Last meal report from Paris

May 15, 2023 • 11:00 am

For some reason I didn’t have time to write about our last meal in Paris, at the esteemed and old fashioned restaurant Sébillon in Neuilly, a small town that’s not in Paris, but might as well be. It was recommended by one of Winnie’s friends, and it turned out to be an excellent recommendation. It’s a little bit out of the way, so although it was jammed for Sunday lunch, we saw no other tourists. Winnie’s friend Nicole joined us for the house specialty, gigot (leg of lamb) served with the traditional white beans. And it’s served according to the two most beautiful words in French: à volonté, or “at your will”.  The proper English tradition is “all you can eat”. And I was prepared to eat plenty of lamb leg, especially if was cooked the right way: pink on the inside, or even rare.

I got off at the wrong Métro stop, but I didn’t know that. Because I was early, I went into a nearby Catholic church (St. Jean-Baptiste) as I heard the sounds of Mass within. I hadn’t been in a Mass since 1989, when I wandered into the midnight Mass at Notre Dame in Paris. What with the singing, the organ, and the swinging censers spewing incense, and the church (before it was burned) that was quite a spectacle.

A few scenes from the Neuilly church:

A kid getting baptized, as per the church’s name. You don’t get dunked like a doughnut any more; this priest simply dipped a hankie in the holy water and wiped the boy’s forehead. That’s baptism on the cheap!

St. John the Baptist:

A memorial to those who died for France in WWI:

. . . and the painting below it:

The Mass:

Suddenly my phone buzzed; it was Winnie telling me I was late. It turns out there are two stops on the Métro like with the name “Neuilly” in them, and I had gotten off at the wrong one. Fortunately, the right one was just two stops down the line, and the Restaurant Sébillon was right by the stop. And so we were only a few minutes late.

Restaurant exterior:

The interior. It’s a panorama, so click to enlarge. It’s an old-fashioned place, lovely and just perfect for Sunday lunch when, according to tradition, adults take their parents and older relatives out to lunch:

I had the prix-fixe menu, which included a choice of oysters for the entrée. My haul:

I had a white wine whose genre I can’t remember (it’s been too long)

Winnie and Nicole had the white asparagus, which was in season. (I almost went for it.) It was served with a butter sauce that both of them eschewed

And then. . . . the GIGOT, brought to the table on carts. I could specify that I wanted rare lamb, and knew that I could get more:

My first plate (I had three). This is how I like my lamb, and this was terrific: juicy and flavorful. The beans were also excellent (the quality of gigot-accompanying beans does vary among restaurants.)

We all had gigot. Nicole, whose appetite is normal, was satisfied with one plate, and I think I even beat Winnie, who had two (she generally can outeat me). But we differed in our desserts. I had the baba au rhum (rum-soaked spongecake), served with a bottle of rum (yo ho ho!) on the side if you want more. This was the rummiest baba au rhum I’ve ever had! I was tipsy after the meal, and I think the rum was largely responsible.

The ladies had a crème caramel and crêpes for dessert:

A selfie of all of us.  The room was filled with locals, with many tables occupied by families as well as and seniors, the latter presumably grandparents.

On the way out, we passed a huge and luscious-looking apple tarte:

I decided to visit the nearby Musée de l’Homme while the ladies went off to nap. It turned out that I should have napped too, as the famous anthropology museum was huge, and I was too full to take it all in. But I wanted to see the exhibit of early human art that had influenced Picasso.

Here’s a reproduction of the Venus of Lespuge, between 26,000 and 24,000 years old,

And a Picasso nude, “Bust of a Woman” (1931) showing a similar style:

Also on view: beach stones that Picasso picked up and sculpted, presumably influenced by “primitive” art. These must be worth a gazillion dollars.

I was too exhausted to peruse the anthropological collections, but did note two things. First, a wall of rubber tongues. When you pull on one, it speaks the language it represents (each tongue connects to a speaker so you can hear the language). Very clever!

And, right outside is a famous Parisian landmark:

Thus endeth my Parisian food jaunt, that included eight restaurants.  As for the Sébeillon, I recommend it highly, but do go for Sunday lunch, and reserve!

20 thoughts on “Last meal report from Paris

    1. And they definitely vary from what most of us would call sexually attractive now. Note, I’m quite a fan of some derrière, but these ‘Venuses’ are frankly out of my league of what I’d find sexually attractive. It is very possible they were not meant to be that at all, we can only guess. Betty Boop in real life would also be considered a monster, I guess.
      There are some studies about the waist-hip ratio in sexual attractiveness over different cultures that point to quite a bit of unanimity, but I don’t know how wobbly these studies are.

      1. After 25 hours in the air, in two stages, I arrived in Paris, and visited the Musee de l’Homme just this weekend. What an extraordinary assemblage of original Palaeolithic works of art that previously I’ve only seen in photographs. Not just the gravid figurines, but splendid carvings/etchings on stone, ivory etc, the famous ibex-head implements, ? spear throwers… It was deeply moving for me to encounter original artefacts from a 30000+ year stretch of artistic production.

