Walk, look, shop and surrender to the creme brulee
It was great to be back in Paris, and to sit in a cafe or restaurant and admire the handsome, well- dressed Parisians, scarfed-up in winter garb.
We loved last-minute shopping and window-gazing in the beautiful shops and wandering along the wide avenues and banks of the Seine. I was even asked directions by an American tourist in her heavily accented French which was much better than mine.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner at a local restaurant which came highly recommended by our hosts Carole and Stefane. Le Petit Marche is a charming little place with great atmosphere, thick white-washed walls, mixed ivy and geraniums in the window boxes, a low ceiling with thick curved and crooked wooden beams, unique, colourful glass lampshades and Impressionist paintings on the walls.
The place seemed to be run, we guessed, by a pretty young-looking mother and her good-looking son's efficient and friendly service and of course their English was near perfect.
We shared d'abord (entree) of caviar d'aubergine et carpaccio de St Jacques, thin slivers of raw St Jacques scallops and aubergine caviar, then indulged in mains of magret d'oie au poivre sichuan, sliced fillets of goose in a sichuan pepper crust served with apples and pommes frites, and mignon of pork with ginger served with perfect mashed potatoes and green beans.
Of course we just could not possibly resist the creme brulee which was sublime, I wrote in my diary it was the best I have ever had, served in a flat dish with sauce of fruits de la passion. So fresh and delicate.
Another memorable dinner was yet another recommendation from Carole's little book in the apartment, Les Philosophes, which we had walked past so many times during the days but had trouble finding at night, until we took Tony and his great sense of direction with us. It was interesting that at 7.30 on a mild evening the Parisians were sitting outside enjoying aperitifs and only tourists were inside eating at such an early hour.
The corner restaurant on Rue du Veille Temple is an art deco building with pavement tables and cane chairs. The interior of timber- panelled walls, brickwork and ornate mirrors featured a fabulous spiral wrought-iron staircase and art deco ceiling and lamps. We ordered a [Euro]26 (NZ$42) special meal each and it was well- worth every cent. Entrees of tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled with pesto and balsamic vinegar, and tomato tarte tatin as starters, then Tony and Marie loved their duck confit with salad and roasted potato rounds as accompaniments. I chose the traditional boeuf bourguignon which lived up to all expectations and was served with a fresh vegetable medley of carrots, broccoli and snow peas. Tony had a rich and dark chocolate mousse with an airy texture to satisfy his sweet tooth. It was a special evening walk back to the apartment with the streets full of Parisians either going home from work or on their way out for the night.
Since we walked everywhere, we didn't ever feel bad about the sometimes three-course meals we indulged in. But occasionally, after a gourmet lunch we would simply take a ham and cheese baguette back to our apartment in Rue Amelot to enjoy with coffee and fruit. Tony's morning chore was to bring back freshly baked croissants or brioches from one of the many boulangeries in the area and we'd have a leisurely breakfast while planning our day.
Sometimes we'd stop and buy hot roasted chestnuts for a snack from a street seller with a mobile brazier, or a small bag of multi-coloured and fruit flavoured macarons from one of the small specialist sweet shops.
One lunch time we joined shoppers and office workers in Bouquet St Paul and ordered the plat du jour. I had steak tartare with salad and pommes frites and mama ordered canard pate fois gras with a walnut salad.
We shared a tarte tatin, with a thick layer of apples, served with creme fraiche, and a coffee. Delicious.
While "resting" from our six or seven hours of daily walking one afternoon with a coffee at a pavement cafe we witnessed a cyclist knocked off his bicycle by a pedestrian walking out in front of him. The only other traffic incident we noticed was an elderly male driver who tipped over a parked motorcycle while attempting to reverse into a small parking space. That was something - despite the steady roll of traffic everywhere and the madness of rush hours, we never once saw a traffic accident. There were innumerable beaten-up vehicles but not one crash.
When 15-year-old Tony needed a break from his mother and grandmother he would hire one of the 20,000 Paris Velib bikes from one of the many bicycle stations where anyone can hire a bike, using a credit card, and return it to any other of the 1800 stations in the city or even keep it overnight. He loved riding along the river, or tree-lined cycle and walking paths, and being briefly independent.
1 kg braising beef or chuck steak, diced into large cubes
85g bacon cubed
3 carrots cut into sticks
1 cup celery chopped
1 large onion sliced
6-8 small onions
3 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
200g button mushrooms
1 litre burgundy (must be a full- bodied red wine)
3 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp flour
Bouquet garni (or bayleaf and tsp each marjoram and thyme)
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish
Season steak and brown in heated butter and oil. Remove.
Saute sliced onion with bacon, remove.
Add flour, stir, pour in red wine and 160ml water, season.
Stir well and cook for a few minutes.
Add meat, bacon, onion, nutmeg, garlic and bouquet garni.
Cover and cook slowly 1 hr at 180 degrees Celsius.
Add mushrooms and small peeled onions, continue to cook 1 hr.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with mashed potatoes or gnocchi.
Taranaki Daily News