France – Jour 5

Today was the day we decided to conquer Le Velib! For those of you who don’t know – Le Velib is the bike share scheme in Paris.  There are so many stations, and so many people riding them, that it only seemed natural that we should give it a go.  They have a great short term scheme where you pay €1,70 per day – and then all your riding is free (as long as it’s in less than 30 minute blocks).  It’s a great plan for tourists – so it seemed a no brainer!

But first – some breakfast!  I had finally run out of avocado on toast – so it was time to do petit dejeuner like the French – a croissant and café crème from our local boulangerie.  It was delicious – in fact, I may have started an addiction!

Now – off to Le Velib!  After negotiating with the machine for heaven knows how long, then changing our bikes over – one because of a flat tire, and one because of no brakes – we headed off.

It’s only when you’re on the bike that you realise how many Parisian streets are one way!!  A fact we discovered after heading down Quai des Tuileries the wrong way!!   Pas de problem – we just quickly got off the road and onto the pavement – what an adventure!!

Our aim today – Musée D’Orsay and Musée Rodin.  We’re finding that two excursions a day seems to be enough for us.  We finally made it to Musée D’Orsay safely – although I did nearly fall off at one stage!  But it’s OK people – I stayed upright.  My heartrate was a little through the roof though!!

Musée D’Orsay is an absolutely stunning building – especially inside.  It’s an old railway station that’s been converted to a museum.  Unfortunately, you couldn’t take pictures inside – so you’ll have to believe us when we say we saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night (which was particularly lovely), Monet’s waterlilies, Renoir’s ballet dancers, and Pompom’s avant garde Polar bear sculpture.  The central alley of sculptures was amazing (including Auguste Clésinger’s Woman bitten by a snake, which was my favourite).

Near the gift shop, there was a place where you could take a photo…. through this clock…. can you see Sacre Coeur in the distance…?

We decided to have lunch at Le Restaurant inside the museum – I know you’re probably all thinking – are you crazy?  That’s a major tourist trap – but we didn’t care!  It was such a gorgeous room – I just wanted to have lunch there.

We were seated by a very friendly maître de – and chose our meals.  The atmosphere was lovely – we really loved the ornate ceiling and the grandeur of the room.

For his lunch, Andrew had pork with gnocchi – it was actually delicious.  The pork was really tender and the jus was flavourful.  The gnocchi were a bit heavy – but not too bad.

My lunch of prawns, chorizo and a type of ratatouille was delicious – even though it seemed to be a bizarre pairing. I ended up have the ratatouille with my bread and eating the prawns and chorizo almost as a separate dish.  It really worked that way – the prawns and chorizo tasted beautiful. Andrew and I agreed that it’s been the best lunch so far!!

We were able to take some photos outside Musée D’Orsay… just to give you a bit of a taste…

So, time to remount our Velib bikes – we navigated a circuitous route to Musée Rodin thanks to the myriad of one-way streets.  Here we could take some pictures in the garden.

Ugolin

The Three Shades

Roses in bloom

Not sure what this work is entitled… but it seems to be 3 iterations of the same piece…

I’m going to call this one Anguish.  There’s something about Rodin’s work – it’s all very intense – and he seems to do agony really well.

The Thinker – probably Rodin’s best known work

Couldn’t resist this guy having a bit of a snooze in the sunshine… I guess he was all cultured out!

There is also a museum in the Hotel Biron on the grounds of gardens – we came across a group of school children getting an art history lesson… so cute!

There were also some gorgeous marble pieces in a special exhibition – but we weren’t permitted to take photos in that particular gallery.  There were some great sculptures here – such as L’Hiver (Winter) and The Kiss – which is so lovely and intimate, you never feel like you’re seeing the whole sculpture, no matter what spot you’re standing in.

This is a version of The Kiss in the Hotel Biron – where we were able to take photos. There seemed to be many versions of the same sculpture…

We decided a café crème was in order – but it was really bizarre – there was one café which was particularly packed out – so they kind of ignored us (how rude!) and we then we had to walk over half a kilometre to find another one!  There was a dearth of cafés – then when we found one it cost €4,70 for our coffees – each!   So, if you’re planning to go to Musée Rodin – be prepared to have a coffee in the café in the gardens – or walk for a while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Street art – found while looking for a cafe

We remounted our steeds and headed home – threading our way through the traffic, and back to our apartment.  Alas – the first Velib station we headed to was full, so we couldn’t return our bikes, as was the second one, and then the third one…. But at least at the third one someone was taking one of the bikes so we could return it.  And we just waited a while, hoping our ½ hour wouldn’t elapse too quickly – eventually someone else took a bike so we could return the second one.  Ooh la la!!

We rested after our velib adventure – tonight we were heading out to Septime for dinner. It was a bit of a trek as it was out in the 11th arrondisement, so we caught the metro.   Septime has been raved about by the blogging community and the press, so I had high expectations.  These were confirmed by the guide on our foodie tour who said Septime was her favourite restaurant at the moment.  I’m sure it would be worth the trek…

The restaurant itself is a lovely modern shabby chic – with butcher block tables and rustic chairs, but über cool fittings and cutlery.

The staff were incredibly friendly – and were able to talk through everything in English.

