Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Flight of Vegetarian Menus: Vegas, Day 1

My 7th trip to Vegas and one with a purpose. The vegetarian menus of 3 great French restaurants in Vegas. Like the great veggie palaces of Paris I dined in last year, Vegas should be non- stop vegetable pleasure. Plus I can get some great tapas ideas from Julian Serrano and Jaleo for upcoming Iberian adventure. Flowing from that, a new sangria bar had just opened, promising 9 kinds of sangria. I wanted to try them all, and learn from the most promising. And you could buy then by flights! 3 small sangrias a night, I could do that.
My flight finally took off, more than an hour late. I began re-reading The Dispossessed, one of my favourite novels by my late favourite author, Ursula K Le Guin. I had thought to be in Vegas by 4 but it was well after 5 when I arrived. Reservation at Rivea in the Delano at 7. Hoped to be there earlier but was only able to make it in time. Rivea has taken over the old Mix restaurant, though kept Alain Ducasse's name and hopefully credibility. One of the best meals of my life was at Ducasse's Le Jules Verne at the Real Eiffel Tower last summer. The single best morsel of food that has ever entered my mouth was the 3rd prawn from the classic Ducasse menu at Mix, my first meal on my first trip to Vegas 7 years ago, almost to the day. I have been warned that Rivea food is a great distance from that. Indeed, it proves to be but it isn't bad at all. I had come for the John Dory, and reluctantly agreed to an appy because I was very hungry and not planning to go to Zuma til later. Appy turned out to be better than the main, just like my initial Mix meal. The John Dory wasn't bad at all. Just in concept, better than I get in most places in Vancouver.

 I was dragooned into the gnocchi as appy and I love gnocchi, but not in to filling up on non-protein. A small collection of starchies, with some wafer grills of Parmesan splendour. The grills made the dish. One of the supposed basil fragments on one of the gnocchi tasted of cannabis instead of basil. I know it's now legal here, but with gnocchi? Odd. But the Parmesan so overwhelmed the rest of the dish that even when Ducasse's John Dory, plus baby octopus and other things comes, with a credible cocktail, I'm quite happy with it. It does not strike out.

 I leave contentedly, but hurriedly. I am off to Sangria land, specifically the bar Alexxa, by cab, fearing it would be full if I dallied at the Delano. Although there were people at the tables in the outside terrace, at the long bar, I was all alone. I requested my first flight of mini-sangrias. The Bubbly, dubbed their most popular, earned every drop of its popularity. I'm a big fan of peaches and raspberries, but peaches, strawberries and sparkling wine properly balanced? This is skilled mixology. 
Had menu plans for the new Japanese restaurant Zuma in my favourite building in Vegas, the Cosmopolitan. The menu features considerably higher prices than listed on the website, and warnings from reviews. Nonetheless, I just had a John Dory and want to see what they do with a similar fish. It takes a while to get to me, but it is delicious. While waiting, I order a lychee cocktail because I'd been recommended a lychee cocktail at tomorrow's Le Cirque (which i never end up having). It has no flavour. A sweetness lingers in my mouth like a bad cold, but flavour never enters my palate. The fish is served skin side up.

 An affront to my eyes and taste buds. Skin should only exist in a distant past tense. But once the useful protein was revealed, the fish was better than the John Dory at Rivea. Not much done with it, a la Robota style fish but I am impressed. I'm not $29 impressed but it's not a bad piece of fish. Fully sated, I walk back to the Excalibur and fall asleep.

Vegas Day 2

Day 2
I am cold. I was offered 2 beds, but as there is only 1 of me, I stupidly agreed to one bed. If I had taken two, I could have had the other bed's blanket, but NO. Also offered a room next to the elevator. Would it's comings and going annoy me? I thought I'd be too tired to notice, and that was largely the case. Upon waking up, I requested a blanket, and a different room. The elevator noise, though not annoying when within the gravitational pull of sleep need, became a real obstacle to resumed sleep once awakened.
Last Vegas trip 2 years ago, I had the best breakfast ever, a lettuce and gnocchi soup at Bouchon. I'm up at 630, do my morning Tai Chi, have a cup of tea and a fruit cup with way too much melon and then buy a 24 hour Deuce pass and head off to the distant Venetian. It is an enchanting building to walk through. Music takes a break from 70s rock to mellow out a bit with Mozart. I walk by spaces where restaurants have served me marvelous meals, and then vanished, like dreams. The slot machines gleam. The security guy asks for my room number and I tell him I'm going to Bouchon. He allows me on the elevator. Probably the 7th time I've come to Bouchon for breakfast. The last time was probably the best breakfast – soup - ever. OK, Keller. Whaddya got? Not the magical lettuce soup, as long gone as the wondrous grapefruit I'd had here my first visit. I go with the crepe. Keller is one of the US's most famous “French” chefs, How much harm can he do to French peasant food? Well.....
I had always loved Bouchon's tea, until NOW. This barely functions as tea. An insult to the souls of the fruit picked to make this poor excuse for tea. I'm immersed in The Dispossessed, and no poverty of food could shake me from its grip, but the crepe arrived. The ham and brie did not displease, but the texture of the crepe challenged my dentition more than necessary. In other words, too chewy. The bibb lettuce lent a pungency that propelled my palate to further plunge in to the dry dungeon of taste Keller's crepes were driving me to. Balloons of bibb, thanks to the strong taste of the dressing and the crispy water-worlds of the lettuce (I'm reading about a planet where water is precious) I am not unhappy with the breakfast. But one does not travel great distances to be merely not unhappy.
Upon awakening, my body insists on fruit, and Keller refused any resemblance there of from his menu. I think he's just being mean to me for accurately describing my meal at Per Se as the the worst value for dollar spent in imagination. His soup last trip here was as good as a breakfast soup can get. This breakfast is OK, thanks to cheap bus instead of expensive cab, and the wonderful morning vibe of transversing the Venetian tower and other calm and comforting spaces. Also, I like being on the street in early morning Vegas where the people who are going to bring about The Show are going about the business of bringing that into being with their own dedication. The Show that is Las Vegas would not exist without them. I usually get up early when I travel, for some reason. I seem to need to get my bearings about the place I newly find myself in as soon as possible in day light. When I was here 2 years ago, something was being built next to New York, a bridge away from where I've always stayed, the Excalibur. I now saw it in the light of day. It's called a Park. I am called Cat. That doesn't necessarily mean the names match what those words usually mean. I walk on. The Monte Carlo has a tram that isn't particularly faster than just walking to the Bellagio but it does get you inside the hotel sooner than trudging toward it. And it it is wondrous place to be within. The Monte Carlo was a construction site.
I found my way to Milos at the Cosmopolitan. After last night's John Dory at Rivea and similar fish Branzino at Zuma, I was sorely tempted to once again have the lunch fish at Milos, which I'd had before after being assured, quite accurately, that it tasted the same as the Lavraki. But the brave new frontier of Milos shrimp beckoned.

