During my recent trip to France, we had an afternoon in Paris to walk around for a while. Actually, the only places we went to that were of any consequence was the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Rive Gauche, or Left Bank area of Paris.
It's so difficult to get around to see all the sights in just three or four hours. First of all, to do Paris right, you have to walk. There's just too much you can miss if you taxi from point to point. Secondly, you'll have to take at least three days to get around to every place. The first time I went, we took a full day and walked and walked and walked - but we saw a lot of things. But we didn't have time to REALLY explore.
It was a cool Saturday afternoon in late April when my colleagues and I took a walkabout around a section of the city. I took a lot of pictures and have put them in my Photo Album. You can click on the pictures for the captions I've written.
One of the finest dining experiences I've ever had in my life was our meal the last night we were in France recently. My boss treated all the North American regional managers to a wonderful dinner at Restaurant L'Aiguiere in Paris.
Restaurant L'Aiguiere is famous for not only their food, but for their world class collection of fine wine. The name "L'Aiguiere" is French for "The Ewer" which is the decanter used to store wine at a table. The owner, Patrick Masbatin, is a master sommelier and well-versed in the vast wine list the restaurant has.
Patrick Masbitin (left)
The restaurant has two levels - the upstairs has a couple of private rooms and a wonderful mezzanine overlooking the main floor. It isn't very large, but will comforably seat 75 to 80 people. They're open for lunch through the week and for dinner Monday thru Saturday nights.
We were seated in a room on the first floor that easily accommodated our group of 10 (two of the guys in our group went down to Corsica to back pack and hike the mountainous island for a couple three days before coming back to North America).
Monsieur Masbatin welcomed us and told us the building that Restaurant L'Aiguiere was in was the home of the Musketeers, Louis XIII's personal guards. M. Masbatin said that it is entirely probable that d'Artagnon, the protagonist of Alexandre Dumas' epic novel The Three Musketeers, as well as Isaac de Portau (the real life Porthos), Armand de Sillègue d'Athos d'Autevielle (the real life Athos), and Henri d'Aramitz (the real life Aramis) lived in the building.
I'd always thought that The Three Musketeers was a fictional story, but it turns out that Dumas' book is fiction largely based on fact.
Anyway, that was kind of a neat beginning to our meal. We started out with a sweet apertif before ordering our meals. For the entree, I ordered the foie gras - one of which was a regular piece of duck liver and the other was mixed with salt flower (sea salt). It was outstanding. No matter what you animal rights activists may say, I did NOT have any guilt in the least when I ate the foie gras.
The main course, I was torn between the veal osso-buco stuffed with foie gras and topped with a mushroom cream sauce; and the beef tournedos yella - beef tenderloins topped with a rich red wine sauce on top of a bed of vegetables. I opted for the tournedos, but my boss, Daniel (who was seated next to me), went for the veal osso-buco.
I just have to say that while my beef tournedos were absolutely fabulous, Daniel's veal osso-buco was out of this world. In fact, we ended up just eating off of each other's plate. We didn't give a shit. When the food is that good, it's a free-for-all. We had a lot of fun that night.
And to end the evening, I had a bourbon based creme brulee with real vanilla. Oh man! I just love creme brulee and that was some of the best I'd ever had. Man, was it great.
Before we left, M. Masbatin allowed some of us to take a quick peek of the wine cellar. It was very impressive, not only because of the selection, but because it was a perfect 55 degrees and 60 percent humidity in the cellar.
I don't even want to speculate what the final tab was, but I have to say that I was ever so grateful to my boss for the opportunity to eat in a place like Restaurant L'Aiguiere, to have the great food and great wine, and to experience something like that with my colleagues. I hope that some day I can take Cindy to a place like that.
Once again, the rooms were small compared to American hotel rooms. The bed took up most of the space in the room and it was a queen size bed.
The bathroom didn't have a bidet like the one in Saint-Etienne - and not that I'd actually USE a bidet - but it was pretty good sized compared to the room itself.
Also, here's a good tip if you ever go to France - take along your own soap, shampoo and toilet paper. The bathroom amenities at 3 star hotels in France aren't the best. The shampoo is watered down and it takes a lot to work up a lather; the soap doesn't lather (or offer much deodorant protection, as well); and the toilet paper is a step above what you'll find in most port-a-potties at construction sites.
The soap, shampoo and toilet paper at both Hotel Mercure's I stayed at were pretty much spot on with the above description.
My room was up pretty high and offered a glimpse of the Seine River, which was about a block away. Here's a picture of a little boat house on the "Rive Gauche" (Left Bank) of the Seine.
Also, when we were in Paris that afternoon and evening, there was a big soccer game taking place between Marseille and Paris - Saint Germain out at the Stade de France, the huge stadium on the northeast side of Paris. It was for the French equivalent of the Super Bowl - The French Cup.
When we went out on a little walk for lunch and just to look around, we noticed a number of police in riot gear situated around our hotel. One of the guys in our group thought it may have been because of the demonstrations by young French people against the government's labor policies a few weeks prior. But there didn't seem to be anything going on as far as any type of a gathering.
About 5:30 after we got back from our walk, I kept hearing some commotion out the window and noticed the police presence had jumped up considerably. Suddenly, I heared a lot of rhythmic clapping and cheering. I looked out the window and saw this:
It turned out that it was the Marseille fans who were in a tightly controlled parade after they had gotten off a special train from Marseille to go to the game that evening.
