Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Paris, Part 1

I returned from France last week five pounds heaver. The weight came from my soul, which is still is still soaring . . . drunkenly. The trip was amazing, filled with countless extravagant meals and fabulous wines. I have struggled on how to blog about the trip, fearing that a litany of all the noteworthy feasts would be tedious. No one wants to read another rhapsody about how great French food is. I’ve read countless florid descriptions of a the satisfying crunch of a croissant’s light, buttery layers or rants about why the cheap table wine at a Parisian bistro is better than much of the swill we get in the States. I certainly don’t want to resort to the clichĂ© about how it is impossible to get a bad meal in France, despite the fact that my experience on this trip supported this theory. Still, I want to record all the great things I ate, if only to quiet my family and friends who keep asking when I’m going to post about France. So, I figured I would start with a post about my first dinner in Paris, and see how things continue from there.

My first dinner in Paris was at Le Duc, a Michelin-starred seafood restaurant that my brother recommended. The meal commenced with a heaping plate of bigorneaux (small snails).

Sometimes bigorneaux can be rubbery and bland, but these were tender and sweet. I dove right in, prying the sweet flesh from the shells and popping them into my mouth as if they were candy. Alex watched with loving admiration as I gorged myself, although I must admit that an onlooker unfamiliar with his expressions would have mistaken his look for horror. When he said, “Jenny, how can you eat that?” he really meant, “Behold what an exotic, adventurous fiancĂ©e I have.”

The next course should have been Le Duc’s famous raw fish platter, which is not on the menu, but is ordered by everyone in the know, according to my brother and sister-in-law. Alex and I were hesitant to try it, questioning the wisdom of ordering something that fails to test the chef’s ability to cook. We were also jetlagged and weren’t sure exactly what the raw fish platter was called in French. In whispers, we guessed that it might be called the plateau fruits de la mer, and even tried to look it up in the Michelin review of the restaurant, but in the end we were too shy. Alex chose the trio of smoked fish and I ordered the oysters plate from the menu. The smoked fish was uninspired. I was happy with the oysters, which were plump and not too briny, until the neighboring table was presented with a raw fish platter heaping with oysters, clams, shrimp, langoustines, escargots, and lobster. Futterneid is the German word for the devastating resentment that occurs when someone orders better food than you. Sure, the oysters were delicious, but futterneid diminished their sweetness. I jealously looked on until the table noticed my staring. There was a glint of triumph in their eyes when I went back to my meal; they knew they were dining better than I.

The next course was a sole meuniere, which was a little buttery for my taste. Likewise, Alex’s sea bass was swimming in butter. To me, fresh fish should taste of the sea, not of the land. While the dishes weren’t my favorite, I appreciated their Frenchness. Later in the trip, I would receive a pamphlet about entitled, “Butter: Healthy or Not?” The conclusion was a resounding yes.

For dessert, we had a rum cake that was much more about the rum than the cake. The waiter brought out a modest portion of pound-cake, and then poured about a cup of rum over the top. If that weren’t enough, he left the bottle on the table in case we were still feeling sober. That wasn’t the case, and after happily eating the dessert we stumbled back to the hotel to sleep off the meal. The trip was off to a good start.

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