Sunday, October 2, 2011

Food on the Ceiling, Chantilly Cream and a Dessert Day

Thursday night I went to L'Avant Comptoir with a new friend I met at a wine tasting the previous week.  Gina goes to L'Avant Comptoir fairly regularly so she's become friends with the manager Eric, who is very friendly, and always ensures you have a full glass of wine - you just need to quickly down that last sip before he mixes reds and whites in your glass.  L'Avant Comptoir is the next door sibling to big brother Le Comptoir, and the swank hotel Relais St. Germaine is the parent to all.  L'Avant is barely even a bar.  It has no chairs and can really only fit two across and maybe 8 people deep.  At most times, it is completely full, spilling onto the sidewalk, where you can actually order a crepe to go at a walk-up window.  The atmosphere is energetic and has to be somewhat friendly since you might be passing someone's wine or the bread basket and mustard, and yes, I love the French mustard on my bread now.
To find the menu, you look up.  Each item is listed individually with a picture and is hanging from the ceiling, along with lovely slabs of ham for the charcuterie platters.  We started with the roast beef capaccio, which I could have eaten all night.  It was tender and juicy topped with fresh shaved parmesan, a few herbs and some fleur de sel which made a perfect companion for the crusty bread.,

We moved on to a small terrine of brandade - salty fish in whipped potatoes.  It was good, but not carpaccio good.  What looked like little grilled hot dogs appeared on the counter to taunt us and when we asked what it was, Eric just gave it to us and said he'd made the people who ordered it another batch.  Very enjoyable smoky sausages in a sweet dipping sauce - not ketchup, but in a more formal family with it.


I wish I could tell you everything I had to drink since there were some really good glasses, but Eric just kept showing up with a new bottle in his hand to pour us something we might like.  Like I did, and like I did with the check that was under $20 each for food and 4 glasses of wine (he kept filling our glasses - what were we to do?).

Friday was another field trip day.  Beth who had invited me to the costume party the prior week-end and also has a "flexible" schedule like me, asked if I wanted to go out to Chantilly for a wander.  Bien sur!  We got an early start and took an easy train trip less than an hour north to Chantilly, home to lace, cream and a song I couldn't stop singing.  I found out later it's actually pronounced Chant-ee, which isn't nearly as much fun to sing.

We visited Chateau de Chantilly, a pretty nice little spot the 17th and 18th Century Princes of Conde like to hold some gatherings.  There's also private apartments and a large museum, Musee Condee, which is only second to the Louvre in terms of the size of their collection.  The Library is a stunning room, dimly lit, to protect the collection of 13,000 rare books, including colorful, illuminated manuscripts.

And of course with any great Chateau, you need to have some great gardens.  On initial glance, these gardens look a little sparse.  I must admit I'm a bit garden spoiled now, but Le parc was no Luxemborg Gardens.  There was flat, green space with a fountain or two, but not a lot of trees, and no flowers.  However, you just need to walk a little further to discover the lush forest behind and off to the sides.  The same person Andre Le Notre who designed Versailles, also designed this space, but since Louis XIV wasn't involved, it's lacking in grandeur, but it was really peaceful and hardly anyone was there, so we got a forest to ourselves.

They have a huge and picturesque stable for their horses.  I don't think most people in Paris live in this nice of accommodations.  We were able to catch a horse show while we were there in the beautiful arena where the Princes of Chantilly used to dine with their guests.  They showed how they train the horses and then the horses performed in the small, round ring.  A cute little shetland pony stole the show.

We couldn't leave Chantilly without dessert and tasting their Chantilly creme.  Mmmmmmm.  It was light and fresh, and pretty much the opposite of our manufactured whipped cream.

You would think I'd have a healthy day after that, but that just may not be possible in Paris.  Yesterday, I met up with a former Discovery colleague now living in Paris for lunch and we started strong with salad on a beautiful terrace in St. Germaine with Rose of course as it's still 80 degrees.   Jill, being the nice person that she is, volunteered to take me on a bit of a walking tour of some of the great sweet shops in the area.  I think she was also horrified to hear I hadn't eaten a macaroon yet since being in Paris this past month, so she marched me immediately to Pierre Herme, where some may argue that you will find the best macaroon in town.  Good?  Mais oui!  There are Laduree fans as well, but it's said that Pierre Herme has a thicker filling, but now I need to do more research to find my preference.

We then went to the Grand Epicerie which is foodie mecca.  They have ingredients from every country, and for a price, you can get anything you want.  It makes Whole Foods look like 7-11.

We had to cap the afternoon at Jill's favorite ice cream/gelato spot in Paris.  She swears by the Chestnut ice cream and chocolate gelato - divine.  I did a double scoop of caramel ice cream with black cherry gelato.  No complaints except that I may need a companion project to all of this food and wine research - like marathon training!

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