Unfortunately, I am still unaccustomed to the huge time-zone shift from my home in the States to France. I stayed awake until nearly midnight last night, and I slept until about 9:30 this morning. I could have slept for several more hours, but my annoying mother rudely awakened me. I am seeking revenge.
Today, my sister turned 13. In celebration of this auspicious event, the three of us lunched at La Tour d’Argent. Almost since it opening in 1582, La Tour d’Argent has been very well regarded; duels were often fought for seating, and royalty would purchase the restaurant’s pate. In modern times, La Tour d’Argent has hosted such famous people as the Emperor of Japan and his wife; President Bill Clinton; Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip; and many others.
The décor of La Tour d’Argent is refrained. There are few tables due to the restaurant’s small size. The ceilings are ornately decorated, and the entire floor of the restaurant is covered with carpet that bears the restaurant‘s logo. All of the tables have spiffy place settings: yellow tablecloths and matching napkins (both with La Tour d’Argent’s logo on them), pretty dishes (also with the logo), real silverware (again, with the logo), and sterling silver cups. (You guessed it: these have the logo stamped on them, too.) About the only thing that didn’t have La Tour d’Argent’s logo on it was the butter. I was surprised. What made this even better was the great view of Nôtre-Dame and the Seine.
After looking at the menu, we decided to play it safe. (No one wanted to eat kidney or mullet. Back home, a mullet is a bad haircut.) For an appetizer, we ordered the asparagus (green and white), which was served with a piece of puff pastry, mussels, calamari, and an unidentifiable bivalve. This was swimming in a curry sauce—and delicious.
For the main course, we decided to have the lamb. My mother, who typically does not like lamb, swears that this was the best she had ever eaten. It was served with baby vegetables: a red bell pepper stuffed with rice and capers, an eggplant stuffed with an eggplant soufflé, and a zucchini stuffed with minced meat. The dish was drizzled with a mild olive oil.
For dessert, my mother and sister ordered a slice of chocolate cake covered with a layer of mint ice cream; on top of the ice cream were cherries that had been soaking in an alcoholic substance for a very long time. (From the way they tasted, possibly since the restaurant’s founding.) The servers were kind enough to place a little pink candle in my sister’s cake and wish her happy birthday.
I opted for the sorbet, which came in four different flavors: raspberry, cantaloupe, coconut, and lemon. The sorbet also came with what appeared to be a fennel seed and sugar tuile.
I thought the meal was over, but no: the server brought out a silver tray with what my mother calls amusées. They were like a whole bunch of little desserts, including mini-madelines, mini-fruit tarts, and jellied fruits. Then came the truffles and something I had never seen before, silver finger bowls. I have to say, the finger bowls really made the meal for me.
After our wonderful lunch, we went back to the apartment, changed out of our formal attire, and hit the streets to do some shopping. We walked around the area of our apartment, mainly on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, going into all kinds of stores. My mother found some nice shoes at several of the shoe shops, and I was able to obtain a good dress shirt at Arnys for use with my suit jacket. Even my sister purchased some nice blouses at Alain Figaret.
I have to go now; I hear my friend’s taxi driving up to the front of our apartment, and I have to let him in. Tomorrow, I will be visiting Versailles with him and his family. Hopefully, Versailles will be as great as I have imagined. I’m looking forward to visiting the Hall of Mirrors: it will be like seeing myself in surround-sound. I imagine my family screaming in horror at the thought …
Let Them Eat Cake
For years, I’ve heard about the Palace of Versailles, home of the French monarchy, lord and ladies, and one of the grandest buildings ever constructed. I’d never really believed all of that, but today I had the chance to see it in person with my friend and his family.
I was absolutely amazed. I had never seen a building so grand in scale, so adorned with precious metals, so accented with fine marbles. Indeed, the Palace of Versailles was the greatest building that I’ve ever seen. In fact, I believe that it might be the greatest that I will ever see. Looking at the palace and the surrounding gardens, it is very easy to see why the French peasants revolted against the monarchy during the Revolution. As my friend said, “This is the very definition of opulence.”
After I entered the Palace and hired an electronic device that relayed information about each room, I made my way up a circular flight of stairs to the second story. Here I saw the chapel, with its huge painted ceiling, towering columns, and great pipe organ. From the chapel, I toured the palace, looking at rooms full of artwork, furniture covered in gold leaf, ancient clocks, marble busts, and beautiful doors. The rooms of state were very impressive, especially because of all the historical information provided by the electronic guide.
After viewing the inside of the Palace, I went out to the gardens. I have never seen such a fantastically planned piece of earth. I like to garden as a hobby; at Versailles, I was in gardener’s Heaven. As I rode around the gardens in a carriage, I noticed that the grounds were perfectly manicured. The large trees were sculpted to form a living wall along the paths, and the smaller ones were sculpted in fantastic shapes. Typically, people do not think of trees as works of art, but these definitely were.
There was only one let-down of the whole experience: the Hall of Mirrors was being renovated, and the mirrors are behind temporary wooden walls. Aside from this, the experience was great.
Once my tour of Versailles was complete, my friend, his family, and I ate at Ma Bourgogne in the Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris. Along with indoor seating, outdoor seating is available under stone arches. Surrounded by architecture dating from the early 1400’s, the view is hard to beat. I enjoyed the lentil and salted pork stew. Other dishes at the table were steak with fries, green salads, and cold slices of pork with potatoes. Everyone agreed that the food was good. For dessert, some had ice cream and some had the dessert of the day: a strawberry cake with fresh strawberries on top. I sampled all the desserts, and I believe that the strawberry cake was the best.
That evening, we visited Nôtre-Dame on the Ile de la Cité. As we were looking at the interior, a service began. The music was excellent and we decided to sit in the back of the church and listen. Although I couldn’t understand the service, I enjoyed sitting in that quiet place observing all of the people at worship. Sadly, I saw very few young people.
Thus, the day ended. I walked back to the hotel where my friend’s family was staying, bid them adieu, and walked back out onto the street with my friend, who is staying with us. Here, we faced our biggest challenge of the day: hailing a cab. It took 20 minutes. Being reasonably intelligent, my friend and I decided to find a taxi queue. (Had we not found one, we would probably still be out there on the street.) So, a word to the wise: if you need a cab, look for a taxi queue. Trust me, it’s easier than running into the street, making an idiot of yourself, and almost getting hit by a bus while walking back to the curb.
An American in Paris; it’s a wonderful thing.
Taylor Horton is a high school student who considers himself very fortunate to be writing for Bonjour Paris this summer.