 I allowed myself to be seduced by its siren song. It was very similar to basically the same shrimp dish I've had some several local Greek places, but it is a wonderful dish. I am reminded of my daughter's shared love of shrimp. When she got back from visiting her friend's family's condo in Puerto Vallarta, I asked her what she did down there. She said she ate shrimp. It was really good down there. Later I visited that town, and she was right.
I thought about that when a shrimp appeared with the John Dory and the baby octopus in Rivea last night. Alain Ducasse's first prawn sent me into another dimension. Vegas is a nice place because everyone who works here is dependent on it. I am within the gravitational force of their niceness.The hustle is as constant as the sun. Around me as I go from my room to an other hotel, there are people at slot machines, and other places designed to take their money, and they don't seem to mind. I feel like Shavek in The Dispossessed, an alien here. But like him, I am on a mission. I think Vegas is the answer to my quest. I think the best food I am capable of eating, the food that takes me into another universe, is from here, for the reason that two restaurants in a row took me to the same place. Two chefs, two bites. Same, shall we say meta-universe. Is this portal into a better tasting universe dependent on me or those meals? Am I the portal or are there sudden alignments, Ducasse's prawns, my palate, Gagnaire's John Dory as a female singer crooned Crimson and Clover as that fish entered my mouth . The taste buds we bring to the table matter. Our buds are our buddies. 
The Paris is across the street from the Cosmopolitan. I decided to walk over there and make a reservation for lunch tomorrow at the Eiffel Tower restaurant, which I assume still has the great vegetarian crepes I have cherished in each of my previous 6 trips here. It is dark in Paris, so I take my sunglasses off. It takes me a few minutes to adjust to the darkness and find the desk in front of the elevator and make my reservation.. The bar I was swigging sangrias at the night before appears to be open in the day time too. Maybe I can escape the “live” music and try more sangrias. Instead, as there are so many things to do in Vegas, I leave Paris and enter the sun-soaked city. Where are my shades? They aren't in my bag, nor in my jacket pockets. Did I leave them at Milos? I thought I recalled wearing them into Paris but maybe not? I go back to Milos but they aren't there. I go back to Alexxa but they aren't there either, and the bar tender tells me I must have dropped them somewhere else. Bummer!. I buy a pair of clip-ons that only covers the top half of my glasses but makes the glare bearable and go back to my room at the Excalibur. I carry around The Dispossessed to read in bars and restaurants and am reading my friend David Ossman's latest novel The Flying Saucer Murder Case which takes place in 1953 LA. As my family moved to LA in 56, many of the places Ossman writes about dwell distantly in my memory. A chunk of the novel is taken from Ossman's play New Mexican Overdrive which I saw when it premiered at the Whidby Island Center for the Arts about 20 years ago. My dinner reservation at Le Cirque is for 5:00, one of the earliest opening times of any restaurant I go to this trip. The idea is to eat early, maybe meet some friends in the evening, drink another flight of sangrias and then have a late snack, as I had done on Monday. Every room at an MGM-owned hotel (of which there are many on the strip) comes equipped with the MGM house organ, M Life. M Life comes with a section on cocktails to try this month. This month's recommended cocktails are all tea-based. I've had some amazing tea-based cocktails over the years and am delighted that the Petrossian bar at the Bellagio, where I have been hanging out pre-Le Cirque meals on previous 2 Vegas trips, has an “afternoon tea” in which the tea is augmented with useful booze: Double Dutch Tea. To quote from M Life, “At Petrossian at Bellagio, red velvet couches and lively notes from a Steinway Grand piano call to those with sophisticated tastes (that's me!). Here traditional High Tea – complete with scones and clotted cream, sandwiches and pastries – is served every afternoon. If you prefer your tea with a little something extra, the Double Dutch Tea, with Kettle One vodka, honey, cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange rind and fresh mint leaves is served with your choice of loose-leaf tea. Whether Darjeeling, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Jasmine Pearl or Tung Ting Oolong, we think you'll find it just your cup of, well, tea.” Sounds good to me. I wander through the construction site that is the Monte Carlo to the tram WAY in the back that delivers me into the bowels of the Bellagio. I make my way over to the Petrossian and order the Double Dutch Tea. The bartender has no idea what I'm talking about. He has never heard of it. I plead the M Life article but he remains in blissful ignorance. I order Tony Abou-Ganim's Bellagio cocktail, a serious passion fruit beverage that actually would have benefited from some ice. Although their nuts are very good, I decline them to save room for the upcoming feast at Le Cirque.
When I learned of the Vegetarian menu at Twist from vegetable-skeptic but vastly food knowledgeable Vegas food critic John Curtas,
I wanted to go there and dive into it. Then I discover that Le Cirque and its neighbour, Picasso also have vegetarian menus and the plan for a flight of vegetarian menus took shape in my hungry mind. Le Cirque would be meal number one in said flight. Before going to the restaurant, I wander through the conservatory. It is one of the best places in Vegas. The February theme is always Chinese New Years and as this is the year of the dog, lots of toy dogs are to be seen leaping and frisking about the floral displays. I am intensely moved by them. I had two dogs, briefly, in my childhood and two dogs for long periods as an increasingly aged adult.
To quote from Le Guin's The Dispossessed,
She had always known that all lives are in common, rejoicing in her kinship with the fish in her tanks of her laboratories, seeking the experience of existence outside the human boundary.”
I am nearly in tears when I enter Le Cirque after it opens, after my brief interaction with the dog dolls at the Conservatory. The loves that I've shared with the dogs in my life comes rushing back, my long ago canine companions leaping into joyous reunion.
From one of my early collages:
At the close of Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus returns home after many years of adventures and discovers that only his dog Argos still recognizes him. Writing of this long awaited re-union, Anthropologist Loren Eiseley writes, “the magic that gleams between Argos and Odysseus is both the recognition of diversity and the need for affection across the illusions of form. It is nature's cry to homeless, insatiable man. Do not forget your brethren, or the green wood from which you sprang.”

The staff all remembers me from my last visit here, which was 2 years ago. What amazing memories. I request the passion fruit cocktail I'd had 2 years ago and it appears. I tell the staff that I'm interested in their vegetarian menu, one of three in a row I'd be eating in Vegas. I had emailed G.M. Ivo about that upon seeing their menu online, requesting they exclude the avocado from their artichoke salad and replace the chocolate desert with some kind of fruit dish. Both of these requests are honoured. We discuss my recent trip to Paris and when I mention dining at L'Arpege, the staff tells me their own vegetarian menu was inspired by the chef at L'Arpege, and recommend I check out the Netflix show about him. First, I'll check out their food.
My amuse bouche is a beignet with Conte cheese (the high light of my meal at David Toutain's restaurant in Paris), truffle aioli and edible gold.

 This is a far superior use of gold than I had on the langoustine meal at Le Cirque several years back. An outstanding first bite. What will come next?
Ah, the avocado-less artichoke salad! The key for my enjoyment of this dish is the croutons! It is the best use of croutons I've had since Vancouver chef Pino's crimini mushroom soup, which took the gold medal at a national food competition a decade or so ago. That's a long time not to have had a great crouton. Salad of Baby Artichokes, avocado, parmesan, dijon mustard vinaigrette says the menu, and it is spectacular without the loathsome green fruit. Its overall lightness reminds of food I've eaten in the south of France. Rivea was supposed to do that, but Le Cirque really brings the sun-splashed tricolor of Nice to my palate. 
Next up, Parsnip Veloute, farm egg confit, wild forest mushrooms. Here the mushrooms perform the same function at the croutons in the salad. I had read a review of this dish online and have been experimenting with roasted parsnips and other root vegetables this winter. This is a much higher level food than I'm capable of making. There is even a bit of theatre with the dish, which I'm supposed to mix before eating. The mushrooms tumble into the eggs like acrobats from another Vegas Cirque institution. 
I had finished my passion fruit cocktail after the amuse and the first two courses. Would I like a wine pairing with the final two dishes and the deserts? I know I can trust the sommelier.
Next, Ratatouille: kalamata olives, tomato confit, potato pearls, sauce vierge. I've been making ratatouille since 1964 but never like this, which is as much a revelation as the dish in the animated flick of that name. The potato pearls perform the same function as the croutons in the initial salad and the mushrooms in dish #2. Paired perfectly with a glass of Neveu Sancerre. I've had a lot of good dishes with sauce vierge, but this is the best yet.
Last dish, Asparagus, wild mushrooms, roasted baby potatoes, warm truffle vinaigrette. I mistake the vinaigrette for mayonnaise, but a very good mayonnaise, far superior to that ingredient that came with my shrimp at the Eiffel Tower the following day.

