April 1 - A Night in Paris

by Chuck Hayward

We sat down at the touristy Café Georges on the Champs Elysee with a view of the l’Arc de Triumph. A Carlsberg beer, a cheese tray, and sugar crepes were just enough to hold us over. It’s funny, but we were surrounded by cigarette smoke and it didn’t bother me one bit. I’m not a smoker and generally don’t ‘appreciate’ the burnt smells of tobacco with my food, but hey this is France and it was just fine!

The next 4 hours we walked…and walked…and walked. From the l’Arc de Triumph we walked west down the Champs Elysee and took a right on Eisenhower, past a gorgeous museum and then along the river Seine. And there it was…the Eiffel Tower, poking up above the city scape. I’ve seen it several times before, but it still took my breath away.

We continued our stroll along the river, past the young lovers, artists, and je ne sais quoi …past the Place de la Concorde and across the Seine to the St Germaine district. You know…I took in a lot of scenery on this walk…and no matter which arrondissement we were in…the French women are simply beautiful. They all seemed to have such grace and sense of style.

We caught a taxi back to the hotel, so we could make dinner on time, but what an ordeal…just as impossible as San Francisco…and nothing like Manhattan…anyhow, after 50 taxis passed us by, one reluctant driver finally picked us up.

Now for the dinner!

We took a taxi to l’Amis Louis in the 3rd Arrondissement. There it was…a tiny old bistro down a non-distinct, narrow alley of a road. Louis himself (actually Louis is the grandson of the bistro’s 1920’s founder) was outside with a few guests having a chat and a smoke. I knew immediately that we would be in good hands at this establishment. Louis definitely looked like a restaurateur who enjoyed nothing more than eating his own cooking!

We were seated at the back, by the kitchen and next to a heaping pile of fresh fruit, which on first glance, looked like cliché plastic fruit decor, but on closer investigation proved real and ultimately part of our meal. Fresh mangoes, papaya, berries, kiwis, pineapple, grapes, and lots more – not what I expected in a bistro known for its caloric cooking – but made perfect sense: what better way to end the meal than with some fresh fruit, rather than a heavy chocolate cake.

We hesitated at the sight of Texas-sized portions of cote de boeuf and pommes frites coming from the kitchen, but having reserved plenty of appetite for the soon to be epic meal, decided to throw caution to the wind and order away. We started with the escargots – nine huge snails in some serious garlic and butter. We debated, but decided against the gargantuan (foot long, two inch thick) asparagus with aged balsamic – in part due to the price – 56 euros or $68! We did have the roasted chicken for two (at 60 euros per person) followed by the baby lamb (at 70 euros). We also decided that the heaping stack of pommes frites was not enough so we also ordered the potato cake (topped with raw garlic and parsely and cooked in goose fat).

I took a long look at the wine list and cruised right past the wonderful, but extremely pricey list of Bordeaux wines. This was a meal fit for a Rhone and we decided to go with the ’01 Chave Hermitage. WOW! The combination was unbelievable. The wine stood up the chicken, the 8-week old piece of lamb and all that goose fat with ease. As expected, it was a little tight upon the first sip, but after a short while it opened up beautifully and was very well balanced, full bodied and peppery with lots of raspberry and blackberry. Just a perfect match of wine and food in an ‘old-school’ bistro shared with my great friend Jon.

For dessert we decided on the fresh berries and cream along with a Ramos Pinto 10 year old Tawny. Simple, but nice: lots of toffee, nuts and a medium body – and frankly all we could handle at this point.

We were among the last guests to leave the restaurant so the waiters were all but done serving. Now one of them poured the last of a magnum of Margaux (couldn’t see the vintage…although that was of no importance to him) and helped himself to some of the lamb and chicken that the chefs had set aside. He had surely done this before…but he looked just as excited as we were when we first tasted our meal. Then the rest of them joined in…even Louis himself…carefully tearing off the meat with his left hand.

At one point in the night, Louis told us that Francis Ford Coppola was at our very same table, just two nights prior. Louis himself is a big fan of Francis and as evidence carries his ’96 Rubicon (only 400 euros!) as just one of two total Napa selections on his wine list.

OK…a cappuccino later and we were on our way back to the hotel.