Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Notre Dame de Paris...and no ice cream
I won't lie to you. Going to see the Notre Dame de Paris was definetely a priority for me on this Paris trip, but what made me even more eager to deal with the packed metro and the tourist-swamped Ile-de-la-Cite was the fact that, just a short distance away, on the Ile-Saint-Louis, was the famous Berthillon. Supposedly the best ice cream in Paris, and by extension, the best ice cream in France, and if you'll allow me to stretch it even farther, the best ice cream in the world (although I have dreams of making the best ice cream in the world out of goat's milk--take that, Berthillon). Well, as you might be able to see from the photos, Notre Dame is amazing. But I knew that already. I mean, there's no way you can comprehend the scale of this building until you see it in person. You walk in, and the first thing you notice are the vaulted ceilings that seem to be of an impossible height.
You have to wonder how many people died building the thing. And how many people gave their meager earnings to build it. Not to be morbid, but someone has to pay for and build these things, and I can assure you that those people are not the wealthy or the bishops or the royalty. Thanks to the poor and downtrodden, the Catholic church was at one point the wealthiest, loftiest, best-dressed institution in the world (and it's situation is still nothing to sneeze at). I think it's only fitting to think about things like this as they really are. You can stand in the Notre Dame de Paris all day, craning your neck at all its glory, but there is always a blood price. The church has been notoriously good throughout the centuries at giving believers a guilt trip in order to acquire wealth, build grand cathedrals, dress the popes in luxurious robes and silly hats, etc. There's my dose of cynicism for the day.
But, it is worth seeing if only for the gigantic rose windows that are like incredible kaleidoscopes (have you ever tried to spell that word? I'm not sure I did it correctly.). Stained glass windows have always fascinated me. I wish I had a close-up of what the windows depicted, but taking photos in a dark cathedral is hard enough.
Well, much to my dismay, after I finished with the Notre Dame, I walked over the bridge to the Ile-Saint-Louis to find Berthillon for a snack, only to find that it is closed until March something. Bien sur. I've found that in France, the one thing you're looking for is the one thing you will not be able to find. It's tricky. Most businesses are closed on Sundays, but some are closed on Mondays. Some are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Some are closed on random days like Wednesdays. Some are open Sunday mornings but closed in the afternoon. I'd read that Berthillon was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. But then, you also have to take into account the "conges annuaires" (annual vacations) that most businesses have. These usually happen in August when all of France (quite literally) goes on vacation. I wouldn't plan on visiting France in August unless you're just going to chill out on a beach the whole time or roam the fields of lavender because businesses tend not to be open.
Well, I've found out that many businesses also have vacations during the winter although usually only for a week or less. I guess winter is the off-season for ice cream makers (I distinctly remember working at Coldstone Creamery during the winter and being bored out of my mind. No one wants ice cream when you can see your breath.). So I walked away hungry.
Aha, but then something occurred to me. Earlier in the week (actually, my first day in Paris--I don't fool around when it comes to dessert) I had gone to a salon de the (tea room) called "Angelina" that is famous for it's chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and a dessert called the Mont Blanc. I fell in love with the place immediately.
If you can imagine the nicest restaurant you've ever been inside, multiply that by 10 and then think that this place isn't even a restaurant proper. It's a tea room. They serve light food, but everyone goes there for the desserts and hot chocolate. When you walk in the door you can see why. To your left is a big glass case with pretty, dainty little desserts and pastries lined up. Glistening tarts with the juiciest fruit you've ever seen, creamy frostings, chocolate ganache so shiny you could see your reflection, whipped cream rich enough to walk around by itself. I mean, this place is not fooling around.
Men in elegant tuxedos implore you to follow them to your tiny little tea table, which is in a large room flooded with light from chandeliers and wreathed with delicate, intricate mouldings. You are seated at small, dark wooden tables in a chair with a luxurious leather seat and back, and you are presented with a small, neat menu, which you, of course, flip open to the desserts. The desserts are described in detail in French and English. Reading it in French adds another dimension to the experience, but you need not speak French to enjoy the deliciousness you will soon partake of.
If I'm being dramatic it's because when you walk into this place you feel like a princess. You want to sit up straighter, take dainty sips from your hot chocolate, and eat your dessert slowly and in tiny bites. The atmosphere is incredible, and the people-watching is even better.
Angelina is located on the rue de Rivoli, which you can get to lickety-split from the Tuileries metro station. The rue de Rivoli is one of the more posh streets in Paris, near the Champs Elysees and the Place de la Madeleine. This is where you find the ladied in long fur coats stroking tiny, disgusting dogs and buying Chanel handbags at 1,000 euros a pop. Ostentatious? Yes. But Angelina is worth it.
My first time at Angelina (I only went twice; don't judge me) I had a lemon tart with hot chocolate. I knew the hot chocolate would be super-rich, so I thought lemon would be a good, slightly bitter accompaniment to take the edge off the chocolate. Well, I'm not convinced anything could take the edge off this hot chocolate. It is served in a small, white, porcelean pitcher that says "Angelina" in delicate, gilt letters. The pitcher holds enough hot chocolate for 2 large servings. Keep this in mind if you ever go. It is accompanied by a similarly delicate teacup and saucer and a small ramekin of amazing whipped cream. I don't know what they feed the cows to get cream that rich, but I'm guessing it might be foie gras or perhaps salmon in beurre blanc with a nice glass of chardonnay.
When you pour the hot chocolate, you get some idea of its quality by its viscosity. The stuff is as thick as brownie batter. Nothing can tame this chocolate. They give you a pitcher of water with the chocolate, and you soon find out why--if you didn't wash it down with water your throat might clog up. But really, if you're a chocolate fiend, this is the stuff.
Oh, and the Mont Blanc is superior as well, but if I were you I'd order the lemon tart. It's slightly more manageable.
Posted by meg at 2:20 AM