15 July 2006, The Louvre

Galleries Lafayette 1Galleries Lafayette 2Saturday, the COMARGE meetings over and done with, David and I set off after breakfast to visit the the original Paris branch of the Galleries Lafayette department store, mostly to see its famous central, four-story, glass-topped atrium but also to shop for a belt for David and a new suitcase for me—my poor old Samsonite "piggy-back" was showing its wear, but the deciding factor was that the Delta baggage handlers had dented the corners so badly that the shell had broken off in spots to reveal the lining. The central atrium/gallery was indeed magnificent (the 12-foot-diameter straw hat is suspended from the dome, as part of an advertising display mostly hidden behind it from this angle), but they had no suitable belts, and the luggage was outrageously expensive.

So we strolled along the Grands Boulevards to the good old Zephyr, the brasserie at the mouth of the Passage Jouffroy (where we've stayed a couple of times, at the Hotel Chopin). As we munched particularly beautiful and delectable composed salads and enjoyed watching the people passing by, the waitress accidentally (I didn't see how; perhaps she tripped) dumped an entire pint of beer over the woman at the table in front of ours. She managed to pour it squarely over her right shoulder so that half ran down her cleavage and the remainder down the back of her neck. Hope the poor woman wasn't too far from her hotel (we were miles from ours; I shudder to think . . . .).

After lunch, we repaired to a nearby luggage shop, selected a much more reasonably priced suitcase for me, and told the proprietor we'd be back. Then we strolled down the rue Richelieu to the Louvre and spent a pleasant couple of hours in the in the Sully wing, covering about half the second floor (18th century French painting). When our feet gave out, David went home, and I went back to buy the suitcase, stuffed my handbag and jacket inside, and rolled it home to the hotel.

Our dinner at the Bristol that night was excellent. The walk there from the Metro stop was exciting in that the restaurant is so close to the residences of the French president and vice president that we were watched most of the way by armed guards. At one point, we had to cross to the opposite sidewalk because no one is allowed to walk so close to the back wall of the presidential palace.

The restaurant service was very good and agreeable except for two long pauses, before and after the cheese course. Those long breaks give our blood sugar time to rise and therefore tend to spoil our appetite; I couldn't finish my last dessert. David's complaint about the service was that, although it was prompt and cheerful, it seemed frenetic. Ten waiters were constantly zooming around the room, even when they didn't seem particularly busy.

The diners were mainly tourists, although some French speakers were inevidence. David tells me that the man at the table behind me was wearing the badge of the French Legion d'Honneur.

We once again ordered the tasting menu.

First amuse-bouche: An assortment of small hot and cold canapés, the most interesting of which was a small crisp pastry cone stuffed with a salt-cod and horseradish mixture.

Second amuse-bouche: A cold shrimp risotto covered with a bright-green arugula sauce and topped with Parmesan whipped cream.

First course: An eggshell filled with creamy-soft scrambled egg studded with chorizo bits and whole fresh peas, topped with a nasturtium-flower mousse and a nasturium petal. On the side, a small toast with "sobrasada," which I take to mean "sopressata."

Bristol lobster Second course: Cold lobster with guacamole, surrounded by gaspacho and topped with a crisp pastry lattice and gaspacho sorbet. The two gaspachos were subtly different. The one in the photo is David's (you can see the green guacamole through the lattice; the chef kindly prepared one for me without guacamole. The whole thing was garnished with a chervil sprig, a chive bud, and a borage blossom.

Bristol eel Third course: Filets of sautéed eel ("from the Sargasso") on a bed of crushed, smoked "rattes" (white fingerling potatoes) surrounded by a bright-green parsley purée (the chef likes bright green sauces) and topped with minute crisp croutons and a "cappucino of pink garlic." Excellent!

Fourth course: Milk-fed veal sweetbreads, braised with dried fennel. That is, each serving-sized lump of sweetbreads was tied up into a bundle (or maybe a cage) of dried fennel stalks and braised that way. The little bundles of sticks were brought to the table still burbling in a skillet, and the waiter cut the lacings, removed the sticks and served the hot sweetbreads onto our plates. They were accompanied by braised fresh fennel bulbs and baby carrots cooked with lemon and gingerbread crumbs.

Cheese course: David selected two blues (Roquefort and Fourme d'Ambert), then realized only later that he'd missed a chance to say "Allez les Bleus!" ("Go Blues," meaning the French soccer team) to the waiter. I chose Chaource, Valençay, and Rocadamour.

Pre-dessert: A cold blueberry compote topped with fromage-blanc-and-lime ice cream. It was served in a caviar dish—that is, a lower glass container designed to hold ice and an upper glass dish that nests into it to hold the food. They filled each lower glass with green-tinted water and dropped in a dry-ice chip, so the things arrived at the table smoking like volcanoes! The ice cream was great.

First dessert: "Raspberry ravioli" flavored with ginger. Vanilla ice cream and hot raspberry sauce on the side. On a separate plate, we each received four little macaroons, each a different flavor, stacked inside an inverted slender glass, as well as a small, hot, one-raspberry tart.

Second dessert: Little chocolate tarts with elaborate chocolate decorations accompanied by fresh-mint ice cream and foamed milk topping.

When we blenched at the sight of the chocolate trolley that followed the second dessert and assured the waiter that no, really, we didn't want any peach-flavored marshmallow, pistachio nougat, salted-butter caramels, or even any of his 6 flavors of chocolate, he packed an assortment for us in clear celophane and presented it to us in a miniature "Hotel Bristol" shopping bag to take home for later.

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