectural elements and painting styles of its Art Deco beginnings.
We walked in and were immediately capture and taken back to another time: where was Picasso, Soutine, Man Ray? Where was Josephine Baker sitting?
As we were ushered towards the back, I was concerned that we would get one of the many banquette tables for two. Renee would sit on the banquette facing the restaurant. I would sit on a chair facing Renée, my back to the restaurant.
As you can see from the photos we were sat at the rear left corner, with both of us on a banquette with full views of the room. It was great. And as we found out, only a few tables away from where Albert Camus had always sat.
We started with oysters and a very creamy mushroom soup. With that a wonderful Sancerre. Renée’s streak tartare came with sumptuous French fries. I had Indian Curried lamb – their signature dish since 1927, served by a white turbaned Indian. I suspect his grandfather was the original man who did it and this job has been in the family business for three generations. For the meat, a different wine, a perfect fit for our meal: Chateau Magnan La Gaffeliere, St. Emillion, Grand Cru.
It was great being there, great have finished our treatment, great being with each other. It is great being in Paris. Great being with the one we love!
The oysters (Cancale, Britany) were 20 Euros for all you can eat!
Paris, and maybe Europe, is full of suprises. We get out of the Metro at Etienne Marcel - an area near the old Les Halles market and we see this. What is it? Old! The past just sitting there surrounded by the present.