A Year In Food

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

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sept. 11.

Paris, Part Four - All along, I had been saving myself like a Catholic waiting for his honeymoon. Sure, I had those splendid pastries in Madrid and the formidable tarte aux abricots in Nice, but I looked at those as mere foreplay, some clumsy under-the-sweater action that shouldn´t really count. This morning, I was ready for the real thing however, and so, bravely I marched up to a nearby Montmartre patisserie and joined the line scaling out the door. The odors of dough and cremes were more intoxicating than a spice market´s and the lineup of cakes, croissants and confections posed quite the choice.

I decided to go with the millefeuille, a classic dessert of flaky puff pastry interspersed with vanilla cream. It literally means a thousand leaves, in reference to its many layers. I then added the almandine, an almond-based pastry that tasted reminiscent of marzipan, and the tartelette pomme, or small apple tart. The result? Surprisingly underwhelming, to be honest. They were good to be sure, but they each had their faults. Trying the millefeuille, I realized it was the same thing as the Napoleon, Russia´s name for its version. That immediately pitted it against my aunt´s and grandmother´s creations, a battle it would inevitably lose. For me, the millefeuille´s undoing was its vanilla, which was too sweet and cloying. The almandine on the other hand was too dry and by the end, boring. The tartelette had no such evident flaws but it also failed to stun. All in all, it was a tough, faith-shaking turn of events.

Luckily, I had a surer bet to save the day. In this vein, Vince and I headed to the Ile St. Louis, a picturesque Paris island where Marie Curie used to live. After making a necessary stop at the Cathedrale Notre Dame, it was onward to Berthillon for ice cream. On my guidebook´s advice, I had ventured out to the oak-paneled glacerie seven years ago when I was last here and since then, I still periodically dream of those perfect scoops of pamplemousse and noisette. My new guidebook concurred, calling it the best ice cream in Paris but also the city´s ˝worst kept secret.˝ Even Augustin´s family loved it, chattering excitedly when we mentioned we´d be visiting the famed shop.

It was starting to mist as we approached, but neither that nor the long, curling line outside was going to stop me. More daunting was again making a choice between all the flavors. My first time up I went with a scoop of peche de vigne, or peach of the vine, and agnaise, also known as prune armagnac. The red peach boule had a rich, ecstatic depth to it, somehow more peach than peach. The prune armagnac, which I previously tried at Il Laboratorio in gelato form, was equally wonderful, with a nice balance of liqueur and fruit. Barely finishing my ice cream, I got back on line and this time, went with the cacao extra bitter and mirabelle, a small yellow plum. Again, the results were incredible, with the fruit flavors ultimately being my favorites. I was also so glad that after so long, this iconic eatery was still at the top of its form.

I was reluctant to leave Berthillon but we were also expected at Augustin´s for dinner. Then I realized we could unite the two pleasures by bringing his family a package of the shop´s beautiful macaroons. Walking from the Ile back toward the Champs Elysees, I took in all of the impressive sights we were passing. Then reaching the Rue de Bassano, towering Augustin greeted us again at the door and I struggled to relate our day´s adventures to him in a still-freshman level French. Again, we were welcomed to the cheerful family´s table and again, they produced a simple but heartwarming meal. Tonight, in addition to the croquettes and the meat plate, the main dish was an olive-topped pizza. I thought it was delicious but Vince seemed to love it even more. We laughed and joked, I tried to make a French pun, Constance told us about a tennis game she lost that day. I felt even less a guest and more like family. To round out the night, the Mom brought out the plate of the macaroons we had given them. They came in chocolate, vanilla and almond, and sure enough, they were all terrific. By the end, I felt almost spoiled by all the wonders I was experiencing and all the joy I was feeling.


Blogger Mona said...

Dang, they still have that ferris wheel in the middle of the tuileries? I thought that was just a temporary thing. So no more reports from Paris I guess :( if that was the last day you had to write about...that picture to the left looks delicieuse!

2:22 PM  

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