Paris: Day 10

May 18, 2018 • 10:00 am

So I’ve had ten of the eleven meals I planned, having been knocked out one day by what the French call a “crise de foie.” But I’m back in fighting trim, and consumed a final repast at Chez Denise, a perennial favorite, and, since I ate here the day I arrived, this gives the trip a pleasing symmetry.

I stayed in the hotel much of the morning as I had to reserve a free Economy Plus seat by phone 24 hours in advance of the flight (I’m now in a tier of United Airlines that gives me this one meager benefit), and I got a good seat, on the aisle and with extra leg room. Then off to Les Halles for lunch.

On the way we passed the buildings of the famous Samaritaine department store complex, the four of them built between 1910 and 1928. The store went out of business in 2005, but of course as an architectural gem they can’t destroy the buildings. They will be repurposed for other uses. Here are two of the buildings under renovation.

In the park that replaced the original Les Halles—a huge and now-defunct wholesale food market called “The Belly of Paris”—a group of school kids did some impromptu dancing to the music from someone’s phone:

I visited Les Halles on a family trip when we lived in Germany (my dad was in the Army), and it was something to see. But the market was demolished in 1971 and the wholesale food operation moved to the suburb of Rungis.

In a nearby church, St.-Eustache (built 1532-1632), you can find, among the altars showing Jesus and scenes from the Bible, this lovely diorama: “The Departure of Fruits and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris on the 28th of February, 1969,“by Raymond Mason. It’s a sad testimony to the renovation of Les Halles, which never regained any true Parisian spirit. Even today it’s a soulless series of bland emporia and mediocre restaurants, with a park that draws many homeless people.

But the altar is a refreshing change from the usual Catholic shrines:

Right across the park is Chez Denise, my favorite “Parisian” Paris bistro, and one that is exactly the same as when I first ate there in 1989. Most of the menu is identical, the waiters are older and crack jokes, and the clientele is well fed and happy, knowing they’ll get a terrific and copious meal there—inches away from other diners—at a good price.

The tables are close together, and sometimes you have to share a table with strangers. But they don’t remain strangers for long. I’ve never been there when I haven’t had a conversation with the next table, whether French or tourists. And I’ve never had a bad meal there. Ever. One concession to modernity: the restaurant is no longer open 24 hours a day, but of course I don’t stay up and dine at midnight.

My companion’s entrée: oxtail terrine:

My usual starter, a lighter salade frisée which I order as a light entrée because I know that I’ll also get the onglet de boeuf (hanger steak), rare, with a huge pile of wonderful frites, and that I’ll also have a rich dessert:

My companion got stewed beef cheeks in a rich gravy, served with small macaroni. I’d never had beef cheeks before but she had, and, as a foodie, pronounced these the best she’d ever had. The portion was huge: too big for even a trencherman (trencherperson?) to finish, and the dish also defeated the French woman at the next table.

My onglet, which I’ve cut so you can see it’s cooked the right way (“saignant“, or “bloody” a tad more cooked than “bleu“). Sweet shallots cut the richness of the meat.

I forgot to photograph the dessert, the house’s famous baba au rhum, as we were by then engaged in lively conversation with two older Frenchmen at the next table who had ordered lamb chops and boeuf salé, so we had to ask them how it was. Those guys could eat!

Here is a photo of the outside menu (not complete) and two of the desserts we had the day I arrived (baba au rhum to the left, along with the bottle of rum to douse it with), described in my first Paris post:

Another walk after lunch, as my friend wanted to try a seafood that is almost impossible to get but was described by gourmet Andres de Groot as one of the world’s best foods. On the way, we came across one of Paris’s famous covered streets lined with ancient markets that now harbor modern stores.

And a postprandial snack (not mine) at L’Ecume Saint Honoré : 6 Belon oysters and a violet (close-up below)m which is actually a tunicate of the species Microcosmus sabatieri, and is also called “fig of the sea.” One rarely sees these and my friend called all around Paris until she found a place that had them, but then they got them in only yesterday, which is why one of them had to be eaten after a planned lunch. The oysters were not a problem, as they presented no bulk:

The violet. I didn’t taste it, but my friend said it was hard to describe, but tasted strongly of iodine. The covering was leathery.

And so, stuffed with good food, I returned to my hotel to pack, nap, and plan my egress from Paris tomorrow. Like the fruits and vegetables of Les Halles, I leave the city with sadness.

34 thoughts on “Paris: Day 10

  1. Something tells me the bistro he first visited in 1989 is one he’s frequented more than most others.

    1. Question: With all that food to eat, can you get a doggie bag at one of these restaurants or are doggie bags impossibly déclassé? Looking for a French translation of “doggie bags” I get “sacs pour chiens” and I know that ain’t right.

