paris: a moveable feast of grandiosity & simplicity, all in the same breath

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” — Ernest Hemingway

Having peeled ourselves out of our comfortable bed in Rye at the ungodly hour of seven-thirty in the morning (ungodly not so much for the actual hour, but from the enormous amount of jet-lag beginning to take firm hold and the enormous amount of English ale consumed the night prior), we packed up our wheelies and readied ourselves for the trip to France. The weather was, for the first time in our entire trip, chilly, drizzly, and dreary, and that in itself only amplified our cloudy heads. We headed along to Ashford International Station (gratefully accepting a door-to-door ride from Christian), where we were scheduled to depart on an early Eurostar train that would ferry us directly from the countryside to the Paris Nord train station, located smack in the middle of Paris. After gulping down some strong coffee, we boarded the train that was to ferry us into the Chunnel, under the English Channel, across International borders, and into the center of one of the world’s most celebrated metropolises. I swore up and down that I would need a nap as soon as we arrived, my body and mind exhausted from a seven hour time differential and a few very late nights, and spent most of the two hour trip contorting my body trying to find the best of the worst positions that are available to one who is attempting to snooze whilst sitting upright.

The ride was shockingly fast; I had no more even started to dream I was tucked into a cozy bed when I felt the speed of the train downshift as we lurched into the station. It was just after noon, and as we made our way out of the crowded station and into the city streets all thoughts of napping away the afternoon were eradicated immediately. It was a Saturday! And we were in Paris!! Never mind that the weather was still a bit tired and gray; we were in the midst of the most romantic city in the world, we were on vacation, and I was starving. Whoever said “you can sleep when you are dead” had it right on the mark in that moment.

We hopped into a black taxi, and impressively enough James was able to direct the driver to our hotel in confident and unwavering French, while I smiled and in my most charming tone said things like ‘merci beaucoup! and ‘oui oui monsieur!.’ We were staying in the 7th arrondissement, chosen for it’s central location and proximity to a family friends apartment that we would be visiting on Sunday evening. Our hotel, The Hotel Relais Bosquet, was simple, clean, and tidy, and perfect for our short two night stay. The staff was remarkably friendly, and all spoke English very well – a helpful thing when you are overly tired and are shaking cobwebs out of your head.

We plunked down our bags, washed our faces, and headed out for an afternoon of exploration and, most importantly, something fantastic to eat for lunch. As luck would have it, one of the restaurants we had heard about via our obsession with Anthony Bourdain, Les Cocottes de Constant, was just around the corner from our hotel. Les Cocottes is the most casual arm of Christian Constant’s four culinary outposts in Paris, however casual is a term I use very loosely here. Long, sleek, and skinny, the restaurant manages to merge modern and country style both in the decor and on each of the mouthwatering plates. Most of the redefined-rustic dishes offered are cooked and served in Staub’s small cocottes, and our lunches were no exception. I was treated to the most delicious piece of tender and buttery black cod, nestled atop a creamy potato puree and surrounded with a light truffle cream. James dined on a sleek take on beef stew, with yielding short ribs, perfectly al dente pasta, and an addictive broth. To start, we shared a plate of freshly picked white asparagus that made me understand just why the French are so proud of their famous and pale early spring stalks. We had our waitress choose us her favorite red, and she hit the nail on the head with a smoky and spicy syrah. The baguette that we had to start was like nothing I’ve tasted back home, and came with a little pot of French butter that was grassy and fresh, and studded with shards of delicate sea salt. To cap it off, a perfect cup of bracing espresso was served with a sugar cookie spoon for stirring. If this meal was any indication of how I would be eating for the next fourty-eight hours, I was going to be one very happy camper.

Camping in style a-la-Parisienne, naturellement.

After lunch, we walked the few blocks to the Eiffel Tower, and marveled at the thought that something so iconic of the city had once been considered hideous by her dwellers. The gray skies provided to be a very dramatic background for the massive sepia colored structure, and though I don’t doubt that she is a stunning sight to behold on a bluebird day, we were mesmerized by the steely contrast of her curved lines against the muted backdrop. We explored our neighborhood, walking lazily through the outdoor market two streets behind our hotel, and stopping in to buy bottles of French wine for a pittance of what they are sold for in the States. I found myself lingering at an open fish market with seafood so gorgeous, it gave me a longing twang in my gut even though we had just eaten. I stopped into the preppy French store St. James, and walked out with a navy blue rain coat whose blue and white striped insides would cheerfully remind me of Paris whenever I trudged through dreary weather. I debated over pastries, and ultimately decided on a sliver of Gateau Basque filled with pastry cream that would tide us over till supper. We arrived back at our hotel with just enough time to squeeze in a tiny nap before our ten o’clock dinner reservation, and took full advantage of putting our feet up for a bit.

