Sunday, June 27, 2010

Discovery of New Tastes

Discovering a new taste combination is like discovering a new world. Sometimes it is mixing the delicate with the bold or the sweet with the savory that makes us brighten our eyes and smile. It doesn't jar our senses, but just makes us happy to bring it to light. Last month, my friend Nancy and I had a day of discovery in Paris. We made our way to the BHV department store and as we wandered around the crowded store we noticed there was a big sale going on. In Paris, sales are state regulated and are only 2 times a year. With the economic downfall, the government has relaxed the laws somewhat, and you'll never know when they are to happen. Well, we were glad they were happening that day. A loosened wallet is a loosened spirit! I found a delicate silk scarf with a bold color and some chunky, pearl beaded jewelry. The wallet opened and the spirit lifted :-) A white scarf with a flow of ruffles had Nancy's name on it! We were looking forward to more discoveries during our dinner. Reservations were at 7:30 at L'Agrume for a 5 course tasting menu. So, wearing my happy scarf and pearl bracelets we arrived hungry and ready for what the chef was preparing that evening. We were greeted warmly and seated at a table by the window. A dish of olives came quickly as we were asked if we wanted an apperitif.For the tasting menu, there are no choices to be made. The portion size is reduced for the 35 euro, 5 course dinner. Owner/chef Franck Marchesi-Grandi prepares what is freshest from the market daily and co-owner Karine Perrin cheerfully serves it. There is a counter where a small group can watch the chef prepare the food in an open kitchen. Next time I want to sit there. Nancy and I were at a raised table and could still see some of the magic happening. This local restaurant was recently written up in the New York Times, so you need reservations to get in since it fills up quickly. Being noticed by a large international paper can be a double edged sword. We had a loud American next to us who detracted from our experience. Subtlety and discretion were not her strongest attributes! Once we were settled in, a menu with full descriptions was presented so we could anticipate what was to come. That day there were three fish courses and one duck course along with two desserts. I didn't get a picture of the duck...it miraculously disappeared before my camera! Yum! All of the courses were artistically, but naturally presented. The combination of flavors was inventive. Even though this was a tasting menu with reduced size, the portions were perfect. And a menu with 2 desserts on it is my cup of tea! The panna cotta was good, but the star of the desserts was the Peach Compote with Basil. It was the surprise discovery of the peach and basil pairing that dazzled us, like a new world.I knew I'd have to make this at home.

L'Agrume
15, rue des Fossés Saint-Marcel 75005 Paris
01 43 31 86 48
Métro 5 Saint-Marcel, Métro 7 Les Gobelins 

Friday, June 18, 2010

The World in the Palm of Our Hands

I heard a gasp behind me as I walked along the Seine in Paris. The year was 1996. I turned around and saw my colleague, Diana with her jaw dropped and eyes wide open. "What?" I said. "It's Notre Dame, do you think....do you think we can go inside?" she asked with sheer astonishment. Sometimes we grow used to the beauty of a face, the way the sun catches a glint in the eye or bounces off of a child's lock of hair. The same can happen to our surroundings as they become the norm. My walks in Paris can regularly take me past places such as Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and other landmarks. Most often I am inwardly reflecting on the presence, beauty and historical significance as I walk around the city. I note the way the setting sun rests upon the architecture, the water and nature and soak it in with each breath. But this was Diana's first trip working to Paris and this wasn't the norm. She had just come over to the international operation and was along with the rest of us for the day. "Of course we can go in," we all agreed. We paused and relived the excitement of seeing and feeling the power inside this magnificent cathedral as the sun streamed in through the rose windows. The world seemed to be in the palm of our hands.

Yesterday, 14 years later was Diana's last trip after 42 years as a flight attendant. We were back in Paris where it's beauty had become the norm for Diana, but like me, she always inwardly felt the love and appreciation of this magical city as she walked around. It became a comfortable love as it grew from the bolt of lightning infatuation to an experienced passion. She had chosen this City of Light to mark the exit from her career as a flight attendant. We all wanted to celebrate by taking her out for dinner. We went to Bistro De La Muette, which was recommended by some of the crew. We arrived for our 7:30 reservation to a table set up near the outside on this beautiful evening.
Two of the flight attendants had ridden the Vélib' bicycles across the city to the restaurant and met us there. The waiter then brought us all a Kir Royale and we made a toast to Diana for a happy retirement. We chose from the 38 euro prix fixte menu which included an apperitif, 3 courses, a bottle of wine for every 2 people and coffee. The first course offered among other choices, Smoked Salmon, Foie Gras and a Tartare of Avocado with Lobster. The main course offerings were equally as appetizing. There were Lamb Chops with Thyme and Dauphinois Potatoes, Southwestern Roasted Duck with a Cherry Sauce and Fresh Tagliatelle, Steak and Frites, dishes with organic shrimp and much more. The desserts sounded so good that we ordered different ones and tasted each others. The Molten Chocolate Cake with Caramel was dressed with pretty pink spun sugar on top. The warm Apple Tart and sorbet had swirly, festive caramelized sugar decorations. The table next to us had Crepes Suzette with a flaming orange sauce. This was traditional French bistro fare at it's best, and the restaurant was packed. I think Diana felt like the Belle of the Ball on this last evening of her airline career, but her feelings must have been bittersweet. We paid the bill and made our way back to the hotel. Five of us took the Vélib' bicycles back for a late night ride, and 3 opted for a cab. The blur of the Eiffel Tower sparkled in the night as we quickly went by. We marveled at this jewel that had become our norm.

At the end of the flight home, as she bade everyone and her 42 year career good-bye, I gave Diana a token of remembrance.
She will always have the world in the palm of her hand!

Bistro De La Muette
10, chaussee de la Muette
metro: La Muette or Passy