Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Paris: Le Petit Chatelet

When I left the Ritz bar I wandered over to the Place de la Madeline in search of Haute Couture and a bar that Bruno at the Ritz had mentioned.  The bar was nothing special.  The clothes....well that was a different thing altogether.

Although I have a soft spot for all things Chanel, I preferred the Dior designs I could see in the windows.  I peeked down what must be the most expensive short street of shops in the world...

...with Dior on one's right and Chanel on the left. 

After walking about and seeing extraordinarily beautiful women out shopping, I became fatigued so I returned home to the Isle Saint Louis and took a nap.  I woke up in the evening famished and decided I would try what my dining radar had told me was the perfect spot for a lovely dinner.  Particularly on a cold, rainy day.  The restaurant Le Petit Chatelet on the Rue de la Bucherie just off of the Quai de Montabello.  This out of place old house is situated close by the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company and is also quite near the Square Rene Viviani, site of the oldest tree in Paris.  As with many a fine small place, Le Petit Chatelet is easy to pass by.  Trust me, when you find yourself sauntering down the Promenade Maurice Careme on a drizzly, chill, romantic evening, you owe it to yourself to try Le Petit Chatelet.

The place gives off the right signals.  Little outdoor tables and chairs.  The glow of welcoming lights through little window panes.  A lengthy menu written by hand on a chalk board.  A well used and friendly look.  But that is nothing to what awaits you inside the door.  On this Monday evening, I slipped inside the small entryway and was immediately immersed in the happy sound of people clinking glasses, laughing softly, and otherwise having an excellent time.  And the aroma!  The lovely proprietress and her husband [the restaurant has been in the family for fifty years] roast their meats and fowl on an open brazier in the corner of the dining room.  I cannot adequately describe the way that room smelled.  Had there not been a table for me I would have cried.  Luckily, one spot was available despite my lack of a reservation and I was shown to a small table against the wall.  To my right were two nice ladies from St. Louis, Missouri on holiday.  To my left, a distinguished elderly couple were perusing the menu board being held by the owner.  The photos posted here show the brazier and exactly where I was sitting to the left of the entry door as you face it.  I imagine that the restaurant only seats forty lucky persons at a time. 

All of the items on the menu that night sounded great, but I settled on a baked chevere tart in puff pastry as my first course.  Arriving with a small salad, lightly and simply dressed with oil and vinegar, the tart was a delight.  It was oven-warm and the cheese was slightly runny.  The pastry was delicate and a bit crunchy on the outside.  Simply the best cheese tart I have ever had.  A nice compliment to the astounding and fairly priced bottle of Margaux which was another treat.  Outside it looked more and more chilly as the night deepened, but the food and conviviality inside Le Petit Chatelet was a potent antidote for the weather.  In such circumstances, there was only one appropriate second course..."Le Formidable" which was a large slice of rib eye steak, bathed in garlic and rosemary, a little peppery, cooked just to medium rare, with a pile of crispy frites.  Tender and wildly flavorful, the steak was the perfect compliment to the Margaux.

A brief digression on the subject of my Parisian wine drinking.  Inspired by Liebling, I was determined to only order bottles of wine on this Epic trip.  There must have been a glorious, golden, era when gourmands only ordered full bottles of wine with their meals.  Even when dining alone.  One doesn't see this much any more.  Liebling blames the decline of grand dining in general on French doctors realizing that humans had a liver and then regulating all of life around that one organ.  I strongly suspect that the decline in diners procuring an acceptable and worthy companion bottle of wine for their solo consumption dates to the same historical precipice.  Really, with a little practice, there is nothing to it.  Cost is not an obstacle.  Most decent places, even in the U.S., have good bottles of wine for a price approximating what two glasses of who-knows-how-old open bottle wine goes for, so why not guarantee that you are getting fresh wine, even if you for some ridiculous reason do not drink the entire bottle at one sitting?  Also, if you skip a pre-dinner cocktail and take a bit of time dining [rare in the U.S., I know] you can consume a bottle in proper, indolent, fashion and feel just slightly tight when you leave table.  And, the presence of a bottle of wine sitting solidly on top of your table provides an important message in addition to the obvious spiritual benefits.  It tells the waiter and other diners that one knows what one is about.  I had bottle after bottle of great wine on this trip, with two pleasant exceptions always dined alone, and felt no ill effects whatsoever. 

In the event, at this stage of the meal, I was entering another glorious Parisian food rapture.  How could this evening get any better?  I was contemplating the menu for a third course when the American lady to my right turned to me and asked "excuse me, do you speak English?"  I replied, "a little".  She wanted to know if Le Formidable was as good as it looked.  "C'est tres magnifique" I said with a smile.  She and her friend both ordered the steak.  Right off the brazier.  They were very pleased with the choice.

There were several dessert choices that evening, but really no choice for me.  When I saw a poached pear on the menu, I ordered it immediately as this is one of my favorite dishes that one rarely sees, at least in my travels.  It was perfection, tender but firm, surrounded by a pool of the marvelous poaching liquid, and flavored with hints of chartreuse and lavender and black pepper.  Just the thing to help finish off the rest of the Margaux.  As my snifter of Calvados arrived, the older gentleman sitting with his wife to my left begged my pardon and asked about the wine I had been drinking.  I told him which one it was and he told me of the bottle of Burgundy they were sharing.  They were from Portugal, and I made them laugh when I said that I thought that was very cool and that I had never met anyone from Portugal before.  It is true.  When they turn boys like me from little towns in the Wisconsin woods loose on the rest of the world, they do not know what we might say.  This grand fellow stated that he and his wife came to Le Petit Chatelet on every Paris trip.  I ventured that this confirmed my impression of them as people of refinement and taste.  This got another laugh.  Then the man ordered another glass for me, poured it half full of their wine, and offered a toast to travellers of refinement.  The three of us clinked our glasses and chatted on to the end of a very lovely evening.

Much later, I tied my trench coat about me and headed through the cold drizzly night across the Petit Pont, sauntering now, a well fed Parisian flaneur, immune to the elements, accompanied by the laughter of new friends and the lingering taste of Margaux and the scent of steak and garlic roasting on an open fire.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012