Tag Archives: France

A French Bistro Moment

A tea moment it was not, but it was magical all the same. For our 10th wedding anniversary, on our trip to Paris, one thing I really wanted to experience was “haute cuisine,” the kind of French Dining you always hear about. After some basic research and reviewing several “Best of” lists, I found the restaurant. Chez Dumonet. Just typing these words makes my mouth water.

Chez Dumonet is exactly what you would envision a Parisian bistro to be. As it should: from everything I’ve read, it originally opened in 1898 and is run by the 3rd generation Dumonet. This one, Jean-Christian. Everything in the place comes across in amber tones, with aged mirrors and timeless banquettes. The all-business wait staff was dressed in the classic bistro wait staff attire – starched white collared shirts, black ties and vests, with long white aprons tied around the waist. The hierarchy of staff is very clear. The gentleman who seated us was very clearly in charge and spoke flawless English. He gave some recommendations, and elaborated when asked. He very quickly started us off with a glass of champagne and a tiny terrine of vegetable soup, compliments of the chef. The soup was a most perfectly balanced, creamy blend of carrots, onions, and all things autumn vegetable and freshness – with the tiniest swirl of chocolate on top for that extra pop of richness.

Gene ordered the Beef Bourguignon, for which they are famous, and I was terribly adventurous and ordered Pigeon (Wild, I’m sure. Not any trespassers of the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. Right?). I like to think the head waiter was impressed with my bravery. He recommended a bottle of red, and we melted comfortably into our surroundings. The bistro had that luxurious patina of age, but not just any age. Any city can display age. This patina of age is that grace and glamour that only Paris possesses – elegance, beauty, like a aging wine. It truly gets better with age, not worse.

The 2nd-in-command brought our dinners out. Gene’s beef bourguignon was a feast for all the senses.  This was no crock-pot meal. It was cooked and simmered lovingly, with a confident hand. There was no lack of attention or attendance during preparation. Its rich burgundy color was reflective of the burgundy wine that braised the beef. The supporting cast of vegetables elevated the beef to dizzying heights, while the accompanying egg noodles provided a solid foundation to bring it carefully back down to earth.

My pigeon dish was as whimsical as it was delicious. In a delicate stack of airy potato pancakes, lay the perfectly seasoned and cooked pigeon meat. Over all of it was a tangy yet to-die-for sauce. I could not identify the wine base, but it was very different from the burgundy sauce of the beef bourguignon. The two pigeon drumsticks were arranged artfully against the creation. And while pigeons are not the largest of birds, nor are they the most popular (think of any city square around the world), this wild pigeon was delicate, rich, and intensely satisfying. I was practically licking my plate clean, much to the delight of the wait staff.

I would not leave without experiencing a dessert, so we ordered their souffle. What could be more French than souffle? And what a treat! Out came this towering puff ball, with which we were given two spoons. As we dipped into the fluffy and lightly browned egg whites, the artistry continued to be revealed, layer by layer. The base consisted of Grand Marnier, which whispered throughout the dessert without being overpowering. The strength of the coffee we ordered balanced the perfect sweetness of the dessert.

Thoroughly content!

As with any dinner abroad, it lasted nearly three hours. But what a delightful three hours. And although each course had its own richness, a wealth of layered flavors, and came in satisfying quantities, I did not feel uncomfortable. Finally, this is what fine dining is all about. A true sense of satisfaction for each of my senses. Je suis satisfait.

The 3rd level waiter, who truly was the bus boy (all white attire), cleared our table and politely declined any interaction – deferring completely to the head waiter for all. And the head waiter very graciously thanked us for visiting and directed the bus boy to take our photo for us.

I can’t think of when I have had a more wonderful meal, and to share it with my most wonderful husband – well, all I can say was that it was a perfect evening.

Restaurant Chez Dumonet, Paris 6th Arr., 117 Rue Cherche-Midi

Telephone: 01 45 48 52 40 (Reservations Strongly Recommended!)

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A Mariages Freres Moment

Ah, Paris! How I love thee! For our 10th wedding anniversary, Gene and I went to one of our favorite destinations – Paris. And while I have several adventures to report, I have to start with one of my favorite moments: a pilgrimage to Mariages Freres.

