Thursday, August 8, 2013

Paris Dining: Au Fil des Saisons

I've been really bad about writing posts about Paris. I've been working hard on my dissertation, which takes up a lot of time and sucks my will to live, or at least to blog and take photos. I've been in a bit of a rut with home cooking (see also, dissertation), so I haven't had much to food blog, unless you want me to write about the wonders of Picard (It's a wonder, don't get me wrong.) I've had a bunch of really excellent meals here, from the plebeian (rocking good ham pizza!), to the sublime (Atelier de Joel Robuchon for my birthday! Oh la la!) However, most of the places I have eaten are all well documented restaurants, covered by many excellent food writers, with pictures (which I hate taking in restaurants), and I haven't really felt like I could add a lot to the conversation. Paris has got to be one of the most blogged cities ever, when it comes to food. However, I just had lunch at a little gem off the beaten path, and it was so awesome, I felt like I had to share, photos or no.

Within a stones throw of my work is Au Fil des Saisons (6 Rue des Fontaines du Temple 75003 Paris). It's down a tiny little street, and is about 15 feet wide, with a very understated sign. You could blink and miss it. However, should you happen to find it, walk inside, say bonjour, and ask for a table. The owner speaks excellent English (although please be a good traveler, and at least start with "bonjour"), and is friendly and warm.

As noted, I've been having a lot of really good food in Paris, and before that, in California. Au Fil des Saisons is not the best restaurant I've ever eaten at. (That honor falls to Manresa, in Los Gatos. Sorry, Monsieur Robuchon. And I'm still holding out for The French Laundry, which is on my bucket list. I hear the food there is pretty decent.) It's not even haut cuisine. However, I have never eaten in a restaurant with such painstaking attention to detail. There is nothing here that is not lovingly crafted or chosen to be excellent. There are no "throw-away" dishes. Everything has been refined, from the amuse bouche to the coffee.

When I sat down, a tiny basket of potato chips landed on my table, golden brown, and very thin. They were very lightly salted, and had that nuttiness that comes with just the right amount of caramelization. The owner came by with the menu (on a free standing chalkboard), offered to explain it to me in English, and then very sweetly explained his recommended dishes slowly and clearly in French when I told him I was working on my French.

I started with a cold cucumber soup (something I discovered in Paris, and love on hot summer days. Also very popular with my two year old, so if you're trying to get your kid to eat more veggies...) Like most I've had, this was cucumber, creme fraiche, and mint. Lots of grated cucumbers for texture, and a little tiny scoop of basil sorbet (very sweet and pungent) in the center of it. The basil really made it pop, and stand out from the "liquid tzatziki" soups that I've been getting. Very refreshing. I reached for the bread to sop up the last of my soup, and noted that it was excellent, even by Parisian standards, chewy with a good crisp crust, and very slightly hearty.

Next, I had the volaille farcie, chicken stuffed with ground mushrooms. I was expecting a very French bistro implementation of chicken, but what arrived had strong Asian overtones. It looked very much like Thai "angel wings", with a drizzle of shallot sauce, and came with a colorful side of stir-fried julienned veggies, and what appeared to be a puck of plain white rice. The chicken wings looked tasty, but I braced myself for disappointment with the sides.

The chicken wings were excellent, as expected, with a savory ground mushroom filling stuffed under the skin of the wing, and cooked to crispness, with little pops of salt sprinkled on at the very end (a technique which I love, and Manresa also does to perfection.) I moved on to the veggies. As I suspected, stir fried in soy sauce, but quite good, neither over nor underdone. Finally the rice, and a pleasant surprise. What looked like plain white rice had been cooked in olive oil, with a little bit of onion added, and some matching pops of salt. Very simple, but done perfectly, and absolutely delicious.

I decided to forgo dessert in the interests of my waistline (next time!) and went straight for the espresso. The espresso is brewed by the owner, and is strong, sweet, and mellow with a hint of molasses. (Definitely not Cafes Richard.) The sugar was plain white, rather than raw, but that let the molasses notes really shine.

All told, it set me back 30 euro or so. A little on the pricy side (sadly, I am unlikely to bring my coworkers on a weekly basis), but totally worth it as a splurge. Next time I'll get dessert. I'm sure it'll be fantastic.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

How Do You Say "Thing-Fetcher" in French?

My daughter has been complaining bitterly for a week or so, because the two little Duplo figurines that came with her blocks (who she carries everywhere, and has dubbed La Fille and Le Garçon) have gone missing. We looked all over the apartment to no avail, and the nanny worriedly confessed to having taken them to the park one day, but swore they'd come home at the end of the day. I sighed, and made a mental note to hit the toy store sometime in the next few days, and then thought no more of it until this morning.

This morning, I was looking for a different missing toy, when I happened to look behind the radiator in her room. There were La Fille and Le Garçon! Also two pieces of toy fruit, one Duplo block, the digital thermometer (when did she get her hands on that?), and a small toy egg. Oh, and a pile of old, dusty crumbled paint coating everything. All of it about 18 inches down a tiny little crack too small for my arm, or even hers.

Were we in the US with all of our stuff, I'd head for the garage like the clever tool-using mammal I am, and go grab the tool that I, and everyone I know, calls a "thing-fetcher". It's that handy little deelybobber with the button on one end and claws on the other, sold at finer Home Depots and automotive stores everywhere. However, I had a feeling that if I marched into Leroy Merlin and asked for a "récupérateur des choses", I wasn't going to get very far. Further, as it turns out, even in English, it's not sold as a "thing-fetcher". It is a "pickup tool", which sounds ever so much more refined. A bit of Google Translate later, with a cross-check against some Google shopping results, and I managed to uncover that the tool I want is an "outil de ramassage". And that it is only sold in automotive stores. Which they don't have in Paris. Because everyone takes the metro. Damn and blast.

So in the end, there I was like every primate for the last millennia, fishing out her toys one by one with some sort of stick. (In my case, a plastic coat hanger, but a tree branch would have been just as effective. Maybe more so.) I damp-wiped the toys with a paper towel, and then washed them thoroughly, just in case that was lead paint, and then we vacuumed up the paint chips with a HEPA filter vacuum, and ran the HEPA air purifier in her room for an hour to catch any stray particles. We'll check with the owner about the age of the paint, but it's probably fairly modern.

In the mean time, the little duplo family is reunited, the thermometer is back in the bathroom on a high shelf, and now I just need to figure out how to get twenty-eight cents euro out of the 350 year old mortise and tenon joint on the stairs, where she carefully dropped them one by one...