09 September 2009

Dinner at 10:00, and French in 10 hours

When we finally went upstairs at the Café Louis-Philippe for dinner, it was probably a little past 10:00 p.m. I had hoped we would be seated outside on the terrace, but the restaurant didn't take reservations for the outside tables. And they were all full. Going upstairs involved climbing up a very narrow, very steep spiral staircase inside the restaurant. That lent "atmosphere" to the experience.

There were six of us — Evelyn, husband Lewis, American friend Linda, French friend Marie, Marie's son, and me — and we were seated at a long table next to a window with a view, if you craned your neck just slightly, of the towers of Notre Dame across the river. The view of the actual Pont Louis-Philippe down below was also atmospheric.

Our restaurant experience was probably different from what it
would have been at the Tour d'Argent, but so surely were the prices!

The dinner, I have to say, was unremarkable. It wasn't bad, overall, but it wasn't anything to write home about, at least from my point of view. I did have a very nice salade frisée aux lardons topped with an œuf poché — nicely cooked white, perfectly liquid yolk. This kind of salad, a specialty of the restaurants of Lyon, I think, is a little like having bacon and eggs with a salad of curly endive. It is really delicious when it is well executed. This one was.

Marie had a filet de canard avec une sauce aux cerises — grilled duck breast with cherry sauce — and she said it was excellent. Her son had an entrecôte grillée — a grilled rib steak of beef — and I noticed that he finished it all; I was seated next to him. He did ask the waiter for a sauce to go with it, suggesting mayonnaise, and he got it (or maybe it was a pot of sauce béarnaise).

A painting we admired in a shop window on the Place des Vosges.
It was called « Un père et son enfant ».

Others ordered either duck breast or steak, and I'm not sure it was cooked enough for American tastes. But I can't affirm that. Maybe it was. Linda at first wanted bœuf bourguignon after I told her it was beef cooked in a red wine sauce with lardons and mushrooms, but when I talked to the waiter about it he said there were no mushrooms in the Louis-Philippe's version of the dish. I thought that was strange, and Linda was less interested in the bourguignon when she learned it was served sans champignons.

As a main course, I had the plat du jour, an estouffade de bœuf aux olives — beef stewed in a red wine sauce with olives. I liked the idea of having olives cooked in the sauce; cooked olives, green or black, are tasty. And these olives were good. The problem was that the meat was a little stringy and dry. I ate some of it, but mostly I enjoyed the olives, the red wine sauce with some bread, and the memory of the perfect salade aux lardons and the poached egg that I had enjoyed as a starter.

CHM and I had a discussion about questches on Saturday
— and ate some that I had brought to Paris from Saint-Aignan.
I saw these on the rue Mouffetard Sunday morning.

Quetsches [pronounced kwetch] are purple plums.

With all this food, we had a red wine from the Médoc region of Bordeaux. Marie's son, who is in his mid-twenties, wanted to choose and pay for the wine as his contribution to the evening. He talked to the waiter about the wine selection, and suddenly the waiter invited him to go down to the cellar with him to pick one out. I thought that was a nice way to do things, and I'm sure it was an enjoyable experience. The wine was very good. I have no idea how expensive it was.

The most memorable part of the evening was the waiter. He was a young Polish man who spoke nearly perfect French and nearly perfect American English. He had lived in Michigan for years, he told us, and attended both high school and college there. We talked about the Obama presidency and American politics in general. The waiter had definite, well-stated opinions. I won't go into the details, but it was all highly entertaining.

An old Renault 4 parked on the Rue de Vaugirard in Paris

Another area where the young waiter's opinions were clear was the question of languages. He said he spoke six or seven of them fluently. Polish, obviously, and Russian, which he said everybody in Poland learned along with German. French and English. That makes five languages. I don't remember what the others might have been.

The waiter lost me, however, when he proclaimed that it was very easy to learn a language like French. You can master French grammar in a matter of ten hours of study, he asserted. English grammar is easier, and you can learn that in six or seven hours. Either the man is a linguistic prodigy, or he is delusional!

A neighborhood grocery store in Paris

It was about a quarter past midnight when we left the restaurant. Marie used her mobile phone to call a taxi to take her back to the apartment where she was staying in the city. Her son had left a little earlier to go back out to his apartment in the Paris suburbs by public transportation. I wanted to get the metro back to CHM's apartment.

Evelyn, Lewis, and Linda weren't sure how they were going to get back to the Hôtel du Panthéon, but they didn't want to walk. They told me to go ahead so that I wouldn't miss the last metro train, and they waited with Marie for her taxi to come. I walked across the river and the islands to the Place Maubert in the Latin Quarter and caught the metro there. It's a direct line over to CHM's neighborhood. I got to his apartment at 12:45 and let myself in with the set of keys he had kindly lent me earlier in the day.

Also seen on the Rue de Vaugirard

The next day, I heard the rest of the story of the taxi and all. The Americans waited with Marie and the taxi finally arrived. When it did, two passersby spotted it, ran to the car, jumped in, and essentially "stole" it from its intended passenger. Marie had to call again, and again wait for 15 or 20 minutes, with her friends, for another taxi to show up. She got that one.

The American friends then walked over toward the Hôtel de Ville and the Place du Châtelet to look for a night bus back to the Latin Quarter. They asked a gendarme for directions to a bus stop, but then they got turned around and couldn't find it. They ended up in the Châtelet metro station again, and took the train back to the Luxembourg station, from where they had a short walk to the hotel up the Rue Soufflot. They didn't get back to the hotel until 1:30 a.m. and were pretty tired when I saw them again the next morning.


  1. I see you still pine for that powder blue R4 Ken.

  2. I've heard that the Polish language has an incredible number of phonemes, which explains why a lot of Poles are good at languages and speak French with almost no accent. Actually, there's a Polish born actor at Comédie Française, Andrzej Seweryn, who does speak remarkable French, although once in a while you can notice a spot of a foreign accent.
    Andrzej Seweryn. His biography here http://bit.ly/hnmdh

  3. I had a similar incident with a taxi as the Gare Austerlitz. We were about fifth in line. When our turn came, an old woman tried to butt in front, but I wasn't having it and just shoved past her. I learned to do that by riding the buses. You either learn quickly or find yourself at the back of the line every time.

  4. A great story, well told and lovely photos, thank you Ken.

  5. Franck nous avait choisi un Médoc 2002 : "Château Patache d'Aux" (cru bourgeois) :-) Le vin était superbe :-) 2002 est un bon millésime...


    Au Florimond, la veille, j'avais choisi un Cahors que mon beau-père qui l'apprécie beaucoup m'a fait découvrir il y a moult années : "Château Chevaliers Lagrezette" 2004, il était bon, n'est-ce pas :-) ?



    As Claude said, the Polish language contains most phonemes and, because of their history, Poles have to learn lots of languages at school : German and Russian used to be compulsory... Bises :-) Marie


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