Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gastronomic Delights with Gustavo

It saddened and shocked me when Gustavo remarked that he hadn't been enjoying the food. Here we were in Paris, one of the exemplary culinary cities in the world, thus surely a good meal could be found just by walking into any proper restaurant. But then I recalled some of the meals he'd had so far - the crappy chicken and spaghetti at the Italian pizza place (don't ask...sigh), the crap at the cabaret Moulin Rouge, and of course, who could forget the crappy Christmas dinner at our hotel in London with the inedible beef, inedible pork, inedible lamb...well, inedible everything, really. Thus, I boldly declared to him, "Come sightseeing with me tomorrow, and I promise you won't eat any crap".

The next day saw us take the metro to Montmartre, the lovely neighborhood teaming with cafes, restaurants, and eye-catching, mouth-watering food shops (refer to 1st photo...we stood outside the window staring and salivating). The streets are perenially jammed with tourists, as well as artists willing to do your portrait. Despite the crowds, Montmartre retains its appeals and is a must-see for anyone visiting Paris. After some sightseeing which included me huffing and puffing my way up the circular staircase to the dome of the Sacre Couer church for some great views of the city (paying five euros for the privilege, no less), Gustavo and I were ready for lunch. We were spoiled for choices, and after scrutinizing the prix-fixe offerings of a few restaurants we settled on Le Progres.

After some delay in deciphering the written-only-in-French menu (I generally avoided restaurants with English menus, preferring to torture myself... seriously, the absence of English-language menus correlate to better food), and with the aide of my trusty French-English food dictionary and restaurant guide, we finally managed to make our choices. Not normally a fan of salads, I nevertheless had the seafood salad and lamb chops, while Gustavo had soup and breast of duck with honey sauce (pictured), which was superb according to him. My dishes were equally tasty, and I liked the seafood salad enough to devour all of it. So both of us were happy campers as we came out of Le Progres for more exploring. Predictably enough, a couple of hours of sightseeing later, we were both famished and eager for a snack. Luckily, we stumbled upon a tiny (only eight seats) crepe place near the Centre Pompidou.

Again, it took a while to place our order, both due to the numerous choices written on the board, and trying to figure out what they were. Unfortunately, the proprietress didn't speak English and couldn't quite answer our questions, compounding our woes. She, however, kept demanding in a loud voice what our order was despite our hemming and hawing, much to the amusement of the group of six Italians occupying the rest of the tables, who awaited each of mine and Gustavo's mangled French phrases with bated breath, followed by comments amongst themselves and then uproarious laughter coupled with pitying glances in our direction. Not all was lost however, as the crepes proved satisfying.

As it was our last night together in Paris, we met up with Jo and Amy back at the hotel. I suggested that we have dinner at Le Hangar, a family-run restaurant serving excellent, reasonably-priced French food in the Fourth Arrondisement. Le Hangar was recommended to me by my friend Maureen who dined there almost every night on her trip to Paris a few years ago. Tucked away in a dead-end alley and somewhat challenging to find, I had dined there by myself a couple of nights ago and thoroughly enjoyed my appetizer, lentil soup with foie gras, and main course - duck with foie gras and potatoes. Thus, I thought this would a good choice for exposure to real French food and to wash away the memories of all the crappy food we've had. Try as I might though, I had difficulty convincing either of the other three to order the lentil soup with foie gras, although I let them have a taste. For the main course, Amy ordered the gnocchi, Jo and Gustavo both had the beef stroganoff which came with deep-fried potato balls that melted in your mouth, while I had the foie gras over mashed potatoes (pictured).

Happily enough, everyone was pleased with their food. Despite the hard-to-read handwritten menus (in French only, bien sur) and no credit card policy, I wager that my companions would return to Le Hangar on future trips to Paris. For dessert, I had Le Hangar's special "mi-cuit" (warm, I think) chocolate cake which was superb and unanimously loved. Overall, not only was it a great meal, but also a pleasant and fitting end to our trip. As for Gustavo, he seemed pretty pleased with the day's adventures and at the chance to expand his gastronomic palate, so I can confidently say my promise to him was fulfilled. Now, Gustavo, about trying those escargots...


Jo said...

I'm just glad that I tried the escargot. They were yummy...although, I wouldn't have them in the states. It's a thing to do in Paris, or France in general

Marivi L-H said...

Happy to know you didn't starve in gay paree. Foie gras yummmmmmmy! I'm just wondering why you never mentioned any cheese and wine outing slash people-watching in MOntparnasse (next to Notre Dame, oui?) or Trocadero?

As always, love your blog.

Où voyagez-vous après ?

Anonymous said...

Oh my....I am so jealous that you are still in France and still getting to partake in the all the great food! Tell Gustavo he is crazy not to like the culinary delights offered! Monmarte was one of my favorite places too, I am just sad I did not get to go up the steps of the Sacre Couer like you guys. The day I went to Monmarte was the day you guys went to Versailles and I was running out of time. Anyway, hope you are having fun, I am going to have to e-mail Christina soon, I haven't gotten to. Anyway, take care you! Say hi to Gustavo! - Denise