Sunday, 10 June 2012: Monet and Morisot
Written 10 June 2012
Being able to eat fish wasn't the only bombshell CJ dropped. She also told us that Thursday, the night before she left for this trip, her mom went to the emergency room with all the symptoms of a coronary! Yikes! Her blood work came back looking good; she had not had a heart attack, but her blood pressure was sky-high, so they admitted her overnight for observation. CJ went to see her Friday morning (the flight to Europe was in the afternoon), and no further hard information was forthcoming, but everything pointed to her being discharged that day. So CJ caught her flight after making her parents promise faithfully to e-mail as soon as something was known.
This morning, waiting for the rest of the troops to come down to breakfast, I logged into the hotel's free wifi and duly found an e-mail from CJ parents saying that mom was home by the time dad got back from dropping CJ at Dulles and that all was well. Whew!
We had breakfast at the hotel, then set off by Metro (with just one epicycle; my fault) for the Musée Marmottan, on the western edge of Paris. David and I remembered it, from previous visits, as being 80% Monet with a sprinkling of other impressionists, but they must have put a lot of the Monets in storage, because at least half the area was taken up by a special (and excellent) exhibition of paintings by and of Berthe Morisot. In addition, we found a large collection (of which we have no memory at all; it may have been bequeathed to the museum after our last visit) of manuscript illuminations and a fair amount of later, hyperrealisitic painting and period furniture (including pieces shown in some of Morisot's paintings, many of which were executed in her own appartment). No photos allowed, more's the pity, but I fill in here with a photo taken in the Metro of a poster advertising the London olympics, purporting to show a classical statue of a very British-looking guy (modeled on Eric Idle?) lining up a darts shot. I got another (too revealing to be appropriate for display here) of a rather portlier guy lining up a billiards shot—his nose and a section of the middle of the cue are broken. The caption says, "The London Olympic Games 2012: London more London than ever." I'll watch for others in the series.
For lunch, we walked back up to the La Muette Metro stop and read restaurant menus until we spotted one we liked (called Tabac de la Muette, but it was also a salon de thé and brasserie). I had an "omelette paysanne" (with potatoes and lardons), CJ had a cheese omelette, and David got another "salade Auvergnate," which as you can see was entirely thatched over with slices of raw country ham. Underneath were, in addition to salad greens, lots of tomatoes, lardons, cheese, and boiled eggs.
The omelets were overcooked, and the yolks of the boiled eggs were pretty green, but a good lunch nonetheless.
Then back to the hotel to rest all our feet (and naps for the others). Dinner tonight at another favorite, Le Violon d'Ingres, just around the corner from our hotel.
Written 11 June 2012
The initial amuse bouche was, as it was last time, bread, butter, and salt (the slab of butter carved, as always, from a 20-kg cylinder standing on the sideboard). Then, with David's and CJ's glasses of champagne, we got three outstanding cheese gougères and three tiny puff-pastry pizzas.
First course, David: Fricasee of asparagus with tiny new onions and lardons and an egg roasted with fine sea salt. I'm not sure how the roasted the egg. Perhaps they lined mold with the salt, cracked the egg into it, roasted that, then turned it out salt side up on the plate.
First course, CJ: Asparagus. She chose vinaigrette over hollandaise, so (after I took the photo) the waiter ladled shallot vinaigrette over the whole thing.
First course, me: Sautéed foie gras of duck with a pain-d'épice crust (despite its name, which means "spice bread," it's actually a dense bread flavored only with honey and either orange or anise extract)nand baby carrots stewed and glazed with acacia honey. Yum!
Main course, David: Ravioli of langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus) and tarragon with diced tomatoes in "Armoricaine" sauce. David loves ravioli, and he's a sucker for Armoricaine sauce; the two together were irresistable.
Main course, CJ: Tournedos of beef crusted with cracked black pepper. It wasn't as tender as an American filet, but it had great flavor.
It came with the souffléed potatoes shown here. The waiter announced proudly that this was the only restaurant in Paris to offer them, and they are just what they look like—three dimensional, zeppelin-shaped potato chips—and they were delicious! I've read about the notoriously difficult process of making them, which requires slicing the potatoes to an exact thickness (which probably depends on potato variety, starch content, and age), frying them for a precise length of time at a (precise) low temperature, then, just before serving, dropping them into very hot oil (of a precise temperature) for a few seconds, where they magically puff like pita breads. The only other time we've had them, in a famous New Orleans restaurant that is very proud of theirs, they were tough, soggy, and scorched in places, and only about half the area of each slice had puffed. These, on the other hand, were perfect—hot, crisp, sprinkled with just the right amount of very fine sea salt, and still tasting like potato.
Main course, me: An excellent boned skate wing roasted until crisp on top; thickly sprinkled with braised shallots, chives, and bits of lemon flesh; topped with caper berries; and resting on a bed of small "ratte" potatoes coarsely crushed with olive oil and more chives. To the edge of the plate, the waiter added two quenelles of ratatouille spooned from the little copper pot visible at the upper left. Delicious!
Dessert, David: A "millefeuilles" (Napoleon). The pastry layers looked like pâte à choux but tasted and shattered like puff pastry. It came to the table already layered with pastry cream, and the waiter then drizzled an exquisite salted caramel sauce over it and left the rest for David to use as needed. It was really, really good.
Dessert, CJ: A variation on a dessert David once had here: raspberries resting on a layer of mascarpone spread in turn on a meringe disk and the whole resting on a layer of tart lemon-lime jelly—a divine combination. The black thing is a decorative strip of vanilla bean.
Dessert, me: A black currant vacherin. A vacherin is traditionally a crisp meringue case filled with a flavored cream— in modern times, usually an ice cream. Also in modern times, the meringue usually consists of pieces stuck onto the filling rather than a container for it. This one was a disk of meringue topped by a cylinder of black currant ice cream, topped in turn by a thinner layer of thick black currant purée, then another meringe disk. Some smaller strips of meringue were stuck onto the sides, and the whole thing was then clad in a ruffled layer of whipped cream. And just for good measure, strawberry halves and mint leaves were placed on top. Another really, really good combination.
Can you tell CJ and I are having a good time?
Once we'd polished off the desserts, just in case we hadn't had enough to eat, the waiter brought us three salted house-made caramels and three freshly baked madeleines. We tasted them and then wound up eating them all, because they were so good.
It was still quite light out when we left the restaurant, so we strolled down toward the Eiffel Tower. It wasn't illuminated yet, but the golden glow-lights came on as we watched. Because it was only five minutes to the hour, we waited until the hourly sparkle cycle started. I took a couple of photos without flash, which were okay, but this one with (accidental) flash actually came out better. The flash did nothing to illuminate the scene, of course—the tower was much too far away—but it fooled the camera into darkening the sky, turned the leaves to sillouettes, and generally made a much more dramatic photo.
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