 This asparagus is vastly different from the various asparagus concoctions I had in Paris last year. They were much lighter, more ethereal. This is more a substantial meal. Although I've only eaten vegetables, I'm getting quite full.
A copper pineapple appears. Will Sponge-Bob pop out? No, it's a small yellow ball on ice. Well, I'm at the circus, I'm supposed to be surprised. The ball is full of pineapple juice and its casing is made of coconut, a molecular pina collada. It reminds of Jose Andres' gin and tonic in a sphere and sangria in a sphere at his "e" restaurant, along with his mentor Fernan Adria's olives. It is a perfect micro-desert.

For the real dessert, I choose a peach Bellini to accompany essentially a raspberry dish. It would have been better without the ice cream, but still vastly better than if it had been chocolate. Monday night's primo sangria was Bellini-esque and it turns out to be the best of the 9 sangrias. The bar boss tells me its his favourite too.
I am offered an artistic display of sweets to take home to Fumiyo. This happened on my previous trips to Le Cirque and other restaurants of this caliber in Vegas. I explain that it is only Tuesday, I won't be going back to Vancouver until Friday at which point the desserts will have dried out. Fumiyo complained of this from previous offerings. This time, the creative staff at Le Cirque has an idea. As I'm going to be at the Bellagio on Thursday anyway, dining at Picasso, why don't I drop by Le Cirque after that meal and pick up the sweets so they'll still be fresh when Fumiyo bites into them on Friday. Talk about going on beyond the call of duty. But it is, after all, Le Cirque and the service here is just as exceptional as the food.

Then back to Alexxa for another flight of sangrias. They barely got off the ground. Many of my favourite alcoholic beverages have been apple cidres, in British Columbia, in France and in the States. What here is called Hop Cidre features Stella Artois (yes they make cidre, not just beer and I'm quite fond of their cidre), green apples and raspberries. I make cidre at home with granny smiths so I should like this. Well... Next up, Moonshine which features Zinfandel (a pretty good choice for a sangria wine), blackberries (my favourite fruit) and currants. It is unsurprisingly good, considering its ingredients. Finally, Winter Spice with Pinot Noir, stone fruit and spices. Has a curious Kool Aid vibe. The wine I use for Sangria at home, Carlo Rossi red has been disappearing from the North Vancouver liquor store shelves the past few weeks, forcing me to experiment with other red wines. None successfully, so far. From Alexxa, I'm thinking seriously about trying to make sangria with blackberries. The peach and strawberry-sparkling wine wonder that is the Bubbly is certainly something I can concoct at home.
Then to Vesper, which has been my favourite bar because of its relentless creativity. Not this time. Too minty. Lemon is used as well as Green Chartreuse. I love both yellow and green Chartreuse's but not in this drink. An easy escalator ride takes me up to Jaleo. A young lady from Argentina promises to take care of me. She quickly delivers delicious deep fried mushroom croquettes and a fine sangria, much more pungently Spanish than any of the sangrias I had just consumed at Alexxa. I see some comfortable couches with no one sitting on them and she doesn't mind if I sit there. I wish to eat more and discuss tapas, but alas, I can eat no more. Must return to bed type place. This I do.
I am sound asleep. A door opens. The light wakes me up. “What is happening?” I ask. “Nothing,” replies the man opening the door. He pretends to close it. This is scary. I get up and close the ajar door and lock it. Why was the door unlocked in the first place? As my room is next to the elevator, I thought it might have something to do with people needing to get into the elevator machinery, but no. When I go down to the lobby to complain the following morning, I am told it's an adjoining room for families that have kids. I am not one of those. I request a room with no door. Should have done that yesterday.

Vegas Day 3

While at the Bellagio enjoying its food, drinks and dogs, I walk over to the Bellagio Cafe to inquire when a good time would be to go for breakfast there. I had read online that they have a lobster omelet. I've never had a lobster omelet. It sounds like a really good food idea, though I've never had lobster for breakfast and wonder if it is indeed a breakfast food. My bus pass expires at 8:00 so I'm out of the Excalibur shortly after 7 to walk over to the bus stop. It is Vancouver cold at that time of the morning. It is a long windy walk around a cold lake but the wind creates some exquisite waves. And then I am back in warmth, in the cocoon of the Bellagio. After saluting my dog friends, I am at the Cafe, earlier than I was told was a good time but it is large and largely empty. I sit down. A woman with a small baby is beside me. I order some tea. It's chamomile, and vastly better than Bouchon's vaguely adulterated hot water yesterday morning, but that isn't hard to do. I order the omelet and it arrives. It is a serious meal, not where I'm at in the morning. The lobster lives again in my appreciation. The red peppers, the tomatoes, and most of all, the asparagus are aligned into the sort of meal one would recommend. Lobster has always been (very rare) dinner food, and the number of times I've had lobster for lunch can be counted on the fingers of one hand, if that, but breakfast lobster? You're kidding. No, it's really good. Unlike the Venetian, the Bellagio doesn't pound you with art. It's airier, and its beauty invites your powers of discovery. Unlike Bouchon's plastic-like crepes, the omelet at the Bellagio Cafe breathes, and invites breath. The neighbouring baby shows interest in my involvement with the exemplary omelet, and the great tea matched (as Bouchon USED TO DO) with exquisite honey. I try and smile at the baby as often as I can, which, considering what I'm eating, is very often indeed.
Everyone leaves. Me too. I get a new room at the Excalibur and with some difficulty, am re-connected with its tricky Wifi. After some more reading, I wander back over to the Paris and ask about my missing shades. “We were waiting for you to come back for them,” says the lady at the entrance desk, which is where I had left them on Tuesday. She promises someone upstairs will deliver them to me, and I ascend the scenic elevator to the Eiffel Tower restaurant. It ain't in the same aesthetic galaxy as the Real Eiffel Tower, but it ain't bad at all. I am ebullient.
My favourite crepes are gone. When I inquire, I'm told they vanished from the menu 2 years ago, obviously shortly after I was last here, lapping up their savoury wonder. Well, missing crepes (and thus, crepes of memory) are Slightly less disappointing than Keller's plastic-trophic sloppiness yesterday. I order the shrimp cocktail and a real cocktail, the Hollywood Margarita. I figure the lime would amplify the shrimp. Point it in a useful direction. These trips are all about what I can learn from them. Where to go with a vegetable, a prawn, a mushroom, the most delectable piece of fruit? The knowledge of that is pouring into this city. Let it pour into me.
1960. Summer. Saskatchewan. Outside of Regina, somewhere, my family stops for dinner. I notice someone eating something pale in voluminous red sauce on ice cubes. It was summer and those ice fantasies reached out to me. My parents allowed me to order it, or more accurately, it was shared by us all. It was a shrimp cocktail. It was the first animal I'd ever eaten in my life. When we discovered we were actually eating animals, the wondrous taste of the shrimp with the seductive cocktail sauce, so alien to our bland diets- we suddenly looked upon our feast with horror. Or at least I did. As far I knew, the family never consumed any more animals until the Cuban Missile Crisis a couple of years later.
This wasn't that shrimp cocktail. 
It was a lotta shrimp, for noon. The Hollywood Margarita did not help. It's lime did not add the dose of limeness to the shrimp I was expecting initially, but that changed as the beverage warmed up into a friendlier state. Offered 2 sauces, American and French. The French tasted like mayonnaise, and was undoubtedly related. I experiment with the sauces, the limey margarita and the lemon. I have my shades back. Everything is just fine.
Behind me, some people are discussing Alexxa, from the perspective of ownership. I once again own my shades. Reading The Dispossessed, and its critique of ownership is as relevant to my hourly life as it would be to the characters of the novel's anarchist society. Could an anarchist society have created either the Paris, France or the Vegas Paris hotel's Eiffel Tower? I doubt it. What a waste of material that should be used for greater societal benefit.
The cocktail is abandoned. The shrimp is wrangled. On my way back to the Excalibur, I buy a can of Angry Orchard Easy, a brand we don't have in Vancouver, and a Mike's Black Cherry lemonade. Traveling some productive paths with blackberries and black cherries and fruit of that proclivity on this trip. Let's see what Mike can do for me. The Easy angry is really good. I drift back into 50s LA in Ossman's novel.
My reservation at Twist is at 6. The Mandarin Hotel has to be the mellowest place in Vegas. It is always a joy to come here. The corns that were making walking painful have been easily eased back into comfort by some corn pads from the drugstore on my way between hotels. A hotel person ushers me into the elevator as I enter the hotel, and, sitting on a delightful little bench, I ascend. In the lobby, a wee robot addresses me. I think we will see a lot more of their kin in days to come. I ask the robot, Pepper, if Twist is yet open? Always try to be early. Pepper does not understand, or have that information. I ask a “human” at the desk, and am told Twist will open in a couple of minutes. My belief in a future full of fun robots momentarily disabled, I am at least in a wonderful hallway of black stone, maybe the best bathroom in the western world, and finally Twist itself. Other suited men are being seated. The folks who knew of my patronage had come and gone. I'm just another guest. Unlike yesterday's seating in probably the best seat in the restaurant at Le Cirque, I am given a slightly less spectacular seat. I'm here for Gagnaire's food, not his view though that too... Twist wouldn't know a Twist cocktail if it bit their arm off, so I offer them a print out of their house cocktail from the distant days (wow, 7 years ago) I first dined here. They scramble about to acquire the ingredients.
Gagnaire is about as playful a chef as you can get without being thrown out of the sand box and his amuses have always been a serious challenge to how far we can let our palates play. 
Parmesan sable
Limoncello soufflé
Black rice tartelette/parsley puree/parsley sponge
Nori chip/masago/broccoli
Grapefruit gazpacho
Twisted cocktail/orange powder
Casteveltrano olive/gin/lime
Battonet of celery

