Paris: Day 3

May 11, 2018 • 1:00 pm

Trigger warning: I will have on display at least two pictures of foie gras this week, so don’t look if you can’t abide it. And please don’t lecture me about it, as I get that lecture every year or so. Yes, I know the issues.

After coffee yesterday, it was off to the Luxembourg Gardens, one of Paris’s many green respites, with immaculately tended lawns, ranks of chestnut trees towering over pebbled paths, and the pungent odor of boxwood. The 57-acre garden surrounds the Luxembourg Palace, built in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France. For the last 60 years the Palace has been the seat of the French Senate. Here it is:

One of the lovely sculptures in the garden:

The statues have wire headdresses with spikes sticking out to keep the pigeons from pooing on the artwork:

There was a Tintoretto (1518-1594) exhibit (“Birth of a Genius“) at the Musée du Luxembourg, which runs through July 1. It concentrates on his early works, and clearly shows how he gained power from his early paintings, which featured humans with too-small heads and a lack of perspective, to a mature power that in some cases resembles Rembrandt. Here are four pictures of the paintings:

Part of a big painting of Esther and Ahasuerus (the Biblical story that produced the Jewish holiday of Purim); painted 1554-1555, on loan from the Prado:

Labyrinth of Love, 1538-1552, loaned by Queen Elizabeth II. This is truly a garden of earthly delights.

A wonderful portrait; I’m not sure if it’s a self portrait as I can’t find a matching image on the web:

For more on the exhibit (and pictures of other paintings) go here.

Looking at art always rouses the appetite, and nearby was the famed bistro Josephine “Chez Dumonet”, which has several classic dishes. First, the exterior:

The unchanged and ancient interior. This is what a bistro should look like:

On the wall, a drawing of Le Chat, the subject of a famous cartoon strip by the Belgian artist Philippe Geluck. (Le Chat also adorns the wall of L’Ami Jean in a more salacious form.) The waiter at Chez Dumonet told us that Geluck, after dining there, drew it on a wine-stained tablecloth. He must eat well!

A copious, rich, and bibulous lunch ensued. The free amuse-bouche included a salmon-and-cheese mixture on toast and a cheese puff of some sort:

Appetizers (these are half portions): Morels stuffed with foie gras, truffles, cognac, port, and, according to the waiter, 13 other ingredients. They were fantastic.

And some foie gras de canard (again, a half portion), served with toasted pain au levain. This was made in house, and although it looks small it was substantial and filling (and of course delicious):

Main courses (“plats”; in France an “entrée” is what we call an appetizer): a half portion of the house speciality,bœuf bourguignon, and a full portion of confit de canard with fantastic potatoes—crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

The beef burgundy was served in a copper pot alongside another dish of hot homemade noodles, which cut the incredible richness of this dish. A blackish-red sauce enrobed big chunks of soft, stewed beef. This was the dish that did me in! And this was a half portion (not all the dish is shown):

Le confit with those terrific potatoes:

These desserts were ordered at the beginning of the meal, as they are made to order. The tarte aux pommes was huge—more than half the size of a plate, and served piping hot:

The most famous dessert at Chez Dumonet is the Grand Marnier souffle, which comes with a glass of the liqueur to pour over the hot souffle. It was as good as it looks, and I scraped every bit of the sugary crust from the side of the dish:

All of this was consumed with a full bottle of Moulin-à-Vent, a species of Beaujolais. Even though two of my courses were half portions, this put me into a food coma, so that I collapsed at 5:30 pm after the walk back to the hotel and essentially did not stir until the following morning. Even the long walk home didn’t manage to pep me up.

On the walk back home, as is the case on every walk in Paris, you pass wonderful old buildings like this one:

Here’s the famous cafe Les Deux Magots, now a fancy place but once the haunt (along with its neighbor, the Cafe Flore) of great writers. As Wikipedia notes:

Its historical reputation is derived from the patronage of Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway. Other patrons included Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Bertolt Brecht, Julia Child, and the American writers James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Charles Sutherland, and Richard Wright.

