France 2011: Day Two

Thursday    29 September 2011

A full day in Paris. Karen, Anne, Jenny and I make an early morning pilgrimage to the patisserie in our favorite square to get breakfast. We take our pastries down the hill to the garden at the Natural History Museum (Jardin des Plantes) to sit and eat while watching the joggers, not feeling guilty in the least.

Ancient sycamore
An ancient sycamore in the Jardin des Plantes, planted in 1785.
And all that was left was his foot.
Graphic statue in the Botanic Garden.

Afterward, we head back up to the square for coffee at a sidewalk cafe. We meet up with Rick and Mary to walk down to the river and over to Sainte-Chappelle on the Ile de la Cité.

Un cafe creme

Sainte-Chappelle welcoming committee.

Sainte-Chappelle on a sunny day. After a brief wait in line, we enter the grounds and tour through the 13th-century church, built by King Louis IX. On the ground floor is the oldest mural in Paris and up on the second floor, the king’s chapel is a riot of color, with brilliant stained glass windows stretching far above to meet with a brilliant blue vaulted ceiling. The light from these walls of glass play off of the columns, stonework, and floor; it’s gorgeous and impossible to capture in a snapshot.

Annunciation--The oldest mural in Paris.

After we get our fill of Gothic light and color, it’s time for lunch. Unfortunately, in all our restaurant pre-planning, we failed to make a reservation for lunch, so we’re shut out of the restaurant we’d hoped to try. (Oh well, next time!) We substitute with the next door neighbor, Restaurant Paul. It’s pleasant enough but nothing special and is easily the least memorable of all our meals.

Berthillon: Rhubarb and salted caramel
Rhubarb and salted caramel.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for Berthillon. Afterward, Rick and Mary split off to visit the Caravaggios in the Louvre and we four walk through the Marais to La Place de Vosges and then over to a must-see on our Paris itinerary: the legendary Berthillon Ice Cream. Tiny scoops of a creamy salted caramel and sorbet-like rhubarb were phenomenal.

Before returning to the hotel, Karen, Jenny and I hike back up the hill to have a beer at what is now our favorite neighborhood hangout, one of the outdoor cafes in the fountain courtyard. While enjoying the ambiance and people watching, we flip through a guidebook and discover there’s the ruin of a Roman amphitheater a few blocks from our hotel. With just enough time to spare before dinner, Karen and I make a detour that way to check out the Arènes de Lutèce. I’m glad to see it’s a living ruin, bustling with activity. Pick-up games of bocci ball and soccer are in full swing, while groups of people socialize in the stands.

Arenes de Lutece

Best. Meal. Ever. At 6:15 sharp, we leave the hotel for a thirty minute walk to our dinner destination, Le Timbre, a tiny storefront restaurant with most tables against the wall and diners squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder. Our meal is nothing short of phenomenal. As we’re being seated, the chef greets us warmly and brings us a round of champagne and white wine aperitifs to start. Then, after wishing us a good meal, he steps into the tiny kitchen just a few feet from our table to get down to work.

The second seating waits outside Le Timbre.

This meal has gone down in history as one of our trip highlights. We start with snails in a tomato sauce, duck fois gras, sautéed mushrooms, mushroom soup, and the specialty of the day, pig cheek, a loaf of succulent, pan-seared pork with capers. Think of the best bacon you’ve ever had and quadruple it. The next course includes duck breast, white fish with mushrooms, port sausage with lentils, pork back and red cabbage. To finish, we have chocolate mousse, a blue cheese tart with sherry, a Napoleon, roasted figs in red wine, and an amazing poached pear. Every dish was phenomenal. A Bergerac white wine accompanies the meal.

This was a fantastic, leisurely meal, stretching three hours, the norm in France. We were all raving to the chef as we stood up to leave and as soon as our crowd had cleared the place, the staff rushed to prep for the late seating, and we walked home in a culinary glow.

Clicking on any of the photos above will take you to my Flickr site where you can see more photos from the trip.

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