PARIS: Plats du Jour in the City of Light

DINE and Destinations - - CONTENTS -

paris in late af­ter­noon is a gi­ant park­ing lot, an ob­sta­cle course that only dare­dev­ils on scoot­ers can nav­i­gate. But while the car is at a stand­still, it gives me the op­por­tu­nity to ad­mire the land­scape. What’s this? Are they im­prov­ing on the per­fec­tion of I.M. Pei’s pyra­mid at the Lou­vre? A red neon flash, about 22 me­tres long, rises from floor to apex. It’s the in­stal­la­tion of artist Claude Lévêque, who had been in­vited to “in­ter­vene” in the Pyra­mid. Like French cui­sine, fash­ion and dé­cor, de­sign­ers of­ten “in­ter­vene” in per­fec­tion: the ex­tra frill, flounce and swirl of sauce. “Ah,” we say, “it is so French.” Lunch

It has just be­gun to rain as we en­ter the lux­u­ri­ous lobby of Le Royal Mon­ceau, Raf­fles Paris. I’ve been an­tic­i­pat­ing a tra­di­tional twohour lunch at the Miche­lin-starred Il Carpac­cio, but it’s dif­fi­cult to tear my­self away from the fab­u­lous gift bou­tiques in the lobby. I must have those Philippe Starck espresso cups.

In­side the in­ti­mate so­lar­ium din­ing room, our ta­ble over­looks the gar­dens and swim­ming pool. Draw­ing on the Si­cil­ian Baroque style, walls are cov­ered with ex­trav­a­gant shell dé­cor, and chan­de­liers have been de­signed with in­tri­cate shells. Un­usual and charm­ing.

What could be more en­tic­ing than fine Ital­ian cui­sine fil­tered through French sen­si­bil­ity? Renowned chef Roberto Ris­poli has spared noth­ing to source unique prod­ucts to de­light his guests. And de­light us he does. Breads, in­clud­ing fo­cac­cia, squid ink, multi-grain and baguette, are of­fered along with a small thyme plant and a pair of scis­sors. We snip, sprin­kle and ap­pre­ci­ate. And here is their fa­mous olive oil that hints of ap­ples and grass and comes from an an­cient olive grove in the town of Cor­leone in Si­cily. The lunch menu sug­gests a choice of seven dif­fer­ent starters— each one, a must have. Who can re­sist smoked bur­rata di An­dria and as­para­gus crumbed with hazel­nuts and al­monds? Ris­poli raises sim­ple pasta up a few notches, with shiny black cut­tle­fish-ink far­falle, gen­tly fold­ing in scampi, cut­tle­fish, win­kles, mul­let roe and the zesty sur­prise of pre­served lemon. Baby lamb shoul­der and racks are su­perbly grilled, and part­nered with broad beans and lovely fresh morels. Can peo­ple at other ta­bles pos­si­bly be en­joy­ing their lunch as much as I am? Ser­vice is pol­ished and pro­fes­sional and yet, we feel that this young wait-staff sin­cerely cares about our din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Out­side, rain­drops bounce on the pris­tine swim­ming pool. At a gar­den ta­ble un­der a canopy, a very ro­man­tic couple enjoy a lunch in the rain. This is Paris. A Later Lunch

You can’t take two steps in Paris with­out bump­ing into history. Mont­martre was for cen­turies the home of artists, dancers and cour­te­sans—the area where aris­toc­racy came to be en­ter­tained. To­day, it is home to mas­sage par­lors, sex shops, cafes and bars, as well as the fa­mous Basil­ica, and the renowned Moulin Rouge. Tucked into the el­bow of rue de Brux­elles, a small brass plaque iden­ti­fies Mai­son Sou­quet. In the early 1900s it was a mai­son close, a plea­sure house. Three years ago it was pur­chased and metic­u­lously re­stored with an­tique fur­ni­ture, lamps and beau­ti­ful paint­ings of sparsely clothed ladies, care­fully sourced and col­lected from Bel­gium. Each unique suite is named af­ter a known cour­te­san and has a small sit­ting room as well as bed­room and elab­o­rate bath­room.

If your first im­pres­sion is that the Salon, with its dark red vel­vet so­fas and huge gilt mir­rors, looks like an el­e­gant French brothel, you would be ab­so­lutely right. The menu quotes La Belle Otero: “For­tunes are made by sleep­ing, but not alone,” and Le Mar­quis de Sade: “Dreams are se­cret move­ments which are not given their right­ful place.” Al­co­hol-free cock­tails such as Lemon Ver­bena/cran­berry or Jas­min/ Rose/co­rian­der, a tapas—or an art­ful duet—with Span­ish Manchego cheese. Highly ad­dic­tive, they tell me, is white truf­fle/milk/hazel­nut/golden ap­ple, se­duc­tively capped with Mascarpone chan­tilly and paired with Manchego and ar­ti­sanal Ital­ian gelato. For me, from the sec­tion “Mai­son Sou­quet Musts,” foie gras and a glass of wine.

Like an age­less Parisian beauty, af­ter more than a cen­tury, Hô­tel Mai­son Sou­quet is still as sen­sual as a lover’s kiss. Din­ner

The Ho­tel Ge­orge V en­folds you in its realm of priv­i­lege, of au­then­tic 19th-cen­tury fur­nish­ings, Flem­ish ta­pes­tries, ex­trav­a­gant chan­de­liers and an explosion of freshly cut flow­ers. With its in­dul­gent Four Sea­sons brand of ser­vice, it is the Paris “bed and break­fast” for the world’s wealthy and their fam­i­lies.

The din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at its Miche­lin-starred Le Cinq Restau­rant be­gins the mo­ment we walk through its wrought iron doors. The room be­daz­zles with its gold and grey el­e­gance and show-stop­ping an­tiques: Louis XIV wardrobes, Louis XV gold chairs and huge, sculpted gold leaf mir­rors. A pre­cious bot­tle of Château Mar­gaux makes its way to our ta­ble from the 50,000-bot­tle wine cel­lar, hid­den 45 feet be­low ground. We are in their hands. From an in­spi­ra­tional menu: roasted foie gras re­freshed with Gewurztraminer granita, glazed John Dory with tan­ger­ine juice and green mango pe­tals; chicken from Bresse (it has its own A.O.C.), grouse from Scot­land, truf­fles from Alba. Flaws are non-ex­is­tant. The cheese som­me­lier creates a grand fi­nale for us with his bril­liant pre­sen­ta­tion of the cheese trol­ley: the chevres, Roque­fort, triple cremes. There are more than 700 cheeses in France, and it is likely that he has eval­u­ated them all. There’s more. Hot chocolate sauce poured over a chocolate bomb melts its crust to re­veal more chocolate in­side. It’s enough to bring a tear to a choco­holic’s eye. They will go to any lengths to sur­prise and de­light their guests. Miche­lin stars are not eas­ily earned. Even in Paris.

Along the Champs-élysées, there are sol­diers in fa­tigues with ma­chine guns slung ca­su­ally over their shoul­ders. I want to cross the street, but don’t see an op­por­tu­nity. Anx­iously, I ask a (hand­some) stranger for help. He laughs as he guides me across, “It’s okay, this is Paris.”

A day of tast­ing de­lights through the City of Light

By Sara Wax­man


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