Astier, 12 Avril 2012

One more post about Paris, and then on to what’s happening in the Maine garden these days. Right now there’s a pounding Nor’easter in the garden so it’s more pleasant to blog about dinner in Paris, but soon. . .

We went to a traditional French restaurant for our wedding anniversary on April 12. Restaurant Astier is tiny, friendly, and thirty feet from the apartment we were renting. Did  I mention tiny? The waiters had to back down the stairs to the wine cellar – I don’t think there was enough room to turn around down there.


We chose the prix fixe menu and split the dishes between us. The first course was one dish of thin slices of duck breast on a circle of mirepoix, and the other a bright green cold soup with a “dumpling” of lightly smoked haddock.

first course

Second course: a circle of lamb in dark gravy topped with eggplant tomato puree; grilled pork chop on a plate of white beans.

second course

Third course is The Famous Cheese Platter – renowned in song and story. Fifteen pounds of cheese folks, representing every shape, flavor and region. The waiter brings this huge platter of cheese to your table – on a metal stand because it’s much too big to actually fit on that tiny surface with your plate and the accompanying bread basket – and hands off a couple of sharp knives. That’s it – for this course it’s you against the cheese.

amazing cheese

Last course, dessert! R. had creme brulee covered in diced strawberries. Delicate and delicious, very sorry the photo was taken moments too late to see its lovely presentation. I had Baba au rhum traditionnel. Now baba au rhum in my experience is a nicely glazed brioche sort-of-thing. At Astier our waiter brought me a cylinder of yellow pound cake in a soup plate, a sharp knife, and a soup spoon. I was puzzled. He took the knife back from me and cut the pound cake into quarters, produced a dark green decanter and poured a cup of rum into the soup plate, then handed me a drinking glass full of whipped cream and wished us “Bon appetite”.


It was a wonderful meal, we had fantastic (and very friendly) service, delightful people-watching, and it was also fortunate that our apartment was two doors down the street after wine with dinner and rum with dessert.

And evidently wedding anniversary #26 is the French restaurant anniversary. If I could, I’d make reservations for #27 right now.

Home again, home again

Back from Paris, still unpacking and doing laundry. Yesterday it was disconcerting that everyone in the grocery store spoke English and today I keep patting at my pockets, missing the familiar shape of our passports. By tomorrow most of the “re-entry syndrome” will have worn off. Until then, I have pictures.

We lived out our week at #40 Rue Jean Pierre Timbaud. It’s a nice, normal neighborhood with lots of motor scooters and old men arguing on the corner. Our block had a pharmacy, a “tabac”, a bar with good food, a five-star restaurant, a take-out place, a smarmy pizza joint, and a motorcycle dealership. Yeah, we could have lived there. No problem.

Lunch in our tres tiny apartment: quiche a la legumes, “jambon” sandwich, apricot tart and the ubiquitous bottle of vin ordinaire.


Looking out the window eastward on an overcast morning. The awnings on the “v” belong to Les P’tites Indecises, a wonderful little restaurant where we translated a menu item as “crunchy chicken tandoori”. I had to try it – turned out to be chicken tandoori as a fried spring roll. It was incredible.

view to the east

Looking toward the west. . .Curious about how many apartments in that building? Count up the chimney flues.


Next post – dinner at Astier, just underneath this window.

Paris Botanical Garden

I sat down to write a post on the tradition of burying one’s heart separately from one’s body – no, really – and was then distracted by the opportunity to visit Le Jardin des Plantes. Thank heavens, right? Turns out the gardens are right down the #5 Metro from our apartment, it’s a beautiful April afternoon, and admission is free.  I couldn’t resist.

So, this post is dedicated to SP, ChK, LF, KW, CT, and all my other  friends who commiserate with me about the poor dirt and harsh climate where we garden in Maine. Take a look at what 28 hectares of managed soil, mild weather, and 400 years can do.

avenue gran

They’re a bit further on into spring than we are, too.


This is their Sargent Crab. This Japanese variety is notable for nearly horizontal branching.  I have one of these too – the trunk caliper on mine is about two inches.

