Tuesday, June 4, 2019

One More for the Road!

It's the same every year. We arrive, thinking we have so much time to go to so many places, see so many things, visit with so many friends, eat at so many restaurants, etc. And then, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in our final week, running out of days. Happily, there has been time for a couple of good outings to share.

The intrepid cyclist in our family, and his friend Ed, set out on Sunday for a 35-mile ride out to the Canal de l'Ourcq, a Northern Parisian waterway that begins its life as the River Ourcq in Picardie, winds its way down toward Paris, eventually linking, via the Canal, to the Bassin de la Villette and on to the Canal St. Martin, and so into centre Paris and the Seine. Originally built by Napoleon to provide  drinking water for Parisians, it later became a major freight haulage waterway.

Today, only a small section is still open for commercial vessels, the remainder hosts pleasure boats, canoes, picnics on the banks...

  ...and many miles of beautiful, quiet, green, empty, woodsy bike paths! No wonder the "lads" decided to head up there this past Sunday.

 As well as the quiet beauty, the woods also provided some relief from the 90F hot sun!

Happily, back home, there were cold beers for the cyclists, a "citron pressée" for the non-cyclist (me), and a hug from the always affable Gerard at our favorite stop on the rue Montorgeuil, La Grappe d'Or, where hours can be spent at a front row table watching the world go by.

One of the things we've always loved about our neighborhood (2nd arrondissement) is that it's full of unexpected and delightful surprises. It's an old part of Paris, with history that goes back centuries. On quiet, narrow streets you'll come across something like this shop window on the rue Choiseul, with its softly lit interior visible through the windows.
Outside, displays of old-fashioned items in the windows catch your eye, a pin cushion that your grandmother probably had, or finely-tipped embroidery scissors and belt buckles. Just enough to pique your curiosity and urge you inside.

Once you enter, you find yourself in the oldest "mercerie" in Paris. It's what the English call a haberdashery shop, the Americans might call it a notions shop. Whatever the name, this particular one sells anything and everything you might need for sewing, for quilting, for upholstering, for embroidery. And it's been selling these items since the mid 19th century!

Looking for some thread to hem a skirt? I dare you not to find the perfect match here.

Need tassels for the window shade? Look no further.

Fringe for a hanging lamp? Here you go!

And ribbons that come in every conceivable color and width, silk, satin, cotton, grosgrain, embroidered, printed, displayed in rows that stretch the width, and almost the length of the store.

I come here often to look for kid-themed buttons for some knitted garment I'm making, and I never leave empty handed.

The selection is "beyond the beyonds", as the Irish would say!

Behind the main counter the walls are lined with shelves full of old, time-worn boxes that hold zippers in every size and color and style, cards of metal and plastic "snaps" and "hooks and eyes", boxes of needles and pins. They do take a credit card, but just barely. Sales are written up meticulously by hand on little sales slips.

Directly across the street from the mercerie is the UltraMod hat shop, owned by the same people who own the mercerie. The original family sold their interest sometime in the 1990s, which means the same family owned the businesses for over 150 years!

Here, there are shelves with hat molds of various shapes and sizes, and racks of fabrics to create some of the "fancies" and regular hats on display in and around the store.

Period sewing machines are still in use, mostly treadle style with needles to work with velvet or felt, tulle or silk.

In all the hustle and bustle of modern-day city life, it's such a pleasure to step back in time and breathe in the modes and mores of earlier years. I never get tired of coming here and sharing it with visitors!

And then there's the rue St. Marc, also in our neighborhood. It looks like so many other little side streets, but it, too, has some history. It was built around 1650, then extended in the year "5 germinal an VI", which is how the months and years were written in the early days of the French Revolution (it translates to 25 March 1798). The Duc de Choiseul-Amboise and his wife had a house and garden here. That would be the same Choiseul after whom the nearby street where the mercerie stands is named! A few painters, poets, composers and playwrights lived here -- Ernest Legouve, George Desvallières, Emile Paladihe, Jean-Louis Laneuville. History books tell us that at numer 10 rue St. Marc, the editor Auguste Sautelet, "s'y tire une balle a la tête" at 5 am on May 13, 1830!

Our interest in the rue St. Marc, however, involved much less high drama. The place we recently visited is at number 5 -- le Restaurant Clementine, which has been serving its delicious fare in the same place since 1906.

Today, the warm brown paint and gold lettering still offer a cheerful welcome. The current Maître Restaurateur, Franck Langrenne, has been in charge of the kitchens since 1993.

Inside, our  cosy corner table made us feel like we were visiting our favorite Aunt's home, the walls hung with personal prints...

 ...the windowsills full of comfortable "clutter"...

  ...and a pretty etched panel separating the eating area from the bar, with a charming sketch of "Tin Tin" himself making a sketch.