After hours of searching and searching for the elusive 30 Rue Bourg Tibourg, we found a mecca of tea experiences at this famous tea market and salon at 5 p.m. Upon arrival, we were immediately welcomed and ushered through the market and to the salon itself. This airy, British Colonial-feeling room let in showers of natural light from the skylight that was nearly the length of the room.  All the servers were wearing white linen suits, and they were just so nice!

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Black teas and green teas and white, oh my!

The menu, itself, was overwhelming – with hundreds of choices: white teas, green teas, black teas, breakfast teas, afternoon teas, evening teas, flavored teas… Where to begin??? I let myself off the hook and started with a time of day – Afternoon Teas. Even there, there were nearly 20 choices! So without dithering too much, I chose the “Gentleman” blend for Gene, and “Fils de France” for me.

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The blur you see is the master of tea!

Much to my delight, I was facing the counter at which the ‘brewmaster’ (my term, not theirs) was working his magic. His sole purpose was to take the tea orders, and brew the perfect pot of tea for each patron. It was a fascinating dance, and he did it with such ease and speed – he moved so quickly I couldn’t even get a good photo of him! Note the HUNDREDS of tea blends on the wall behind him.

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Fils de France

And so, our perfectly brewed pots of tea arrived at our table. While I expected a hearty black tea, mine showed up as such a light golden liquid, I wondered if I had inadvertently ordered a white. It was a Darjeeling blend, as it turned out, and had a quiet strength that I found quite lovely. Gene’s Gentleman blend was a dark, dark amber and presented itself as any manly man would – bold, confident, and direct.

The salon was hopping the entire duration of our visit. There was a constant flow of tea enthusiasts of all bents and backgrounds: families with children, old friends, the lone tourist, the gal pals, the comfortable couple.  There was no feeling of being rushed, and the constant flow worked perfectly with people waiting maybe 5 or 10 minutes at the most.

And then, the tea market. I felt like I had died and gone to tea heaven. The walls were lined with canister upon canister of tea. I boldly attempted to explain in French that I ‘searched for a strong, black tea. Stronger, even, than the Gentleman blend.’  ‘Ah,’ he said, nodding wisely, ‘a breakfast blend. A strong one.’ He turned to the wall, tapped his chin in thought, and then, with purpose and confidence, he reached for the bottom row, removed the front canister and reached into the depths. Finding his treasure, and with a triumphant smile, he removed the cover and presented The Duke of Wellington. I inhaled deeply, then Gene was offered a sniff. Grassy, earthy, heavy.Yes, please.

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So happy

It was the perfect experience. The perfect moment. Enjoying some of the best tea with the best possible company. Paris, je t’aime.

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A perfect moment

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A Toulouse Tea Moment

The year I turned 21, I went on an exchange program to Pau, France. With every intention of immersing myself in the French language and culture, I soon fell into the expected rut of hanging out with those most like myself – at least most like my nationality. I spent all hours of the day and night with Americans. A motley crew, to say the least. A hippie, a scholar, an angst-ridden socialist, a newly divorced and experimenting homosexual, a small town cheerleader, an anarchist, a hairdresser, a cross country runner, a white girl who preferred dating black men, … and here I was. A white bread goody-two-shoes from Boise who knew nothing but church, family, and a whole lot of conservative status quo.

My semester with this lot gave me an infinitely richer education than my Bachelor and Master degrees combined. I learned what it meant to be open-minded, to appreciate people for who they were, and the gifts and talents they each brought to the table. I learned about living in community – of filling in the gaps for a friend when necessary and having confidence they would do the same for me in my times of need. I was introduced to foods and beverages, card games and books I never would have found on my own, and they in turn were introduced to me and my quirks – namely my penchant for tea (and red wine, as it turned out).

On one overnight excursion toward the end of the semester, a trip set just for the American students, we went to Toulouse and Carcassonne. At lunch before the journey back to Pau, we all sat together, trying to translate American pop songs into French (we had crashed a karaoke bar the night before). As we sat at the end of meal with our cups of tea, we ended with, “Stop in the Name of Love,” (or, “Arret a la nom d’amour”) as captured here.

Stop! In the Name of Love

Stop! In the Name of Love

My heart was breaking as I anticipated the end of the semester and facing the world without these comrades, and yet my cup overflowed knowing I had changed because of them. For the better.

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