Sargent crab

I remembered the French for bee – Apis – and had a halting conversation with one of the staff about apis and miele (honey). They don’t have hives at the Gardens because too many visitors are allergic, but they have begun to foster orchard mason bees and other wild pollinators with “bee hutches”.

bee hutch

I wandered around in the conservatories for a while, past figs, bananas and date palms, through the orchids and into grasses and succulents. At one point I had the whole place to myself; I guess it was just too nice a day to be inside even in a place like this.



I found “Jardin de Roches” on the map and correctly translated it as a rock garden. I was expecting dry succulents and small arid plantings, but this turns out to be a very nice garden filled with very big rocks. Specimens from the Mineral Bibliotech that are too large (way too large) are arranged out of doors here with polite signs asking visitors not to sit on them.

rock garden

Beds of poppies were everywhere. The staff will begin to dig them out and replace them with summer plantings next week, as the roses begin to leaf out in the alles. Later this year they’ll be installing webcams so that, although we have to leave tomorrow,  I’ll be able to check in on the new plantings.






Full Persian

Quite a few people have advised us not to do too much of the Louvre in one day and we’ve taken that to heart. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to resist going to as many museums as possible during daylight hours. Today we went to Musee d’Orsay, the Petit Palais, and Cathedral Saint Merri.  I’d never heard of the Cathedral – it’s not even on our map – but Paris is the kind of place where the immense 500 year old building is so beautiful you have to walk right in.

The Petit Palais was built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition and became a museum in 1902. It has an amazing facade, an exceptional collection (I love Bougeureau, so sue me), and the gardens are outstanding.

persian gardens entrance

The gardens are described as “Persian” and have the ornate geometric pools, mosaic tile floors and potted palms you might associate with that geography. The plantings are designed to be very hardy while appearing exotic: euphorbia, bergenia, and yucca grow beneath crabapple and ornamental pears. Pampas grass is planted as a background, but it also provides a hedge divider – I’ve never thought of cutting it back like this. I can’t wait to try this out in my gardens.grass hedge

The immense roof line adds scale and is lavishly decorated with, well, boats. I have no idea why – Paris hasn’t struck me as very nautical so far but we’re headed across the Seine tomorrow and perhaps we’ll find out?

ships of stoneA golden metal garland hangs between the portico pillars – I imagine it’s very festive when the vegetation is dormant. Something else to think about in the home garden, should you have a portico? I couldn’t get a good photo, but the ceiling of the portico is painted with a fresco of vines and medallions featuring the Months of the Year by Paul Baudouin, a student of Puvis de Chavannes.

golden garland

When we get home I plan to go “full Persian” on the gardens. Meanwhile, I’m trying hard to resist replacing the dead geraniums in the window box of our apartment. Maybe tomorrow we’ll pass a Fleuriste and I’ll succumb to temptation.

our windowbox

Addendum of Things I Have Learned in Paris

  • A forecast for rain here means that it will shower periodically and everyone will become attractively tousled. Then the sun will come out briefly, followed by clouds, and the cycle begins again. In addition, everyone here looks good in a wet t-shirt.
  • The French are courteous, friendly, and enthusiastic about visitors to their city. I hate to spill the beans given how hard they must have worked on that haughty image throughout history, but none of it is true. They will patiently try to understand my lousy, halting French and they will praise my husband’s better version. They will apologize for switching to English. They will give us directions home when we’re lost (quite often) and tell us (slowly and clearly) where to get coffee. They may be trying to kill us with espresso and pastry, but I’m strangely fine with that.

Reality check

I’m using a “Streetwise” map of Paris, and it’s wonderful. It has just enough detail to be useful without being overwhelming, it seems to be very accurate (we’ve only gotten lost by not consulting it), and it’s laminated which has come in handy more than once.


I was remarkably slow, however, in learning that when a building takes up two square inches on my little tiny map it means that building is huge. Gargantuan. The biggest pile of carved rocks you have ever imagined, times two. The Louvre? Is huge. We’ve spent the better part of two days there now and several docents have nodded graciously in recognition at seeing us in the French painting galleries multiple times, but we’ve only just begun to see what is enclosed in that space.

BoucherThis is the Lion Gate.

lion gate

I couldn’t get anything in the photo for scale because the lion is on a 10′ plinth. And he’s huge.