Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Culinary delights in the City of Light

Stars in the sky over Luxembourg Gardens
I've been to Paris three times. The first time was when I was ten. On that trip I got sick from fois gras, indulged in glace à la fraise and café au lait and thought nothing could ever top a basketful of croissants. It was also when I began a lifetime fondness for mussels.

The second time was last summer. This time I was the parent of a ten year old. We trotted all over, sampled sorbet from a variety of vendors, swooned over Laduree macarons, and delighted in shady parks for picnics. One night after tucking our children into their beds, my husband and I opened the windows of our Juliet balcony, pushed two desk chairs up close and uncorked a bottle of Bordeaux, toasting our good fortune for that delightful moment.

When we started planning a trip to celebrate our anniversary this fall I think we both wanted to return to Paris but thought the other one would not. In my memory, we sort of floated it to each other simultaneously, without expectation. Whenever I make what I assume someone will think is a lousy suggestion, I sort of open my eyes really wide, raise my eyebrows, and grimace with one side of my mouth. It's not a good look. I suspect it disarms my opponent, who will not hear the suggestion but instead take pity on the wretch before him and just do whatever she said. This is how we end up at lots of parties.

Anyway, we went to Paris last month and picked right up where we left 14 months earlier with cool Beaujolais, fall picnics, and tromping from droit to gauche and back again. The best dinner was a monumentally savory Coq au Vin on the left bank. There's a story there; the Coq au Vin was actually my second choice. I owe a debt of gratitude to our waiter for translating my first choice, Rognons de Veau. I love veal (veau) so I assumed Rognons meant Chop-of-a-lifetime when, in point of fact, it means kidney. I made that same weird face at the waiter's suggestion that it was quite good (weird face can be also employed as a reaction to a lousy suggestion) and requested the Coq. That meal turned out to be the dish-of-a-lifetime. I've been trying to recreate it this side of the Seine but haven't come close to matching the depth of flavor of the Parisian masterpiece.

The other food take-away from Paris 2010: Medjool dates. I knew dates to be the sweet, chewy, flavorless nubs my mom added to oatmeal. I had never eaten a whole date. The Medjool ones I encountered in Paris were unbelievably delicate. The little pit inside surrendered its hold on the fruit without a fight, unlike the insouciant apricot pit whose aloofness toward his host is cause for one gentleman of my acquaintance to mistrust the fruit entirely.

Anyhoo, Medjool dates have joined the ranks of Favorite Fruit. It's a short list - only cherries and blueberries occupy it. The criteria to make the list: it takes discipline (sometimes force) to make me stop eating the candidate. I bought myself a small carton at Whole Foods upon our return home. They were good. The Parisian ones were no doubt the Jumbo variety. Those are the cream of the crop. Santa takes suggestions, right?

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