After another night with a frightful hot midnight, I am convinced the thermostat controls in our room are meaningless. We slept 10-10, with a two hour hole in the middle from 12 to 2.
We hit a boulangerie on Ile St Louis, an isle to the east of Notre Dame (Ile de la Cite). I forget its name, but it seemed to be the only one with any following on the tiny island. There were streets, and people attempted to drive there, but it was really an island better suited to walking and bikes than driving. While you are there, it feels as if you’ve been transported to some tiny romantic French colony inside of Paris, as it seems somewhat isolated and quite by comparison to the bustling streets of the main city.
In any event, the baguette was nothing extraordinary — quite good by American standards, but just another baguette in Paris. The flavor was undeveloped, though the texture was better than average. Their pain au chocolat was outstanding, second only to Julien. We ate cuddled in the archway to the nearby church, visited only by tourists wanting to enter the church only to find it closed that Thursday.
This made a decent breakfast, but the real point of this particular visit was to experience the world-renowned Maison Berthillon. At 10 in the morning, it was amazingly busy, despite it being below freezing and windy outside, with none of the public seating area open. The line was to the door (though not out it). That said, most people (if not all) were buying containers of ice cream for home consumption, and not for immediate enjoyment.
I sampled their vanilla and pistachio. The vanilla was outstanding, a perfect demonstration of the fine art of egg-based vanilla ice cream. To those that still cling to the Philadelphia crap, this should convert you. The texture was perfect, with no ice crystal sensation, yet not as syrupy pudding-like as a gelato. It had just the right sweetness, vanilla flavor, and custard mouthfeel. The pistachio was also remarkable, and tasted of real pistachios only, not that goofy “green” flavor most pistachio ice creams take on. It bordered on being savory, and was deeply satisfying. On a return visit, I would like to sample another dozen flavors, as I expect all are excellent. Make sure to visit Berhtillon if you are in the area.
This of course brings us to Notre Dame. It was more massive and impressive than I expected, towering above the skyline. Inside, the roof seems impossibly high, and the windows are fantastic. Parts of the church seem a tad commercial, but it still maintains some isolation. How they manage an orderly mass with so much tourist traffic is beyond me. We lit a candle for my grandmother and my cousin who killed himself recently, and deposited the optional 2 euro per candle. It really is an amazing sight to behold and hard to fathom, even for secular visitors.
From here we forged on to Centre Pompidou. I cannot describe how out of place this museum looks among Paris. Surrounded for miles by old stone buildings, the huge structure of external ventilation, bright colors, and gaudy exoskeleton boggles the mind. It is hard not to laugh at the absurdity of it. I actually did not take any pictures, but the previous link provides a good picture of the front facade.
Upon arrival, we snuck in again using our awesome museum cards, and then decided to rest at the cafe, where I had an Orangina and Sarah an espresso.
The exhibits were an experience in sensory overload. I am a huge fan of modern art, but a lot of the work was a little too cutting edge for me, or was too far removed from my tastes. The museum had arranged exhibits into categories (things like sex, grids, absurdity, incest, antimuseum, etc) rather than by artist, period, or so forth, so while there was a sense of thematic coherency, the overall experience had a feeling of complete incoherence to me. Additionally, the constant interlacing of video/movie pieces was distracting to me; I’d rather they drop the thematic facade and have video exhibitions in one place, and so forth … but that’s not my call. In the end, if we could only pick one place to visit in Paris, I think I would have picked the Louvre.
In any event, after a circuit through the museum Sarah and I were overloaded. We headed back to the cafe, and enjoyed another coffee and a kir.
We rested back at the hotel, and then went for dinner at Pierre au Palais Royale. Well, we went for dinner after a walk with dear Sarah in a skirt and high heels, despite accumulating snow and gusting winds. Women are silly, but I love mine.
The meal started with a sparkling water aperitif, and some lovely crudites with a tapenade. All of the vegetables were excellent, far more flavorful than you’d expect. The tapenade was fresh made, and tasted of olives, not just salt and olive remnants.
Sarah ordered a half dozen oysters to start (served with a sherry vinegar/shallot concoction, which was actually interesting). These were quite nice, and tasted much like the Normandy oyster I tried in the street. I started with foie gras pan seared, served with a wine poached pear. The liver was perfect, having a lovely caramelized sweetness, with a nice salty crust, and a buttery melt-in-your-mouth interior. The pear was quite nice, and served as a pleasant contrast to the masterpiece. Very simple, but expertly prepared.
I received a decent glass of red wine (no idea what it was), and we were served mediocre (by Parisian standards) mini-baguettes.
My main course was a filet served rare with caramelized onions and some sort of baked potato onion mash. It was a perfect serving, and was perfectly prepared, and the meat itself had much more flavor than domestic beef. I don’t know if it was just better aging or the mythical terroir, but it was a damn fine meal. Sarah had sea bream that I thought was well cooked but unremarkable in flavor.
For dessert I had a cheese dish with two brie (one was vegetal, the other earthy), a parmigiano reggiano (remarkable, buttery, sweet, nutty, rich, complex), and a nice blue. Sarah had a passable espresso with some chocolates and sugar crusty sculpture thingies.
The service was quite friendly, if not particularly prompt or attentive (we had to top off our own water, were not asked for wine refills or additional beverages, sat quite a while before being asked if I’d like to order coffee), the whole meal was about 95 euros and I would say was very pleasant. It was a treat to have a proper sit-down French restaurant meal.