Saturday, May 26, 2007

Paris at Night

Nicole and I stayed aggressive in our attempt in seeing as much of Paris as we could in 3 days. Imagine an old world metropolis built for horse carriages with roads laid in brick and then add the modern world of technology, fashion, over population and cars and you get Paris. This is the definition of a big city. It is busy with cars and pedestrians, it is alive with tourism and shopping, and it is lit with vibrant music and neon lights. Los Angeles is large and busy, but Paris is "alive", breathing with energy that only daily interaction, we feel much more safe here.

We started the day with our local street vendor and picked up a full baguette that was loaded with brie cheese and jambon de Bayonne, basically a salt cured ham done in the style of the south of France similar to proscuitto. The white baguette is then dropped in a panini press and serve completely flat with grill marks, warm ham and melting cheese. Just to cut the richness, the young lady added some fresh tomatoes just before grilling. This was an excellent breakfast "on the go" as we walked down the Rue de Rivoli toward the Louvre Museum.

The enormous museum laughed at us as we attempted to see it all. By the time we reached the Greek antiquities I was desperate for a small break on a bench in the tapestry room. However, we were able to see the Angel of Victory, which was breathtaking, Venus de Milo, A Dying Slave by Michal Angelo, Cupid, Jupiter, the Mona Lisa and various other pieces from the Orient, the Middle East, Italy, Greece, Spain, France and the Netherlands. The mere size and diversity of this museum is the reason of its obvious fame.

We headed west, but had to stop for a cola. Our thirst overcame us and we had to pay for that desperation. Travelers, be weary of where you spend your money in Paris. We asked for 2 cola lights which we received, but when we received the bill for 15 Euros we were shocked to say the least. That is basically $21 for 2 medium cokes!!!

Anyhow, we checked out Notre Dame de Saint Michel, a few bridges and then enjoyed the view over the River Seine. We finished our day with our lunch at around 5pm. I can't remember the name of the brasserie, but it was special. It was on a quiet street across from a boulangerie (bakery) and a poissoniere (fish market). We took a seat on the patio on watched as locals headed home to their flats preparing for a Friday night in Paris. The meal here was amazing. I had mussels that were steamed in white wine and shallots that were served in a rustic cast iron pot that was set on a stand with a candle underneath to keep the broth nice and warm. You add a chewy baguette and there you have France. I also ordered the charcuterie plate that came with country ham, sauccison sec, which is a dried sausage, and some form of a French salami. This was all served with cornichons (small salty and tender pickles), pickled onions and the spiciest dijon mustard I have ever had. The highlight of the meal was Nicole's dish. She decided to order the house special which had no name...just a description. Her meal arrived in an old and beaten up cast iron skillet. Garnishing the dish was an freshly cracked egg that was baked to perfection. Underneath was bubbling and browned ementhal cheese that was rich, creamy, and bursting with a truffle flavor. Then there were sauteed mushrooms, fresh tomato, and ham. This rich concoction was blaring with flavor and screaming to me to serve at some point in the future. To soak up all the creaminess, the chef cleverly placed a few slices of baguette on the bottom of the skillet before placing all that love atop it. It was time to take a nap after this one.

We prepped for the evening as my cousin Natascha and my aunt Stenny were on their way to pick us up from the hotel for a night on the town. Mind you, I haven't seen this cousin our aunt in over 13 years! We caught up in the lobby over a glass of champagne like we saw each other last week. The excitement oozed out of all of us as we got ready to go. Natascha is a fashion designer and she was dressed in true Paris style. She is slender and attractive and was rocking knee high boots, black capris, a glittery white top and a glittery black derby hat a la Michael Jackson. Only this woman could get away with this as the words "oo la la" jumped out of her mouth every so often.

She drove us around town in an over sized Audi SUV. What an amazing vehicle, but I think to big for the streets of Paris as she jumped a few curbs and hit some guard rails on the way to Le Suite....her friends restaurant who happens to be the girlfriend of Jamoraquai. The restaurant was chic and painted in all white. The lights were dim and the room accented with rose colored booths and drooping curtains. This room was the anti Hollywood in terms of dark colors, but was filled with the Hollywood type - beautiful men and women in their late 20s smoking, drinking champagne, laughing and dancing at their tables. There was even a DJ bumping the latest house music in the corner of the dining room. Despite the scene, I got the sense the food was serious. We started with a lime marinated tuna tartare that I wolfed down in a matter of seconds. The assertive tartness cut the richness of the tuna effectively. I followed with Local Cod fish that was seared with the skin on and served over small white beans and a cocoa bean reduction. Interesting, but even more delicious. I haven't had fish cooked that perfectly in a long time. Nicole had Seared Ahi served with a Thai peanut sauce. I think she scooped up everything on her plate before I got a chance to try it! We proceeded with more champagne and some serious conversation about opening a restaurant. You see, Natascha was a young business owner at the age of 21 and now had 17 years of experience to share with us. She did not tell us how to do it, but chose to motivate us and make us understand that it is perfectly normal to feel scared before making a big change.

Starting dinner at 10pm for Nicole and I is new, but we adjusted quickly as dessert arrived and the restaurant turned into a club at midnight. Layer after layer of club goers filled the restaurant and the music got louder. There was no way to resist the thumping of the speakers and we all spent the rest of the night dancing and gawking at all the mini skirts and the fashionable men. We finally got our inside look on Paris fashion and night life and we were not disappointed.

Natascha and Stenny's hospitality was ground breaking. This whole trip is repeatedly drilling something into Nicole and I - being nice, being friendly, and being welcoming is so easy. My whole family has done it from Amersfoort to Paris and we feel so indebted to them for all their graciousness. I can only hope that I am able to learn a little of this European culture of hospitality to take home to the states.

The night finally ended as Natascha found our way home on the GPS. The way the Paris streets are aligned, I'm surprised the computer could even found our way home. We walked through the hotel halls with a little buzz around 3am. Aaahhh, a night in Paris.

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