Saturday, July 24, 2010

Paris - Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter contains quaint
little streets full of eating establishments that are so beautiful that you want to go in as much to see the place as to try the food. You find places that call themselves bars, cafes, bistros, brasseries or restaurants with each supposedly more upscale in terms of decor, service and types of food served. However these days I'm not sure if the distinctions are as obvious.

Rue de Seine is lined with interesting shops. There was a fascinating store called Pixi and Cie. It contained large glass cases full of plastic figurines including all the characters from Tin Tin and Asterix & Obelix, and generic figures depicting stereotypical Parisans of various professions including policemen, waiters, jazz musicians, night club singers, etc. There were collectible diorama boxes depicting scenes using both painted backgrounds and plastic furniture and figures. The front window showed Tour de France cyclists climbing a steep hill where several bikers crashed. This led me to lament yet again that we would be missing the finale of the Tour de France by just a few hours. They would be racing through Place du Concorde just as our plane departed on Sunday afternoon.

There was a rare books and autographs store that sold letters and plates containing writing and signatures of famous people such as Napolean, King Henry VI, Alexandre Dumay, etc. One pottery store had very unique bowls and platters including one in the shape of a lettuce leaf. Then we found two stores side by side that sold authentic works and limited prints of artists like Roy Litechenstein, Joan Miro, etc. One object that caught our eye was a beautiful Picasso vase that looked very similar to one we had seen in the Gardiner Ceramic Museum in Toronto. It was clearly out of our price range but just for fun, Rich decided to ask how much it was. For it mere 25,000 Euros, it could be ours! If only she had said 20K, we might have considered (NOT!)

This was a good day for fun eating experiences. Rich lamented on the last trip that he never got to have a "street crepe" in the Latin Quarter, so it was my mission to find him one this time. We stumbled upon a vendor just as we were getting hungry for lunch and ordered a cheese and ham crepe. The son started to make the crepe by ladling out the batter, but tore a hole in it when he tried to flip it. He called to "Papa" for help. His father tried to salvage the crepe and peeked at us once to see if we would notice. Since we were monitoring him closely, he sighed and tossed the defective shell and started over. Obviously an expert at his craft, the father masterfully made the crepe with graceful movements that were almost like a dance. When he finished, he presented our prize with a flourish and said "Voila". We took our crepe and coca cola granita to a nearby park and ate on a bench while watching the children play.

A "French macaroon" consists of two meringue cookies sandwiching a cream filling, as opposed to the coconut based North American treats of the same name. Although you can get French macaroons in Toronto, we read that the ones sold at Laduree in Paris were the best. Having now sampled these macaroons, I can attest to the veracity of that statement. These were lighter, less sweet and came in a larger variety of fillings, such as caramel with salted butter (the best!), coffee, lemon, cassis, mint, apple, mimosa and much more . Each one seemed to melt in your mouth and then burst with flavour. I'm only slightly ashamed to say that we started out by buying six cookies to share, gobbled them up within a few minutes and went back for more. I am too ashamed to admit how many we eventually ate that day...

We dined at an unusual restaurant chain called L'Entrocote which did not have a menu for appetizer and main course because they only served one choice. You start with a salad consisting of lettuce, walnuts and mustard dressing, followed by a plate of sliced steak and frites, followed by a second plate of steak and frites! The only thing you were asked was what you wanted to drink and how you liked your steak. If you had wandered into this restaurant not knowing what to expect, you would have been very perplexed. The concept must work though because there was a constant lineup to get in, starting even before the restaurant opened. There were a large number of tables all placed very close to each other and what seemed like over a dozen waitresses all dressed in the same uniform of black dress, white apron and black shoes. The food must be prepared on mass since each "course" is served very quickly with the entire meal including dessert (for which there was a menu and a choice) concluding within 45 minutes.. this is unheard of in European restaurants where it is typical to linger hours over a meal.

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