Lindenwood Gelée, Baby Vegetables
Served With Lemon Sorbet, and Fromage Blanc Snow
Yeah, it's really pretty but I don't eat with my eyes. It's basically a bunch of random words masquerading as a sentence.Raw vegetables? Uh, no. When I eat a raw carrot, I know I'm eating a carrot. It had looked like a carrot before entering my mouth,. It tastes like a carrot. Numerous receptors look forward to the healthful benefits it will soon provide. When I eat the idea of a carrot in the cuisine I expect of a great chef, that carrot has become a rocket ship taking me to the limits of pleasure. It ain't no carrot no more. Pierre served me a raw carrot. 
Endive, Green Apple, Celery Salad, Roasted Spiced Apple
It was OK. Apple was good.

Spinach Velouté, Gorgonzola and Pine Nut Croquette, Tomato Concassé,
Arugula Salad, Brioche
I hate poached eggs as much as anyone hates anything. Attempting to eat this reminded me of the Battle of Borodino, as described in War and Peace.

Artichoke Cream, Cremini Mushrooms, Sweet Onions Marmalade,
Mix Wild Mushrooms
Up there with the best things I've ever eaten. Considering the vileness of some of the previous dishes, I wondered if Gagnaire can still cook. Yep. 

Raisins/Aloe Vera with Licorice/Kaffir Lime Vodka Coulis/Basil Lime Sherbet
Coconut Panna Cotta/Elderflower Cream/Frozen Heering Pineapple
Apple Tatin/Calvados Caramel Sauce/Vanilla Ice Cream

The best apple pie I have ever eaten. Texting Fumiyo this (and she makes some exquisite apple pastries) she wonders what makes it so good. The crust, the apples, what is done to them, it is a miraculous desert.

Manjari Parfait/Almond Nougatine/Bitter Chocolate Foam
Grand Marnier Hibiscus Gelée/Saffron Cake/White Almond Paste

I'm being gelleed to death (thankfully not by Bill Cosby).
Some dishes are better than others. They are all really pretty. The lights outside are pretty too and they're free. If it weren't for the world-altering mushroom dish, I'd probably rate this meal a B- after the rare A meal at last night's Le Cirque. But nothing ever consumed at Le Cirque has been as ridiculously good as Gagnaire's mushroomy thing. Good work, Gagnaire.
After dinner, I meet a friend at Aria, Marisol, who taught me what great service could be in my appearances at Fleur in Vegas visitations past. Now she has a job which provides her with similar levels of enjoyment. I am elated to hear her family is all well and happy. Rarely have I met anyone who lives in Vegas who isn't happy about that fact. Considering the tragedy that befell this city last year, the spirit of resilience from the people I know here is an inspiration to us all. Marisol shows me pix of her grand kids. I tell tales of mine. She complains of having to pay for parking downtown now and scurries back to her car to take advantage of a brief window of free parking.

One is always reluctant to leave great hotels (Unlike the Excalibur, which I flee with glee and only reluctantly return to) but there are sangrias to consume and rate. Fortified still by evening chamomile with my blizzard of desserts at Twist, I am back to Alexxa. The last three 4 oz, mostly ice, sangrias. The Blanco sucks. Sampling the bartender's special: he is surprised that I detect aloe. And cucumber. That doesn't mean I want to taste them in a sangria. Only the Pinky works. Again with the blackberries. Boss man shows up and notices I've been a regular, maybe the only one the last 3 days, and offers me a free dessert. One of his pumpkin dishes looks like something I'd love to compare with the pumpkin puree I just had at Twist, but I no longer have the capacity. I consume a small quantity of the sangrias, just enough to form an opinion of them and then leave them to their watery dreams of sun-soaked Spain to return to my hotel. I am not awakened by invading strangers. I sleep well.  

