Fantastic few days eating and drinking in Paris with my wife this past weekend. The “manifestations” made for an interesting Thursday evening (the day Macron announced he was going to set the new retirement policy unilaterally), but more along the lines of a great story than legitimate fear. Other than that night, they contributed to bad traffic but nothing more (at least where we were).
We arrived Thurs morning and had a rom for one night at the Sofitel le Faubourg. This is about 1/2 block off the Place de la Concorde, which was the epicenter for the main protest. During the early evening, before dark, the protest was more of a peaceful rally - there was music, ballons and flags, and speakers, but generally very well-behaved. However, the gendarmes were clearly taking it very seriously - shutting down all traffic in the Plaza and the main streets in and out, including the Rue Rivoli and Champs-Elyssees; and decked out in full riot gear.
After dark, we headed out to dinner at les Juveniles - about a 15 min walk. As we were going, we saw quite a lot of commotion, and other pedestrians told us that the protestors were lighting fireworks and engaging the police. We detoured a few blocks and saw that, though the streets were quiet, protestors had clearly been there - piles of garbage and large municipal trash cans were turned into make-shift barricades across the street and in some cases, small garbage fires were smoldering.
We were early for our reservation and so stopped around the corner at Willi’s Wine Bar, where we had a nice chat with the proprietor (who apparently had a close relationship with the family that runs les Juveniles), and drank a couple glasses of wine (I had a chignin, my wife has a chablis - don’t know the producers). As we were talking a surreal scene - dozens of black clad young adults running through the street past the plate glass window, chased about 50 yards behind by a platoon of gendarmes. We lingered a few minutes more to ensure the coast was clear before heading to dinner…
At Juveniles, the diniing room was full - almost all Americans (if not all), but very much not a touristic crowd. We were the last seating of the evening. We ordered a bottle of wine from the list (2019 Tissot Pinot Noir Le Barberon from Arbois - delicious fruity and mineral).
That got the waiter talking about Jura wines (clearly a passion) and we were off to a great start…For food, we shared the house pork terrine to start - amazing, so livery-funky and peppery, with a great texture. My wife had duck breast, perfectly cooked with incredibly crispy skin, and I had a slow-cooked pork dish that was also excellent. As the crowd dwindled, we were talking to the front of house team; the chef, Romain, came out from the back, and was talking and hanging out as well with us and the other last stragglers - who happened to be Dori Greenspan (who writes about food from Paris for the NY Times) and her husband. They had been coming to the restaurant for decades, and knew the family well. It was interesting to hear that the clientele most nights are largely American - the French can’t afford the menu, they said.
Things outside in the street were still a little dicey - with more trash fires, and sirens - so the staff were actually in no hurry to rush out. We shared a bit of cheese and had a lovely poached pear financier for dessert and they graciously poured us each a glass of Sauternes before our walk back to the hotel. By that time, the streets were very quiet, and though it took some concentration to walk around the garbage piles and puddles, I’d say the city did not feel dangerous. It really was a memorable evening.
On Friday - until our departure on Sunday, we moved hotels to the Ritz - burning a bunch of Amex points that I’ve been holding onto for no good reason. The Ritz is amazing in a totally over the top way - impossible to justify the expense if we were actually paying, but a very cool experience to be absolutely pampered for a few days.
On Fri evening, dinner was at Amarante. I don’t think I’ve seen much about this restaurant on the board… It’s a tiny place - from what I could tell, the chef + 1 waiter. The menu celebrates off cuts - for starters we had a frais de cochon - basically stewed pork intesitines, and a terrine; and a cooking style that is ultimate simplicity -every entree is slow cooked sous vide and then finished on the plancha. No spices other than salt and pepper. on the entire menu. We had the ris de veau (biggest and most perfectly cooked sweetbread I’ve ever encountered) and a roast lamb. The meat was served alongside simple pommes puree and carrots respectively. We had to respect the perfection and austerity of the cooking and presentation, but ultimately, it did feel a bit academic rather than delicious. Dinner was paired with a 2017 Magnon Corbieres (Carignan from Languedoc), which held up to the richness of the meal very nicely.
On Saturday, we were very excited for dinner at Maison (Sota). We had eaten at Clown Bar a few years ago, which was a memorable meal with our (at the time) young kids… This was by far the most formal meal of our trip. Advertised as 7 courses, but we were there for over 4 hours with lots of “snacks” and other goodies that extended the meal. It’s a beautiful and unique looking space - with most seats on a long communal table in front of the second floor open kitchen. Highlights included a beef tartare, brussels sprouts with oyster sabayon, white asparagus with langoustines, eel and morel ravioli, and Aveyron lamb. We did the wine pairing, given the diversity of the menu, and lack of familiarity with a lot of the natural wine menu. Pours were generous, and pairings were thoughtful and not obvious.
On Sunday before our flight out, we went to the Marche des Enfants Rouge, to have lunch at Les Enfants du Marche. We got there about 30 minutes before their noon opening, to ensure we could get seats - which turned out not to be a problem. For a market stall, I thought the food was extraordinarly well done, though after all our eating over the weekend, we wanted only a few bites… We had a remarkable bowl of deeply fragrant and soul-warming onion soup, and a beautifully prepared and strikingly presented gar fish ceviche with kumquats, radicchio, and creme fraiche (sounds very odd - but it was fantastic!). The all natural wine list was poured without pretense or ceremony - we had a rose and a grenache, but no idea what or from where… Glasses were topped off over the service counter.
After lunch we stopped at the neighboring fromager, and picked up a few choise cheeses and butter to pack for home.
All in all, a fantastic weekend! Thanks to folks on this Board for recommendations gleaned over the past few months!!!