Ooh, la la! The Most Glorious Meal of my Life.

2 Feb

Exactly one year ago yesterday, my husband and I kissed the kids goodbye, got into his car, plowed through 2-foot powdery snow drifts, and ended up many hours later in Paris, France for 6 days of fun and adventure! It had been 21 years since I’d been in Paris, and it was amazing to be back.

I adore the angled buildings in Paris.

We stayed a couple blocks from the Champs d’Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe, and we walked or took the metro everywhere we went. Yes, I’ve heard all the pick-pocket stories, but little Gypsy gangs of girls were in school in February, presumably, so we were safe. We actually really enjoyed the metro rides – it’s a fun way (and a cheap way) to pretend you actually belong.

We took a stroll our first evening (after a nap!) along the famous Champs d'Elysees. Behold: The Arc de Triomphe!

Two of our days were spent on business in the northeast of France, not far from D’Jon, where we were treated to an AMAZING meal at the small, family-run hotel we stayed in. I have never, in my life, had such a meal. Sadly, I wasn’t blogging then, so I didn’t think to bring my camera to dinner. So I shall attempt to describe it for you.

My favorite person to travel with! In front of our hotel in NE France.

We began with canapés and wine while perusing the menu on cozy chairs in the side lobby. I was faced, immediately, with a quandary which sent me into an internal panic, when our hostess, Nora, asked me, “What wine would you like?” I don’t like wine at all! What do I do? What do I say? When in Rome? Or pretend to be a recovering alcoholic? I pictured accepting the glass and grimacing as I drank it, ruining my meal with politeness. I pictured a full glass sitting there throughout the entire meal and the awkward questions. I went with the truth. “I don’t care for wine, I’m so sorry.”

She looked at me in utter surprise for a second. I imagined that she was thinking, “What a silly American.” But what she said was, “Do you drink champagne?” “Yes,” I replied. “I drink champagne.” At least the bubbles make it tolerable. And so while Nora and my husband got a (to them) lovely red, dry something, I was brought a full champagne flute and managed to drink most of it over the course of the evening…and I mean COURSE.

Course after course, after course.

The famous tower...from the top of the Arc. Be warned: if you want to climb up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, you should be in GOOD SHAPE. I started up the NARROW, WINDING stairs feeling good about myself and my four-decade old body. By the time I got to the top I was a weak-kneed old lady, mentaly writing my obituary. "She died in a courageous battle against gravity and vertigo, her camera gamely at her side, her husband rudely unaffected by the tremendous journey. At least she died happy."

After the canapés, it was baguettes (CRUSTY and warm) and escargot (garlicky and amazingly wonderful). Then came a green salad (honestly don’t remember much about that but it had a lovely dressing). Then a palate cleanser of some sort of mild lemony sherbet (delish and, well, cleansing). More rolls and a de-crumbing by the hotel owner – she took care of us the entire evening (her husband was the chef). I think next was the main dish – chicken – tender, herby, tasty, and, in my opinion, NOT the main attraction – wonderful, yes, but it almost took a back seat to all the rest of the meal. I think there was potatoes and spinach, too…but by then I was in a glutonous fog and I can’t remember too much. (At least my fog wasn’t caused by the wine!)

Then another palate cleanser. Then the cheese cart.

Ooh, la la, the cheese cart! It was gigantic and barely fit through the ten or so tables, and held probably 25 different kinds of cheese.

Nora asked me what cheese I’d care for. (She’s an optimist, isn’t she?) I had no clue. I said, tentatively (because I can’t pronounce it very well anyway), “Gruyere?” “Ahh,” Nora and the owner said, “Compte. It’s much better.” She cut me a ridiculously large triangle of cheese and then asked me what other kind I’d like? More? I thought. How can I even fit this into my tummy? “Camembert?” I asked. “Ah, oui. And one last choice?” I hadn’t a clue. They gave me something creamy and lovely and rich to which I did not do justice. Let me just say that Compte IS better than Gruyere…but I’ll just be content that I can finally get Gruyere in my small mid-western town and not get bent out of shape over no local Compte around here.

There is a wee museum at the top of the Arc. I think that she was captured in stone just as she had climbed up the horrible, winding, steep, narrow steps.

And then it was dessert time. Berry tart, golden crust, sauce. Beyond measure. (The next day, at lunch at the same place, I had a chocolate apple terrine for dessert. It was slightly odd, but as exposure to French culture and food, marvelously perfect.)

I think that at the end my husband had coffee, but I wasn’t daring enough to brave the looks I’d get if I asked for decaf. You know, really, people say that the French are not fond of American tourists and that they’re snotty, arrogant, etc. Well, I suppose perhaps some are, but if you go there expecting to have a good time and not forcing your code of behavior onto them, then it really doesn’t matter how they treat you – just shrug it off, have fun and ENJOY!!!! It’s an amazing country.

I’m sorry I don’t have photos of the meal to share with you, it was so fantastic, but I wanted to share with you the meal anyway. In the next few days I’ll tell you more about our trip…and then our jaunt over to Berlin, equally fantastic!

One of the relief's on the Arc.

Another relief. Recognize the central character?!

"Here lies a French soldier. Dead for partriotism." At least, that's the best my high school french can do. At the site of the Arc.

Across the street and down a little from our hotel. Can you say "random"?!


10 Responses to “Ooh, la la! The Most Glorious Meal of my Life.”

  1. cravesadventure February 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Beautiful photos – thanks for sharing! Paris is on my travel bucket list:)

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

      Thanks so much! Yes, you must go someday – it’s just one of those things everyone should do! And then you can blog about it for all of us!

  2. Antonella Marcucci February 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    ah, Paris! wonderful city and very high quality cousine! 🙂

  3. mrsbr February 2, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    I love Paris!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 2, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

      Thanks so much for your stopping by! It’s hard not to love Paris, isn’t it?

  4. Gian Banchero February 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Oh, please don’t feel bad about not enjoying wine, though I have family in Italy and California who are vintners and I grew up with the brew very rarely do I enjoy it, very rarely. Amusingly during a meal my beverage of choice is a large glass of iced milk, here in the States at a restaurant no one pays mind to this request but in Italy it has silenced a small eatery a time or two. Yes, very much so champagne is very agreeable, especially if it is enhanced with a spot of good brandy as an ancient lady from Paris taught me in my youth (God bless you dear Marie, you are always to be remembered). Thank you for the little glimpse of YOUR Paris, Gretchen.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

      I love your story! Yes, I can’t imagine asking for milk anywhere in Europe – or in Asia, for that matter. I spent 9 weeks in Thailand and ended up Lactose intolerant because I hadn’t had milk for so long. How fun that you have that memory of Marie – that’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

      Oh, and I’ll drink sweet wines…but the dry ones just don’t do it for me!

  5. Minnesota Prairie Roots February 2, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Well, then, that was simply a lovely tour of Paris. And the food sounds splendid, although like way more than one could possibly consume without feeling uncomfortable.

    Sounds like you had a delightful get away. I look forward to reading more of your travel stories. You are a wonderful storyteller, Gretchen.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

      OH, thanks so much – I feel like it’s really hard to show this trip with words – but I’m learning!

      Yes, it was way too much food. I didn’t mention – and should have – that the meal took like 3 hours. I guess that’s how they fit everything in!!!

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