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“We’ll always have Paris.”

It has been some 24 years since Mrs. Content Guy and I took any sort of extended vacation by ourselves. And I guarantee you it won’t be that long before we do it again…in part because, if US actuarial tables are any indication, I have a pretty good shot at being dead 24 years from now.

(Which reminds me of what the great Tom Lehrer once said: “It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years.” But I digress…)

France was wonderful. Paris was fantastic. And it was the perfect holiday.

We had the opportunity to spend several days with our good friends Anne and Fiach, two of the smartest, nicest and most hospitable people on earth, who have a house in Brittany and were kind enough to host us and show us the countryside. We went to the walled city of St. Malo, the overwhelmingly impressive Mont St. Michel, and to the beaches of Normandy, where we visited graveyards and memorials and walked away with a sense of the real and terrible sacrifices made there so many decades ago. (The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a singular experience that you should find time for once in your life.)

In Paris, there were the usual things. Boat rides on the Seine. A walk to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Strolls along the Champs Elysees. The Louvre. The Picasso Museum (which we both loved). A walking tour by the terrific Paris Walks group of Village Montmartre.

But what you really want to hear about is the food.

One of the things that I most love about France is the lovely food culture there, the way you can, say, walk into a small restaurant in a small town and have the most delicious crepe you’ve ever tasted…until you go to another town and another restaurant. Often these places have kitchens in which only one person is working, so there is a sense of hand-crafted, lovingly prepared food – not fast food, lowest common denominator burgers that depend on size for their appeal.

In Paris, the same is true. One night, we were looking for a place to eat and wandered into a restaurant near our hotel – the Table d’Hote du Palais Royal, which appealed to me because I saw a note in the window that the owner/chef, Caroll Sinclair, liked to use saffron, which is one of my favorite spices. So we went in – and enjoyed a spicy fish soup, a warm mushroom salad, and both scallops and sole served with this side dish made up off potatoes, carrots and zucchini, all sliced lengthwise and twisted into a kind of knot and served with a saffron-flavored sauce. Unbelievable. Dessert was raspberry and peach sorbet served with a dollop of caramel – which doesn’t sound like it would work, but does - really, really well. The wine? Well, I can’t tell you specifics. It was white, it was recommended by the waiter, and was wonderful.

Two other Paris restaurants that I can recommend wholeheartedly:

One is a place I visited for the second time, and that met and exceeded my expectations – Chez Pauline, where Mrs. Content Guy had a steak that was smothered in a kind of cherry sauce and was, while sweet, amazingly good. And I had a succulent Beef Bourguignon served in a thick sauce and accompanied by a dozen or so gnocchi.

My favorite place, however, and one I will always return to when I visit Paris, was recommended to me by several friends (all independent of each other, which is a good sign). It is called Juveniles, and is an unpretentious small wine bar and shop with an excellent little menu. The food isn’t classic French by any means – I had the Scottish dish haggis for dinner one night, and loved it, and really enjoyed a tapenade made with olives and tomatoes and served with thick, chewy bread slices.

And the wine – fantastic and delicious, and not just from France (as befits a place that is owned by a Scot, Tim Johnston, and in which the waitress is a charming and helpful British lass named Georgie).

The 2006 Rueda Hermanos Lurton Espagne was a terrific aperitif. During the meal, we tried and loved the 2004 Chateauneuf-de-Pape Domaine du Grand Veneur, a 2005 Torbreck “Cuvee Juveniles” from South Australia, and the 2006 Minervois Vielles Vignes Domaine Cros. As a dessert wine, I thoroughly enjoyed the 2005 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise…light and sweet and perfect finisher.

One interesting thing that I found at Juveniles was the fact that even the red wines were served cold, and Johnston told me that this reflects his bias that, especially in summer, all wine should have a chill to it. He suggests putting red wine in the refrigerator an hour before supper, and then taking it out 45 minutes later and decanting it – though he said with a grin that this is just how he likes it, and people have to find their own way. That’s exactly the right attitude, I think…but I’m fully prepared to test out his theory and now am in the market for a good decanter.

“We’ll always have Paris,” Rick Blaine once said. He meant it a different way, but I agree with the sentiment – Paris, and the country in which it resides, are wonderful treasures that too many Americans seem predisposed to dismiss as being unfriendly or even hostile. I will tell you this – I’ve been to Paris and half-dozen times now, and I have never, ever had a bad experience with a Parisian citizen. They have been generally charming, helpful, friendly, and even patient with the fact that I only know about six words in their language.

It was a wonderful holiday. And I appreciate the fact that the MNB community gave me the time off.

Have a great weekend…and I’ll see you Monday.

À votre santé!!
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