At the recommendation of a friend, we had dinner that evening at Les Bouquinistes, a Guy Savoy restaurant tucked right up on the banks of the Seine. It was a very modern and formal setting, and though sometimes I can find restaurants like that stuffy, the food totally negated any stiffness detected in the quiet ambiance. I started with the creamiest foie gras torchon I had ever tasted, and followed with one of my favorite dishes of the entire trip: tagliatelle made with squid (so that the squid mimicked noodles, with no actual pasta involved whatsoever) over a squid ink risotto with lobster and truffled coral foam. I nibbled on James’ smoked salmon starter and sampled his expertly cooked beef tenderloin, thus confirming the fact that every single thing we ordered was lights-out delicious. I ate every last bite, including the delicious carrot emulsion amuse bouche, the complimentary house made chocolates, and at least a few pieces of warm olive studded bread. For once, thankfully, I found myself too full for dessert.

The next day we awoke to brilliant blue skies and with a renewed sense of vigor. We traipsed all over and around the city: through the St. Germain district, across the river and over to the Arc de Triomphe, and over to the Champs-Elysees. I had my heart set on visiting Laudree to pick up some of their their brightly hued and delicious macaroons, and we came away with two boxes of eight flavors each, and a few delicious smelling candles that would outlast the sweets and better survive the trip home. We dined on burgers, pommes frites, and salad nicoise at an outdoor cafe, and wandered lazily through the Tuileries Gardens. We stopped into the opulent and old-school Paris hotel Hotel Meurice for a bit of respite from the sun and a glass of white wine, and for a few minutes were transported back in time by the gilded trim, opulent chandeliers, marble in-laid floors, and black tie-clad waiters.

That evening, we returned back to the 7th to join some friends for dinner at their gorgeously appointed apartment, which overlooks the Eiffel Tower. We were graciously greeted by Valerie and her husband Jean-Christophe, a wonderful couple who have known James’ family for years. The smell of an amazing homecooked meal wafted out of the door and into the hallway, and we walked into a room full of their family and friends. We were treated to the most lovely evening with her daughter and father, and were introduced to her lovely friend who humbled me with the revelation that she spoke no fewer than five languages. Time to brush up on that Rosetta Stone, I think.

We sat down to a meal of long-simmered lamb with vegetables over couscous, a traditional meal that was a tribute to the Algerian roots of Valerie’s mother, Marie-France, who I had the immense pleasure of meeting only once, and who last Summer, very sadly, had passed away. We drank wine and sat around the table relishing the deliciously spiced meal, and I sopped up every bit of the fragrant broth with hunks of crusty french bread. After supper we moved into the living room, and had toasts with French aperitifs while alternating between French and English. I now know generally enough French verbs and nouns to string together the crucial parts of a conversation, and as it always happens when you are in the company of friends, somehow the message is always conveyed – even if not always verbally. As we had felt in Rye, it was an incredibly secure feeling to be so far away from home, yet sitting around a table with a wonderful family, sharing their food and being brought right into their circle, and feeling right as though we were at home. Not our house, of course; but a real home sitting down with three generations of family, eating a great meal, engaging in entertaining conversation, and feeling totally at ease.

The term ‘moveable feast’ is truly the most accurate yet I have found to put my many scattered affections towards Paris onto paper. Every which way you look in this grand city there is a veritable feast for the eyes to take in; not only one that exists in her meticulously crafted food and culinary tradition, but also in her staggeringly gorgeous architecture, grand monuments and structures, and in the innately chic style possessed by her people. I tried to soak all of it up, eagerly attempting to digest and mentally catalogue all of her beautiful bits and pieces with my eyes and ears, determined to take them with me forever in all of their moveable glory.

{teal cannons}

{waving proudly in the breeze}

{under one very crowded eiffel tower}

{bright blooms}

{less crowded, from afar}

{city streets}

{catching a mirror after lunch}

{one of my favorite meals}

{casual but still elegant}

{the first tender asparagus of the season, draped in fresh tomato sauce}

{black cod over potato puree with truffle cream and fresh herbs}

{a hearty spicy red, to lift the chill of a gray day}

{“beef stew”: meltingly tender short rib, house-made pasta, fresh vegetables, in an impossibly light broth}

{impressive, even from afar}

{patiently waiting for riders}

{beautiful architecture}

{a candy store of cheese}

{butcher}

{hotel plaza athenee}

{finally a break of blue, against the arc de triomphe}

{riding boots & macaroons}

{loot: heavenly candles, delicious cookies}

{rainbow hued macaroons}

{the seine}

{cocktails & a bit of sophistication}

{wandering the market}

{the famed stalks}

{gorgeous red prawns}

{i could smell the brine in the air}

{sepia on gray}

{discarded museum sticker art}

{tuileries gardens sculptures}

{strolling in the 7th}

{brilliant: a sugar cookie spoon for espresso.}

11 responses to “paris: a moveable feast of grandiosity & simplicity, all in the same breath

  1. Pingback: positano: a happy accident of the greatest proportions | {relish}

  2. I must force myself not to look at your blog when I’m hungry… TAKE ME WITH YOU!

  3. Oh my, I wanna click like million times more

    The coq of boucher is so beautiful!

  4. i’m usually quite critical of travel blog photographers….not this time

  5. I was there a year ago, and am returning this fall with my wife. Your posting makes me want to go today! Nice photo work!

  6. The LensMaster

    I wish to see more and more photos of Paris!

  7. Pingback: life, lately: a wrap up of 2012, according to instagram | eat and relish

  8. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my blog so i came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things to enhance my site!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!|

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