Elise Eats Europe 4 Paris
Thursday we had to take two trains just to get to Waterloo station. While we were standing in line to go through customs, a guy in a business suit just cut right in front of me! I just stood there, mouth agape. Then as the line moved up, and I started to step forward, ANOTHER guy in a suit jumped in front of me! I said curtly, "Excuse me, but I am in this line." He replied harshly, "I couldn't tell. There was a gap." I exclaimed, "Oh my God! And you say AMERICANS are rude?!!!" Later, as we waited for the train, Bob asked if I wanted to go with him to get a magazine. I said, "I'd better stay put. I seem fated to throw down with an English businessman today."
The chunnel crossing was anticlimactic. I wish it were made out of plexiglass so you could look at fish or something.
The cab ride to the hotel was exciting. There is the Notre Dame cathedral! The Seine! And out hotel was just a block away. It was a great location, next to a bustling restaurant row. We really lucked out. the desk clerks spoke English, it was immaculately clean and even had an elevator! Yay! Did I mention that we had a lot of luggage? Our room was small, but we had a breathtaking view of St. Sevarin's church across the street.
Another great thing about our hotel was that I could just tell them where we wanted to eat and voila! A reservation! French people really do say, "Voila!" with great frequency and I find it adorable. So we were able to get into Roger Grenouille that same night. Luckily the French eat really late.
Roger a la Grenouille is a little hole-in-the-wall down a dark alley, which was recommended by Lleechef as having the best frog's legs in the world. My French is really limited, so in confusion I lapsed into Spanish. It turned out our server spoke fluent Spanish! How lucky can you get? I started with pan-fried fois gras with spiced bread and grapes. I will fantasize about this dish for the rest of my life. It had a perfectly custardy consistency and a fruity, sweet sauce.
Bob started with intensely garlicky frog's legs. They were like gourmet hot wings. I could imagine drinking beer all night while munching on those things.
I made an error in reading the menu that had more to do with exhaustion than any language barrier. I read "Terrine of oxtail" as "Tureen of oxtail". So I was expecting a comfortingly warm stew and instead got a cold slab of meat stuff. A Terrine is kind of like cold meatloaf. Gourmet French cold meatloaf. I had eaten American terrines and didn't like them, but this one changed my mind. It would have made a perfect lunch. But it was still too cold for an entree on a chilly night. Bob had a filet, good, but tougher than American filets. But the new potatoes and peas were fresh off of the farm.
We walked back from the restaurant along the Seine, tired and sated. We were holding hands and the lights were glinting off the water. It could not have been more romantic. As we gazed into eachother's eyes, I got my heel stuck in a grate and twisted my ankle AGAIN. As I hobbled along, I asked, "Oh my God, Bob, what is WRONG with me?" He said, "We're just going to have to put you in a big plastic bubble."
Friday my dreams all came true. An entire day at the Louvre. Where do I even begin? We saw all of the greats...Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, The Lacemaker, and pretty much every painting I have ever studied in a class. I have a few new favorites...Delacroix's Jeune Orpheline au Cimetiere and L'Aurore et Cephale by Guerin (which is unusual because I dislike Rococco). The Mona Lisa was like an obligatory check-mark on the list. It is so far away, and behind such a thick glass, that any depth from the oils or any possible impasto is utterly lost.
The one painting I was really there for was the Raft of the Medusa. When we finally found it, it was next to Liberty Leading her People. Both paintings are so huge and spectacular, I was just so overwhelmed by it all, I had to just sit down and weep. The raft of the Medusa just so starkly illustrates the transition from life to death, and from hope to despair. Or if you choose to look at it the other way, you move from despair to hope. As you stare at the painting, you can feel the subjects' emotions...the will to live, the need for rescue, that visceral scream of, "I'm here! I'm here! I'm here!!!"
There was a class of kindergarteners being lectured in French in front of the Raft, then they moved over to Liberty. Since the Raft depicts dead people who have been cannibalized, and Liberty is literally standing on a pile of dead people, I wondered what on earth she was telling these children.
I needed a break after that, so we stopped in the cafe. For 20 Euros we split a pre-packaged sandwich from one of those plastic triangle containers and a frozen pastry. Bob asked, "Aren't you going to take a picture of it?"