Vegas Day 4 and out

Day 4

On my way to Rivea at the Delano on Monday evening, I walked by a cafe called Della's and noticed a chia pudding on its breakfast menu. That sounded intriguing. Chia is supposed to be super healthy and combined with needed berries and granola, it sounded like a great breakfast. Unfortunately, the tram doesn't start running til 9, and as it's only 7:30, I walked through the Luxor to the Mandalay Bay and through it to the Delano for Della's pudding. Tea is OK. I'm reading The Dispossessed. What could possibly intrude? The “chia pudding” tastes like yogurt. Unless it's an ingredient of Tzatziki sauce, I have no use for yogurt. Is this a chia seed's hell?
 A breakfast as bad as my hotel, which is slightly above my aesthetic-crushing “hotel” room in Paris last summer but at least there I wasn't afraid of unexpected entrants, though a bullet from the terrorist incident at next door Notre Dame was a possibility.
For lunch I'm back at the ridiculously beautiful Aria for lunch at Julian Serrano's. Hoping to feast on Pinxtos in San Sebastian next year, maybe Julian can give me some ideas. I've had both great (stuffed red peppers) and terrible tapas here before. The croquette-ized mushroom soup I'd had at Jose's Jaleo was kinda what I expected from Molecular Andres. Studying the menu online, I was entranced by the possibility of apricots and scallops. Always on the lookout for new ways to combine fruit with protein (My great uncle invented fruit, so just carrying on the family tradition) I order this tapa along with
bronzino donostiarra*
sea bass | tapenade | tomato | patata panadera | nora

and some of Julian's sangria. Naturally sangria's gonna work with with an apricot dish, but with the fish? Hmm, I'm thinking cava here.
Seared scallop skewer*
piquillo pepper | apricot | romesco

This is almost as good as the mushroom dish at Twist. This is why one goes to Vegas, or Spain, or the kitchen, or anywhere. This is why one gets out of bed. To eat things that taste as good as this.
In between dishes, I converse with the young man behind the counter. He has become a fan of the new Vegas hockey team, which has vaulted unexpectedly into great success and given the whole town a boost. He tells me of getting his son into sports, though he had never been into them. A childhood I also avoided, aside from pick up games with friends and the sports one does at school. I begin to observe the avenues to strength in this assaulted community, such as I felt hanging out at a bar near the Bataclan in Paris last summer. As I'm still a bit hungry (these are tapas after all) I chance the Padron peppers with orange zest. Not once was I told they were hot peppers. I cannot eat hot anything. I try, and find the orange zest a splendid idea, but I have no interest in setting my tongue on fire. I flee.
The Tea Lounge back at the Mandarin is about as mellow a place as you'll find on the strip (not that there's competition). I have had exquisite teas and tea-based cocktails in its Zen-flavoured sea of tranquility. Enough fiery peppers, a glass of tranquility, please!
I sink back into Le Guin. My taste buds are soon enchanted by:

Pearbellini 19.
Inspired by our property mixologist, William
Perbellini, this concoction features Grey Goose
vodka, elderflower liqueur, lime, pear and
homemade chamomile tea syrup, which are
enhanced with the crispy and floral notes of
Perrier-Jouët Champagne and torched rosemary.

I've had great drinks here before, so I order the other one on their menu:

The Golden Leaf 18.
Created specifically for Mandarin Oriental,
Las Vegas. The Golden Leaf uses Hendricks gin,
Aperol, muddled mandarin oranges,
pineapple juice, fresh lime juice and
housemade simple syrup.

Wow. Almost as good as the Pear drink. Two in a row. Even Vesper isn't That good.
M Life tells me of a new bar from Tony Abou-Ganim at the Mandalay Bay. It opens at 3 so I go back to the Excalibur to charge my phone and then take the tram to the Mandalay and walk over to Libertine Social to see what Tony's up to these days. I had met him at the first For the Love of the Cocktail breast cancer event at the Cromwell on my last trip to Vegas, just had his Bellagio cocktail at the Petrossian on Tuesday. Let's see what he brings to his new venture. The bartenders tell me he's most famous for the Sunsplash: Grey goose l'orange vodka, Cointreau, orange and lemon juices, cranberry juice so I order that and seek to take a picture of it with my phone. Where's my phone? Oh no!, I'd left it back in my hotel. I gulp the splash and zip back to the Ex-calibre and find my phone on the bed waiting for me. Why did you abandon me, it asks, plaintively? Sorry, phone, I'm new at phone marriage. It's too easy to sink back into the vastness of my phone-less life.
I had a reservation at Picasso for 530 so was able to meet friend John at Prime in the adjacent space in the netherworlds of the Bellagio. Prime is a wonderful space, full of sort of steam-punk silver from the coca-addled brain of Pizarro after he'd just sacked the Incan empire. John is having a more complex drink, I go for a palate cleansing Gin n Tonic. It was the wrong choice, but I'm here for the companionship, not the inadequate beverage. John has been to many places since I last saw him 4 years ago, but not to Maisen, the best tonkatsu place on the planet, on his recent trip to Tokyo. Every bite of hire katsu at Maisen is as good as the mushroom dish at Twist. Nuf said. John warns me that my level of food consciousness is unusual in this town, and that surprises me, considering what's available to educate one's palate in Vegas. I have gotten into lengthy (by my standards) conversations with restaurant staff about food yet it was always from the point of view of my wanting to have the best possible experience at their establishment and isn't that what they were in business for?
And then I go to Picasso. It is a beautiful restaurant. Le Cirque hit a home run with its Vegetarian Menu. Twist walked (the pumpkin thing), then struck out twice with rabbit food and abused chicken embryo, and then hit a grand slam winning the World Series with its mushroom dish. Picasso was menu 3 of the flight. It had 2 Michelin stars. It's creator was Julian Serrano, whose exquisite apricot/scallop wedding I'd just attended. This guy was good. So I order. And the food appears. I truly wish it had not.
Cold Ajo Blanco
    white almonds, grape jus, vinegar, and olive oil
  • Plancha Chinese Eggplant
    macadamia nuts, sun-dried tomato, caramelized onions, and raisins
  • Sautéed Imported Jumbo White Asparagus
    fresh morels and fennel jus
  • Ragout of Vegetables
    sunchoke raviolis

What you see here are a lot of ideas for good dishes. Thankfully, you are not eating them. There was so much unrealized potential here. Serrano had not mocked vegetables, as fly-too-close-to-the-sun Gagnaire does relentlessly. I'm just not getting cheffery here. The number of beverages I've consumed at this point, added to the drinks with the dinner, undoubtedly contribute to my lack of memory of just what I ate. The point is, none of it registered. I have photos of the food, but I might as well have eaten the photos. I try to avoid being nasty but I felt insulted by what I had just eaten and its price. I left them a note: This food could have been much better.
Not only is Le Cirque a great place to eat, they go over and beyond what you'd expect from a restaurant, or any commercial establishment, even in service industry capital Vegas. They had promised I'd be able to pick up the sweets for Fumiyo and the grand kids on Thursday. It gave me the chance to talk to the ever-helpful GM and the young lady who had chased after me to deliver sweets when I last dined here.  It was the difference between night and day, going from the Picasso to Le Cirque. Actually, Picasso is more open and full of greenery and interesting art, which intensifies your time there, as well as your expectation. When I was a child, my mother disliked cooking and my dad and I disliked what she did cook so we cooked for ourselves, or ate out. All the time. But it wasn't fine dining. These were the days before ubiquitous fast food so it was a “family” restaurant like Dupar's where we would eat whatever didn't contain meat on the menu. Canned and frozen food played a large part in my diet. Picasso food reminded me of that. Very bad attempts to do good things with vegetables.
Hearing stories of the demise of Le Cirque's origin in NYC reminded me of the fall of Rome. The city fell, the western Roman Empire became the empires of others, but Constantinople, and the Byzantine Empire lasted for another thousand years. The Vegas Le Cirque can be the Byzantium of restaurants. May we all continue to be delighted by it. 
I had read that Bar Masa had closed, but there it was next to Julian Serrano, and it still had the truffled Maitaki on its menu. I regret not going there this trip. Also regret not getting over to L'Atelier for Robuchon's great langoustine fritters. A breakfast at usual breakfast joint Mon Ami Gabi could have been much more enjoyable than the supposed pudding at Della's Kitchen. I would like to go back to Zuma and try their lime crab as well as a few more tapas from Jaleo and Julian. Four days is my shortest trip to Vegas, but I assume it won't be my last. This was my last time to stay at the Excalibur. If their housekeeping staff didn't notice the door to a stranger's suite was unlocked, what else didn't they notice? I saw a very seductive lady at the Luxor. Maybe I'll give them my patronage next trip.

