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Thursday, May 21, 2015


On Saturday, Susie and I fly off to Paris for a five week stay.  In my mind, I am already walking the streets of the fifth and sixth arrondissements, checking on old familiar buildings, looking to see whether little shops have survived, planning outings [this time, we plan to see the newly renovated and enlarged Picasso Museum in the third arrondissement], and of course imagining the meals I shall cook or the restaurants to which we shall go.  I have decided to try my hand at a recipe for a daube de boeuf Provençale which, oddly enough, is due to none other than Martha Stewart.

A recent TIMES news story brought a number of apparently quite Parisian disparate memories and associations into conjunction.  A little background is called for.  As most people are aware, the automobile tire company Michelin has for many years published an annual guide to touring in France [and now other countries as well], the feature of which is ratings of thousands of hotels and restaurants in every corner of France.  [The Michelin logo is a man made entirely of white tires stacked one on top of the other.  He looks a good deal like the enormous Pillsbury Doughboy in Ghostbusters.] 

The Michelin restaurant critics award from one to three stars to restaurants they consider especially worthy of notice, and an award of three stars identifies a restaurant as one of the great eating places of the world.  I don't like fancy restaurants where cooking is treated as a visual art and sauces are dribbled onto the plate in decorative patterns so that they look nice but are virtually impossible to taste.  I have actually, on two different occasions, gotten a famous restaurant to refund my money after I wrote an angry letter detailing precisely how and why their fancy food tasted bland and uninteresting [but that is a story for another day.]  By the way, it is quite easy these days to drop a thousand dollars for a meal for two including wine at a three star restaurant.

The chefs of three star restaurants are more CEO's than cooks, and they frequently trade on their fame to open less expensive satellite restaurants.  One of the tiny handful of French three star chefs is Guy Savoy.  For the entire time that Susie and I have owned a Paris apartment, on rue Maître Albert in the fifth, there has been a Guy Savoy satellite restaurant, Atelier Maître Albert, down at the end of the street.  It is a very up-scale place, but the food is not, in my opinion, particularly good, save for a saladier du moment with chicken livers that is really quite nice.

So, that is the first fact.  The second fact is that my classic early morning walk in Paris is along the quais on the Left Bank from our apartment to the Assemblée Nationale, which sits across a bridge from Place de la C oncorde.  Along my walk, I pass a large block-long building called La Monnaie de Paris, or The Paris Mint, which was at one time in fact France's mint, where coins were made.  The building dates from the eighteenth century, but The Mint was actually established in 864 [that is not a typo -- really, 864!].  The Mint is located along the south side of the street just at the western most tip of île de la Cité, the lozenge shaped island in the middle of the Seine where the Cathedral of Nôtre Dame stands.  For several years now, the Mint building has been covered with scaffolding, and a large sign announces that it is undergoing a "metalmorphosis" [a really bad joke.]  In March, when we visited Paris for a brief eleven day stay during UNC's Spring break, I saw that the scaffolding was being taken down, signaling that the work was almost done.

Just a few days ago, Susie read in the Times that Guy Savoy is moving his premier signature restaurant into the top floor of the renovated Mint building.  Unfortunately, at six-thirty in the morning, which is when I am usually walking by, the rich and famous will not be entering for a light repast, but maybe there will be a new sign.  Susie thought it would be fund to go in and ride the elevator to the top floor just to get a look, but I am sure there will be a guard at the ground floor entrance screening out the unworthy, so I shall have to content myself with sidelong glance at the top floor windows as I pass.

By the way, Guy Savoy also has a satellite restaurant in Las Vegas.  So much for the traditions of French cuisine.  It probably offers his creative revision of classic Buffalo wings.


Jerry Fresia said...

Regarding the Picasso museum, be sure to get your tickets in advance on-line. My wife and I failed to do so and had to wait in line, in the rain, for an hour.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you, Jerry. I will. How was the museum, by the way?

Jerry Fresia said...

I didn't want to say, but I was very disappointed. I've always admired Picasso because of his virtuosity. And in the past, even in the work I didn't care for, I was impressed by his authority. But this time, the exhibition was uniformly similar (about 5 or 6 floors worth of work) in that I didn't find that defiant vulgarity. The work had a formulaic quality to it. Almost careless. However, I did like seeing some of the work that he collected. Several erotic Degas' were fascinating. Picasso called Degas a voyeur; I think he was right.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I visited the museum many years ago in its old form, and the one thing that struck me as astonishing was a luminescent painting of his son dressed as a Pierrot. I came around a corner in the narrow hallways and there it was, almost leaping off the canvas. Generally speaking, I am not very appreciative of the visual arts.

David Auerbach said...

BTW, in my very small selection of desert island cookbooks (an odd metaphor, as I'd have to bring a cooktop and a batterie de cuisine, not to mention deliveries from some farmers...) is at least one that I think you'd both enjoy and use:
Simple French Food by Richard Olney
A stunningly good book and one learns a lot just from reading it.