14 July 2006 (Happy Bastille Day), Tripe

Friday, morning, David went off to the COMARGE meetings again. I did laundry, then set off on foot for rue Mouffetard and the rue Monge market, which I've heard and read about for years but never managed to visit.

Rue MouffetardThe rue Mouffetard is steep, narrow, and crooked and lined for its whole, considerable length with interesting shops whose displays spill out onto the street. The food shops are especially tempting—it's always hard to walk past those sidewalk rotisseries without stopping to buy a crisp and juicy roast chicken, hot off the spit, even at 9 a.m., immediately after breakfast! One of the candy shops was featuring life-size chocolate soccer balls, just in time for the World Cup finals on Sunday.

The Place Monge harbors a more or less permanent open market, bigger some days than others. It was relatively small when I was there, but sorely tempting nonetheless. Almost as wonderful as the meets and produce themselves is the careful and detailed labeling—the customer is always told the variety and country of origin.

Rue Pot de FerIt rapidly became clear, in the course of the morning's wanderings, that the place for lunch was the rue Pot au Fer (Iron Pot Street), an even narrower street perpendicular to Mouffetard. It was entirely lined with restaurants, one of which posted a plaque assuring the passer-by that, yes, d'Artagnan and his buddies ate and carroused here, and that, yes, swordplay was often involved. At first, I was a little put off that the restaurants posted bilingual menus (a sure sign of the passage of many tourists), but by the fourth one from the rue Mouffetard, the English was down to a little note saying "English menu inside," and by the fifth, it was nothing but French, and dishes few tourists would choose. I settled on "Le Pot de Fer," which also called itself "Chez Robert, about at the midpoint of the street, and ordered "tripe à la mode de Caen," which is just what it sounds like—tripe, Caen style—and which gives David the heebie-jeebies at 10 paces. It was outstanding—nice and lemony, not too tomatoey, tender, meaty, and full of garlic and fresh parsley. Better than I was served in Caen.

Paris tripeWhile I was happily munching my lunch, a waiter from an establishment across the street hailed my waiter, pointed to a window directly above my head (hidden by the awning I was under), and told him, "She's calling for you." My waiter immediately put down everything, went into an adjoining doorway, and shortly reappeared escorting a little old lady. She leaned on his arm while he held her hat, cane, and handbag in his other hand. He helped her into the restaurant and installed her at an indoor table. She was still there, having her lunch, when I left. I wonder who she was—his aunt? the owner? just a long-time regular who can no longer get down the stairs on her own? Meanwhile, from another building across the street, two or three guys in succession emerged, taped Google neighborhood maps to the windshields of motorcycles, loaded small packages into their saddlebags, and roared away. Independent messengers is my guess, as the motorcycles didn't match and none was wearing any company logo that I could see. Finally, when only one motorcycle remained, the largest of the assortment originally parked there, a small, slender 20-something young woman in a short, polka-dotted sun dress and elegant spike-heeled sandals appeared from the doorway. She stowed a padded envelope, donned an enormous black helmet and bulkily padded leather gloves, tucked her skirt and legs under a fleece-lined cover attached to the cycle, and roared away up the street, polka-dots rippling in the breeze.

Meanwhile, the estalishment's cat (marked like a seal-point Siamese, but browner and longer-haired; a Himalayan, maybe?) patrolled the street and cruised around under the tables looking for dropped treats. Anytime he showed too much interest in the open door to the courtyard across the way, one of the waiters would call out "Babou!" reproachfully, and he would shy away guiltily. By the time I left, he had settled on an unused banquette for his afternoon nap.

I couldn't finish the tripe—it was too much for one person even before they added the three large boiled potatoes—but I came close. As far as I could tell, the place was filled entirely by locals, or at least French speakers, except for one young German couple, who bravely tackled the menu word by word, dictionary in hand. They weren't too pleased with all the poultry livers and gizzards on their salads, but they made up for it with the pork in mustard sauce. A fine lunching establshment altogether! After lunch, I walked to the Metro to go visit the Postal Musuem. I waited for the train, boarded along with droves of other people, and founda seat before the PA system came to life and announced that because of an unspecified "incident," service on this line was discontinued for the day. All passengers were "invited to disembark." Moment of resigned silence, then a large collective sigh, and we all piled out again. Nobody even grumbled, that I heard. The French are really very tolerant of this kind of thing.

I scoped out an alternative route to the Montparnasse station, which took rather longer, and hiked from there to the Postal Museum, only to find a sign on the reception desk that the permanent collection, although normally open at that time, was closed for the day; no reason was given. The temporary exhibits didn't interest me, and it was starting to rain, so I just caught the 84 bus back to the hotel to rest my feet.

For dinner, we went back to "Le Mauzac," again with Gordon Paterson. The menu had changed completely and was even better than the day before.

First course, David: Poached eggs with seared foie gras on top in a creamy poulette sauce.

First course, Anne: Fennel braised with anis in a cream sauce with mussels and shrimp.

Mauzac vealSecond course, David: Onglet de veau (a veal steak) with reduction sauce and crushed potatotes. Excellent. Much better than beef onglet, which tends to be tough.

Mauzac porkSecond coure, Anne: Carre de porc (rack of pork), with course mustard sauce and puree of carrots. Tasty but somewhat overcooked. French pork is Trichina-free, so it could have been left a little pink and would have been the moister for it. Good sauce, though.

Dessert, Anne: Cold watermelon soup with the same semi-frozen lump of black-current frappé as with the cherry bavarian.

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