day 13 :
saturday, 9 may
Our penultimate day in France. Where had the two weeks gone? Oh yeah – we spent it eating croissants. Well, at least it had been worth it.
Dawn woke up with a slight cold this morning, and we were both tired from having stayed up until 2AM the night before. It looked like Paris had a bit of a cold, too – this was the first day those gray clouds from the past week actually precipitated. We took it easy this morning and did a little packing.
We walked across Luxembourg gardens to Bread and Roses for a light lunch. Dawn had a puff-pastry tart with warm tomatoes, basil, and gooey mozzarella, along with a nicely dressed salad. Eric enjoyed the softest-consistency mushroom quiche he's ever tried.
From there, we hopped the Métro to see the famous Les Catacombs in Montparnasse. Bones of nearly six million people were transferred from various Paris cemeteries to the extensive catacombs in the 18th and 19th centuries. We had found the small Chapel of Bones in Évora, Portugal, to be intriguing, so something as large as this sounded fascinating. Unfortunately, although our guidebook said the site is open until 5PM, they actually stop taking people into the tunnels for tours at 4PM. The line was epic – everyone probably had the same thoughts as us and figured that if it's cold and raining out, you're no worse off in a dank underground crypt, right? So, we didn't make it in. Instead, we walked over to the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation to see the sobering Jim Goldberg Open See exhibit – photos and stories of refugees and immigrants from war-torn countries. The upper level of the institute had a few prints of Cartier-Bresson's most famous works, as well as his original Leica camera.
Coming back from the exhibit, we almost got squished in the Métro by the hoards of football fans with painted faces, dressed in red, waving flags, and singing and chanting loudly. It turns out that they were on their way to the Coupe de France 2009 final: Stade Rennais FC vs. EA Guingamp.
Now that we were a little thinner from being jam-packed into our Métro car, we re-expanded with ice cream from Berthillon. For some inexplicable reason, we had delayed our pilgrimage to the famous ice cream shop until the last minute, despite walking past it many times, but at least we had a chance to try a pâtisserie cornet with scoops of chocolate and caramel. Each small scoop was intensely rich and creamy, and lived up to its reputation.
Our final dinner in Paris was a serendipitous delight. While chatting with Braden and Laura late last night about food, they mentioned their favorite new, small restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement called Frenchie. The chef is a Frenchman (no kidding!) by the same nickname who has worked at Gramercy Tavern and with Jamie Oliver in London. The (at the time) 5-week-old restaurant is located on the Rue de Nil, which was rather fitting description of the area; compared to the party scene at the Métro stop by our apartment, this part of Paris was as quiet as could be on a Saturday evening.
We opened the screen door to a hip interior with exposed brick walls, timbered ceilings, and old-school Thomas Edison lightbulbs. There were about a dozen seats, and from our table we had a view through the square window in the back of the dining room into the kitchen. Two young kids from one family's table were helping out the one waiter tonight, serving espresso or carrying plates. The menu is simple: you choose between two entrées, two plats, and three desserts. Dawn started with a cherry tomato salad which was unlike what you'd expect from the description: tomatoes (not cherry tomatoes), together with cherries in a clear tomato broth seasoned with vinegar and oil, along with croutons and basil – the dish was perfectly balanced, light, and delicious. Eric opted for the smoked mackerel with three kinds of asparagus. The mackerel was tender and had a blissful smoky aroma when it arrived; the accompanying green and purple asparagus were good, but the third super-thin variety was unusually tasty with an ever-so-slight crunch. We both had veal for our main course – a few perfectly-tender medallions drizzled with a vibrant mint-pea sauce, and served with carrots and peas seasoned with lemon-butter, fennel, and thyme. Outstanding. For dessert, Eric enjoyed brebis and chèvre while Dawn had the softest pannacotta she's ever eaten. Usually not a fan of the gelatinous texture of panna cotta, this version was practically melting in front of her, flecked throughout with vanilla bean and served with raspberries and candied mint leaves. Braden's assessment of Frenchie was spot-on: many Paris restaurants serve one-note or two-note dishes that lack complexity or a variety of flavors, while Frenchie hits four or five notes in every dish, keeping your palate engaged throughout the meal. We thanked Chef Gregory Marchand and his crew for an amazing evening, and so ended our last night in Paris.