        As for these gravid figurines known as Venuses, many years ago I read a compelling hypothesis these were not necessarily carved by men, as usually assumed. The hypothesis was that the oversized breasts and vestigial lower limbs, as well as absent facial features, are what one would expect of a woman carving herself based on what she could see in her heavily pregnant state. That is, the large breasts are her viewpoint gazing downwards; or to put it another way, a fertility symbol from literally, a pregnant woman’s point of view.

        Ramesh, still proudly 2% Denisovan

  1. “….I wandered into the midnight mass at Notre Dame in Paris…”. While killing time wandering around London until my afternoon train north many years ago, I wandered into the Sunday service at Westminster with choir sounds and herald trumpets and looked with reverence at memorials to great philosophers (now scientists) and poets. That was some shul! As I left, my thoughts were that you might enter as an atheist but hardly anyone could leave as one, such was the chilling sound of the herald trumpets and embracing music of the choir.

  2. I dunno, here we don’t really have fresh white asparagus here, the last time I ate it was nearly a decade ago, when I was in the Netherlands in May. The season is very short. I would never have passed white asparagus. I used to eat them cooked (there are special narrow asparagus cookers that cook the bodies, but prevent the tips from overcooking), with mashed boiled egg, molten butter and a whiff of nutmeg, but I’ve eaten them raw too. Such a delicacy.
    [I noted that when you have eaten asparagus your urine has a very strong smell of asparagus, much stronger that the actual dish, is there someone who can explain? It has to do with sulphur compounds, but your pee -at least mine- does not smell like brimstone or rotten eggs, just like asparagus, but stronger]

    Here in the RSA, lamb -contrary to fresh white asparagus- is easily accessible, and Karoo lamb is simply the best. Its good taste is ascribed to the Karoo bushes and Buchu-like plants they eat. I’m not 100% sure about that though, well I’m sure about the trope, but I’m not sure whether it is true . And don’t get me started on sheep tails. If ever you visit the Karoo, try the ‘skaapstertjies’, you won’t be disappointed.

    1. According to Wikipedia:

      Certain compounds in asparagus are metabolized to yield ammonia and various sulfur-containing degradation products, including various thiols and thioesters, which following consumption give urine a characteristic smell.

      Some of the volatile organic compounds responsible for the smell are:

      dimethyl sulfide
      dimethyl disulfide
      dimethyl sulfoxide
      dimethyl sulfone
      Subjectively, the first two are the most pungent, while the last two (sulfur-oxidized) give a sweet aroma. A mixture of these compounds form a “reconstituted asparagus urine” odor.

    2. We stayed at a sheep ranch tourist lodge in SA years ago and the lamb we had for dinner was divine, so tender it didnt need a fork. I’ve never had lamb as good as that anywhere though any lamb is better than American. Any FOOD is better than American. (I do prefer our skinny green asparagus to the white, however; cultivated asparagus is as good as the wild version for some reason. Asparagus sprouts new stalks for years once you plant them. They sometimes grow wild near brackish water.Just cut them off and they re-grow. Urine smell has something to do with how the kidneys process the vegetable. Nothing to worry about.

  3. I do remember seeing your photo of gigot a few days back on a Hili when (iirc) it was “Leg of Lamb Day”. Three-plates! Kudos. I doubt I’d make it past two, but it does look spectacular.

    I didn’t realize that Picasso was in Paris during most of the Nazi occupation and the liberation by the Allies. I learned that recently from Matthew Cobb’s great book 11 Days in August.

  4. Jerry, do you remember that fancy bottle of calvados that you passed on trying this trip? I managed to get my hands on a bottle. I’ve never had calvados before, but I really like this bottle. Very nice. It smells wonderful and tastes very nice as well. Strong too, but very smooth. The closest thing I would compare it to that I’ve had before would be a fine grappa.

  5. I, for one, was well aware that we had missed out on a last Paris meal report. Thanks for posting, albeit belatedly.

  6. A memorial to those who died for France in WWI:

    Well, the Catholics amongst them. But that’s the things about “state religions”. As a multitude of stories about National Service induction would say :
    Sergeant : “What religion are you, Private?”
    Private : “Wiccan, with a side order of Zoastrianism.”
    Sergeant : [mutters, ticks “Church of England” box] “Next!”

  7. One of the hardest parts of moving from the UK to NS was discovering people look at the idea of eating lamb the way Brits regard horsemeat. It is slowly getting better, but you still won’t find lamb in a supermarket. Better to buy an extra freezer and order a half or whole carcass from one of the few sheep farmers around.
    I’d roast my leg of lamb a little more than rare, and serve with new potatoes (if you can find them: new and old potatoes are also a foreign concept here), mint sauce, peas and gravy. Gooseberry crumble and goat cream afterwards! When my father retired from civil engineering he took up a sheep farm in west Wales and could provide all of the ingredients for that from his own land. Lovely!

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