05 December 2009

A Thanksgiving in Paris

Thanks to a visit from some friends from home, Thanksgiving weekend was a blur.

It started with a 10-h Thanksgiving feast as soon as our guests arrived on Thursday. How they managed to stay awake (or even alive) is beyond me. Talk about good sports.

Friday, after about 12 hours of food coma, we attended the fall edition of the Salon des Vins (this edition's motto: Now without food poisoning!), a convention of about 1000 independent French wine makers south of town. Preston decided he wanted to bring back cognac, which gave us a much-needed focus in the sea of tasting opportunity. Because sampling the offerings from all 13 cognac producers at the Salon would have buried us, we limited ourselves to just one subregion. Even from the restricted selection, the favorite was awfully good. And though one's tasting perceptions have to be viewed with some suspicion after 20 cognacs, the fun of working through them all does not. There was a boat show in the adjoining building, and I have to wonder how many wine-fueled yacht purchases were made over the 5-day Salon des Vins weekend.

We followed the wine convention up with a pleasant dinner at Hier et Aujourd'hui, a nice little place a little out of the way in the 17e. It's the kind of place that still does the help-yourself (and delicious) terrine and cornichons before the meal, and the 1-man kitchen turns out updated versions of classic French food. Good food, good value, and always a good time.

Having guests who wanted to see the non-touristy side of Paris was the perfect opportunity to so some things we'd been too lazy to get to. So we spent a soggy Saturday walking from the Bois de Vincennes to Bastille along the Promenade Plantée, a converted railway line that is now a greenway that offers diverse botanical and architectural views. From there we walked through the Marais, the warren of non-Haussmann small and twisty streets lined with hip shops, and then for contrast the Champs Elysees, all lit up for Christmas and hosting a Christmas market, complete with rides for kids, ice sculptures (10 eurobucks, please), a Ferris wheel, cheesy little wooden chalets selling just about any kitschy thing you can think of, and even a Santa sleigh on a zip line. It's not often in high-style Paris you get to see people in cow hats selling coo-coo clocks. We had dinner at my favorite restaurant in Paris, La Gazzetta in the 12e. The cooking there is both full of flavor and very delicate, a difficult combination to pull off, and the service is always exceptional.

After a delicious lunch of Portuguese roast chicken in the 9e on Sunday, we visited the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19e (another Haussmann project) and made our way back along the Canal St Martin, stopping for hot chocolate and christmas beer in one of the many cozy neighborhood bars.

With a beer-and-food-rich 5 days in Belgium 2 weeks earlier and a smaller wine event on two boats on the Seine the weekend prior (where we bought our wines for Thanksgiving), we've now succeeded in storing just enough fat for winter. Winter's 14 months long in Paris, right??

Salmon tartare, apple-infused creme fraiche, parmesan crisp. I finally found truly fish fresh in Paris, and it was so good that I used the leftovers from making the roulade (below) for tartare.

Parsnip and walnut soup: like chestnut and celery root, these 2 flavors work together very well.

Salmon-and-leek roulade, beurre blanc sauce

Cauliflower timbale with truffle oil

Sweet potato ravioli with browned butter and sage.

At this point in the proceedings, our jet-lagged guests needed some reviving, so we broke for a couple of hours for sleep and a walk. The post-break pictures suffered from inadequate lighting and bad flash.

Skate with braised red cabbage and mustard sauce, a recipe straight out of the French Laundry Cookbook

Seared foie gras with cranberry gastrique, cranberry-and-candied fennel salad

Guinea fowl en crepinette with porcini mushrooms, crispy polenta, and pommeau sauce. Though I love guinea hen with apple, the reduced pommeau (a blend of apple cider and calvados) was too sweet. And instead of mushrooms, a bitter green like turnip greens would have set off the bird-with-browned-onions better. Live and learn.

Venison loin with pureed potimarron (squash that supposedly tastes like chestnuts), chocolate sauce, and poached quince. I'd seen the venison-and-chocolate combination at Vetri and had been dying to try something similar. The bitter chocolate (cocoa powder in the sauce) really brings up the flavor of the venison, in this case farmed instead of the preferred wild.

Arugula salad

Cheeses from Quatrehomme: livarot (cow, Normandy), bonde gatine (goat, Loire), brie de meaux (cow, Ile de France), compte (cow, French Alps), and roquefort papillon (sheep, Pyrenees).

Dessert: pastries from Gantier

The evening's beverages.

Salon des Vins: wines from every region of France for every budget.

At the Salon des Vins cafe, this fellow was ordering beers. I'm not sure I'd buy his wine...

The breathalyzer near the exit was popular. Though the alcohol blood limit for driving in France, as many other places in Europe, is a strict 0.5 mg/mL (or 0.05%), there are no limits on the Metro as far as we know.

The Bastille end of the Promenade Plantée is elevated on a now-restored viaduct that houses galleries, cafes, and shops.

The elevated portion of the Promenade Plantée wends its way past and sometimes seemingly through buildings, offering some unique and interesting vantage points of the surrounding neighborhoods, even when the gardens themselves are relatively minimal for winter.

The elevated promenade offers evidence of building codes. Presumably this chimney was too close to the adjoining building, so the flues were extended above the other building's roofline.

The Christmas market along the Champs Elysees. Brought to you by Mastercard.

The Ferris wheel at Concorde.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

Temple Sybil in Parc des Buttes Chaumonts, in what used to be a quarry.

The view from the Temple Sybil.

Canal St Martin. The perfect place to use that boat you bought at the Salon Nautique.

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