And the food? Outstanding! I began with nutty  turmeric coated toast, topped with melted goat cheese, surrounded with crisp beets, radishes and salad greens...

...followed by lieu jaune (pollock) on a bed of fresh vegetables, smothered with a shrimp sauce...

...and a plate of wonderful Corsican cheeses with a glass of red wine! What can I say, it was all so good we cannot wait to return.

Sadly, our return must wait until our next visit. We fly back home next Monday! But if anyone reading this is planning a visit here, we would certainly recommend paying the friendly folks at Restaurant Clementine a visit. You'll get a warm welcome and classic, delicious bistro fare.

Vive la France!

Au revoir!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dining Out

Eating out is one of the great joys of being in Paris. The choices are endless -- café or restaurant, large or small, pricey or bargain, ethnic or traditional. At the same time, there are so many tempting fresh fish, poultry, meat, fruits and vegetables stores in our little neighborhood that there is also pleasure in buying ingredients and cooking at home. Somehow though, in the last week, we seem to have been eating out more than usual, and along the way have discovered some new restaurants, and we've learned some interesting history.

Our first outing, last Thursday, was to an early evening author event at the Librairie de Paris, a large bookstore at the Place de Clichy.  Here, we joined a friend who was hosting a group of writers to celebrate the publication of a new book, to which they had all contributed.

It's a clever idea -- Dictionnaire des Mots Parfaits -- a compendium of some 50 writers' choices of their perfect words, and what each one means to them. Some entries are just half a page; some are two to three pages. Some are quite winsome, some serious, others are hilarious.

Stepping outside following the event, we found ourselves in the middle of the sprawling Place de Clichy, which is in the northwest corner of Paris. Four arrondissements meet there at a single point: the 8th, 9th, 17th and 18th. Dominating the square is a 14 meter tall monument dedicated to the Maréchal de Moncey who, in 1814 at the end of the first French Empire, led the defense of the city against the tens of thousands of soldiers, mostly Cossacks, who were marching on Paris.

The scene was captured by the painter Horace Vernet. De Moncey, on horseback, pulled together some 15,000 volunteers at the Barrière de Clichy (one of the gates of Paris), including students from the École polytechnique and the École vétérinaire. In spite of their inexperience, the men managed to hold off the approaching armies until an armistice was reached.  Under Napoleon III, in 1869, the monument we see today was installed in the middle of the Place. A tall, steely-eyed, robed figure, representing the city of Paris, glares sternly out at the invading armies, holding an eagle aloft, with the Maréchal in front brandishing his sword, and fallen men surrounding them. It's a pretty severe and somber monument!

After absorbing all that history, it was definitely time to find a good place to eat. Anchoring one corner of the Place, we spotted Wepler, a classic Parisian brasserie/oyster bar that dates back to the 1920s.

During the day time, you can browse the selections on display outside and pick your own oysters to take home.

We chose to stay and try it out, and because it was only 8 pm -- early for Parisian diners -- we had a corner of the restaurant almost to ourselves.

At the next table, a couple from Sweden were celebrating his 50th birthday. He told us that work mates had chipped in enough money to send them to Paris for a weekend! They went for the full platter of "fruits-de-mer": lobsters, oysters, crab, clams, winkles, even periwinkles!

We, rather more modestly, started with six oysters from Utah Beach, Normandy, because we visited that beach a few years ago, and there will be serious events next month, both in England and here in France, to honor the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings, D-Day.

The oysters were large, juicy and delicious and this bottle of wine from the Loire Valley was the perfect accompaniment!

Two nights later, we found ourselves at another new-to-us restaurant, the delightful Chez Vincent on the rue St. Georges in the 9th arrondissement. Family run since the early 1970's it offers traditional Italian dishes, and a warm Italian welcome from the owner/maitre'd.

Small and cosy, with red-checked tablecloths and a wall full of photos, we were (again) among the early birds, although it soon filled up as a big squally rain shower soaked the streets and sent people running inside for cover and for supper!

No printed menus here, just chalk boards with the daily offerings listed in classic French handwriting. Matthew went for the "Trio d'aubergines siciliennes" for his entrée, followed by a "Côte de veau"...

...whilst I went straight for the "Ravioloni ricotta di Buffalo et épinards"...

...and we shared a "tiramisu" for dessert, so good! We will definitely return. Almost best of all, the squally showers stopped, we walked half a block, and caught the #74 bus that stops almost at our door. Perfect evening!

Believe it or not, on Friday night -- in other words, between those two delightful restaurant experiences -- we had an early and substantial supper at another famous Brasserie, the Brasserie Lipp on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Founded in 1880 by a couple from Alsace, Léopold Lipp and his wife, Pétronille, the restaurant first gained fame for its entrée "cervelat remoulade" -- a sausage bathed in a garlic-mayonnaise sauce -- and a serious main course, "choucroute garnie" -- a platter of cabbage, sausage, salted meats, saurkraut and potatoes --  and, not to be outdone, another main dish called "pied de porc" -- pig's trotters! All served with the finest beers.

