Paris in Summer – heavenly fields and heavenly food
.In 2010 the Champs Elysées was cleared of traffic and planted with trees, vines, wheat, flowers and plants, all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe – they even had sheep and cows. Workers toiled all night to set it up. It only took three years of organisation and only cost four million euros. I joined the thousands of people as they strolled around. It was very poetic and wonderful. Of course champs means field and elysian means heavenly – this avenue used to be a field with sheep in it.
When I had had my fill of heavenly fields I popped into the equally heavenly Marni shop – wanted at least a dozen garments badly, touched everything then walked out again.
I decide to blow a day’s budget on a coffee at Les Deux Magots on Boulevard St-Germain, always a good place to think uncharitable thoughts. I look around at the bronzed, face-lifted women and think “You just have too much money, honey”. Uncharitable thoughts bring on hunger so I move on.
Eating in a Parisian bistrot is always enchanting. The little tickets de caisse pile up in front of one – the meal, the wine, the coffee, all have separate compartments and all are added up at the end in a great flourish of the till.
It is sunny, everyone is sitting good-naturedly on top of each other. The patronne is happily humming in the controlled chaos they call service and everyone knows how to play this fast game of eating at lunch time. I realize that Paris will always be like this. Parisians are born stressed, they thrive on it and for them, it is life. No matter how tough things get, they always find a way to make it all wonderful, give it humanity, lift it with humour. How? Why? Are they genetically programmed?
At Alain Ducasse’s bistrot Aux Lyonnais, 32 rue St Marc in the 2nd, there are no chic peacocks and no women watching their thighs, so this is where my friends and I decide to have dinner. Everyone is happy and the service is unusually polite. A bowl of cervelle de canut (marinated goat’s cheese) with toast fingers is immediately placed in front of us. It is deliciously sour and salty and gives us strength to peruse the menu of the day.
I decide to order the herrings with warm potatoes, a decision ridiculed by the charming, witty Maitre d’.
“Hors de question Madame,” says he. “Why would you come to a Lyonnaise joint, only to turn your nose up at our fabulous charcuterie?”
“You are quite correct, Monsieur,” I say, “please accept my apologies. I would now like to order the charcuterie platter.”
I am rewarded for this choice by being presented with a wooden board on which there is a little pot of canut, warm potato, warm saucisse de Lyon, tiny croûtons and sauce gribiche mixed together; two different pork terrines, various paper thin slices of saucisson and gratons (fried pork rind). Accompanying this is a little container of larded sea salt, a pot of cornichons and a linen bag of sliced sourdough and baguette. The perfection of produce and attention to detail is heart-stopping.
Obviously I am full after the charcuterie and feeling at peace with the world with the help of a première cru Gevry-Chambertin, but the Maitre d’ is having none of it. When I say I can’t eat any more he throws his hands in the air.
“I give up with you… I am saying nothing.”
“But I can’t,” I plead.
“Take it slowly, Madame, just like life.”
This old fashioned, high quality, honest food is what the rest of the world is now craving.
Have you been to Aux Lyonnais? Or do you prefer another Parisian bistrot? Tell us about you experience in the comments below!Image credits
1. Peta Mathias ©
2. Champs-Elysées Go Green 1 by Thomas Leplus via Flickr
3. Aux Lyonnais dining room by Mike and Anna via Flickr
4. Dinner at Aux Lyonnais by Anne and Ray via Flickr