Thursday, October 31, 2013

Layover in Paris

While awaiting our flight to Paris where we planned to layover for a couple of days, we spent some time in the Vienna airport.  It is quite a civilized place to hang out, with free WIFI (unlike Charles Degaulle in Paris!), workstations with power supplies, lounge seats where you can stretch out, vending machines that sell products from Best Buy, and a T-Mobile store that sold SIM cards for our IPAD.  We had some excitement in our departure lounge when a group of beautiful, statuesque women showed up wearing colourful clothing and flora head-pieces.  It turns out they were Austrian performers dressed up in the style of Frida Khalo, en route to Paris to do a show.  They strutted throughout the airport posing for photos before boarding our flight.

Since this was our third visit to Paris, we wanted to find a unique boutique hotel to stay at, similar to one that we found on an earlier trip to Seattle.  I googled "Paris boutique hotels" and the photos for Sorbonne Design Hotel caught my eye.  It had a funky decor that was fairly modern in the main lobby and rooms, but had a nostalgic feel with the winding staircase and baby blue wall paper decorated with images of old buildings in the area like the Sorbonne and the Pantheon.  Each floor of the hotel hosted a photo gallery with a different theme.  Our floor had a mishmash of old wedding photos from different times and cultures.  The burgundy carpet in the narrow hallways had a French poem embroidered into it.

We were lucky that there was an autumn sale on the room rates for the time period that we would be in Paris.  We were able to get the "best and largest" room on the top floor of the hotel for about 60% of the cost.  We had to keep in mind that France's standards for "large" were not on the same scale as North America.  The best feature of the room was the skylight window that had a view of the Sorbonne and the Pantheon.  Although there is also free WIFI, each room comes with free access to an Apple Mac computer, for those who did not bring their own devices.  In order to retrieve the password for the free WIFI, we had to access a menu within the Mac.  It took a second to realize that what was provided was not a standard North American QWERTY keyboard.  I had never seen a keyboard with this setup before and had to hunt and peck to find the letters, numbers and symbols I needed.

While we feasted on and raved about the cakes in Vienna, in Paris we were after other treats.  We had a chocolate eclair that had light fluffy pastry surrounding rich chocolate mouse, a chocolate almond croissant with the perfect mix of chocolate and almond paste, and Florentine cookies which I would have preferred to be crunchier.  We had already loaded up on chocolate in Vienna and therefore did not buy more in Paris.  But we did have fun window shopping at high-end chocolate stores such as Patrick Roger, which had elaborate chocolate carvings displayed in the front windows.

So many macaron choices and so little time (or stomach room).  The last time we were in Paris, we bought macarons from Laduree, specializing in these flavoured meringue cookies that sandwich a creamy filling since 1862.  This time, we were attracted by all the colours and flavours of macaron available at Fauchon.  We shared a cappuchino and a chocolate hazelnut one.  Then on the way home, we spotted the sign at the McCafé–even McDonalds sold macarons!

A trip to Paris would not be complete without a visit to our favourite tea salon, Angelina's.  We go for the lovely decor, and the food is pretty good.  For lunch, we had a fois gras salad and truffled ravioli.  You get a significantly larger piece of fois gras in France than you would in North America.  The truffled pasta was one of the most flavourful dishes we have ever tasted!  But the real reason that we return to Angelina's again and again is for their hot chocolate, which is so thick and rich that it is like drinking a melted chocolate bar.  It is delicious with or without the container of whipped cream that accompanies it.

Au Pied du Cochon is known for serving every part of the pig, including the trotter, tail, snout, ear and even the head.  We were not brave enough to order any of these parts, but did watch someone sitting next to us gnaw away at a hoof.  After hearing our awful French, the waiter quickly handed us an English menu.  Then the Asian couple next to us asked for and received a Chinese menu.  I wonder how many different languages are available?

We had read that the French Onion soup was very good here, and indeed it was.  The broth was sweet as opposed to salty and topped with a thick layer of seared guyere cheese.  With the bread, we were served a small container of pork pate.  For our meal, we both ordered the veal stew with mushrooms, tomato and scalloped potato in a sauce. We skipped dessert but were given two "piggy" meringues to end the meal.

Le Train Bleu is by far the most beautiful restaurant that we have ever dined in.  Located in the Gare de Lyon train station, the restaurant (initially called "Buffet de la Gare de Lyon") was open in 1901 and served travelers and other visitors passing through the station.  It was built in the era of  La Belle Époque, which also saw the construction of the  Opéra Garnier and the Grand Palais.   The restaurant is decorated with 41 large murals depicting landscapes and industry, which are surrounded by elaborate trim in gold leaf and sculptures of nymphs and cupids, deep red velour curtains, a  parquet-patterned floor, and elaborate chandeliers.  It felt like we were having dinner in the palace of Versaille. 

Although we went for the ambiance more than for fine dining, it turned out that food was pretty good, and did not cost a King's Ransom if you order the fixed price menu.  For 56 Euros, you got an amuse bouche, an appetizer, main course, dessert and a choice of a small bottle of wine or water.  We both selected the gazpacho chilled cod with lime and the chicken Tournedos Rossini topped with fois gras, sitting in an artichoke puree.  For dessert I went for the apple tartin with vanilla ice cream while Rich had the cheese platter.  Considering that just ordering the drinks separately would have cost us 7-15 Euroes each, this was a great deal.

For our final meal, we went to a very small local restaurant in the Latin Quarter called Le Petit Pontoise. We luckily had a reservation as we saw the owners turn multiple groups away since the place was packed.  Here we had the most delicious appetizer of escargots and mushrooms in a creamy green garlic sauce, served in a delightful little copper pot.  For main course, we ordered the duck with fois gras on mashed potato, which was tasty but a bit heavy for me and could have used a side of vegetables.  If I came back, I would ask for the duck breast with apple slices that the person next to us ordered, which came with a heaping serving of crisply sauted vegetables.  Then the dessert came and it was a twist on the molten chocolate cake served with a small dollop of ice cream.  When you broke into the cake, out burst a flood of liquidy chocolate sauce mixed with some sort of liqueur that we could not identify.  When this was mixed with the drizzles of chocolate and raspberry on the plate, the resultant taste was amazing.  All in all, the meal was fantastic and we would definitely return on our next trip to Paris.

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