I was impressed by the show of force by police in keeping the demonstration in tow. I'm sure they've had a ton of problems in the past with "hooliganism" directly tied to soccer fans. Some of the soccer riots in Europe make the Watts riots of 1965 look like a backyard birthday party that erupted into a food fight.
More soccer fans from Marseille
The little parade that was pretty much peaceful other than the Marseilles fans chanting and clapping ended up at the Gare de Lyon and from there they went out to the stadium for the game. By the way, Paris Saint-Germain beat Marseille 2-1 to win the French Cup later that evening.
The Hotel Mercure Gare de Lyon had a nice restaurant in the place, as well as a little wine bar with a nice selection of scotch behind the bar. A couple of us got together in the bar for a couple of drinks before dinner and even though the bar was pretty small, it was certainly comfortable.
Every person who worked in the hotel that I encountered spoke impeccable English. That is the thing that is pretty common in Paris - a lot of people speak English so it's pretty easy to get around.
And I've yet to encounter a French person who is surly and rude. It's not to say they aren't out there - but we have 'em here in the States, too. And I never really got any anti-American vibe when I was there, either. Sure, the majority of the French people don't agree with the United States foreign policy, but they know that a lot of people in America don't agree with it, either.
The Hotel Mercure Gare de Lyon is a wonderful place to stay. It's not too centrally located (the only things that are close by is the Notre-Dame Cathedral and Paris' Latin Quarter), but you can take the Paris Metro system to virtually any of the great places to see in Paris.
However, it will definitely take you more than an afternoon to do that...
We got into Paris from Saint-Etienne last Saturday around 1 p.m., checked into our hotel to freshen up, then took off on a little walk along the Seine River. We found that we were probably more hungry than eager to sight see, so we found a little street that had a number of small restaurants up and down the way.
Many of the restaurants were packed (Parisians - actually all Europeans - have a tendency to eat later than Americans), but we did find one little place that was able to handle our party of 10 - Aux Anysetiers du Roy on Rue St. Louis en I'lle in Paris' 4th arrondissement (district). It's actually on the island of St. Louis in the Seine, just west of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. See map here.
Aux Anysetiers du Roy is a tiny place. It probably seats no more than 22 to 25 people. In doing some research on the place, it turns out that the restaurant was one of the more "hip" places to hang out and have dinner in the 60's and 70's with celebrities. Salvador Dali, Bridgette Bardot, Jerry Lewis and other celebs would grace the doors of Aux Anysetiers du Roy, primarily for their famous chocolate fondue.
They sat us along the wall at Aux Anysetiers du Roy which afforded us a look into their very small kitchen. It was just one chef, a woman, and one waiter working in the place. The chef had no sous chef in the kitchen, it was just her.
The restaurant's specialty is grilled meat. One of our guys went with the grilled veal and he said it was just outstanding. I'd never had grilled veal before and he said it was moist and flavorful.
I opted for the chef's special of the day - Beef Bourgogne (Beef Burgundy) - which is basically a beef stew that uses cubed pieces of beef in a rich wine based gravy with some vegetables. I almost opted for the steak au poivre (sirloin steak in a black pepper infused sauce - the base of which they sell, as well), but I figured that after a week of eating rich foods I needed some comfort food - French style.
We got a bottle of the 2002 Chateau Cartier Saint Emilion Grand Cru from the Bordeaux region after we ordered lunch. Now, I don't know French wines at all, but even for a wine that probably needed a couple more years to go before we opened the bottle, it was outstanding with our lunch.
The food was just outstanding. This a picture of my plate after I'd eaten a couple of the pieces of beef. Man, it was great. The sauce had a robust taste of a good red wine, the potatoes were fried beforehand in a little olive oil. There were mushrooms and carrots added. It very much reminded me of my beef stew recipe.
We didn't do any of their chocolate fondue, although had I known the historical significance and how famous the place was for their chocolate fondue, I may have tried something. But I ate so much friggin' chocolate on this trip. I probably had more chocolate in a week than I've had in the past year. I just don't eat that much chocolate.
Our lunch gave us enough fuel to get us around on our little walkabout Paris. It was the ultimate in comfort food. It was definitely a "spot hitter".
But what I wanted to do more than anything was to go to Harry's New York Bar and get a Bloody Mary. Now, the guys in our group kind of looked at me like, "Huh?" But when I explained to them that Harry's invented the Bloody Mary in the 20's, they all followed suit.
Actually, Harry's wasn't that far from the Opera House or our hotel. It's not a huge place, but it's very ornate with a lot of dark wood paneling on the walls, covered with pictures and other offerings from over the years. It's definitely got an English/American feel to the place as the staff and bartenders all spoke English - quite well, actually.
We all had a Bloody Mary and it was a spot hitter. It was a little expensive - 9.50 Euros, which, at the time, was about $9.00 US. But what the hell. I had two.
We looked around the place and ended up going downstairs into their piano bar room. One of the waiters let us go down, even though it wasn't open. It wasn't very big, almost gave me a clausterphobic feel to it. The waiter said that George Gershwin used to play the same piano they had in there when he was living in Paris years ago. He said that people such as Elton John, Harry Connick, Jr., and Diana Krall had all been in the piano bar in recent months playing the piano. Unfortunately, the lid was down and locked or I would have played chop sticks.
The walls of the piano bar were also adorned with some interesting French sketch art. I kind of liked it, but some of the guys in the group were making noises about being bored, so we took off (always happens when you're in a group of people).
I know that Harry's isn't a beer bar, and it probably isn't a destination, per se. But I'm glad we went.