Today, we travel back in time a couple of weeks, and also 14 years.
Our tale begins with the planning of our recent journey to Paris to celebrate my wife Jan’s birthday on Friday, Sept. 7. Somehow, the time seemed right to to relive a few past culinary memories. So we decided to visit encore une fois (once again) a couple of the restaurants we had enjoyed in 1998, at the beginning and at the end of our bicycle trip to the Dordogne, which of course ultimately resulted in our love affair with Daglan.
For her special birthday lunch, Jan wanted to try the Blue Elephant, a Thai restaurant where we ate dinner on our last night in Paris in 1998, following our bike trip (with four Canadian friends) and before we flew home to Canada. On that first occasion, we had arrived back in Paris by train to be met by pouring rain, and got soaked as we wandered around the city in search of the “right” restaurant.
By “right” restaurant, we meant any place that would serve Chinese food, since all six of us had spent a week cycling in the Dordogne and the Lot (a neighbouring département) while feasting on confit de canard, foie gras de canard, foie gras d’oie (goose), and even salads sprinkled with duck gizzards that had been preserved in duck fat. Enough was enough.
We searched without success for a Chinese restaurant, but eventually stumbled on the Blue Elephant and decided that Thai food would be an equally great change from our duck-laden regime. And here, 14 years later, is the sign marking the restaurant at 43/45 Rue de la Roquette:
Getting to the restaurant, in the 11th arrondissement in the east end of Paris, took most of the Friday morning, simply because we were not in any hurry. After a large breakfast in a café at our favourite corner in Paris (described in my Sept. 13th posting, “People-watching at Parisian cafés“), we crossed a bridge over the Seine to the Right Bank.
Then we took a bus along the river to the City Hall, past such wonderful sights as the Louvre, the National Assembly, and the Musée d’Orsay. We picked up a map of Paris in the tourist office, and continued walking (with occasional stops for coffees or Perriers at various cafés) until we reached the massive Place de la Bastille, which straddles three arrondissements — the 11th, the 12th, and the 4th. Then it was just a matter of walking a few blocks up the Rue de la Roquette to the restaurant.
On our visit to the Blue Elephant 14 years ago, all six of us were struck by how large and elaborate the interior of the restaurant was, with plants and flowers everywhere. Perhaps not surprisingly, on our second visit it seemed less grand, although still quite pleasant. (The only sour note was encountering the grumpy hostess at the front desk, who didn’t think we had a reservation, even when I handed her a print-out of the confirmation that her restaurant had emailed to me. Some hospitality training is warranted.)
In any case, we settled down to review the menu, with Jan enjoying une coupe de Champagne (key French lesson: when it comes to Champagne, a “glass” is always a “coupe“). Meanwhile, I had an icy, bracing and quite delicious Thaipirinha (the restaurant’s refreshing Thai twist on Brazil’s caipirinha, with small cubes of Dragon fruit on top). Here’s my tasty drink sitting on the restaurant menu:
For the lunch itself, we had deep-fried shrimp to begin, followed by chicken curry and a rich Massaman curry of lamb, served with jasmine rice, and accompanied by a bottle of Pinot gris. It was all tasty, but I didn’t think it was worth photographing, since a plate of curry on rice looks pretty much like a plate of curry on rice, if you get my drift. On the other hand, we were quite taken with the pots for our jasmine tea:
So, how did the experience compare with our meal 14 years ago? Certainly the food was as good as we remembered, and the service was friendly and competent, as long as we forgot about the scowls we got from the so-called hostess at the front desk. The restaurant and its décor weren’t a surprise, of course, but we had a pleasant and relaxing meal.
Perhaps the most notable difference was the clientele. On this most recent occasion, the other customers seemed to be a mix of other tourists, plus local business people who were popping in for an express lunch.
Fourteen years ago, we were delighted to find one of the world’s most beautiful actresses, then aged 54 but looking 34, sitting at the next table. It was Catherine Deneuve.