Saturday, April 2, 2011
Jeudi: Le Marais
We’re not exactly springing out of bed and dashing outside to conquer the city. We’re more slowly emerging from a cocoon of jet-laggy sleep, letting some coffee soak into our systems, and only then, after much puttering and researching and wrapping of scarves and packing of notebooks, do we amble outside, in search of the next delicious treat.
Thursday we struck gold, at Au Fil des Saisons, a small, traditional-looking spot in the Marais where we set up camp for a couple of hours. We arrived at the tail end of lunch, but the chef, Loïc, not only welcomed us, he served us, and helped us choose the wine (a snappy and delicious Joseph Drouhin white burgundy), and answered our string of questions about the items on the chalkboard menu. (“Ça c’est egg with mushrooms and cheese; ça c’est snapper, ça c’est ….)
We had the egg (served in a gratin dish with cream and a mushroom puree and plenty of butter, all broiled together into a beautiful mess) and the escargots, which were stuffed into phyllo cigars and served with a cream sauce infused with 18 cloves of garlic (“Dix-huit?! Non!!”) For plats principaux, we had snapper en papillote with julienned vegetables and a “French risotto” with parmesan, and duck breast with a fine layer of crispy fat, served with potatoes and stir-fried vegetables with soy sauce. This is just the kind of meal that has a certain French flavor and quality (and liberality of fat) that you cannot find in the States, even in New York. I couldn’t do it every day, but for a treat, it was certainly welcome.
Then we set off to wander the Marais, one of my absolute favorite places in the world. Hausmann didn’t get his hands on this neighborhood, so it has old winding streets, back alleys, courtyards, vest-pocket parks, a hodgepodge of building shapes, sizes, and styles that you don’t see in the grand and stately arrondissements.
Paris, unlike New York, has museums scattered throughout the city; you’re forever stumbling across some little jewel that has its own lovely treasures. One of the more interesting ones is Le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (The Hunting and Nature Museum), housed (of course) in a pair of handsome hôtels particuliers in the Marais. The exhibits have clearly been designed by someone with a quirky sense of humor; the exhibit on the fox, for instance, has a taxidermy fox in a glass case, around which is built a cabinet with various drawers (one has casts of a fox’s pawprints, another casts of a fox’s leave-behinds), some sliding panels that show a mini-installation of fox drawings by a contemporary artist, and a kind of hologram that shows you the fox’s territory.
There was also a room with birdcalls, which you could call up from a vintage-y box of labeled buttons, and then rooms organized by theme (The Wild Boar and the Stag, The Big Game Hunt, The Unicorn), filled with artifacts, taxidermy, and art. Somehow, it didn’t feel creepy, but instead smart and urbane and elegant.
Already in need of fortification, we window-shopped our way over to Mariage Frères for some Assam and thé vert, and a green tea financier and a citron macaron.
We then lingered in Place des Vosges, undoubtedly one of the most serene, most dignified spots in the city. As always when I’m in Place des Vosges, it was overcast, which makes the place even more somber and reserved.
We strolled along the arcades, peeking into hotel lobbies and jewelry shops, before working our way back to the lively part of the Marais, where we had an aperitif at Les Philosophes, a classic corner café on Rue Vieille du Temple (with an amusing sign in la toilette), next to La Chaise au Plafond, where I had my daily breakfast coffee years ago, on my first trip to Paris.
Our last stop of the evening was Breizh Café, where we had maybe a bit too much of the rich, buttery galettes (Bretonese buckwheat crepes). I couldn’t resist trying the famous Bordier butter, especially when I saw there is a smoked version (beurre fumé!), so we started with that, and probably could have wrapped it up right there. But on we went: galette with egg, mushrooms, and cheese for R., and galette with Reblochon, potatoes, bacon, and salad for me.
We had to cab it home, we were so full and wiped out and footsore. In the Marain, even in one day, you can really live a very full and filling life.