A trip report in five parts
- Air France A380 Business Class, Washington Dulles – Paris
- Park Hyatt Vendome
- Mostly Eating in Paris
- British Airways Paris Orly – London and the Concorde Room
- British Airways “New” First Class, London – Washington Dulles
The first night’s dinner was a bit impromptu, the Park Hyatt’s concierge stepped in with a recommendation based on my request for something nearby (walkable), casual bistro, reasonably priced (I didn’t want to spend 50 euros per person), and good food — that was available at the last minute by reservation, so that it wouldn’t entail a wait.
The recommendation was for Restaurant L’ardoise, which fit the bill perfectly.
We walked in and the place was packed. I mentioned that we had a reservation and the woman greeting us said, “You talked to me??” as though this were impossible. I said actually no, to the concierge at the Park Hyatt and she immediately brightened up, “yes of course!”
Tables were packed tightly in, and people around us had to shift their table slightly so that we could sit. We were seated between two parties of Americans so I started off a bit disappointed — we had been sent to a tourist trap! — but no, it seems that we either pulled random luck of the draw on seating, or they tend to sit Americans together (?) becase much of the rest of the restaurant was populated with locals.
They had a price-fixe menu of 35 euros per person for three courses, which looked to be the best value. And the wines were reasonably priced as well, I ordered a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape which was decanted in what appeared to be the largest wine glass I had ever seen.
To go with the bread, in addition to butter, was a pickled herring spread of some kind. Not my favorite, but interesting nonetheless.
The appetizers were good and interesting, I had a steak for my entrée which was tasty, and dessert (as is often the case with fixed price) was simple — but also good.
As my only real meal of the day it suited me perfectly, it wasn’t so far off as to seem overwhelming when tired, and I walked out of dinner without being substantially poorer. All in all a good first night’s dinner.
The next day, after a sumptuous hotel breakfast, we did a bit of sightseeing, poking around some museums. I’ve been before so didn’t have to stop at the most touristy, just some that were interesting and nearby.
And then I wandered into a charcuterie shop.
The woman sliced off a piece of goose foie gras with black truffles for me to try, and I was hooked. It was amazing. Of course it was also pretty expensive, fortunately you don’t need very much. You can make a meal for two out of less than half a pound, and you don’t want the meal to be just this. Which is good because it was something like 300 euros/kg. So just a little bit, the highlight of a charcuterie and bread meal taken back to the hotel to have with the half bottle of red the hotel left in the room the night before.
After a rich Park Hyatt breakfast, charcuterie for lunch, there’s only so much more butter and cheese and cream that you can possibly ingest. Which is why I’m a big fan of mixing up French meals with Asian food, there’s something about the spices and seasonings that cuts the butter, you can eat and eat and somehow reset yourself to have more French food the following day.
So we decided to try Lao Lane Xang for dinner. It’s Laotian, although it violates my rule that you don’t want to eat at an Asian restaurant that also tries to serve more ‘common’ Asian varieties. Any Thai restaurant that also serves sushi is going to be bad. (A Thai restaurant that also serves Laotian food though can be quite good, provided you eat only the dishes of the chef’s homeland). But this one — tagged as Thai and Vietnamese as well — got really good reviews.
They do take a few reservations but are mostly walk in, so after a metro ride and a walk I turned up at a bit after 8 and found a 45 minute wait for a table. The place was inexpensive and well-reviewed so I decided to stick it out.
The food was reasonable, and tasty, but not at all spicy (and I admit I was going in large measure for the spice).
After dinner it was a quick direct metro ride back to the Park Hyatt, from the end of the purple line (Olympiades) back to Madeleine (the Park Hyatt was reasonably close to the Opéra, Pyramides, Madeleine and Tuileries metro stations meaning that everywhere I went this trip was a direct shot with no change of trains).
The walk back from the Madeleine metro the hotel did have a bit of a theme along the way, though.
you MUST go to ANGELINA’s on the Rue di Rivoli (next to Meurice Hotel and near the Louvre) for the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE on the PLANET!!! I turned my pal Artie Lange, late of the Howard Stern show, onto it, and he said it “changed his life.” It is amazing!
And since Angelina’s was a short walk from the Park Hyatt, with that endorsement I had to go.
Now, a couple of things I’ve learned in my visits to Paris.
- There are good and bad tourist traps. Just because a place is a tourist trap doesn’t make it bad, although there are plenty of bad tourist traps.
- Parisians queue.
Angelina’s is famous, and in a high profile location. Plenty of tourists from all over. Which translated into a long wait to get into the restaurant, and a decent wait once inside.
The wait though is only to sit down for a meal or for tea service, you can go right in if you want takeaway.
After a wait of about 45 minutes we were seated and given menus.
And while service was quick, a little abrupt even (a check was brought along with dessert, they need to turn those tables!), the treats were outstanding.
And of course the hot chocolate. Al I can say is wow. Usually hot chocolate is chocolatey water, I don’t order it and really haven’t had much of it in years. Probably because immediately after college, when I was an intern, hot chocolate packages were in abundance. At what I was making that was a meal. So you get sick of it, y’know?
But this was unlike anything I’d ever had. Thick and creamy deliciousness. I probably wouldn’t drink it every day, but it lived up to the billing.
Not visit to France is complete without castles or churches or both.
Getting outside of city center meant a metro ride, then up more steps than I could count although I did my best to try — first the steps up from the metro, and then up towards the hill that brings you to the base of the church, and then up the Church’s entryway hill as well, I believe it was 732 steps roundtrip.
Tons of tourists strolling through the Church’s ‘Chrismas Village’ and looking out over Paris.
One more lesson that I was reminded to about Paris, and it applies throughout much of Europe as it does Asia: people smoke. A lot.
For dinner that night it was another quest for Asian food, a search for balance such that I could continue to approach Paris and French food during my remaining time there. So it was another trip on the metro to Olympiades, this time to Pho Banh Cuon 14.
This turned out to be some of the best Pho I’ve had outside of Vietnam. It wasn’t Pho Hoa on Pasteur Street, but it’s better than most. The appetizers were good, too.
Much of New Years Eve was spent on the Champs-Élysées, and it was there that I realized New Years in Paris is different. Different than what I’m used to in DC. Different than anywhere in the U.S. actually and that includes Times Square. Everyone is out on the streets. Everyone is loud. Lots of people are going crazy. It’s as though everyone as come together for one night — one night at the end of the world where time stands still and since who knows what 2013 will bring there are no consequences.
It was body-to-body. People were headed in all directions, stopping in the middle of the street and blocking traffic to take photos.
My own time leading up to midnight was spent at Laduree for dessert and champagne. They’re known for having some of the best macarons in France, which meant they were a must-do for me. Although they are now also on Madison Avenue in New York, and having had the macarons in Paris it’s not obvious to me that they’re better than what I was already getting Francois Payard Bakery.
We stayed there until past 11, and then had a strategy of wanting to see the Eiffel Tower light up at midnight — but recognized that getting anywhere near the Eiffel Tower was going to pose a serious challenge. Getting down into the metro, heading that direction, was packed body to body. In the tunnels to get down to the tracks. It was like trying to get on the metro in downtown DC after the July 4th fireworks, but with twice as many people.
So the plan was the head the opposite direction, back towards the hotel, because there’s a clear shot of the Eiffel Tower. Nobody was heading that way, I wound up staking out a great spot with plenty of time to space. And then counted down the time to midnight, while street vendors got themselves set up with food and people ran through the streets with champagne.