Now it’s a high-toned place patronized by wealthy French and tourists trying to capture some of that Sartre-ian ambience. I’ve never had a drink here, but the people-watching, which is the real point of a cafe, must be fantastic:

It’s no wonder that the great New Yorker journalist A. J. Liebling called his account of his youth in this town Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris (it’s one of the world’s great food memoirs). Bon appetit!



66 thoughts on “Paris: Day 3

  1. > I will have on display at least two pictures of foie gras this week, so don’t look if you can’t abide it.

    Foie gras is fine, just no pictures of escargot, please.

    1. Escargot is just a mollusc like mussels or scallops. The only problem with snails is that they are essentially tasteless, which is why they are usually served with garlic.

        1. I love them. But they have to be the small, local ones, which you got in Paris (affordable) restaurants 30-40 years ago. You can’t eat the fat or large ones–called Syrian escargots–, they are disgusting. In fact the (small) escargots are an excuse to dip your baguette in a delicious garlic-butter-parsley sauce.

  2. Looking forward to each and every one of your reports from Paris. Liebling is one of my literary heroes. Bon Appétit.

  3. Enjoying your pictures of Paris. The food looks amazing. I have a feeling you’ll be packing on a few pounds but it will be well worth it. Unless you’re one of the “lucky ones” who can eat just about anything and everything and NOT gain a pound. Enjoy!

  4. Fantastic! Appropriately envious here. We’ll be in Paris in June and July. Looking forward to it. (The Alps and Provence as well.)

    Jerry, you say, just above, one meal per day. No breakfast? I can see skipping supper after a midday meal like that! But I need my breakfast — even if it’s small.

      1. For sure – why should there be a holy trinity of meals?

        Some years ago I remember asking an Appalachian “old timer,” down in the afternoon, if he was hungry. He said no. But a few minutes later he looked at his watch and decided that he was in fact hungry, he being such a creature of habit.

  5. Sounds wonderful. I will definitely remember “Chez Dumonet” for the next time I’m in Paris.

    Thanks for the pix of Les Deux Magots. In 1971, when I met a lady who would become my wife at the Theatre des Vieux Colombiers, we walked up to Les Deux Magots for our first drink together, so I’m sentimental about it. It was less ritzy then.

    Love your travel blogs.

  6. Indeed, Hotel Lutetia is a wonderful old building–and equally wonderful inside! My wife and I had the good fortune to stay there some years ago, and we felt as though we were in the Ritz.

  7. Nope, the Garden of Earthly Delights is in Madrid. And involves intimacy with strawberries, fish petting, and riding giant house cats. This one falls short.

  8. I don’t ordinarily order foie gras, because gavage, but I went to a food show recently with my bestie the chef, who runs a culinary institute, and they were handing out free portions of the real, imported deal, so I gotta admit, I had a taste (or maybe two).

    I also put foie gras on my menu back when Jerry did a post asking what we’d choose to have for our “last meal.” Because, first, it was a fantasy meal, and, second, if I’m the condemned man, fuck that fantasy goose; under those circumstances, he’s gonna hafta take one for the team.

    1. I had “ethical foie gras” served to me at a restaurant in Bristol. The difference is that, instead of force feeding the geese, they just give them an unlimited food supply and apparently the geese force feed themselves.

      Anyway, it was delicious.

  9. Ahasuerus and Christ were protected from pigeons, but not Esther! I cry foul, erm…. fowl!

    1. Ah! didn’t see this comment – I’ve had the tab unrefreshed for ages. I’m unknowingly agreeing with you in comment 16 Roger & provide different evidence.

      1. To further add to the mystery… the portrait looks like an older Carracci without his beard. Hmm whaddup with that. I wonder if maybe it is painted by Tintoretto.

  10. Isn’t “free amuse-bouche” in the nature of a pleonasm, like “free gift”?

    Maybe not, but charging for it would probably cost a joint a star in the Guide Michelin.

  11. I was staying at a farm B&B in Montauban in the south of France a couple of years ago in order to cycle along the nearby canals.
    I became friends with the husband of one of the owners daughters and one day it was madame owners anniversaire to which I was invited.
    Hors d’oeuvre included foie gras to which I said to my new friend that I wasn’t a fan due to the process involved.
    He replied “No, no, no” and made hand gestures as if he was stroking a duck lovingly.
    He was a funny guy.