At a Wolfgang Puck's eatery at the airport the following day, I noticed my neighbours were having a Chicken Caesar wrap so I ordered one of those, remembering my daughter Monique's unintentional Caesar salad experience from long ago.

We were at Red Robin and when the waiter asked us what we wanted to drink, Mo ordered a Coke and I asked for a Virgin Caesar. Ten minutes later, the waiter brought Mo her Coke but a bowl of Caesar Salad for me. I told him in my politest manner that I'd ordered a Caesar as in DRINK. This seemed beyond the waiter who called for the manager. We explained it to him, but when the manager brought my drink, he chucked it at us, nearly spilling it on Mo and me. Mo emptied the salt shaker on the table and in the salt, wrote, "WE HATE YOU," which we left as a "tip."

Stephanie Scott

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Saturday, June 3rd: Welcome to Paris

When Fumiyo and I were driving down the coast from Vancouver to Southern California in November, 2015, we heard about the Bataclan massacre and other terrorist attacks in Paris. We decided to go to France, to show our solidarity.
Fumiyo hiked across Provence with her friend from May, 19-31. Upon her return, she told me the flight was claustrophobic and I should get a seat that would be more comfortable. I went to the Air France website and chose what I assumed would be a more comfortable seat. When I got to Vancouver airport, I discovered I'd chosen a seat on the return flight. The flight to Paris would indeed be claustrophobic. I watched a pretty good movie about how the McDonald's empire emerged from theft, listened to some Earth Wind and Fire on the free headsets, enjoyed a free glass of champagne, read the April issue of The Atlantic and several chapters of Montaigne's essays and had two decent meals. The first, “dinner,” promised chicken in lemon sauce. The lemons never appeared on my palate, but the meal was pretty good, particularly the apple sauce which included a number of different fruit instead of just apples. Also pumpkin and wild rice, which was quite tasty. My glass of white wine suffered from turbulence, spilling onto the tray and soaking several courses. I should not have poured it into the plastic cup. What I didn't do was sleep. Arriving at Charles De Gaul, we were bused to another terminal and then forced to stand in line for 2 hours to see the passport people. I was exhausted and sore from the flight, and standing for hours made things even worse. As I finally approached the passport folks, a loud bang was heard. The security people were alarmed and scurried about. Apparently it wasn't a bomb. After getting my passport stamped, I acquired my suitcase and then had to wait another hour before I was allowed to leave the airport and catch the train into Paris. In my studies of desirable places to eat in Paris, I kept reading about the wonders of a creperie called the Breizh Cafe which apparently had Japanese-inflected crepes and only took reservations from 9:30 to 11:30 in the mornings. I tried to call from Vancouver but no luck. I tried to call from the airport with the same lack of luck. After a long, uneventful train ride to St. Michel station, I got off at the wrong exit and had to ask several people where Shakespeare and Co. was. I was to spend most of my trip asking people for directions. My hotel was next door to the great English language bookstore. Upon checking into my ancient hotel, The Esmeralda, I was given a room on the 4th floor. “I hope you're strong,” says the concierge. An ignorant hope. Already exhausted from the flight, I somehow climbed up to my room, only to be told a few minutes later that a room had just opened up on the 1st floor, so I could save several steps a day! Lucky me!
I'd bought books at Shakespeare and Co. on my previous trips to Paris, in 1980 and 2002. Planned to buy one this trip to. However, what most excited me about the store was that it now had a cafe. I could order in English. I did. Unfortunately I ordered a quiche and a cidre. A salad came with the quiche which had a tasty balsamic dressing. The Sassy cidre (from Normandy) was drinkable and necessary on a muggy day. The quiche was a disaster. Not a good beginning to my culinary adventures in Paris.
I had booked a reservation into the Louvre for 2:00. It was great to avoid the long lines. My favourite painting (Joseph the Carpenter, by La Tour) is in the Louvre. I saw it in 1980. Unfortunately its room was closed in 2002. Closed again this time. I knew that, but wanted to see the Louvre's new (since 2002 anyway) collection of Islamic art. I had been very impressed by the Islamic art I'd seen in Spain in the 2002 trip. This art was not impressive at all. I asked about the Vermeers, which had thrilled me on both previous visits. They were gone too. I'd seen a sign on my way into the Louvre courtyard advertising a Vermeer exhibit that ended in May. Not only were the borrowed Vermeers gone, so were the Louvre's. The Louvre WiFi didn't work for my phone either. Bad Louvre!
In my search for great French food, the restaurant Les Bouquinistes had been recommended. Run by Guy Savoy, whose restaurant in Vegas is one of my faves. Close to my hotel too. I was there when it opened at 7:00. Would it be as good as the Savoy in Vegas? It was considerably cheaper, though it had a Michelin star. The amuse wasn't promising. I had thought of ordering the cheap fixed price meal, but the Mushroom and Prawn Ravioli, Ginger and Lemon Grass Broth wasn't on that menu. I went with the prawns. First whiff reminded me of Lobster Bisque, but far more complex and palate-enchanting, as I expect from Guy Savoy Every bit as good as Savoy's Vegas food. As good as I anticipated. Phenomenal food. Next up, spiced tuna with a pea risotto and potatoes. Not only superb but very filling. Not spicy at all, just the way I like it. Both courses paired perfectly with a glass of Chablis.

 Neglecting the quiche, which deserves all the neglect it can get, this was my first Meal in Paris and it was good as I'd hoped. In spite of the thundering bells from next door Notre Dame, I easily went to sleep by 8:30. Unfortunately, I awoke at 11:30, not because of noise but because of my skewered sense of time. I eventually went back to sleep and arose for a busy Sunday.

Sunday, June 4th: Ellsworth, Louis Vuitton, Breizh, Pas de Loup

I'd heard the restaurant Verjus was very good but it wasn't open on Sunday. It did however have a sister restaurant called Ellsworth, which also received great reviews and was rather difficult to get into. Ellsworth was supposed to send me a code to my cell phone, which I would then read and email it back to them confirming my reservation. No code appeared. I emailed them asking if my reservation was still good. I was assured that it was, even code-less. I gave myself a long time to walk to the restaurant, though it looked close on the map. I'd paid a small fortune for a travel package for my phone that was supposed to let me roam at will. Didn't work. I had to ask many people for directions. Finally found Ellsworth, which was right across from a statue of Moliere. His house was near by. Pleasant bit of synchronicity, we can thank Moliere for the founding of the Firesign Theatre. It was a Moliere play Phil Proctor was performing in New York that traveled to LA, bringing Proc along in 1966. Once in LA, he discovered his Yale playwright friend Peter Bergman was the town's great radio star. Getting together on Pete's radio show, the Firesign Theatre was born. Now did all this mean I'd get good food? My server was delightful and unintentionally hilarious. On the list of mocktails, there was one called Clovis. I asked if it was a mocktail made from cloves and she assured me it was. I ordered a dish of peas (again), asparagus, fava beans, spinach and Parmesan cheese as an appy, 

