Archive for October 18th, 2006

Le Comptoir exterior

This morning, Cathy, Lauren and I visited the Tuesday market at Place Maubert Mutualite.Kitchen at 60 rue des EcolesThe market was so-so. There was a mix of fresh produce (which of course you don’t get to pick out yourself), weird schlocky jewelry and clothing stands, and then gross tourist stuff (aka polyster tablecloths in “Provencal” colors).

The produce was fresh, though, so I picked up a few girolles (chanterelles) and cepes (fresh porcini) at 15 euros/kg, thinking I could whip up a meal tonight and make use of the apartment’s pretty nice kitchen (see photo at left).

I had lunch by myself today at Le Comptoir du Relais, 5, Carrefour de l’Odeon (, much-reviewed by Chocolate & Zucchini, the New York Times and Chez Pim, among others. It was a five-minute walk down the Rue d’Ecole de Medicine from our flat, so I figured if it turned out to be impossible to get a table, it wasn’t a huge loss of my time.

The restaurant exterior is modern-day bistrot – large awning and small round sidewalk tables and cane chairs. The interior is surprisingly tiny – there are probably no more than ten tables inside.

Just as I arrived, a couple had gotten up from an outdoor table, so that’s where I plonked myself down. I was sitting snugly between a couple who’d brought their baby asleep in a pram and a white-haired couple who spoke Spanish to each other. I was, of course, excited to see what my neighbors were eating, and everything on their plates looked delicious.

The couple with the baby had ordered braised pork shoulder, which looked particularly hearty and tasty (I love that thick layer of fat and skin after a long braise), but I decided to order the crème lentilles soup as a starter, and it sounded heavy duty enough that I decided to go with a “lighter” main course of seared tuna (served bleue).

The soup was indeed very rich, with creme fraiche and slices of foie gras that managed to stay intact long enough for me to fish them out with spoonfuls of meaty lentils and chewy tapioca pearls. The soup alone made a filling and savoury mealcreme lentilles soup.There was a mix-up with my main course, and at first I was served the braised pork shoulder that I’d been admiring at my neighbor’s table. I briefly considered keeping the pork, but having already filled up on (effectively) foie gras soup, I decided to get the waitress’s attention (a challenge because she was the only waitress in the place) and make the correction back to my seared tuna.

The tuna was rare in the center and flavorful, but the roasted vegetables with tapenade sitting on top of the tuna had seen better days. It all tasted good, but I think during the mix-up, my dish was sitting on a warming plate somewhere, so the asparagus and the snow peas had started to wrinkle.

I’d go back – at the very least to check out the desserts or maybe that braised pork shoulder dish. The total for my soup and main course was 30 euros.

I had grand plans to wander around obscure galleries at the Louvre, but of course Louvre Courtyardthe museum is closed on Tuesdays. (I was wondering why the Louvre courtyard looked so empty – I had figured it was 3:30 p.m. and maybe all the tourists had already come and gone in the morning).  No big deal, though, as I still have three more days in Paris to satisfy my need for aimless walking in a big art museum.

I enjoyed watching this (specially-designed, I assume) robot climbing the glass surface of the pyramids to do some cleaning. Pyramid cleaning robotIt’s like a motorized squeegee with rubber suction feet, maybe? I have no idea how it crawls around on the glass so smoothly, but it’s fun to watch.

I walked across the Tuileries again thinking I would, definitely today, see this newly-opened Orangerie museum. Despite the sign claiming that it’s open every day (ouvert tous les jours), the museum was closed! I was baffled, but oh well. I’ll chalk this sort of unreliability up to the handy scapegoat adjective of “Frenchness,” I guess.

Having made a solid effort at cultural activities today, I hopped on a bus running down the Blvd. Saint Germain Bon Marche interiorand spent a few hours marvelling at the goods for sale at the Bon Marche, rumored to be the first department store in the world and still going strong. The name in French means “good deal,” which could be true, I guess, if you think that the French Neiman Marcus is where you should go for good deals.

On the housewares floor, I was glad to see that you can buy sugar cubes that come in the shape of little ducks. I imagined watching little sugar ducks swim around in your coffee or tea, slowly dissolving away. In general, I wish I could disdain these sorts of overpriced bits of silliness, but sometimes the silliness is better described as happiness-inducing charm.

Next door to the Bon Marche (and connected via a skywalk) is the department store’s ginormous gourmet food hall, known as La Grande Epicerie. I didn’t get to spend much time there before heading back to the flat, but I was pleased to pick up some skimmed milk, which has proven hard to Le Grand Epiceriefind in Paris. If it’s edible, you’ll find it a la Grande Epicerie – a comforting thought.

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