    1. That reminded me of when I first arrived in Paris and went to a brasserie and ordered steak-frites.
      The waiter must have thought I was English (I’m Australian) as he said condescendingly “How would you like that cooked, well done?”.
      I replied “No thankyou, rare” to which he was much taken aback.
      I was rather pleased with my new acquisition of the french language when I asked for “une autre biere, s’il vous plait” and when he asked “la meme?”, I replied “Oui, la meme”.

      1. The French for well done is “bien cuit” which means literally “cooked good” which is somewhat ironic since it’s just wrong to cook a steak that long.

    1. +1K

      Grand Marnier and I have had a long, loving relationship. I’d probably be willing to break the law for one of those souffles. A minor one anyway.

      1. I’ve already murdered a man for his plane ticket. I’m on the plane now.

        I stole his credit card to pay for the wi-fi.

    2. Obviously I don’t know how “Josephine” make their Grand-Marnier souffle (haven’t been for years but will definitely return this autumn…) but such souffles are not difficult. There are two,closely related methods,one-the “classic”-slightly more involved than the other. I can post below if anyone is interested…

      1. I second that. Making a souffle is surprisingly easy. I highly recommend it.

        Also, souffles are not just dessert items. I could be wrong about this but my impression is that sweet ones at dessert are a relatively new thing. When I was young, I used to mess around in my Mom’s kitchen and I remember making a potato, onion, and cheese souffle. It turned out great!

        1. This is the most straightforward. For 3-4 servings: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Butter a 20cm souffle dish and coat it with caster (extra-fine?) sugar. Whisk together 4 egg yolks with 125g (1/2 cup) caster sugar until thick and pale ( “forming the ribbon”),then stir in 50mls Grand-Marnier.Beat 6 egg whites until they hold soft peaks and fold into the yolk and sugar mixture.Transfer to the souffle dish and bake for 20-25 minutes.

          1. Thanks very much for this. I can’t wait to try it! I imagine I’ll need a few tries to get it right, as I have almost no experience with baking, but that won’t stop me.

            1. Actually, baking pastries, cakes, etc. IS hard. There are too many variables involved: heat, moisture, differences between flours, etc. Souffles, not so much.

          2. Yes, thank you.

            I’m also a fan of creme brulee. A couple of years ago I made some chocolate Grand Marnier creme brulees for a holiday dinner party of 15 or so people. Tweaked a plain recipe I had. They came out heavenly. A big hit. Even my chef-at-a-posh-club neighbor was impressed.

            1. Creme brulee is by far my favorite dessert. The only problem is that, even at fine dining restaurants, it’s often served cold (which means it was made earlier in the day and refrigerated). Creme brulee must be served warm, and I always ask if it’s freshly made before ordering. I’ve been to places where an entree is $50 and their creme brulee is cold. Totally unacceptable!

              But when it’s done right? Freshly made, the top caramelized right before they bring it out, vanilla bean in the custard…Oh. My. Goodness. Just wondrous!

  12. Your cheese puffs look like mini “gougeres” and the potatoes with the confit are probably “pommes Sarladaises”-quite thinly sliced raw,then sauteed in duck (or goose) fat.

  13. That “wonderful portrait” [I agree!] appears to be by Annibale Carracci. It’s called “Testa Virile” [Virile Head] or maybe “Head of a Man”, 1595-99, Oil on canvas, 46 x 37 cm
    SOURCE [Scroll down the pics]

    I don’t know why it’s in a Tintoret exhibition other than the Carracci brothers were influenced by him. A puzzle.

    1. Do you think it’s possible it’s a portrait of Carracci by Tintoretto? Because it kinda looks like it could be a portrait of an older beardless Carracci.

      1. If the dating of the picture is correct [1595 – 1599] then there’s a problem because Tinterretto died in 1594 aged 75. All the sources I can find say its “Head of a Man” [or similar title] by Annibale Carracci. The Carracci brothers did a LOT of large scale fresco work such as this crazy vaulted ceiling from the same era: LOVE OF THE GODS employing teams of plasterers & painters.