Our only problem…. The menu was carte blanche.  Surprise!  Literally…. Every course would be a surprise.  Ummmm…. This was completely unexpected – and I would never, never take Andrew to a restaurant where he couldn’t choose.  This would be interesting…

They were very accommodating – they asked if there was anything that we wouldn’t eat.  I looked hopelessly at Andrew…  we reeled off a few things for him…no crustaceans, no mushrooms, no foie gras – but we weren’t prepared for this at all.  iMac, AT, Rambunctuous R, Bubblezz – where are you when I need you???  This was definitely a diners’ destination restaurant…  my poor, long suffering, meat-and-potatoes man was looking very disappointed and uncomfortable…  and so was I.   It’s very difficult to enjoy a restaurant when you know the other person is not having a good time, so my experience of this very hot restaurant was definitely waning…  but let’s talk about the food.

Our waiter recommended this wine for us and it was quite amazing – it completely changed with food and was incredibly adaptable with all our courses.  It was a Gamay Noir – and was very easy to drink.

Veal tartare, oysters, tomato, coriander, chevre

First course was veal tartare, oysters, tomato, coriander.  It was beautiful. I’ve never had veal tartare before and it was a little like a cross between steak and salmon.  There was also a goat’s cheese cream – overall I found it was really well balanced, although there was probably more tomato than was required.  It was a good thing I liked it – because I ate two of them!!

Mushrooms, celery leaf puree, figs, cherries

Second course was slightly different for each of us.  Mine had my favourite vegetable – mushrooms – but also figs and an amazing celery leaf puree – and a strange addition that worked quite well  chopped cherries.  Very interesting.

Prosciutto, beetroot, figs, Japanese eggplant

Andrew’s version had prosciutto instead of mushrooms, and no celery leaf puree.  He also had beetroot and figs and I think Japanese eggplant with no skin.  I got to eat some of that as well – but at least he could eat the prosciutto and some beetroot.   Thankfully there was plenty of bread and he was making a dent in that.

Monkfish, cauliflower puree, purple cauliflower

I had higher hopes for main courses – because surely that would involve meat.  This course looked promising – some lovely white fish.  The waitress didn’t actually know what the fish was called in English – so she told us its French name: Lotte fish.  I worked out while eating it – Monk fish.  Even I hate monkfish.  It’s so difficult to cook – it gets really tough.  One could be forgiven for thinking it’s a red meat really – the way it toughens up.  To counter this tendency, this fish had been prepared rare.  It’s not great rare either – it has a really fishy taste, and is quite pasty and tough (if that’s possible) – nothing like kingfish sashimi (not that Andrew would eat that either).  So, overall – this was a disappointing dish for both of us.  On the upside the cauliflower puree was fabulous – but the purple cauliflower was very rare as well….  Andrew made a valiant effort to try to eat the course – but he was looking a bit green around the gills – so I told him to stop.   Surely the next course would be red meat…?

Lamb, artichoke puree, bok choy, zucchini

At last … lamb… the only problem – it was extremely rare. It was underdone – even for me.  There was virtually no caramelisation anywhere on the meat, which is the best part of a lamb dish.  The other elements were fine – but nothing spectacular.  I did eat all of mine – but Andrew wasn’t able to stomach the rareness of it.

Our waitress was quite concerned at this stage, but her English was not as good as the other waiters.  So, I explained that Andrew did not like things quite so “bleu” – she was quite alarmed and told us that we should have said something at the beginning.  But it was too late – and of course, if we’d remembered to tell them we would have – but we were deer in the spotlight at the time!

We skipped the optional cheese course (chevre and camembert) – and looked forward to dessert.  By this stage I was praying for something that Andrew would enjoy…. Chocolate and salted caramel , chocolate and salted caramel, chocolate and salted caramel…. I chanted quietly in my head….

Chocolate, crumble, berry sorbet, blackberries, violet cream

Alas – I was only half right. Of course, having grown up on a blueberry farm – Andrew hated berries. Oooh la la!  The chocolate was very rich and dense, and the crumble added a lovely counterpoint.  The berry sorbet was incredibly intense – it was berries on steroids, and tended to overwhelm the dish.  I just ate a little of it to cut through the richness of the chocolate.  The violet cream was not good – it just didn’t taste right.  It was almost bitter – just a bit too bizarre.

So, overall – Septime is definitely a high-end foodie choice.  It appears to deliver on the French tendency to enjoy everything bleu – from the meat to the vegetables, which were barely cooked.  There were no hot dishes – as everything was served cool to room temperature, or maybe a little above.  It reminded me a little bit of the chef’s choice dinners at Attica – where you don’t get to choose your food at all, a real foodie experience which is designed to broaden your palate and literally give you food for thought.  However, I’d have to say that everything was just a little too cerebral – I like to enjoy my food, and I have a pretty broad palate – but I don’t really enjoy the food as much when you have to analyse and interpret every texture, taste and pairing.  In those cases, I sometimes feel that I’m paying to be the chef’s guinea pig.

All anyone really wants is the ability to relax, enjoy the food, and share a lovely night with the company you’re in.  In this case, it wasn’t the ideal choice for us… and I guess I’m going to have to find one heck of a steak frites place to make up for this one!!

The metro trip home

On the way home from the metro station – we noticed how tightly all the cars are parked.  But look at this little guy… I mean – I know that’s what bumper bars are for… but this is ridiculous!  How is this person going to get out in the morning?????  We figure that people just must leave their hand brakes off…

Tomorrow is going to be church day – and we’re thinking of eating in tomorrow by buying some of the lovely provisions I was introduced to on my foodie tour. It will be my big chance to make it up to Andrew.  Let’s see if I succeed…..à bientot!