Sunday, July 13, 2008

Paris Eats III: George V

A year ago my husband and I were at the annual ginormous fund raising event for the local school district. We've attended each year since moving here. It's a fabulously entertaining event with great food, lots of wine, and the best people watching venue of the year - everything from casually clad beach trash to skimpily dressed packs of cougars roam through tennis courts filled with food and wine booths and hundreds of silent auction items. The live auction occurs toward the end of the event, when everyone is sufficiently drunk enough to feel comfortable bidding on the ultra high end lots of goods. Last year's auction was sluggish. Each item was taking an excruciating amount of time to be sold off at a decent price. I wasn't paying much attention until the business class round trip tickets to Paris with four nights at the Four Seasons hotel came up on the block. The bidding started around 5k and my husband's hand shot up. That caught my attention. In the past we had sat silently watching the auction, never really bidding on anything or even caring what was going on up there, but here he was with a serious and determined look on his face (as serious as he could be after drinking a few bottles of wine). "What are you doing?" I asked. "As long as it's under valued I might as well bid!" was his reply. And he was right, we were planning a trip to Paris with friends for the following Spring and business class seats would be a fabulous catch, not to mention a few nights at one of the best hotels in the world. The bidding continued and his hand stayed put in the upright position. 7,8,9k "Are you sure?" "Why not?" 10, 11, 12k gulp 13, 14, 15, 16k and we got it. Wow! It was below value and we were thrilled - vibrating with excitement. My husband refers to that night as "The night we pretended to be rich."

Fast forward a year and now you'll understand how we found ourselves checking out of our tiny Montparnasse "hotel" and into the Four Seasons Georges V HOTEL for our last four nights in Paris. The George V is not large by any standards but the luxury and class of the place hit you as you walk in the door. For the first day or so the level of service and attention to detail keep your attention. Each and every person on staff says hello or bonjour as you walk past. Every corner of every room is cleaned and polished, all the time!

We have a posh Parisian breakfast the morning we check in and watch a team of workers, we referred to them as the "water boys", roll a low flat cart in through the lobby restaurant and into Le Cinq (the high end dinner restaurant) and retrieve all of the tall, and I mean tall, 3-6', cylindrical vases which are filled with water and orchids. They carefully roll them out of the restaurant to refill them and then return them. This is done each morning and is quite a chore taking well over an hour to complete. The staff are endlessly busy.

We love our room without a view. It's beautifully decorated and has every amenity one could wish for. We spend time resting there between Parisian adventures, just soaking up the beauty of the place.

Our finest meal during our Paris trip was at Le Cinq in the George V hotel. It was the last meal we shared with our friends who travelled with us in Paris. Our reservation was for 8pm and we were the second party to be seated for the night, a woman and her grand-daughter had beaten us to the dining room by a few minutes. We are sat in a corner, overlooking the hotel's courtyard, at a round table. It was raining and continued to come down more and more steadily as the evening progressed.

The menu offered items a la carte as well as two types of tasting menus, a chef's menu with five courses and a menu de la gustation offering eight courses. The entire table would have to order the same tasting menu if one was chosen. As we noshed on the wonderful fresh breads that were offered with the Normandy butter we had become addicted to, we pondered the tasting menu question. There wasn't much discussion... we had to do it. When would we be here again? When would again have the stamina to persevere through such an undertaking? Of course we'd have to have wine paired with each course as well, doing without was out of the question. This decision was easy for me as the menu had no pricing on it all. I had almost forgotten the old fashioned practice of not allowing the women to see the cost of the meal she was ordering. So quaint and so helpful because I'm not sure I would have pushed for the larger menu if I had known the extravagance of the price.

I won't list out the entire menu giving descriptions of each dish. It's not my style and the truth is I wouldn't be able to remember enough detail to give justice to the chef's work (Eric Beaumard). I do remember morels, sorrel, asparagus, a truffled parmesan crisp, lamb that was a bit too gamey for my taste, and then... the cheeses.

The service was impeccable as well as friendly. I'll never forget how a swarm of waiters would circle our table delivering each course under a metal dome placed at each setting "un, deux, trois" and the domes would be lifted simultaneously.

The wines paired with each dish were incredibly well thought out. And of course they were as the head sommelier (Thierry Hamon) at Le Cinq has won top sommelier of the world awards - so he knows his stuff. We saw him walk by a few times, but for the most part we had a few of his minions serving us. You could tell the sommeliers by the little grape cluster pin on each of their lapels - the fancier the pin, the more respected the sommelier - the head guy had gold with diamonds, which made his position obvious!

The highlight of the wines was the fun of a blind pour. Black wine glasses were brought to our table before our roasted langoustine and fennel dish. I perked up right away and began chatting up the wine guy asking if we were to have a blind tasting. He said yes, yes and we won't know if the wine is red or white. But a minute later another wine guy was removing our black glasses and we asked why. Weren't we doing the blind thing? Yes he explained, but we need to pour the wine away from the table or else you'd see the color of the wine is as it goes into the glass and he finished his explanation with a deriding remark in a thickly French accented English about the newby guy who had put the black glasses at our table "Pierre!". Poor Pierre! Unfortunately the wine was not too mysterious, there were no tannins to speak of and our guess of white was confirmed when one of our guests poured a drop onto her white napkin (CHEATER!).

During the lamb course I had eyed the cheese cart across the way. I didn't let it out of my sight... anxious for my turn to choose a few delicious bits. It seemed to take forever to come our way. We had to finish our main courses, have a bit of sorbet to cleanse our palates, and then wait patiently for it to be rolled over to our table. Each person at the table was able to choose a few to try. Our dining companions have somewhat less adventurous taste than my husband and I and we did our best to pick out a few standard favorites we knew they would like. The cheese guy was very knowledgeable and picked up on the differences between each of us and made sure to give my husband the stinkiest of all the cheeses and me the most interesting and rare, things I may not have tried before. They were all lovely, I rarely meet a cheese I don' t like. In fact the cheese was so good that when our waiter came to ask which dessert we'd like, the chocolate souffle or the something or other... I chose more cheese please! They couldn't believe it, no dessert? No, just another glass of that fabulous red we had with the cheese course (Chateau Chalon 1996 Domaine Pichet) and a few more slivers of the fatty rich aged dairy product please!
Besieds, I knew that any fancy restaurant worth it's cheese is going to put out a plate of sweets after the dessert is served and these few slivers of chocolate would be more than enough sweet for me. And they were!

I so impressed the wait staff with my love of cheese that one of them suggested a restaurant he knew of that paired a cheese with each course it serves. I asked him to please try to get me the information for this place as it sounded like an adventure made just for me. A few minutes later he came to our table with a page copied out of a restaurant book with the contact information for the restaurant. I wasted no time at all in making a bee-line to the concierge desk on my next bathroom break to ask them for help in obtaining reservations anytime over the next few days, please! (A note slipped under our door overnight regretted to inform us that the restaurant no longer exists. What a disappointment!)

We rolled out of the restaurant after midnight. We were the last people to leave. We were tipsy and still reeling from the sensory overload of the place, food, wine, service, expense and experience. We wandered out in front of the hotel and smoked cigars in the rain before saying a fond farewell to our friends as they were leaving for home the next morning. What a send off they had!

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