I went looking for Ingre's Odalisque and discovered that French people do not understand my accent at all, even when I am just saying a simple word or the name of a famous painting. I kept repeating, "Odalesque, Odelisque." After I finally wrote down the name, and the gathered museum staff all said, "Oh! Odalisque!!!" Unfortunately I found out that it had been in a special exhibit and was still in transition.
That night we had reservations at another Lleechef recommendation. I have learned (as I'm sure Mr. Lleechef did long ago) to do absolutely everything she tells you to do without question. Unfortunately, we had spent so much time at the Louvre I didn't have time to change before catching a taxi to dinner. I was embarassed to be wearing Levis, considering the tuxedoed waiters and elegant art Nouveau decor of Au Pied de Cochon. As we were led up to the third floor, I wondered, "Is this the Levis floor? The stupid Americans floor?" Later, when I saw that there was a fourth floor above us, I was strangely relieved.
By now I had realized that no French people could understand my French accent, so I had begun communicating only in mime. Luckily, French people speak perfect mime. I pointed at "Crab" on the menu and mimed, "Hit it with a hammer?" The waiter mimed back, "Yes. Hit it with a hammer and big chisel." So we ordered langostines instead. they were much more tender and sweet than the ones we had in London.
As the name would suggest, Au Pied de Cochon is famous for trotters, or pig's feet. I am no stranger to ham hocks, so I was cool with that, and even looking to be a little daring. I was checking out an assortment plate of trotter, ear, tail, and brawn. Brawn? What the hell was brawn? I gestured to the waiter, and he produced a small porcelein pig, clearly kept on hand for this very purpose. He pointed to the snout (brawn), foot, ear, then very clearly pointed at the pig's ass and said, "cul". Now I know that cul means ass. I came on this trip with the intention of stretching my culinary boundaries, but there was no way I was eating pig's ass. I mimed, "Long, curly thing, or little round thing?" He was very clear that it was the long, curly thing, and I was now this waiter's new favorite person because I had mimed "pig's ass" to him.
When my plate arrived, it was just a big bunch of meat coated in a light dusting of breadcrumbs (pig's ass, delicately seasoned in a light coating of breadcrumbs...it's very thinly sliced...and charred). But there was no long, curly thing. The tail was straight, and looked way more like a certain other part of a pig than anything else (pig's pizzle, in a light dusting of breadcrumbs...very thinly sliced). I chose not to mime "Pig penis?" to the waiter, and instead gestured, "Pull it and stretch it out straight?" All of the waiters responded by laughing really hard and copying this movement. Now I was really wondering what part of the pig they had given me.
Actually, the pig's tail, or whatever it was, had the most meat on it of any of the uhhh, "parts", and tasted exactly like ham hocks. The pig's nose, which was my waiter's favorite, had just a few little nuggets of meat, but it was way better than ham hocks. I just hope that stuffing really was breadcrumbs. The pig's ear was all fat and gristle, useless for anything other than freaking people out. The trotter had way less meat than a ham hock. It was tiny, but I noticed that plates containing only the trotter had much larger ones. It was good, but I felt really ruthless attacking the plate with the vigor required. It was kind of labor-intensive. Bob had some mystery cut of meat that was fantastic, and much easier to eat than my big he-man plate.
We ordered creme brulee and a dessert platter. The creme brulee was in a wide, shallow dish to maximide the shatteringly thin caramelized sugar. Bob's dessert platter had a teensy crème brulee, blackcurrant ice cream with a hint of violet, mango sorbet, a peach quenelle and a brownie. It was topped with an adorable little meringue pig.
I realized that I had left my camera in my coat, which had been checked. I mimed to the waiter, and he brought it to me so I could photograph the dessert plate. I mimed, "If an order of trotters comes out, I would like to take a picture." He mimed back, "I will be your pig. Take a picture of MY foot." As we waited for our taxi, Bob said, "I will never forget the sight of that fancy French waiter dancing around, waving his foot in the air and snorting like a pig."
Roger a la Grenouille 28 Rue des Grands Augustines 01 56 24 24 34
Au Pied de Cochon 6 Rue Coquilliere Paris 1er 01 40 13 77 00