A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Sept. 9.

Paris, Part Two - Paris is overwhelming, with temptations large and small. A walk down the street can yield the scent of a profound gruyere. A walk down another street can put you at the foot of the dazzling opulence of the Opera House. At some point, it becomes easier to seek out the unappealing streets than the majestic ones, when nearly all of the city's channels seem swelled with magic.

Our morning started at the Basilica Saint-Coeur, the lovely, tourist-teeming house of worship quite close to our hotel. At the top of a hill, it overlooked the vast miles of metropolis below, just as its residents were starting to go about their days. From there, we hit up the Champion supermarket, where I stocked up on a cheap pre-packaged Brie, a wheat bread with walnuts and raisins, and two Royal Gala apples. I generally don't like apples plain but I love pairing them with Brie. Besides, something about those red- and yellow-dappled orbs proved irresistible. So the breakfast, though basic and quick, turned out pretty wonderful, with every component managing to impress.

Vince and I walked south afterward toward the 7th arrondisement, where all the major attractions awaited. Down by the placid Seine, we forewent the Louvre (I'd already paid homage to the coy Mona Lisa and amputated Venus on my last trip) and the Eiffel Tower in favor of l'Orsay. A museum dedicated to art from 1840 to 1914, it wowed me so much previously that I just had to return. I had to see the grandeur of the former train station, which houses the stunning and wide-reaching collection of Impressionism, Post-impressionism and Art Nouveau. Just like I expected, I was awed and inspired all over again by the constant waves of beauty.

After the museum, we headed down to Montparnasse, Paris's arty southern area. We were going to check out Ti Jos, which the ever-wise Anonymous recommended to me in my comments section. A creperie known for its ciders, it sounded like a delicious and very French dinner. Unfortunately, it didn't open until seven so Vince and I sat along the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet to wait. I memorized a few French verbs (most prominently, le cidre) and read a chapter of Tropic of Cancer. Then I looked up and bizarrely, saw my former East Village roommate Matt crossing the street. I called out to him and after the bewilderment wore off, I learned that he'd moved to Paris to study art. I had no idea he had left New York and he had no idea I'd left either, but here we were all the same on a random street in the city of lights. We agreed to reconvene after dinner and catch up.

But first, there was dinner. Ever since my previous visit to Paris, where I practically subsisted on street crepes, I longed for more of the thin, flat batter-skins. The ones I tried in New York (the Crooked Tree Creperie) were fine but didn't really compare. Now, after trying Ti Jos, I know how little even Paris's streets crepes compare to the real article. One sight of the woman cooking in the back, with her eerie resemblance to Whistler's Mother, should have given it away. We started by splitting a galette, a close cousin of the crepe, filled with ham, cheese and mushrooms. It had a great light texture coupled with a wonderfullz rich flavor. The warmth of the filling upped the ante even further. Next, I had a Great Marnier crepe, which came flambée. Our jovial waitress brought over the dish as the dancing flames engulfed it. Everyone in the restaturant, all locals incidentally, turned to watch. The woman at the next table put down her menu and informed her husband she'd order the same thing. It was a smart move as the Grand Marnier crepe was even better, with a sweet, alcohol-spiked heat radiating through the lightly charred perimeter. To make the whole meal better, I of course also had un verre du cidre de maison. It was so much better than the weak American ciders I'`ve tried. This was closer to a beer, with enough apple flavor to make it pleasant but enough heartiness to savor. My one reservations about Ti Jos, or creperies more generallz, is that they end up being somewhat expensive for the amount of food you eat. Still, the price of about sixteen euros for a truly terrific meal was still well worth it.

True to my word, I called up Matt and we met back on Boulevard Edgar-Quinet. He told me about his few weeks in Paris and about his art classes. I rhapsodized about the city and how it had such an intrinsic culture of beauty. Not knowing French, he still seemed unsettled and lonely. We talked about homesickness and being a foreigner. After wandering for a half hour, we found a bar that looked cheap. We both ordered pints of wheat beer and looked at each other with surprise when the glasses came. They were much bigger than we were expecting and the price had risen accordingly to match: nine euros per person. He was a poor student and I was a poor traveler, so we did what we had to. He looked left, I looked right, I gathered up my notebook, and we took off running. Later, he called up his friend Meg, another American studying art here. She supposedly lived a block away from Jacques Chirac on the Rue de Babylone, so we took the Metro down there. Meg, her roommate, Matt and I sat around and drank Kir Royale out of yogurt jars and talked and laughed, carefree and happy.


Blogger Mona said...

Oh man, how long were you in Paris? Had I known you were headed there I would have given you a few recommendations. I lived there for 3 years when I was younger and have made it back more recently a couple times. One of my favorite more places is Chartier, a huge REAL Paris bistro. An all-male waitstaff in their crisp white button-ups and big black aprons, and sharing tables with real Parisians...it felt like we were dining in another era...loved it!

12:28 PM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...

Too bad I missed it. I was there for five days in early September. But the good news is that I am hoping to move there after California so I may get to use them yet.

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad you liked Ti Jos ( I was the anonymous recommender)... it makes my mouth water just reading your post. And you are totally right-- I eat at the crooked tree to just try to bring back Paris but it's not the same, not even close. :(

10:09 AM  

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