Saturday, October 11, 2014

Still more Paris: Rainy day in the Musée d'Orsay and lunch at Le Villaret

Rain was gushing down from the sky Wednesday morning in a forceful morning-pee stream, which made it the perfect time to go to the Musée d'Orsay, a museum known for its vast collection of Impressionist art from dudes like Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Latrec, and a slew of others. The Musée d'Orsay was converted from a beautiful old train station, and as a result it has a rather confusing layout, and trying really hard to carefully follow the map does little to reduce one's confusion when navigating the place. We started at the top floor, where the Impressionist rooms are, and worked our way down.

Unfortunately the Musée d'Orsay has these 'no photographs' signs all over the place in just about every room, so I wasn't able to photograph certain things for the blog and had to be really stealthy about it when I did. Back when I was here in 2009, either these signs weren't there, or I was feeling braver about breaking the rules, so I have more photos of stuff from then, one of which I'll include here:

Monet's renderings of Rouen cathedral at different times of the day

Terezia thoroughly dug the Musée d'Orsay - both the building itself and of course the art therein. She loved getting to see some of these classics in person. The Van Gogh collection is pretty impressive, but it is confusingly displayed in two small, cramped rooms on the second level, which were predictably mobbed, making it a bit harder to enjoy them. Still, it's great to be able to see this stuff up close.

Some rooms were inexplicably closed, like one with some Seurat pieces in it, and I'm not entirely sure what else we missed. I also noticed that a few Rodin sculptures that I swear were there last time were not present this time. The Toulouse-Latrec room was, quite strangely, moved to a back corner room on the bottom floor. I remember his stuff being on the fifth floor back in 2009, but I think it's common for museums to shuffle their collections around. The Toulouse-Latrec room remains one of my favorites in the Musée d'Orsay. I love his slightly wild, curvy/swirly strokes, and the almost unfinished, slightly hazy quality of some of his pieces.


Lunch at Le Villaret

For lunch we thought we'd try this place tucked away in a quiet back street kind of between the Bastille and the Belleville neighborhood that I had actually eaten at once before back in 2009. We got there really late (around 2:00) and were seated at the only open table, which had just been vacated. We all ordered from the lunchtime special menu, called the 'menu formule,' which usually lets you order a set two- or three-course menu at a cheaper price.

This first came with a small amuse bouche of potato-leek soup, followed by a starter involving a poached egg in a kind of foamy creamy sauce with julienned pancetta and finely diced bits of celery. Unlike some of the dishes we'd been getting so far, this was actually seasoned really well and had a simple but satisfying savory flavor.

For the mains, the menu formule offered two choices: Terezia opted for a puff pastry tart with pieces of red mullet filet with tomato/white onion marmalade, tapenade, mixed greens, and a bit of pesto, while Randy and I got what appeared to be a braised pork knuckle (which is the shank) that came sitting in a rich sauce with a mirepoix reduction and shaved Brussels sprouts.

Terezia's fish tart thing smelled and tasted quite nice, though she said that at times the delicate flavor of the fish kind of had to compete with the other ingredients.

The pork knuckle was freaking massive - it looked just like these heaping hunks of pork knee that are served in some Czech and Slovak restaurants, which is surprising for France, a country known for its smaller, more manageable portions. Two of us could have split one. The pork was insanely tender and juicy, but a bit under seasoned (yet again!), though still very tasty. The gloopy sauce was better than I thought it would be. Neither Randy nor I could finish it.

Overall it was an enjoyable meal, but I'm not sure we'd feel compelled to go back. What really soured the mood, however, was when the three of us each decided to order espressos after the meal, but when we got the bill, those three espressos mysteriously came to a whopping €24! That's €8 per espresso! These espressos were good, but not that good! And this significantly jacked up the total for the bill. I'm not sure if we were being taken for a ride or if the waiter made an honest mistake, but we were too chicken to contest the bill, so we just paid up and left.

We walked off Le Villaret's heavy meal by trekking on foot through the Marais to the area by Les Halles, where we checked out a cooking gear store called E. Dehillerin that was pretty much heaven for a chef like Terezia. The place was loaded with insanely high-quality knives, heavy-duty pots and pans and dutch ovens, any size baking form you can imagine, and a vast assortment of other things that any chef would love to work with. Terezia probably could have spent all day there, and it was kind of fun for me and Randy to learn from her about what some of the less obvious looking implements were for.

Click here to see the full set of photos from this day!

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