Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Thursday, June 8th: 4 museums, 1 restaurant


Thankfully, the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages is a short walk from my hotel. The hotel has Some advantages. It's like walking back a thousand years in time. When I take a photo, my flash erupts and a woman calls out, No Flash! I didn't even know my phone camera Had a flash. As detailed in a Rick Steves show about Paris and this museum in particular, the tapestries of The Lady and Unicorn are quite moving. The love in the unicorn's eye for the lady, for example. The whole scene seems to be out of the life of St. Francis: the lion shows no inclination to eat the various little animals surrounding it, and they know that.
From there I make my way to the City of Science and Industry. I have read online that it has a restaurant. I'm getting hungry, but it's not open yet, just like yesterday's delayed lunch at the Musee D'Orsay. The museum is full of small children. Once again I'm enchanted by their tiny voices. Most, if not all the exhibits are geared towards school kids, though some have English signage. There are some interesting video exhibits I film with my phone but have no idea how to move here. Finally, the restaurant opens. I have to ask about the menu items, and finally order what appears to be an enormous Yaki Tori, chicken on a stick with basmati rice and BBQ sauce. The sauce is Very Good. Like with yesterday's fish at the Orsay restaurant, I order a carafe of Rose. The reason I had come here in the first place was to gaze at the Geode, a theatre in the shape of a soap bubble. 

I've now seen all the architecture I've come to France to gaze upon. Mont St. Michel, L'Institute du Monde Arabe, Fondation Louis Vuitton and the Geode. As the Geode is a theatre, I do not enter. Looks good enough from the outside.
I had planned to go to the Paris Modern Art Museum but was so appalled at the collection of modern art at the Pompidou yesterday, I don't trust Parisians to come up with a room full of good stuff, so I go Asian: The Guimet Museum is said to have the greatest collection of Asian artifacts outside of Asia. I find the museum and stroll its cool floors on a hot day. Unfortunately, most of the collection is sculpture, my least favourite art form. There is an interesting modern black sculpture of a woman with a dog's head.


 The signage tells me of a sculptor who went to India and was appalled to see women treated worse than dogs there, hence that particular sculpture. Reminded me of a piece at Louis Vuitton:



 Also lots of plates and vases. Nothing of much interest, except the air conditioning.
When I got off at the Eiffel Tower train station the previous night, I'd seen ads for the Branly Museum, a collection of indigenous people's artifacts from around the world. The building is enticing enough from the outside. Once inside, the walkway into the museum has an undulating river of words on the floor that pours over you as you walk up. There must be a video of it somewhere, it's very affecting. The same can be said for the whole museum. Finally, a well-designed, well-thought-out collection of Stuff. The windows have all been painted green, to create the illusion that you're always in a jungle or forest. Non-stop interesting stuff from Africa, Australia, the Pacific Islands, South and North America including a totem pole and some toy canoes from my neighbours. For the first time today, I'm more entranced by the exhibits than the classrooms full of kids being educated. 
 
A great museum event deserves a great meal. I'd been encountering the name David Toutain since I began to investigate dining possibilities in Paris. He'd previously worked for the chef at Arpege, where I would lunch on Friday, my singular 3 Michelin Star restaurant of the trip. He must really know what to do with vegetables. The restaurant with his name on it was certainly friendly. I discovered they had cidre! I told them of my recent trip to Normandy and the cidre tradition back home in B.C. I was assured that their cidre was well chosen after considerable effort to find the best cidre in Normandy. I assumed it would be superb, as good as any wine restaurants usually brag about. I was unsure how to pronounce the chef's name. Turns out it's just like my nickname. When my daughter was a baby in Japan, she couldn't pronounce the Japanese word for father, “O to san,” so she called me Tootan. It remains the family name for me all these decades later. A name in common with the chef? That sounds promising. The amuse bouches are intriguing. A blackberry wrapped up in thin slices of beet. Described as beetroot carpaccio, blackberry on a hazelnut crumble A raspberry surprise inside a cannelloni? Described as crispy tube of oyster, raspberry and shallot. For once, I didn't mind the oyster. Something else I wasn't paying much attention to. And then a Parmentier of beef and porc with tomatoes, onions and garlic, potatoes cream and roasted, hazelnuts from Piemont, caramelized onion powder, grilled chicken skin and trout egg. 

