It was a gorgeous day today in Paris. Sunny, high in the low 70s. Perfect for walking around.This morning, like yesterday morning, I went for a two-lap run along the perimeter of the Luxembourg Gardens nearby. I loved feeling the bright late-autumn sunshine as I ran past the Luxembourg Palace and watched all the kids playing with their toy sailboats in the fountain. Thanks to From Paris to the Moon, seeing the Luxembourg Gardens makes me think of Adam Gopnik and his son, toodling around. It’s a charming, oh-so-Parisian kind of image, I think.
The highlight of today was our lunch at Chez Catherine, 3, rue Berryer, which is on a small side street that connects the Avenue de Friedland and Rue de Faubourg St. Honore.
The restaurant is sleek, but in warm colors of red and dark orange. I felt like I was at Craft Restaurant in New York. The décor is a far cry from the traditional lace-curtained-bistrot look that I remember from when Jon and I dropped by (in 2001) Chez Catherine’s old location near the Galeries Lafayette department store.
There are three smallish dining rooms. The second dining room you encounter while walking from the front of the restaurant to the back has views of the busy kitchen through a very trendy glass wall. If you go, try to sit in this second room. (We ended up in the third room, farthest back).
Despite appearing to be a magnet for suited business lunchers, the restaurant was extremely accommodating of 18-month-old Lauren. The maitre d’ set up set up a chair with an extra-high cushion for Lauren, and then the waiters gladly hurried up a plate of risotto and spinach that we custom-ordered pour la bebe (and didn’t charge us for it). It was also a tasty lunch – certainly for me, anyway. The rolls were hot with a yeasty crust and airy interior, so I couldn’t resist munching away on two or three of them, even though I wasn’t very hungry and had a two-course lunch ahead of me. Maybe I can partly blame my lack of willpower on the creamy, cheese-like butter that went so well with the rolls.I started with zucchini flower beignets served with a concentrated tomato-and-red-pepper spread, which were light and crispy and managed to preserve the flavor of zucchini. I love when something this delicate stays intact with all this dipping and frying going on.
And my duck with fig sauce was rare and salted the way I love, but balanced by the thick sweetness of the fig sauce and accompanying roast figs. The crispy, salty double-fried frites weren’t a shabby addition, either, and a refreshing glass of a 2005 Domaine des Entrefaux Crozes-Hermitage completed the goodness of my meal.Cathy’s fricassee de girolles (mushrooms) were tasty, but more a testament to the high-quality raw ingredients than anything else, and then her noix de Saint-Jacques d’Erquy (scallops) could’ve been great, but came with a passion fruit sauce that neither of us enjoyed very much. The sauce added sourness that masked (insead of highlighted?) the sweetness of the scallops.The lunch prix fixe was 42 euros for two courses, and the girolles and scallops carried supplement charges.
Our total for two was about 110 euros. I thought the meal was worth every penny, though Cathy agreed on the basis of the attentive, thoughtful service, rather than on the food. Overall, it was a delicious lunch, but I guess there is very little about it that was uniquely “French.” Once you get into a certain level of gourmet restaurant, your points of comparison are global, rather than country-specific. So in a lot of ways, our lunch at Chez Catherine might as well have been at, well, Craft Restaurant.
We walked off our lunch by heading southeast along the Rue de Faubourg St. Honore, lined with fancy shops – including a branch of Dalloyau, the fancy pastry-deli-shop. For no articulable reason, I am guessing Dalloyau’s goodies look better than they taste, but the cakes certainly look beautiful. As we got closer to the Place de la Concorde, we noticed a whole lot of uniformed officers directing street traffic, which I thought was funny. For example, in front of the Place Beauvau (Beauvau Square), there must have been five officers at a four-way intersection. Cathy pointed out that someone important must live in the gated entrance opening out onto the square, so I asked one of the officers, and she confirmed that the Minister of the Interior lives and works in the large palace beyond the gate.
Just a few steps further, we passed an even larger gated entrance – this time to the Elysee Palace, where the President lives and works. I thought it was funny that even after so many visits to Paris, not once have I thought to see the Elysee Palace. It’s like going to DC and not seeing the White House, perhaps. Or maybe this is a commentary on how many other attractions there are in Paris when compared to DC. OK, a more loyal thought is to say that nobody cares anymore about Paris’s political power!
After browsing an enormous Tod’s store just past the Elysee Palace, Cathy took Lauren home for a nap, and I sat in the Tuilerie Gardens by myself for a few hours, reading Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I grabbed a prime seat by the big octagon fountain and had a straight-ahead view of the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde and of the Arc de Triomphe further afield. The minute I stood up, a hovering guy swooped in on my seat – that’s how prime it was.
I was going to go to check out the Orangerie museum (newly reopened with snazzy Monet paintings), but I had to get home so that Cathy and I could take Lauren out for some quality Vietnamese food in Paris’s “Chinatown,” which is in the 13th arrondissement, near the Place d’Italie.
We hopped on the 27 bus and forty minutes later, we were sad to discover that our destination (the Chez Pim-recommended Le Bambou) is closed on Mondays, so we settled on the restaurant around the corner – Le Vieux Saigon, 104 avenue d’Ivry. It had a promising divey look, but the food was so-so. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. Cathy’s pho, my vermicelli and pork, and cha gio totalled 20 euros. At least it was cheap.