and smoked trout (From Banta!  Actually Ellsworth misspelled Banka, the home of some of the best trout in the world) with scrambled eggs as a main. My server than came back and apologized, saying Clovis was a person, not actual cloves. I went with a grenadine soda, which was a bit sweet but went fine with the food.. Ellsworth buzzed with young female energy. Maybe the “Elle” in Ellsworth is related to that. The collection of green vegies is very refreshing and balanced, no single veg dominates. I can make this. The grenadine soda pleases the eye as well as the palate. Combined with the vegies, it nudges the overall flavour into a kind of savoury pastry, something yesterday's sorry quiche should at least have aspired to. The scrambled eggs, smoked trout (From Banta!), creme fraiche and herbs appears. The herb turns out to be dill. Dill is a kind of Ukrainian lemon; it improves whatever it touches. I think this would have worked better with a harder egg product; an omelet perhaps or a frittata. Its sogginess works against the other ingredients, excellent as they are by themselves. Thanks, Banta. Mushiness is not their friend, particularly after the delightful crispiness of the previous dish. After the meal, I tell my server to ask her bar tender to come up with a real clove mocktail and depart, forgetting my copy of the New Yorker I was reading while awaiting my food. I would miss it in adventures to come.
The main thing I wanted to see in Paris was Frank Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton Building. It was out of town, in the Bois de Boulogne, in a large park called the Jardin d'Acclimation. When, after a long metro ride and another long walk, the Fondation comes into view, I tear up, as I always do in the presence of great beauty. Just looking at it from the outside is enough. It looks like a giant UFO has landed in Paris, bringing harmony to the planet. 

Though nowhere near as overpowering as the outside, inside the building is somewhat interesting as well. On exhibition is Art/Afrique, Le nouvel atelier, a collection or works by various African artists. Some of the paintings are quite subversive, reminding me of some of the profoundly political and sarcastic First Nations works I've seen in Vancouver; cartoony in a good way. There are some futuristic toy cities that my 5-year-old grandson would enjoy.

 And speaking of young children, all around the Jardin are multitudes of them, with their attendant adults. It is after all, Sunday. Young children chirping their not-quite French phonemes reminds me of young birds still learning the songs of their species. It is very affecting. Maybe I notice the kids so intensely because I first came to Paris with my then 22-month-old daughter 37 years ago.
I have wanted to eat a crepe and drink a cidre at Breizh (the Breton word for what we call Brittany) Cafe since I heard of the place a few months ago, when I began researching what to eat in Paris. Time calls it one of the 10 things every visitor to Paris must do. And the crepes come with assorted Japanese-inflected ingredients. Yuzu perhaps? Shiso certainly. The reviews cite sea weed, which I can do without. Still, my attempts at phoning the place from Vancouver and Charles De Gaul being unsuccessful, I decide to go the place in mid-afternoon and try and get in. There is of course, a line-up. Half an hour I stand in the hot sun. That New Yorker would have come in handy. Then I am in. Will the crepes be worth the hype? I order the ham and cheese crepe. There is a long list of cidres from Brittany. Unfortunately, the list is in French. There are 2 Japanese waitresses, one young and perky, the other older and sullen. The sullen one approaches and brusquely asks which cidre I want, as if I could read the menu. You want sweet or dry, she sneers. I choose dry. The perky one then shows up with a bottle of Cidre Bouche, Jean-Pierre Semery Artisan Cidrier. Les Courtils de Montchevron Brut 5%. It pairs wondrously with the immense buckwheat crepe, or galette as the they call them in Brittany. It's 3:30 and Pas de Loup, the bar I want to go to later, doesn't open til 6. I eat my crepe and savour my cidre very slowly.

Having luxuriated in some of the best cocktails in both Vancouver and Vegas (among other cities), I wanted to do the same thing in Paris. Pas de Loup's bartender, a woman from Minnesota named Amanda Boucher, was described as the city's most creative mixologist. My cousin won the award as the World's Most Imaginative Bartender a few years ago so they may have something in common. My palate craves imagination. I get to PDL and ask for Amanda. Alas, she is no longer at the bar. When it is discovered that I'm from Vancouver, my friendly chef Lori from Austin tells me that Amanda's partner was from Vancouver, but both women have moved on. Still, the Amanda-less bar makes fine cocktails. I have one called New Moon aka Free Melania (yes, that Melania) made with Mezan Jamaica XO, velvet falernum, Dame de Piques and Vielli en Fut. The mixologist shows me what those ingredients are. It is a tasty concoction indeed. Later, I have the appropriate The Boy Who Cried Wolf : Sirop de pomme, houblonne, jus de citron and jaune tonic. Also excellent. I also have a mocktail resembling lemonade and when I ask the mixologist to make up something original and I tell her I love fruity Tiki drinks, she comes up with something whose ingredients she won't reveal but one of them is mint, in copious quantities. The Tiki Gods would approve.

 I'm too full from my massive galette to try any of PDL's food. The critics rave about it's pyrogies made from cauliflower. Now that I'd like to eat. My Ukrainian grandma would probably approve, and she's been dead for 35 years. Lori tells me it isn't cauliflower season and she's making them now with green onions, not one of my 10,000 or so favourite foods. I am not tempted. PDL, whatever the quality of its food, is a profoundly friendly space. It fills up quickly as I sit there. Finally it's time for me to leave. Lori tells me Overkampf metro station is near by. It appears so on my phone's map. But I can't find it. I see the Bataclan. I see other stations. I ask and ask and ask, but get no nearer. My expensive travel package is useless. Finally, 3 young ladies tell me it doesn't matter which subway I take, they're all connected and I'll get back to my destination St. Michel on Line 4 from anywhere. Great advice. I return to my picturesque garret. Tomorrow, the achievement of my long quest.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Monday, June 5th: Mont St. Michel, Mere Poullard and Ham-flavoured cidre

At last, on the way to Mont St. Michel. Metro to Montparnasse, with all its literary echoes. Get there too early as usual and my destination Rennes not on the board yet. I have a quiche Lorraine from one of the station's fooderies. It is filling. I wonder if I have to get my ticket validated? I had ordered it from their website and it remarked on the need for validation on the ticket. Fumiyo and friend failed to validate their tickets last week in Nice and the authorities weren't nice at all. I decide to ask at the Information booth. I try it in French. The man listen's to my French in horror and asks if any of his colleagues speak this alien tongue. A woman volunteers her English. I ask her where to validate my ticket. She tells me it's not necessary. Later, when a conductor scans my ticket while en route, she proves to be right.
On the way to Rennes, a woman of substance sat down across the aisle from me. I'm scared enough to be having the wrong ticket, as happened to me on both my previous trips to France, long ago. I begin to hear the sounds of farts. Lots of farts. I thought, I've wanted to see Mont St. Michel for 46 years. I'm on a train there now. But before I get there, I'll be suffocated by these farts.
I escape death.
It's only her phone. No one young could understand why I didn't immediately recognize the phone sound. This is new terrain to me, particularly in that different acoustic world that is France. Anything can happen here. The senses are easily befuddled.
I get off at Rennes. Much smaller than Paris, but I thought the bus station would be connected. It's elsewhere. I ask. Am directed to a closed building. Then learn that the buses for St. Michel do indeed appear there. One more attuned to the digital world would have solved those problems for me but I am from another now. Slower than this. I interact with 6 people to get to my bus, different in number from my ticket. This is better for me and them than interacting only by phone. I have a memory of those interactions. But I think the ability to remember will atrophy when we let our phones do it for us. I am going to the Mont because I saw it in the background of a TV commercial in Aug, 1971. Was it real? I wanted to find out. Our bus appears. It is as claustrophobic at the Air France flight, but at least it has Wi-Fi. I entertain myself on line and then read Montaigne until we see signs announcing the imminence of the Mont. And...There it is. As thrilling as a Mont can be! Looming over the road! It exists. It's exhilarating. We are let off the bus near a Centre. We get maps. We walk a short distance. A street opens up before us. 

