Sorry about the lousy lolcat, but I had to express my excitement somehow.
Also, I had to tell you about my badass saleslady. First of all, she asked me for ID and when I said all I had was my American driver’s license, she said, “Oh, on s’en fou!” Isn’t that kinda bad language for a business transaction? And she wasn’t some hip kid, either, she must have been in her forties.
Then she started asking me all these questions — birth date, address in the States, address in Paris, etc… I told her, I’m only getting a prepaid phone — why do you need to know all this stuff? And she said, no kidding, “so the government can track you.” I must have smirked, because then she said, “You know, it’s not like America here,” and started going on about “l’état flic,” the police state, and how it’s getting worse and worse all the time, and how soon they’re going to require everyone to have Navigos so they can tell where everyone is all the time.
So, trying to keep up, I say something about how now Sarkozy is going to make it all worse. She seemed like she’d be sympathetic to this perspective, but she said, “Oh, I don’t know, the others were just as bad, they just didn’t tell you about it. At least Sarkozy is honest about being a fascist. The others just want to control you in secret.” I felt like I just tapped into la nouvelle résistance!
Anyway, it was a much more exciting conversation than I was expecting.
Shelf Monkey, by Corey Redekop (ECW Press, 2007; $18.95)
The inquisition is back, but this time it’s not agents of the papacy examining us for religious orthodoxy, but a bunch of self-proclaimed “booknerds” on a moral mission to rid the world of low-brow literature.
This, at least, is the premise of Shelf Monkey, an intriguing thought-exercise of a novel by first time author Corey Redkop.
The Shelf Monkeys, it turns out, are a group of book store employees and rabid bibliophiles, who entertain themselves by getting together on moonless nights to burn unworthy texts amid much hokey pomp and ceremony. Their nemesis is one Munroe Purvis, an Oprah-like talk show host who has gotten filthy rich by pandering to his audience, recommending a series of uplifting (and unreadable) “triumph of the human spirit”-style novels, all published by his own company. And Thomas Friesen is our narrator and anti-hero, one of the slightly less insane Monkeys, the only one who recognizes that it’s all fun and games until someone winds up with a criminal record.
The sound broke through the summer heat Saturday morning as we were hanging around the apartment, recovering from the previous night’s festivities. Brumaire ran to the window.
“Look!” he cried. “Come quick!”
Apparently the French air force (l’Armée de l’air) had patriotically decided to break the sound barrier right outside our window. Bon Quatorze!
Later that day, we joined some folks out at Invalides to drink wine in the sun, watch the various festivities, and wait for the evening’s fireworks. I was a little surprised, however, by the military character of the celebration:
There were helicopters and tanks and paratroopers everywhere you looked. But isn’t Bastille Day about celebrating the Revolution — the triumph of the citizens, liberté, égalité, fraternité? What does a government sponsored military parade have to do with any of that?
I don’t mean to criticize the army folks — they were fun to watch, and they looked like they were having a good time, despite the heat. I guess I was just hoping to see a guillotine on display, or maybe some guys selling Phrygian caps.
I’m still in Italy at the moment, making use of an entirely substandard and overpriced internet cafe, but I will be back home in Paris tomorrow. And the following day, Friday the 13th, just happens to be my 28th birthday.
Now, I know I have a handful of lurkers out there — but if any of you happen to live in Paris and have a burning desire to meet the girl behind the blog, please join me for a drink anytime after 7:30 pm, Friday evening at Cave Le Bourgogne — it’s at the bottom of Mouffetard, near metro Censier Daubentin, in the 5th.
I hope you can figure it out from that, because I’m about to be kicked off! Hope to see some of you then.
This spring has been exceptionally busy for me, with wave after wave of visiting family, plus the trip to Japan, and tomorrow I am set to leave again for a week in Italy. But it’s also been a lucky time for me, since my two sisters visited (separately), and each insisted I join her for dinner at the grandest restaurant where I could get a reservation.
Rising to the challenge, I swung and missed with Astrance and Le Pre Catelan, eventually settling on Apicius, an elegant and long-standing two star, and the world-renowned but recently demoted Taillevent.
The meals had much in common — both featured some truly excellent food, but both were unfortunately a little inconsistent.
At Apicius, the food was uniformly good but lacked the spark of invention that turns a meal into an event. The service, as well, was amiable enough (perhaps even too amiable) but a little careless. Apicius did score big points with me, however, for their cheese course.
Cheese courses were once de rigueur in France, even at simple restaurants, but sadly the tradition seems to be dying off — these days more and more restaurants are opting for two or even three dessert courses over cheese. So I was please and impressed when Apicius rolled out a huge and extremely diverse cart of cheeses. Better yet was the care, attention, and good humor employed by the very well-informed cheese boy as he introduced us to all our options and gave various tidbits of advice. He was friendly and helpful without being overbearing or condescending, which, as we shall see further down, is a sufficiently unusual combination.
Moving on to Taillevent, I found the food a little uneven.
This crab remoulade, for example, gets a 10/10 for presentation — I couldn’t help exclaiming over the charming rosette as soon as the waiter put it down. However, the remoulade itself was disappointingly akin to the imitation crab salads of my youth — sort of mayonnaise-y and bland.
This mushroom ravioli, on the other hand, may not be a real looker, but the assemblage of flavors was subtle, well-balanced, and delicious. The only problem with this course, then, was the waiter: as the plates landed in front of us, he announced the dish, but I couldn’t quite hear him. Exusez-moi, I said, je n’ai pas entendu. So he repeated himself, but still I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. Then I realized — he was speaking English! Kind of. And what he was insistently repeating was, “mushroom ravioli”. Well, duh — anyone could see that. But I wanted to know what type of mushrooms they were, and since mushrooms are different in different places, he was going to have to tell me in French.
After a little more badgering, I finally got him to switch to French, at which point he told me that the dish before me was “Raviolis aux Girolles.” Fine, I thought, and I let him go. But in fact, not fine, because I checked the online menu when I got home, and apparently the dish is actually “Raviolis aux mousserons des pres”. Of course, they could have switched up the mushrooms at the last minute, which is no big deal, except look at that picture. Do those look like girolles? No, they look exactly like mousserons des pres. And exactly how is it that a waiter at Taillevant doesn’t even know what kind of mushrooms are being served? It’s a bit disheartening.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only misstep of the evening. Taillevant has a veritable fleet of waiters — even though the restaurant was full, it seemed there might be more waiters than diners on the floor. But rather than assign our table a team of its own, we were faced with new waiters (and a new sommelier) at nearly every course. Which meant that we had to have the old French vs. English battle again and again! Wearing. I wish someone would inform these waiters that there are a few Anglos out there who speak and understand French perfectly well, and if we speak to them in French, they’d do well to answer us in the same language.
But waiters are waiters, and we go to a restaurant for the food, not the companionship, right? Fair enough, most of what we were served was excellent. Sadly, though, things fell apart at the cheese course.
That’s a scoop of chilled Fourme d’Ambert, and what amounts to a stewed prune. The flavors were actually interesting together, but the overall effect was far, far too rich. I only managed a bite or two before it started to make me feel ill, and — horrors — rendered me unable to eat the desserts.
Perhaps others would not have been affected so strongly, but I did feel that it was a poor choice. At that point in the meal, I really wanted something light and palate cleansing, whereas the flavors of this concoction haunt me even today.
Am I being too hard on these grand restaurants? Perhaps — in all fairness, I ate some wonderful and memorable food on both occasions. Still, I feel justified in holding institutions such as these to higher standards than your average corner bistro. It is attention to these little details that make the difference between a truly memorable experience and a simple nice meal out.