Twelve days, sixteen hours of sleep and five games of Boggle daily, three books, three orders of escargots, four of bucatini all’amatriciana, four Michelin stars, fifteen bottles of wine, and many hundreds of miles in the heel of the Boot: some highlights and observations.
First up, the City of Light (though believe me, after four straight days of pork, pork, duck fat, and a little more pork, we were feeling anything but):
Le Comptoir was the perfect consolation after a somewhat disappointing and shockingly expensive meal at three-star L’Arpège. Sure, Passard’s vegetables vs. Camdeborde’s jarret du porc ain’t apples with apples, but that was soul and honesty I tasted in Comptoir’s chestnut-celery root soup, not just foie gras (though that was admittedly the best part, along with the tapioca pearls). Both soul and honesty were lacking — though I tried my damnedest to find them — in the twelve dishes of the set menu at L’Arpège. They were well executed, to be sure, but there was nothing revelatory, nothing transcendant, nothing really even that interesting about the food. And I tell you, I feel funny about eating €50 carrots. I fail to understand what’s so destination-place about this place. (We did, however, have a knock-your-socks-off bottle of Vernay Condrieu — Coteau de Vernon, I think — that had such a long, beautiful finish that I think I can still taste it.) Comptoir is always my best meal in Paris.
My second favorite meal on the Paris leg was a two-parter in the Marais, late on Saturday night: a mountain of steak tartare at a hip (but not too) wine bar surrounded by locals that reminded us of our drinking partners back at home, and an icy cold plate of oysters, served up by a shucker in an orange jumpsuit, and eaten while standing at the bar of a tiny little virtually huitres-only joint full of old men and working stiffs (romanticizing it, I may be, but this is Paris, after all).
My third favorite meal was acquired at Le Grand Epicerie (in between snacking on samples and admiring the fromage and charcuterie displays) and consumed on a park bench nearby. (The blood sausage and trois saveurs pâté had an airy plushness, with all the melting sweetness of pork and duck fat. Now THAT is some good forcemeat.)
One of our favorite sights in Paris.
I was surprised by the informality of high-end dining in Paris. So we weren’t at George V or Les Ambassadeurs, but still, jeans at L’Arpège? Not sure how I feel about the casualness of service both there and at Table du Lancaster. Isn’t part of the meal the careful choreography of the waitstaff? Attention to detail, anticipating needs — you know, service?
Next stop: Roma, la città eterna.