        The portrait looks quick & very alive – I wonder if it’s one of his oil paint sketches of some anon person, for use in a fresco. What this has to do with Tintoret beats me! There’s nothing written down about the picture beyond the basic spec – this lack of info seems to be common in the dodgy, money driven world of dealers, museums & artists.

  14. Of the meals you’ve posted on over the years Jerry, this might be the meal I’m most envious of. And that’s saying a lot!

  15. I love foie gras.

    There is a wonderful scene in a Sean Connery James Bond movie in which he sneaks it into a health spa which his boss has forced him to spend a weekend at. He’s supposed to be ating things like wheat grass and carrot juice.
    (ON the other hand, alternative Bond Roger Moore narrated a film on the evils of foie gras.)
    And there are a growing number of producers going an “ethical foie gras” movement.

    Bon appetit.

    1. The film you’re thinking of is “Never Say Never Again,” from 1983. It was Connery’s last Bond film. Not his best but, as always, Connery is a pleasure to watch.

  16. I’m enjoying the heck out of this. My family went to Paris when I was a kid, and I’m so sorry I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it. Watching you appreciate it is good! 🙂

  17. When last in France, I witnessed the feeding of fowl (these were ducks, not geese) who were being raised for foie gras. The flock ran to the fence when the farmer appeared with the gruel and competed to be fed. There was no ‘force-feeding’. The birds had been acclimatized to swallowing a lot of the special food. It was certainly no more cruel than feeding cattle grain for fattening. The ducks were in a big pen with a pond and did not appear stressed. This was not a performance for tourists, as we were just hiking through the countryside and chanced upon the scene.

    Perhaps there are less humane methods of producing foie gras (many restaurants noted that their foie gras was ‘humainement produit’), but what I saw was pretty benign.

    1. I’ve seen this as well. It’s not just a PR trick.

      It is being said that one of the good things about Brexit is that when we leave the EU we can ban foie gras from the UK. Au contraire: for me, keeping access to it is a pretty good reason for staying in.

  18. I cannot resist quoting a Paris episode recounted in a book review on the internet magazine RALPH. To wit:

    “In 1980, word reached the elderly Jean-Paul Sartre that a McDonald’s outlet had opened in Paris, right on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, next to the Thermes de Cluny in the heart of the 5ieme arrondissement. The philosopher did not take news of this calamity well. In fact, he suffered an attack of mal de tête and had to be rushed immediately from the Café de Flore to the hospital, the intensive care ward of the Hôpital Hôtel-Dieu.

    Sartre was treated with an infusion of apricot cocktail from the celebrated Bec de Gaz bar on Rue Montparnasse. The author of No Exit seemed to rally for a time, but then he somehow came into direct contact with a menu from the McDonald’s restaurant, and his condition worsened. Sartre went into tonic-clonic seizure at the words “le menu Happy Meal.” And when he reached “En ce moment, le double Cheese est lá”, hypocapnia, aphasia, and apraxia set in. He uttered a strangling sound, the heart monitor flat-lined, and then the author of Being and Nothingness was being no more.

    I was reminded of this episode in 1999, when I found myself back in Paris, after having lived there for a while many years earlier. Naturally, I put on my black turtleneck sweater and went straight to the Café de Flore, to see if any shades of the great days of Existentialism could still be evoked. Sure enough, at one empty table, I thought I saw the shadowy outlines of Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, sipping their ghostly absinthes. At the next table, the ghost of Albert Camus sat by himself. The ghosts of Sartre and De Beauvoir were cutting Camus’s ghost dead, which made perfect sense, after all, because they all were dead.”

  19. Well, Jerry, you are waking up a lot of memories among many of us. I looked at your photograph of Restaurant Chez Dumonet, and told my wife, this place looks familiar, I remember the peculiar and beautiful woodwork. She said, yes, I remember the floor. So we looked up where it was, and sure, we actually lived in the building next door, on Rue du Cherche-Midi (this street would have passed through what now is the Greenwich Meridian, the French did not get their way). We walked by that place every day!

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