This is the kind of food I go to these kind of restaurants for. The hazelnut asparagus at Jules Verne is that kind of dish, but at least I knew what it was. This was intriguing as well as overwhelming. I guess the chef deserves all the praise he gets in the food press, I observed. A bit too quickly. Although the amuses have gone well, the cidre really wasn't making it for me. Not bad cidre, like the ham-flavoured beverage at the Mont St. Michel restaurant, not awful, just in no way contributing to my enjoyment of the food, like the great cidres did at Breizh and Mere Poulard's. I'm asked if I want caviar? Is it part of dish, I inquire? I'm then served with a dish that, while very pretty in my phone, I have no memory of at all. Probably vcg. Maybe flower petals? Turns out to be glazed white asparagus, young onions and garlic, almonds, fresh sherry and Dorenki caviar from Petrossian house. Like when a server asks me if I want cheese later (Yes, please!) I hadn't picked up on their up-selling until I got my bill at meal's end. Doubt the caviar added any enjoyment to the dish or I'd at least remember it. A dish of fish and peas looked promising. Whiting confit on extra virgin olive oil, peas with new onions, ginger, rhubarb and lovage. I'd had such a great pea/fish combination at Bauhaus in Vancouver just before this trip as well as the pea risotto with the tuna at Les Bouquenistes my first meal in Paris. However. This dish did not make it at all. By far the worst use of both peas and asparagus I've encountered on the trip. And the fish in sauce wasn't very good either. Pedestrian at best. I explained my lack of enthusiasm for the dish to one of the servers, who actually seemed concerned. I told her of much better uses of those vegetables I'd so recently enjoyed. She insisted that this was a great dish. It has Ginger! It has Rhubarb! But what it lacks is good flavour, for all its ingredients. Another asparagus dish, this time BBQ green asparagus, brown butter mayonnaise, smoked yolk of egg, bread tuile and fresh sorrel. And then things really begin to plummet down hill. Next up, a dish of eel in a thick sesame sauce, more of a paste than a sauce. Smoked eel, black sesame, green apple. I don't know if I've ever had eel before but this is light years away from edibility. My single bite is nearly fatal. The same server who insisted I was wrong about the fish with peas is more sympathetic to my un-eaten eels: the sesame sauce is quite strong, she rationalizes. Next, a woman comes in with two fat, roasted birds, and displays them to me. I tell her there's no way I can eat that much food. She says she'll tell the chef. What she told him, I'll never know but thankfully, the two fat roasted pigeons are not all for me. I am offered a box full of knives, to choose from. Am I to fight a duel? The pigeons are sliced up by the chef for all the customers to enjoy. Well, almost all of them. With my chosen knife, I saw off a bit of pigeon. I begin chewing. And chew. And chew. It tastes like rubber! It belongs in a Michelin tire, not a Michelin starred restaurant! Pigeon, risotto of seeds, carrots, hogweed.
As a palate cleanser, I'm served some Comte cheese. After the eggplant thing, this was the highlight of the meal. And it's a cheese I can get easily in Vancouver.
Finally time for desert. Ice cream made from coconut, white chocolate and cauliflower. I expect inventiveness from a famous chef but this experiment leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. An apricot tart, actually its a shortbread biscuit, apricots, almond cream and thyme sorbet. I'll be having apricots for breakfast tomorrow so I appreciate this as a sort of amuse bouche for that meal. Some strawberries, edible without ever suggesting the magnificence of the strawberries with cheese and olive oil I'd had at Jules Verne the previous night. They keep bringing me more deserts but I've had more than enough. I flee into the night. Although the tomato-meat dish was memorable, the mediocre vegie/fish thing, the poisonous eels and the rubber bird put the whole meal in the same category as my hotel. Would be appropriate only in a horror movie.

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