A Year In Food

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

Friday, October 21, 2005

Sept. 12.

Paris, Part Five - It was my last day in Paris, but it was also a perfect one. The morning started with a last visit to Champion, where I bought a jar of traffic cone-orange roe dip and split a truly excellent black walnut bread. The bread's darkness and its nutty crunch contrasted vividly with the smooth lightness of the fish eggs. From there, I went strolling through Montmartre and tracked down a copy of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. Verses in hand, I walked down to the Tuileries, Paris's most famous and stunning jardins. Kids were steering toy boats on the water, families of ducks were waddling by, the sun seemed to bless the benches with haloes. I started to translate the first poem, "Au Lecteur," grappling with the fluid argot. The more lines I trudged through, the more enchanting the process became. Coupled with the grandeur of the Tuileries' sculptures and the serenity of the scenery, the moment felt ideal.

Continuing my downward trajectory, I headed south over the Seine and back into Montparnasse. My goal this time was to visit the Café de Flores, a spot on Boulevard Saint-Germain all the Left Bank intelligentsia used to haunt. Camus and Picasso for example made frequent appearances, but most meaningfully to me, Sartre penned Being and Nothingness among the same walls too. As soon as I walked in, I knew my environment had drastically changed, the crowd more Michelin three-star than unwashed backpacker. Still, a bowtied waiter with slicked back hair welcomed me warmly as I took a seat against the wall to study the businessman thumbing through Le Monde or the elderly regular in the beautifully tailored suit who every waiter chatted with when they saw him. I ordered an eclair and a cappuccino and broke out the Baudelaire again. For the next few hours, I sipped my coffee and nibbled at the pastry, untangling tenses or scribbling in my notebook. The experience brought on another onslaught of euphoria, even after my waiter produced the sixteen-euro check.

Finally, at eight, I reconvened with Vince for dinner. After so many days of saving at supermarkets, we were going to have our first splurge meal of the trip. The place I'd picked was Dix Vins, which L'Express picked as the best bistro under thirty euros. Located on rue Falguière, it felt like a quintessential Parisian bistro with dim lighting, simple but inviting decor, and a prix-fixe menu filled with familiar but thoughtful classics. Called the Divine Formule, it offered three courses, an appetizer, a meat course and cheese or dessert, for twenty-four euros. I started, as the restaurant's name aptly suggested, with a glass of wine. I chose a Corbières, and turned my focus to all of the prix-fixe's delectable options.

I inaugurated the dinner with the pâte du campagne maison, or pâte of the country house. Nutty and firm, it threatened to revise everything I thought I knew about pâte, managing somehow to taste both novel and traditional. Next, I proceeded to the entrecôte, or steak, which came at a two-euro supplement. I was more than happy to pay when I took the first bite of the meat. This dish needed no ingenuity, just quality beef cooked with deep, masterful flavor. Since it was French, l'entrecôte was also slasher-flick bloody but it worked well here.

With my wine running low, the waitress-owner brought over dessert. I had picked the tarte citron, or lemon tart, which was at least as tart as it was lemon. The triangular sliver was a cleansing if slightly too simple end to a terrific meal in a very soothing ambiance. For me, the dinner proved well worth the splurge and even better, Dix Vins gave a perfect city, the city of cities, the close it deserved.


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