Saturday, 9 June 2012: Southampton to Paris (and CJ's news flash!)

Written 9 June 2012

birdsUp at 5:00 a.m. today, to catch our 7:15 a.m. flight to Paris-Orly. The taxi picked us up promptly at 5:30 a.m., and the trip to the airport was only about 15 min, so we had time to check in ("Sir and Madam, did you realize your passports expire in September? Let me just call headquarters." Fortunately, we'll be back in the U.S. before we infringe the limit imposed by France, which apparently won't let you in unless your passport is good for at least another three months.) at the FlyBE ("Fly British European") desk, go through security (really nice not to have to take off our shoes), and get some breakfast, even though the line for coffee and pastries was really slow. A particular bright spot was this lovely mural that adorned the ladies' room wall.

The flight was short and uneventful, though we picked up another hour's jet lag on the trip. We haven't been through Orly in decades, but passport control and customs were hassle-free, and the taxi ride to our hotel was cheaper than the one from Charles De Gaulle (36+ euros).

We rendezvoused with CJ at the hotel as planned (she'd already been there a couple of hours), left our luggage, and adjourned to a nearby café for a second breakfast. The hotel's elevator is broken, but they've put CJ on the ground floor and us just one floor up. The evening's restaurant had already called the hotel to confirm tonight's reservation, which of course the hotel knew nothing about, but as soon as we confirmed, the nice lady at reception called back and confirmed for us. Fine by me—I hate those reconfirmation calls, and that's one out of three down already.

Salade Auvergnate croque monsieur After very agreeable café au lait, we strolled the neighborhood until lunch time, when we settled at a brasserie just at the corner of our street. David had a salad Auvergnat (with lardons, hard-cooked egg, and grilled goat cheese, that last translated on the English menu as "grilled goat"), CJ got a croque monsieur with fries and a side salad, and I had a salad with goat cheese and some other cheese that was actually rather cheddar-like. Now David and CJ are napping (not my style), and we will reassemble for dinner.

Written 10 June 2012

Chez l'Ami Jean egg Dinner was at old favorite Chez l'Ami Jean, shown here as a backdrop for David and CJ. The photo was taken by natural ambient light as we left the restaurant at 10:30 p.m—it really stays light very late this far north.

The amuse bouche they brought while we studied the menu was another variation on their standard—dense, chewy country-style bread with a garlicky cheese and onion spread. The menu, as usual, was entirely incomprehensible, even though we read French. For example, when you "coeur de boeuf farci" you don't know what to expect; it could actually be stuffed beef heart or, as was the case last year, a large stuffed tomato of the "beef heart" variety. Or "Timbuktu produce"; that could be anything. And the menus is so large and elaborately decorated and festooned with foldouts, inserts, and paste-ons and littered with political and literary quotations, you can't always tell which writing is actually the names of the dishes. So, as usual, we simply searched it thoroughly until we found the 42-euro menu, neatly and cleanly printed on a 5x8 card, and set the rest aside. Even that could be a little hard to interpret.

For example, David's first course, show above on the right was called something like "coddled eggs 'bulots'." Bulots are small whelks, but the word could also mean small bubbles, so we thought it might be eggs cooked as small balls. But no, it was eggs whipped to a froth and baked on top of stewed, diced whelks!

My first course (not pictured) was a soup. It was listed on the menu as "mother somebody-or-other's soup," but we'd heard it described to another table as a shellfish soup, so I knew what I was getting. I was brought a soup plate with a little heap in the center of tiny croutons, finely sliced baby chives, and chopped peanuts. The waiter than came by with a large white china pitcher of rich rust-colored soup to pour over it, and he left the pitcher and came back to refill my bowl twice. CJ couldn't eat the peanuts, of course, so they brought a separate bowl with just chives in it so that she could have a taste.

tomato mackerel CJ's first course was descibed as a "tomato construction" with something incomprensible, and it turned out to be a slices of tomato layered with slices of roast veal in a foamy cream sauce, topped with a tangle of fennel sprigs and a strawberry. It came, unexpectedly, with a side dish of sizzling grilled filet of baby mackerel! Even more surprising, though, was that CJ said, "Oh, I get fish, too," and ate it! And didn't drop dead! Back in her teens, when she abruptly outgrew so many of her allergies, she still tested as strongly allergic to fish and to nuts of all kinds (except, as she has since learned, pine nuts), and she runs afoul of nuts often enough to know that that allergy is still alive and kicking. But this year, she began to wonder about the fish, so a few months ago, she tried a nibble and nothing happened. A few days later, she tried a bite, and nothing happened. By the end of that month, she was scarfing down, without ill effect, sushi of tuna, yellowtail, mackerel, and even (the one whose very fumes will put her mother in the hospital) salmon! So that's it—halleluja! —CJ has outgrown her fish allergy!

garnish beef For my main course, described as a "Parmentier" of beef cheeks ("Parmentier" always means potatoes), the waiter placed before me this plate with an attractive heap of spring vegetables—peas, broad beans, carrots, herbs, finely sliced onion—and a bowl of what looked like foamy cream sauce. At the right is the same plate after he had ladeled out of the foamy bowl this heap of meltingly tender braised beef in foamy potato cream and completely buried the mound of vegetables. As much again was left in the bowl, and I can't believe I ate the whole thing!

rabbit pork CJ go a heap of vegetables like mine, but then the waiter arrived with a half-gallon Le Creuset dutch oven from which he ladled this heap of braised rabbit and root vegetables. Again, a piece of rabbit and at least twice as many vegetables remained in the pot, and CJ polished off the lot.

David ordered the "porcelet" (piglet), and I'd say he got the best. The two pieces of pork had both been salted down for a few days and then cooked in different ways (the piece on the left is wrapped in bacon), and they were both out of this world. Both David and CJ got bowls of buttery, semiliquid mashed potatoes.

cheese CJ and I both ordered the rice pudding again, of course. The waiter tried to tell us they were all out, but when I said that I knew they could make another batch in less than an hour and that we would wait, he admitted he was kidding. We had, by this time, struck up conversation with the American folks at the adjacent tables on both sides and sold them on the rice pudding as well. (This morning, as promised, I e-mailed the recipe to the lady on my left; it took me a long time to track down the right formula, but I can now make it at home.)

David, knowing they would bring enough rice pudding for three (or maybe five), ordered this lovely and delicious Basque brebis, which comes with dark cherry jam. The brown object is a crisp meringue, one of a half dozen they brought as miniardises.

Another fine dinner from this surprisingly economical and wonderfully reliable restaurant.

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