europe,  france,  gastronomy,  travel

Gastronomical adventures in Paris – Day 21


Our room at Hotel du Nord was much the same as the room we had the last time we stayed there—that is to say, small, sparsely-furnished and functional. It did, thankfully, have a fan, which we kept blasting at us for most of the night. We awoke and got ourselves ready for our only really full day in Paris (as many things would be closed for the holiday). We headed downstairs to a nearby boulangerie to pick up our breakfast, and D made a pit stop for coffee. We were soon on the metro, headed to Ile-de-la-Cité to get a glimpse at Notre Dame. We had both seen it, of course, but we thought it would be nice to have another look. There was some talk of going inside, but as we approached the square, we prudently decided against it, as the queue out the door was ridiculously long. So we stood outside and admired its flying buttresses and ornate architecture, before crossing the bridge to the Left Bank.

In my research, I had come across solid reviews for a restaurant nearby that I suggested we go and look for. We leisurely walked along the Seine, until we realized we were actually going the wrong way, and leisurely walked in the other direction. It should’ve been relatively easy to find, but unfortunately we missed seeing the little street as we walked Boulevard Saint-Michel, so we ended up walking back and forth for a time. We eventually found the right street, and nearly sat down in the wrong restaurant, which was similarly named. At long last, we were seated at Bouillon Racine, a delightful space that had been around since the 1900s. The owners had restored its original Art Nouveau stylings, and it looked superb. But crucially, we were there because I had spotted spit-roasted suckling pig on the menu, which I knew would be a must for D. We had our usual Kir aperitifs, before settling on our lunch choices. D would of course have the pig, while I opted for the duck confit with mashed potatoes and crème brulee for dessert. The little pig did not disappoint—D described it as sweet and tender, and well-balanced by the stuffing. And it carefully crept its way up to the top of the Top 5 food ranking we’d been compiling. My duck confit was also very tasty, particularly its crispy skin. D sat across from me, making joyful faces and yummy noises at his stuffed piglet. We eventually started chatting with the older couple next to us from Australia, as it was very evident to both of us that everyone spoke English. We chatted for awhile about travel plans and general immigration policies (oddly enough) and said our goodbyes, as we finished up our dessert.

We decided to do a little reconnaissance work for the fireworks the following day, so we walked down to Pont Neuf and crossed the river. We walked along the lower boardwalk by the Seine with a hefty following breeze that kept things nice and cool. The Eiffel Tower and Musée d’Orsay came into view, and we sat down to discuss our game plan. I wanted to see the Louvre again, so we went up the walkway and crossed the street to enter the courtyard in which sat the gargantuan museum. We wandered through, admiring the ornately-carved façade and its fountains. We eventually made it back to the street and walked through a crowded shopping district, before taking a brief reprieve in a McDonald’s to use their WiFi. D had found a cheesemonger several blocks north, so we decided to try and find it. It was an area I hadn’t wandered through in my previous trip, so we stumbled across a rather sizable church, Saint Eustache and a large urban park. We first popped into the cheese shop and chatted with the fellow for awhile, sampling different cheeses, before settling on a small selection. D and I wanted to have something to snack on tomorrow when we went to wait for the fireworks. On our way back to the metro, we stuck our head in Saint Eustache. It was a gorgeous cathedral inside—with ornately painted sections, stainglass and wood carvings. D commented that if Notre Dame hadn’t been around, this place would see a lot more traffic. We made the mistake of heading home via the Les Halles-Chatelet metro station, which was the busiest and craziest station we’d been to. We eventually made it back to the hotel, where we quickly changed into our nice outfits for our fancy dinner.

My head was throbbing from the heat/crowds when we headed out the door again. We had reservations at La Grande Cascade, in the Bois de Boulogne just outside the main ring of Paris. We took a metro line (which was mercifully air-conditioned) to the last possible stop and assumed we’d grab a cab to go the rest of the way. Rather distressingly, we didn’t seem to see many cabs once we exited the metro station. We wandered around trying to find one, until eventually we managed to flag one down. It was only a short drive through the woods before we were pulling in front of La Grande Cascade. It was an absolutely gorgeous space, inside and out. They seated us on the terrace in front of the restaurant, as there was no air-conditioning inside. D and I had been to our share of fine dining restaurants in Vancouver, but we were already getting the sense that this was an entirely different league. We met a wave of tuxedo-clad waiters upon entrance who ushered us to our table. We were perhaps one of the first people there, so we weren’t yet able to gage the rest of the clientele. We knew something was amiss when they brought what looked to be a small footstool for my purse (so it wouldn’t have to sit on the floor). They rolled out a circular cart lined with bottles of champagne and asked for our choices. We timidly picked our champagne, while they handed out the menus. I was rather dismayed when I didn’t see any prices on mine (worried that it was “if you have to ask, it’s too expensive” kind of restaurant), only to discover that they had slyly given D the priced-out menu. Old school! Other guests had begun to arrive, and D noted that they all were keeping their suit jackets on, so D bravely (stupidly?) put his back on and of promptly began to sweat profusely.

Our champagne was suitably delicious—D mentioned it harkened back to the champagne we had at Hy’s after he proposed—and they brought a little amuse bouche to go with our champagne (a breaded and baked fish paste ball). We worked our way through the menu, asking our main waiter (we had several) for a few translations. They then brought out another amuse bouche, lightly breaded squid fried in olive oil along with zucchini, tomatoes and onions. I even ate it, mostly because I feel this compulsion to eat everything that’s put in front of me in fine dining situations, and it was delicious. It was entertaining to watch the dance of finely-manicured waiters, swooping in with water, wine and cutlery changes. We noticed that they placed cutlery face down on the table (which, upon enquiry, is apparently English-style). Soon, our first course arrived—D had chosen a dish involving soft poached eggs, peas and cepe mushrooms in some kind froth of fat, and I (not surprisingly) went with foie gras, that came with an almond-milk gelatine. Evidently, D’s appetizer was delicious, in that he kept waxing poetic on the joy of his mushrooms and even how perfectly his peas were done. He marvelled at how something so seemingly simple (just eggs, mushrooms and peas) could be so sublime. My foie gras was similarly scrumptious. We had ordered off the daily set menu, so our menu also came with a glass of wine with our appies and another with our main course. We sipped on our wine, as we evaluated the other patrons.

D’s main course was an English-style pot pie of pigeon, very similar to Yorkshire pudding in that it was meat and gravy stuffed in a flaky, pastry shell. He described it as being dense and extremely meaty for a bird. Mine was filet of something akin to sea bass presented in rolls that had been breaded, along with what the waiter had termed “green beans of the sea”. Both were flavourful and tasty. While we were waiting for dessert, I noticed a remarkable thing being rolled out onto the terrace—someone was ordering a cheese plate, and they had two trolleys for cheese (“portable cheese heaven”). These marble-topped trolleys were strewn with two or three dozen types of cheese. D flagged the waiter down and asked to have cheese before our dessert. The waiter named the different cheeses for us, and we picked out a selection of 6. Already fairly full at that point, we slogged through our delicious cheeses before our dessert came out. My dessert was a chocolate ganache which was absolutely divine, and D had a fruit medley (watermelon, frozen strawberry juice, etc.) in a tart kiwi sauce. D had rather decadently decided to conclude the evening with a dram of Scotch (16 year old Lagavulin), which was surprisingly potent for its age. We eventually obtained our bill, which was about what I had been anticipating (more or less), and they called us a cab. All in all, though slightly intimidating at first, it had been a truly charming evening, with impeccable and attentive service and deliciously-crafted food in an enchanting setting.

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