        1. Ha! You’re right on that; but my query is serious. Just in case I get to France again, I want to know. When I made a brief visit to France, I didn’t eat in any restaurants. I’d be filled after the first course and wouldn’t know what to do.

          1. You can ask for a second plate to share food, most places I’ve been to in France are relaxed about people sharing

          2. It depends. It’s not a custom, but I’ve seen Parisians do it and we did it with the half of the huge apple tarte at Josephine Chez Dumonet. If you want to take food home, and the restaurant isn’t a really fancy one, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask.

  2. … I got a good seat, on the aisle …

    I dunno, I usually opt for a window seat, especially if the weather’s clear. I’ve never completely gotten over being a kid the first time I took a plane ride (back at the tail end of when it was still a slightly exotic thing to do), looking down on the sights below. Plus, it’s easier there to withdraw completely into my book and imagination.

    But if I’m back in coach, and somebody sits next to me with a kid, I always offer to swap seats with the kid, so they can look out the window if they wanna.

    1. Window for me too. Middle seat is obviously undesirable. In the aisle seat I always get bumped by people moving up and down the aisle. Regardless, it’s an 11-hour ordeal to Europe to/from California and the worst part by far of any Europe trip.

      1. With an aisle seat you have the ability to stretch out your legs, if only briefly. But those little stretches make a huge difference to me.

      1. Timing is everything. Unless you have a relevant health issue (eg, diarrhea), these bodily functions shouldn’t come as complete surprises. Go before the meal cart reaches your row even if you aren’t at full capacity. I’ll admit that this technique doesn’t always work but it’s the effort that counts and will usually be appreciated by your row-mates.

        1. Going down a rabbit hole here, or perhaps a cloaca — I don’t know where you live, and perhaps you’ve never heard a very offensive radio commercial (may also be on TV, but I don’t have one, so don’t know)that begins “My number two isn’t like other number twos…” It goes on to speak of being in a plane and needing to sit by the aisle because these people have some malady called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

          Investigating it, I found this info ( “So begins an ad in an aggressive AbbVie campaign to sell the disease of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) in order to sell AbbVie’s drug for it. EPI is characterized by frequent diarrhea, gas, bloating and stomach pain says the campaign whose pay off line is “Don’t Keep a Lid on It.” Creon, AbbVie’s drug to treat the hitherto almost unknown disease of EPI is priced at over $500 a prescription.”

          The ads make me want to puke, even more so after reading about this new medical scam.

          1. Too much information! I am happy to say I haven’t heard that commercial.

            I wonder whether “number two”, translated literally, is a universal among human cultures. Or do some cultures reverse the two? 😉

          2. Doesn’t it just make you want to hunt down the greedy unscrupulous fear-mongering bullshit-spreading creators of such ads and shoot them, repeatedly?

            Well, it does me.


      2. By the same token, it’s inconvenient when you’re sitting on the aisle with your tray-table down drinking coffee and nature calls your row companion in the window seat. Six of one … 🙂

        1. Good point. I guess it depends on whether one would rather be the disturbed or the disturber. I have this deficient personality type that prefers the former.

      3. I usually go for a window seat. Though I’m conscious of the potential problems on a 15-hour flight – I have limited holding capacity at my age, but then I get thirsty. The answer is a good bottle of water to sip from if necessary and thus match intake to evaporation loss, but then ‘security’ will steal your water at the airport. Maybe you can buy more in the departure area, maybe not.

        The ideal answer, for me, is an Emirates A380 – plenty of room! (in cattle class) – that’s a first! Enough room alleviates all sorts of problems. And comfortable seats. And I managed to take a bottle through security empty, which I then filled by shamelessly cadging a glass of water every time a stewardess passed, so by the time they shut down for the night I had most of a bottle – which turned out to be enough.

        (That said, Air France / Etihad / Cathay Pacific A340’s are OK too, they have 2-4-2 seating which I much like, a window seat is only one away from the aisle.)


  3. Cool diorama…I couldn’t get a sense of scale. Is it life-size…1:1?

    I love frisee salads (esp. with eggs and lardon). From your food pics it is apparent in Paris to be ubiquitous. You can only find the green around here at upscale markets; I must travel at least 30 minutes to find it. grrr.

    Safe travels on your way back to the insanity that is the United States. Another mass school shooting today. This is a sick country. sigh.

  4. The breaking down of the Halles was a big mistake, regretted by a lot of Parisians. I saw them too in 1970, they were beautiful 19th century steel structures, bursting with cafe life around them. San Francisco preserved its old port structures, as did Antwerp.

  5. I once bought a violet from the market in Perpignan in 1976. Now I love sea-urchins and goose-barnacles as well as oysters etc. but that was too much for me.The astringent,iodine taste is very powerful.

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