Friday, November 10, 2006

Paris Journal 2006: Point Bar

Margy and I alighted in Paris, back once again in the City of Light on (her) business. This year, though, we allowed a few extra days to play around before she had to get to work.

We got to our hotel around 10am, where they graciously allowed us to check in early, and then we immediately took a restorative nap. Once we came to, my first -- okay, my only -- order of business was to figure out where to eat dinner. I had a list of places, but we wanted to stick close to our hotel on our first night and avoid any situations where we'd have to try to speak French.

I did, of course, offer a shaky "Bonjour, madame" to our concierge before I began pestering her with a dozen questions and asking her to call a dozen restaurants to start getting things on the books. So here we were on Friday afternoon, needing a plan for Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday, at least. (The other nights were still up in the air.) And we began very badly.

Not only was Saturday a bank holiday, it was also a Saturday, and good Paris restaurants tend to get booked up on Saturday night. We tried a few places on our list, and they basically laughed at our very sweet concierge. One offered a 10pm rez. We didn't bite. Ten o'clock worries us a little -- among other reasons because I tend to take hours to eat anything. We kept trying, but now I was starting to feel like an imposition. Finally, though, we booked Tuesday, at a place I keep hearing about and I'm sure I want to try. Phew. Finally, an encouraging sign.

As a last-ditch effort to nail down Saturday, we tried the site of our favorite meal from last year's trip, which I was sure wouldn't be fully booked. I was correct. It would be closed, for Armistice Day.

So we sort of staggered out of the hotel to start exploring, with nothing set for Saturday and a plan to stake out a few nearby restaurants the concierge had recommended for tonight. She seemed particularly fond of a joint that I thought sounded like "Plum Bar," but she said there are lots of reliable places on the Place du Marché Saint Honoré.

We had a lovely afternoon, taking a long walk, checking out a great photography museum, and eating the finest ham sandwich we've had in twelve months. And then we strolled back to our hood to see what was up by the marché. It's a charming area, and it's packed with restaurants. We took note of a few, and then at the hotel we asked the new concierge, just starting her shift, what she recommended nearby. (I'm a big believer in cross-referencing, especially when you don't know the people who are making the recommendations.) She also said the "Plum Bar" place is excellent.

"What kind of food is it?" I asked, not being nearly as specific as I should have been, as indicated by her answer.


But then she caught on and added, "Inventive. It's a small restaurant, very nice."

So we booked it. But there was one lingering problem. We really didn't have a handle on the name. Upon hearing it a few more times, I was sure there was no plum involved. Basically, it sounded like "pwah bar," and given my not-too-close relationship to that elegant yet sadistic language that is French, that wasn't nearly enough. I was a little embarrassed, but I needed to have it in writing.

Point Bar! Of course!

And it was just fantastic. It's indeed very small, and it feels bright and modern. It's not one of those old-school Paris bistros with yellowed posters peeling off the walls -- that would have to wait for another night. There weren't even that many people smoking, if you can believe that.

The menu was short, and I felt like I had a handle on all but a few things, so when our waiter came by I told him I had a few questions. He proceeded to translate the entire menu for us, in excellent English, which I must say was incredibly kind and helpful -- sometimes that one word you don't know is the one that means "bathed in liver" or what have you.

Actually, we started with liver! We shared a foie gras appetizer that was hands-down the most I've ever enjoyed eating the stuff. I savored every morsel, especially the yellow layers of fat at the top and bottom of the slice. (Margy very halfheartedly suggested we leave that part, but she knows how it works. It's Paris -- you eat.) The foie gras was served with a fig, hazelnut, and walnut chutney and a caramel-port reduction, plus sea salt and course-ground black pepper. Oh my. The sweetness of the condiments and the richness of the foie gras, along with the flavor-sharpening effects of the salt and pepper, made for one heck of a good time. Did I even mention the crispy toasts it came with? As was the case with the ham sandwich a few hours earlier, this little dish was saying "Welcome to Paris." (Except it was saying it in French.)

One entree sounded so appealing that both Margy and I ordered it. Anyway, the waiter (who said his real gig is sommelier and recommended a wonderful and affordable pinot noir) had told us it was one of Point Bar's signature dishes: Parmesan-crusted veal loin with truffle-cream sauce. Hiyo! Not since being in Paris a year ago have I so enjoyed a meal so utterly devoid of vegetables. The veal was cooked beautifully and was a little pink in the middle. The crust was incredible -- crunchy here and there, perfectly salty, and offering just the right amount of Parmesan flavor. And the sauce was delicious. The truffles made their contribution to the dish without being overwhelming. Potatoes included, this dinner had Margy and me oohing and aahing.

Dessert? Vanilla panna cotta with mango and mango ice cream. The waiter brought us glasses of strawberry wine that I believe he said had been made by a patron. It was good -- not too sweet and tasting very clearly of strawberries. Plus it was just nice to know that we, the Americans, had won his favor rather than invoke his tourist-loathing exasperation. Meanwhile, the panna cotta was creamy, sweet, fruity... just as delicious and memorable as the rest of the meal.

Score one for the concierges!

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