137 years later, it is still an icon in that part of Saint-Germain, and the current Maître'D, in his formal black suit, crisp white shirt, and black tie, is always ready at the entrance to welcome you.

Inside, the interior is pretty dazzling. Decorative panels, gleaming mirrors, elegant light fixtures, freshly laundered white tablecloths, leather-covered banquettes...
...and old-fashioned (and quite elderly!) waiters -- men only -- in their white aprons, bow ties and ready smiles! The average length of service is nineteen years, but I imagine several have been there much longer. The restaurant does not accept cheques, and they don't serve soda of any kind! They do still have a great selection of beer and, of course, wines.

Dotted around the restaurant, signs from an earlier era still catch your attention. I especially loved this one, politely asking pipe smokers to refrain from spreading their perfumed tobacco around the restaurant...

...and this one, requesting clients -- in the interest of hygiene -- not to feed their dogs in the restaurant, nor to allow the dogs to climb up on the seats!

At the Brasserie Lipp you get an old-fashioned, printed menu, with specialties of the house highlighted in red.

I chose this plate of delicious herring and sliced onions over a bed of warm yellow potatoes. It was enough for a full meal, but I had also ordered...

...fish pie for my main dish! I liked the way the slice of toast took on the appearance of a jaunty sail on top of the browned mashed potatoes (lots of potatoes at this restaurant!)

Meanwhile, Matthew opted for the traditional route:  a plate of six escargots...

...followed by the top specialty, the "choucroute garnie"! I think he was channeling his friend, Walter Bernstein, who makes a mean "choucroute" himself in his Manhattan kitchen.

There was no time for dessert or coffee this particular evening, as we were due to be across the street at l'Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés for a concert at 8:30 pm. One of the oldest Romanesque churches in France, Saint-Germain was founded by King Childebert I as an abbey in AD 558. The village of Saint-Germain grew up and flourished around it. After the Normans destroyed the abbey in the 9th/10th centuries, it was rebuilt during the 11th and 12th centuries and that is pretty much the church as we see it today, with some restorations along the way. The abbey buildings behind and alongside the church were destroyed during the French Revolution.

It's been a while since we've attended an event there, so we were astonished and delighted to discover it is the midst of a huge restoration. The main nave is complete, the side chapels are still being worked on and were blocked off. The soaring arches, ceilings and walls are alive with bright colors, the stained glass has never looked so beautiful.

I spent most of the evening looking up at the detailed work in the ceilings, the dark French navy blue background and sparkling gold stars.

In the 19th century, the French painter, Jean-Hyppolite Flandrin painted the murals above the arches around the main nave. Here's one of Moses in the "altogether", parting the waters so the Israelites could escape, cleverly draped by a breaking wave!

As well as admiring the restoration work, we were also there to attend a concert given by Richard Galliano, the French "accordeonist extraordinaire", who drew a completely sold out crowd.

Galliano is considered the master of jazz accordian worldwide. His repertoire is a mix of jazz and popular music, feeding off French chanson and musette, American blues music, and Brazilian forro. We were treated to all variations of these in a foot-stomping, crowd-cheering recital. The audience could not get enough! He even included his riffs on classical music, like Debussy's Clair de lune. I can't wait to present his version of that timeless piece on my next classical show on KWMR!

After all that excitement and new finds in the restaurant world, we also managed earlier this week to have lunch at one of our local favorite bistrots, Le Gavroche, set on a quiet side street just around the corner from the big Agence France Presse building.

Here, you won't find many tourists at lunch time, the diners are either journalists taking a break from their stories, or other people who work in the neighborhood.

You also won't see the waiter writing your order in a notebook -- it gets recorded directly on the paper sheet that covers the red-checked tablecloths. We were three for lunch, so our order was quickly jotted down: 1 mignon (filet mignon) for our friend Emmanuel, 1 blanquette (de veau) for me, and 1 lamb chop for Matthew!

 It's amazing how delicious a simple lamb chop on a bed of green beans can be, in such a warm and friendly setting.

 Not to mention their famous "cheesecake" dessert to round off another divine "eating out" day!

And so it's been this past week -- just one mouth-watering experience after another! But, as I mentioned at the beginning, we are also so fortunate in having great resources for home cooking in our little corner of Paris. Yesterday, I went up to the rue du Nil and bought a Dorade (sea bream) from the fishmonger, some local Île-de-France potatoes and a striped zucchini squash from the greengrocer across from him, and voilà, a delicious home cooked supper! As Julia Child would say...

Bon Appétit!