Autumn is a great time to visit Paris. Yes, there are some gray days - at that latitude, it's a given, they tell me - but there are plenty of positive things that offset the gray. For starters, the angle of the sun produces a golden light that makes lots more than the dome of the Invalides and the statue of Joan of Arc absolutely glow. The dead zone that is August is, of course, past and the town hops with activity. I've visited Paris in the spring and summer, too; while tourists are always there, autumn seems comparatively less crowded.
And the food - oh, my. Less daylight than in spring is offset by a far wider range of seasonal options.
But before we get to that, let me add a few touristy observations. The remodelling of the Musee d'Orsay is nearly complete. Alas, I feel like a once-dear friend has embraced some cult and seems like a stranger. Different layout, walkways like gerbil tubes, many rooms (including the cafe behind one of the trademark clock windows) far darker than formerly. They've put a dining room in a third-floor space on the west end of the building that does have fabulous light as well as art chairs called Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu. (Points if you recognize the reference.)
My friends and I stayed very near the Invalides, whose gardens make for some lovely morning strolls. So does the street market on rue Cler, the 7th arrondissement street of which travel author Rick Steves speaks so well. Pay attention in particular there to the seafood vendor who will almost surely have something to puzzle even the most knowing Anglophone food lover, like these, which are, I finally discovered, described in English as goose barnacles. Yes, edible.
I missed the re-done Picasso Museum, a fine excuse, not that you should need one, to visit the Marais neighborhood, and the new Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois du Boulogne, both of which opened while we were in town. Next time they'll head the list. I did pay a visit to the re-opened Musee des Arts Decoratif just west of and affiliated with the Louvre. Focusing on the very broad category of decorative arts, it may not be for everyone with its wide-ranging exhibits - I saw wooden toys, Dries Van Noten clothing and great furniture, including a room of nothing but chairs - but for many of us, it's fabulous.
Like most of my overseas postings, this one will be in several parts, but let's throw a couple of restaurants in here, and do more on the subject in the next installment. My usual habit in Paris is to aim for bistros. I love traditional French cuisine, am always eager to try more of it, and reserve the high-end stuff for the occasional splurge.
Perhaps this is the place to insert my disclaimer. I speak only "menu French". I can handle myself in a restaurant. But don't expect me to manage understand someone giving directions to the nearest Metro station. For that I relied on my pal Mr. T., who insists he has forgotten most of what he learned. Between us, we managed without anyone laughing at our attempts - except The Potato Queen, sometimes referred to as the Duchess of Escargot and married to Mr. T. Very early in the trip, my pals and I headed for Le Trumilou. The little place on the Right Bank of the Seine across from Ile St. Louis is a cozy neighborhood spot; on our Friday night visit, we seemed to be the only not-French there.
A fine slice of a country pate and some wonderful pleurote mushrooms in a creamy sauce kicked things off. We devoured duck with a tart but sticky sauce of prunes, shown above, sweetbreads cooked with good-sized lardons of bacon and chunks of potato, and a pork chop in a pan sauce of mustard, wine and a suspicion of rosemary. Dessert was an individual apple tart and what the house calls a pave du marais. Instead of a slice or small brick-shaped piece of cake and mousse, this was scooped into a footed dish and topped with whipped cream. Nice contrast of textures and very serious chocolate flavor. Main courses are between 16 and 23 euros each.
84 Quai de l'Hotel de Ville, 4th arr.
Another old favorite, one I (and before that, we) have sent folks to for years, is L'Ambassade d'Auvergne. Focusing on food from the Auvergne region of France, the restaurant is between the Marais and the Pompidou Centre, it's a casual spot with tasty, interesting dishes - and servings in St. Louis-sized portions. Starters are called "entrees" on the menu or carte - don't be fooled, that's an appetizer, not a main course. My favorite here is a warm salad of tiny Puy lentils and bacon. But the truly remarkable dish here are the aligot potatoes. Whipped with lagouile cheese, which is similar to cantal, and just a hint of garlic, they're incredible. Here they are with a duck breast.
And just to explain about them, here's a photo of a waiter working with them.
We also tried some beef, which came with panfried potato slices and bone marrow.
Even if you're burned out on chocolate mousse - and I'm pretty much that way, this is the place for the jaded. A perfect consistency, superb chocolate, and a serving bowl so diners can refill their plates as desired. Bliss. There's a prix-fixe menu wherein you can get that salad, the duck and potatoes and the chocolate mousse for 33 euros. Delightful service, too, which we encountered a number of places.
22 rue du Grenier, 3rd arr.
That "open daily" is somewhat significant - that's not a given in Paris, especially on Sunday nights. The Auvergne website has an English version - watch for those little English flags as you go browsing to plan a trip to France.