Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Paris arrival and food, food, food

So we made it to Paris and checked in to our charming hotel on a side street in the St. Germain area. Cute, cozy room and courtyard view from my window below.

The weather has been amazing: low-60s and sunny every day. When we arrived on Saturday, I caught up with my middle and high school buddy Holly who married a Frenchman and moved here a couple years ago. We missed each other last time I was in town, but I was determined not do do that again. Life's short after all, so you should see friends (especially old ones) as often as you can. :-) Despite a jam-packed schedule, I scurried through the Metro to connect with her and her adorable son Philippe near the Eiffel Tower. Not only is she still as fun and beautiful as ever, she jumped into action when I mentioned that I'd under-packed (yes, after all that angst) and I needed to find a Gap ASAP. Usually I refuse to buy any clothing or food abroad that I can get at home, but sometimes a girl just needs some basic pants, t-shirts and a sweater that fits. :-) So we beelined for the nearest Gap (of course just a couple blocks away), and caught up as we both surfed the racks.

From there, I rushed back to the hotel for our first briefing and dinner with the other fellows.
So we swarmed a tiny neighborhood restaurant around the corner. I say swarmed because we walked in en masse, buzzing with group energy and trip excitement. And in Paris, "tiny neighborhood restaurant" is redundant. The ones away from the tourist areas all seem to hold about 12 people, not including the waitstaff and chef. The entire "dining" room would fit into the waiting area of the average Outback Steakhouse eatery in the U.S.

But instead of choosing from glossy pictures of by-the-book entrees in a laminated menu, all slapped together assembly-line style by indifferent kitchen staff, meals in Paris are beautifully prepared. They are clearly crafted to be lingered over and savored, first by the eyes, then by the palate, not scarfed down while driving and reading a Blackberry (I left mine at home).

In fact, we haven't seen any to go cups or containers since arriving. You're expected to sit and enjoy your meal or beverage, even if it's just a simple hot chocolate, which is my favorite treat here. Notice the size: about 6-8 oz. of pure, rich, chocolatey goodness. Not 12, 16 or 20 ounces.

Coming from supersizeland, it's an adjustment initially. But you soon realize that by eating smaller but more flavorful servings, you feel satisfied sooner, and you can eat more good stuff later without feeling as if you're going to pop a button and take someone's eye out across the aisle on the Metro.

So check out David, another fellow who is an attorney from Cleveland and his beautifully arranged plate. That's crostini topped with smoked salmon and perfectly diced and sauteed vegetables. Note that it is not a slab of salmon and it is not on a platter that could also double as a serving dish for a holiday turkey. And that's just the appetizer!

Here's an artfully arranged salad appetizer with balsalmic vinaigrette and a small breadstick.
And my appetizer: a buttery, flaky tart, topped with flavored sour cream or something (I was too busy eating to double check), perfectly cured prosciutto, sauteed red peppers, cilantro and a balsalmic reduction sauce of some sort. I remind myself that it's bad form to lick a plate in public, even if you can do it stealthily.

Sunday, I'll opt for a tour of the palace and grounds at Versailles, before a dinner and briefing with the fellows and two journalists who cover the U.S. and French politics. More fun to come.