We are encouraged to spend money. That's not what I'm here for. I begin the long climb. There are, thankfully, many stops along the way. Places to catch one's breath. But there are then more steps. As I'm walking, I pass half a dozen soldiers, clutching their machine guns. The steps aren't that wide. I fear brushing against them and their primed weapons. Rain had been promised for the day but it wasn't raining. The path wasn't full of slick, wet stones. I passed by the machine gunners without difficulty, but with ever alert trepidation. I am asked to give 10 Euros to enter the Abbey. Is it worth 10 E? Isn't there supposed to be someplace inside where I feel something, perhaps a communion with its millions of previous pilgrims and the creator monks? The Euros evoke no such communions. Instead of the garden at the top I was looking forward to, only cement mixers. The Mont is being updated, paved into the uncaring of the digital age. I begin my descent. Fumiyo had asked me to buy some cookies, which I do. All this climbing has made me hungry, and I discover Mere Poullard hawks not just her vast omelets but crepes as well!. Will it be as good as yesterday's? I order the smoked salmon galette and the Mere Poullard traditional cidre. They are a magnificent combination. 

In preparation for the trip, I bought a copy of Curiosities of Paris by Dominique Lesbros and had been using it to magnify my interpretive visual abilities in the city during my first week end in Paris. The night before I went North, I was reading about the image of a dove carved outside Notre Dame.
  "The street's name colombe (dove) is a reminder of a 13th century legend: a male dove is said to have come to the aid of his mate who was buried under the ruins of a house. He saved her life by bringing her seeds and water on a wisp of straw. The story is that this ingenious conjugal rescue touched the hearts of the local population. Above the door at no.4 and at the corner of rue des Ursins, two bas-reliefs reflect the tale."
 While enjoying my salmon crepe, I was thinking of that story as a small bird landed on the Mere Poullard sign outside the window and began chirping.At first I thought it was someone's phone. Then I saw the bird.
A tram up to my hotel. It seems to be in a neighborhood of only hotels, no other signs of village life. Obviously here for us tourists alone. The hotel is splendid. The exact opposite of my dungeon next to Notre Dame. A TV! The workable shower is quickly savoured. The BBC just brings me news of terrorism. A woman from British Columbia is a victim. Her family urges us all to be be inspired by her generous spirit. I go downstairs for a cocktail the bar advertises but it's far too sweet, and then dinner: John Dory, a great fish when done right, and a bottle of local cidre. What could go wrong? Thankfully I'd made a reservation as soon as I'd checked in, as the restaurant “fills up fast,” I'm told and that is correct. I get there as soon as it opens and it is soon jammed. My cidre arrives. I have a glass. It tastes like ham.

I loved the ham in yesterday's galette at Breizh. I loved the ham in my Quiche Lorraine at Montparnasse Station. I do not want an apple drink to taste like ham. “How is the cidre?” asks the waiter. “It tastes like ham,” I inform him. He laughs. John Dory swims into view. It swims in the same ocean as good taste, but at some considerable distance. It is good food for people who have never tasted good food. A small increment to tastelessness. 

After dinner, I decided to walk towards the Mont to look at it again. The purpose of this voyage is to Look at Mont St. Michel. I begin the walk, but a fierce wind blows me backward. I feel like a hobbit on the wrong mountain. To escape turning into frozen food for ravenous snails, I retreat back to my hotel. Its bar, devoid of interesting cocktails as I've discovered, does offer a tasty cidre called Loic Raison. It does not taste like ham. Pigs everywhere celebrate.

Tuesday, June 6: From MSM to a terrorized Notre Dame

Even though it was only a few days ago, I don't recall much of the trip back to Paris. I didn't get lost. Wasn't threatened by lethal farts. While waiting for the bus, the wind whipping through the trees across the street reminded me of the trees in my hometown, Yorkton, when its trees were similarly annoyed by the wind. When I get on my train and seek my seat, I have to pass by the person in the aisle seat. Pardon, Madame, I first offer. Then I change it to Pardon, Monsieur. I'm not sure. The seated person doesn't seem to mind. What can be expected of a non-Francophone? I'm back at Montparnasse by 2. I'm starving, so grab a quick Croque Monsieur on my way back to my hotel. I was planning to see the Arab museum   this afternoon. It's only a few blocks from my hotel, yet the concierge has never heard of it. My interest in the building again is the outside. I seek the great brain-clanging experience I got from the Moorish buildings in Spain. The outside of the building lends itself to that aesthetic, but it is raining. I go inside. It's a bunch of euros. I'm asked which exhibit I wish to see. Can't I see them all? No. Switching to English, the ticket seller suggests I see Islam in Africa. Should fit in well with the African art I saw on Sunday at the LV Fondation, as well as the recent PBS series I saw called Africa's Great Civilization. The exhibit is excellent. More cartoony modern stuff 

along with beautiful objects of great age. Outside of the exhibit, I try and get into the museum itself but am told my ticket does not permit me to do so. That turns out for the best. Dramatic as the Islamic patterns are on the outside, within the building they are stunning. One of the great aesthetic experiences of my life. 

Outside the museum, I find blackberries at a nearby store. I will dine fine tomorrow morning. I begin to walk the few blocks back to the Esmeralda hotel. Police vehicles appear. Then, a lot more. Cops are suddenly everywhere, machine guns cocked. Along with everyone else on the sidewalk, I am ordered against the wall, out of sight lines. A woman with a young daughter asks the closest cop, in English, what is happening. The cop answers, in English, to my astonishment, that 2 shots have been fired at Notre Dame, which is very close to my hotel. Every cop seems very nervous. The English speaking cop tells the woman and her daughter that she has goose bumps. This is the day after the killings in London. Everyone is very scared.
By back streets, I make my way back to my hotel. A fellow guest is speaking about how loud the 2 gunshots were. No one knows what's happening. Thankfully, through the phone, Fumiyo is able to give me some information. The shots were fired By the cops at an attacker, not By the attacker. We needn't hide in our hotels, though the streets outside are cordoned off. I had reservations as a fish restaurant I had to cancel. Instead, I prowled the nearby places for something that looked good. I saw Poire Wiliams at a nearby restaurant chalk board. A drink I'd loved in first Euro trip in 1980. The food sounds good too. Gratin, fish stew. What could go wrong?
Gratin is a common meal in Japan. Macaroni, shrimp, scallops, fish, mushrooms, onions, peppers and cheese. Baked. Fumiyo and friends make fine versions. You can get it as frozen food in any Japanese market. Common food. Should be better in France, right? Uh.. Well. It's edible. No Mac and veg. Limited cheese. Some of my least favourite shell fish but, it was Edible. And then the stew arrives. Potatoes. Salmon. Big Prawns. Mystery Fish. OK, I'll start the with salmon. How bad can salmon be? I was unprepared for the answer. And I thought I knew bad food. My palate was under assault. I gobbled a bit of potato for relief. Ah. Now the prawns. It's impossible to have bad prawns. I had thought. This restaurant is reaching for the record books. Worst Food Ever. Has the terrorist poisoned my food? The mystery fish retains its mystery. I recall having A Lot of bad food in France on our two previous trips. Until I discovered fine French dining in Vegas, I didn't know there was such a thing. My anti-meal, after scary terror and a 2-day trip to Mont St. Michel that should have been a day trip, though the shower and high thread count sheets were vastly appreciated, is making me wonder what I'm doing here?