300 kph! Obviously we weren’t going to be driving to Paris in the ark.
Rising early, we finished our packing, loaded the trunk of the ark with our luggage, bade farewell to Patrick, and headed off for the Avignon TGV (high-speed train) station. Christine and Philippe had told us a new, hopefully, faster way to get to Avignon, and we decided to give it a try. It basically entailed driving back past St. Remy, almost to Arles, and then taking a direct route to Avignon and the station.
As the morning road was cloaked in patches of fog (David droned into his dew point explanation of fog for the 300th time until I gave him a look), and we were heading away from Avignon, we were a bit anxious. Finally, we hit the roundabout with the promised D570 connection and headed to Avignon. It was a good road, wide and straight, and, lo, we got to the TGV station 10 minutes faster. In fact, as promised, the TGV exit from 570 took us right to the car drop off. Wonderful.
While David returned the ark, I arranged for a porter to man-handle our luggage onto the train, always a hassle. The train arrived, and our luggage sat on a trolley waiting to be loaded, but no porter. We figured he was either a) on strike, b) had gone to Opede and gotten lost, or c) would make a last-minute appearance. Suddenly, just as the train pulled to a stop, he appeared, pushed everyone out-of-the-way saying something in French (David thought he might be referring to our recent battle with the dew point.) In any event, one minute later and 20 Euro lighter, we were seated and ready for our trip.
A short nap (2.5 hours) and we were pulling into the Gare de Lyon in Paris. I found a porter who wrestled the luggage to our waiting town car and again lightened our Euro stockpile, and we were off to the Le Lavoisier, our favorite home in Paris for more than a decade. The traffic was heavy, but the driver delightful and Paris aglow with fall sunshine. In due course, we pulled up in front of the Lavoisier and were checking in.
We have known Ludovic, the manager, for 11 years, so immediately chatted about his son, family, and all that was new at the hotel. Among the topics was Crom ‘Exquis, the new restaurant that had opened just 50 meters down the block. The space had formerly been occupied by a restaurant that appeared to only open Tuesdays in months without an “R” in the name, except for July and August when they were on vacation. The new restaurant was opened by Pierre Meneau, the son of Burgundian super chef Marc Meneau. Strangely, Bev and I had been talking about a stay at Papa’s Esperance just two days before. As we had not eaten, Ludovic raced us down the street. Being after 2 pm, they technically had stopped serving, but Ludovic is a friend of Pierre’s, and explained our recent brush with the dew point, so was able to get them to seat us. The food was fabulous. A new find, and just 50 meters from our digs. All they had left from the lunch menu was a chicken, but it was incredible. David started with a tarte made from leeks, which was also delectable, and we both opted to try one of their signature dishes, a small pastry filled with a warm liquid flavored with fois gras, or herbs. Pop it in your mouth, bite, and the liquid “explodes,” filling your mouth with flavor. We added a bottle of Burgundy from Pierre’s home village of Vezelay, and our dining experience was complete.
Given our lunch at Crom’Exquis, we were sort of sorry that we had booked a major dinner at Dominique Bouchet for that night. Two big meals in one day is a bit much. We should have cancelled, because our meal at Bouchet – long our favorite in Paris – turned out to be a huge disappointment.
With the departure of Yann, the gregarious manager, Bouchet has become somewhat subdued and lacking a personal touch. The menu also has edged more into a Japanese motif. While excellent, we have missed some of the former signature dishes. The wine list has always been strong, with reasonable pricing and a lot of “finds,” such as a Clos de Veugeot blanc. This night, after being seated, our perusal of the menu seemed to find a more limited selection. I skipped an appetizer and David ordered their shrimp beignet, a staple. The server seemed taken aback that I did not order a starter, but took our main course order – lotte (monkfish) for David and turbot for me. We finished our kirs, and a nice amuse bouche, and waited a bit for the sommelier to appear. He finally came to our table and asked what we would like. David had commented that the wine list was shorter than before and seemed to be somewhat lackluster. He ordered a Lucien Crochet Sancerre, always a nice wine. A few minutes later, the sommelier re-appeared to tell us that “the last bottle of that has just been sold tonight.” No problem, on to choice two. A few minutes later, and same story – last bottle has just been sold, perhaps the Chateau Sancerre? David switches gears and moves to the Burgundy page, always a strong point here, but finds little of interest, mostly village wines. Undaunted he orders a premiere cru St. Aubin, which should be pleasant. You guessed it, again, the last bottle has been sold tonight…how about a village St. Aubin? David is obviously annoyed and ignores the suggestion, instead ordering a village Puligny Montrachet. The wine is 80 Euro and not great, but we accept it. Bad start.
Maybe with the wine fiasco the staff decided to stay away from our table, but from this point on the service became sparse. while the manager and head waiters hovered over other tables, not a single visit to ours. The sommelier made a few perfunctory stops to top off our glasses (the wine is not kept next to the tables), but that was it. The food was good, but not exceptional as in the past…or maybe it was just our disappointment affecting our view. We declined dessert, figuring we would just finish the rest of the wine and leave, but sat, totally ignored, for 20 minutes, with the rest of our wine unserved. David asked for the bill, paid, and we exited, very disappointed.
Oh well, we’ve found a new culinary jewel to replace a fading one.