Friday, May 25, 2007

First Day in Paris

We are working on very little sleep. I think each night in Holland Wim, Sas, Nicole and I stayed up until 2am - 4am talking everything from family, career, food and politics. This night would be no different except for the fact that we had to wake up at 6am to catch a train to Paris via Amsterdam.

The Thalys train arrived. A bullet train of sorts with a sleek aerodynamic design and a scarlet and gray color scheme. Go Buckeyes! A friend of mine recommended that we buy first class tickets so we went for it. I think it was worth it because it gave me peace of mind from defending ourselves from the anticipated theivery that us Americans are trained to watch out for while in Europe. Let me tell you, on this train, in first class, the special treatment was noticeable. We had large seats, leg room and foot rests. The funny part was that we were offered so many complimentary items like juice, coffee, breakfast cookies, pretzels, baguettes and we declined on all of them opting for our water bottles and the awesome lunch Wim packed for us. His last gift of hospitality was a sack of green apple cookies, which are similar to fig newtons, cheese sandwiches, apples and sodas. The steward eventually said, "Will you still decline these offering even if they are free". We said yes.

Finally we had to accept the Thalys lunch option - Herb Crusted Rabbit Loin with Sauteed Vegetables, Greek Pasta, Sun Dried Tomato and Curry Sauce. The presentation and the flavor combinations were impressive for a train. The rabbit loin looked appetizing, but once we cut them we realized that they had been cooked to their 4th death. The sharpest knife had trouble cutting these loins and they were more stringy and chewy than the toughest tendons of beef. That was quickly tossed to the side along with the mushy orzo tossed with feta cheese. However, the sundried tomato was out of this world. It was the best tasting dried tomato I have ever had....nothing like what we consider know as sundried tomatoes. It was bright red, wrinkled with no toughness. The bite was juicy and both sweet and salty. The vegetables were nice as well. Perfectly sauteed leeks, carrots, and haricot vert with a little butter. I mixed this with the curry sauce that was supposed to go with the rabbit and I think I discovered a new dish.

The train ride was about 4 hours and I don't think it ever reached the 187 mph that the brochure claimed. We were trying to gain our bearings for Paris and asked the steward the best way to get to our hotel. His first question was, "Do you have baggage? Big, huh? Big, oversized American Luggage? Okay take the metro".

His comments were funny and expected, but his advice was right on. The Paris Metro should serve as the model for the rest of the world's public transportation. The entry and exit sights are highly accessible, the underground circuit of connections is immense, and the routes are clear and concise. Each tunneled maze leads to one attraction after another, so Nicole and I were able to see the Eiffel Tower gleaming in lights in all of its glory, the Arc de Triumph with the unknown soldier's flame burning away, and the Champs Elysses where we walked the night away while munching on a street vendor's Nutella Crepe.

For those of you that don't know, Nutella is my nemesis. This sweet and rich hazelnut and chocolate spread has to be arguably one of the worst things one can put in their body, yet I can eat it by the spoonful knowing the damage it is doing to me. Nicole watched me harm myself while she joyfully chewed on her 16 inch diameter sugared crepe.

Before the joy of the crepes we had to experience some hardship. Every journey comes with a rough road, but it is what we learn from it that makes us better. Well, we learned what not to do if we owned a restaurant. We saw a very inviting bistro with friendly waiters asking to sit down. We did and began to get real excited about my first meal in Paris. They had all the Parisian menu items that I have longed to eat while in France - Foie Gras Torchon, Duck Confit, Escargot and Charcuterie. I opted for the Torchon as an appetizer. While unimpressive in presentation and garniture, the flavor was right on and humbly served with toasted brioche. We then received our 1/2 bottle of St. Emilion wine which was blow your socks off outstanding. The intense blackberry and black pepper scents were singing off the wine glass. A very drinkable red that paired well with the Foie. The bad part starts now. An hour and a half later we receive our main courses. This is after the wine was finished and our water which was brought to us in a reused glass water carafe that still had dirty (I hope) soap spots on the nozzle. Oh well, so the service stinks, hopefully the food is great. No way. My duck confit leg must have been in the fryer for 20 of those minutes and then finished in the oven for the rest of the wait. Nicole's salmon was prepared sufficiently, but was paired with a lobster-tomato sauce that smelt so fishy and tired that Nicole questioned the fish's freshness. This was not pleasurable by any means and Nicole and I wondered that this could not be the food of Paris that everyone talks about.

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