Monday, April 6, 2009

first tango in Paris

A handful of pilgrimages in the city of Paris. Paris itself is a pilgrimage, a city worth staying in for as long as you can. I have a list of desires: a walk in the Buttes de Chaumont, an aperitif at the Hotel du Nord on the Canal St. Martin, oysters and champagne at the café, any café, at Ecole Militaire, dinner at Le Baratin in Belleville. We decide not to see the classic French film Hotel du Nord because frankly it is classically, tragically French. Two crazy lovers who make a suicide pact in a room above the bar at the Hotel du Nord, a pact that goes awry, and a man who suddenly finds himself a murderer enlists the help of a pimp and a prostitute to escape. As you can imagine, the story does not end well, and we are no longer young students who thrive on tales of obsessive love and existentialism. Instead we search out affirming narratives : meals that begin well and end even better.

Our reservation at Le Baratin is late, but we don’t mind. We’ve needed all this time today to walk and see and we find that we arrive back home with only an hour before we must go out again. The restaurant appears almost out of nowhere off a long, straight street that gradually falls downhill, around a corner to the left like a surprise. A busy Friday night. One waiter, one chalkboard menu. Simple bentwood chairs around wooden tables. The old leather seats on the bar stools are cracked and show their stuffing. Wine bottles are scattered all over the bar. The white and tiger tabby slinks beneath the tables and sits on the bench hoping for scraps. The barman’s mother (he is really a passionate and erudite sommelier, and we assume she is the barman’s mother—there is a likeness in the curve of the nose) sits at a table for two, alone, with a glass of wine. From the chalkboard menu, we choose the carpaccio of mullet with red onions, yellow beets, and finely diced strawberries, a ceviche of cabaillaud in citron vert, thin slices of raw beef in an exotic sauce of apples, walnuts, and hot pepper, asparagus (it is meant to be white, but the white are sold out) with gossamer pieces of lardons. The lamb roasted in the oven is served with wilted chard and three little potatoes. The cabaillaud is grilled simply and served over a potato puree.

We choose two wines: half carafes of both, and both young and organic. A bright Grenache, the other a silkier Rousillon. The young waiter who has come out to save the elder tells us the winemakers of both our wines are sitting next to us at the bar chatting with the barman, or perhaps barman is really just entertaining his guests. As the evening progresses, a block of chocolate fondant arrives along with the comice pear that has been poached in red wine and fanned across the white plate. A confit of pineapple is sweet and without artiface. One winemaker measures the sugar content of the Grenache with an hydrometer to discuss the numbers with the others at the bar. I wish for my camera. The proprietess, our cook, an Argentine who came to this city over twenty years ago, finishes her evening standing at the door to her domain, the small, tight kitchen, drinking a glass of red and smoking a cigarette.


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