Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dreaming of France

Aloha readers and welcome back.

As you  know, I've been on the mend now for five months (tomorrow), with lots of writing and thinking time available to me between doctor visits and therapy.

This morning I drifted back to Paris as I sipped my morning cup of (yes, you guessed it) french roast coffee.

During our last long Paris visit (Fall of 09), we made it a practice to walk daily customarily to the grocery store each morning (in the french tradition of planning meals daily since a walk is necessary any way just to pick up one's daily bread).  In good weather, we would postpone the store visit and instead walk to the metro to catch a ride to see an exhibition at a museum or simply stroll the Seine enjoying the palate of fall color.

One afternoon, we enjoyed a visit to the musée du quai Branley where they had the most interesting Mayan and South American art exhibition, as well as a huge world-wide amateur photographic exhibition.   (You should know that visiting Paris in October/November means you'll be treated to the most wonderful art and other exhibitions at the Grande Palais, Petite Palais, and all the other myriad of museums in Paris.)  We spent so much time reading and learning all about ancient civilizations of South America and the photographic displays, that we forgot to have lunch.  It was about 4 p.m. by the time we finished and we were hungry.  We walked by several bistros and it was obviously the onset of the daily apéro gathering as sidewalk cafés--despite the crisp cold weather--were shrouded in billowy cigarette smoke rising from small circular tables of French amis huddled together in a din of conversation with hands clasped around tall glasses of Stella Artois (sort of like having a Bud in America).

We were too hungry to join the crowds for drinks, so we continued wandering and trying to figure out what is was that we wanted.  "I know!"  I said, smiling broadly in anticipation.  "Let's go have those tender little morsels of steamed mussels at Le Suffren!"  Returning the smile and delighted at the thought on this blustery day, Doug steered us to the nearest metro, quickly studied the map and before long we were climbing the steps of La Motte Picquet - Grenelle metro, not far from the restaurant.

This was not our first visit.  On another trip, we had also enjoyed the food at this restaurant.  The place is very Parisian and far enough from the Tour de Eiffel that it's not too touristy, serving mainly local apartment dwellers.  The hostess is friendly and the wait staff professional and friendly as well.  They also have a good and reasonably priced wine list, but their house wine is also delicious.

We opted for a bottle of Sancerre from the Loire region,  a crisp but dry white wine and ordered a dozen oysters on the half shell to start.  The oysters are brought in daily from the Atlantic and they are sweet, plumb and deliciously served with a light champagne sauce.  After quickly slurping down these delightful morsels, we ordered two small buckets of steamed mussels.  They serve mussels with a piping hot heaping plate of pomme frites, soft and fluffy on the interior and crisp on the exterior (how do they do that?).  The mussels nearly melt in your mouth, so tender and clearly recently caught.  There must be something about the cold Atlantic waters that makes them stand above the mussels we get here in the U.S. where mussels more clearly resemble rubber bands than tender morsels!

The most wonderful aspect of french dining out is the unspoken rule that when reservations are made at a restaurant the table is yours for the night.  That is, the waiter never ever brings the bill until you specifically ask for it: "L'addition, s'il vous plait," and then its not delivered right away.  It is perfectly acceptable and absolutely commanded that a customer to have an enjoyable dining experience, including the ability to simply sit back and visit after a meal without the waiter pacing the floor to move you out so that the table can be filled with someone else.  We think this has a lot to do with the fact that in America we're moved out of a table because the race is on to get as many tipping patrons as possible to sit at a given table in a given night, hence more money to the server.

Needless to say, the long slow pace of dining means there is always room for a bite of cheese to finish off that remaining piece of doughy/crisp baguette still parked at the side of your plate.  We selected a pungent small round of goat cheese and a soft ripe cow brie, followed by a shared caramel apple tartine with a dollop of creamy french vanilla ice cream.  Finally, after two hours of savoring this moment, we settled back for a bit before our final delight: a noisette (a shot of espresso in a tiny cup with a splash of hot milk).

With the metro just a few steps from the restaurant, we wrapped our woolen scarves up around our necks, buttoned up our over coats and strolled gently to the station where we caught another car to our cute two-bedroom apartment situate within the confines of the 15e neighborhood not far from rue de Commerce.  Just another delightful day, during a month's stay in Paris.

So, if you are ever in Paris and find yourself near the Grenelle metro stop, just keep walking toward Ecole Militaire and on the corner at 84 rue de Suffren you'll find a nice dining experience awaits you.

Next time I'll let you in on three more dining experiences, all within the 15e, all very small restaurants, but all amazingly delicious.

By the way, therapy is going well and I've graduated from a wheel chair, to a lift and place walker and now to a cane.  I can even walk around my kitchen (I just can't give up cooking) without a cane, always with my ortho boot in place, of course.

I may even share a quiche recipe given to me by my dear french amie, Liliane.  She was born in Lorraine, so she really knows how.  As she says, real quiche does not have cheese, only jambone!

Abientôt, Lennie