These two exhibition halls are right across Avenue Winston Churchill from each other at the foot of the Champs Elysee. We seem to see an exhibit at one or both on every trip to Paris. This time, we saw two: Rouge, about art and culture after the Russian Revolution, and La Luna, about the 1969 moon landing. The latter was all the more fitting, as in the summer of 1969, Nancy Berry (Tanner) and Debbie Cristman (McMullen), along with classmates Cathy Simon (Trebelhorn) and Jane Hiller (Farran), toured Europe on $5 a Day .
In England, Debbie veered off from the group after meeting a charming young Englishman, Jeremy McMullen, one of the most thoughtful and fun people I have ever met, and certainly one of the best traveling companions. Debbie apparently thought so, too, as she later made her life with Jeremy in England. Fortunately for me, Nancy returned to the US.
On Friday morning, Debbie took the train from London and joined us. She dropped her bag at the hotel and we set off across the Île Saint-Louis, had a coffee (or tea or lait chaud) at Le Flore en l’île, a wonderful (if pricey) place to sit and gaze at the work on the east end of Notre Dame. Then off by stages to the Grand Palais. At Debbie’s suggestion, we ate at Le Minipalais. Always listen to Debbie McMullen.
What a lovely place to eat lunch! Le Minipalais is beautiful. It’s on the second floor (the US second floor, aka the first floor (above street level in Europe) of the Grand Palais. You enter from the southeast corner and are swept into a large dining room with, oh, 18- or so foot ceilings and a huge wall hanging covering the north end of the room. Le Minipalais was full of people speaking in hushed tones, all dressed nicely — lots of suits and nice casual outfits. It was a sharp contrast with the streets of Paris where everyone seemingly was dressed, well, for lounging about the house on a Saturday, or perhaps for painting the interior. Le Minipalais also has a terrace overlooking Avenue Winston Churchill, the Petit Palais, and the sans culottes on the street below. The terrace was full, so we ate inside.
Service was excellent, friendly in a very dignified way. We were greeted with very good bread and even better popovers.
Along with a full menu, Le Minipalais offers two formules — starter and main choices — at lunch. One was salmon salad followed by a parmentier with beef braised in red wine for 20€ The other was gazpacho followed by a duck leg confit with “pommes Salardaise” for 29€. Nancy and Debbie chose the salmon and parmentier, and I was all over the duck, not really caring what Salardaise meant. I had a glass of Sancerre, because Sancerre.
The salmon salad was very nice.
The salmon salad was well seasoned, a nice, light starter with a good refreshing flavor.
The gazpacho was even lighter. The waiter produced a bowl with a mound of avocado surmounted by a thin crouton and a small lettuce leaf. Into the bowl he poured a bottle of gazpacho. Nice.
The gazpacho was very good, having been made with real tomatoes, not the pink baseballs we get in the supermarket. How many things are better than real tomatoes? The gazpacho was delicious.
So much for light. Things hefted up with the plats. First the parmentier.
For the uninitiated, parmentier means covered or mixed with mashed potatoes. Here you can catch a glimpse of the beef beneath the potatoes.
Nancy loved the mashed potato cap. Mashed potatoes are great in France, and these were a step above even that high level. The beef also was delicious — I checked — but the dish was more and heavier than Nancy really needed.
The duck. Oh, that I had Anacreon’s lyre! Duck confit is one of Humanity’s great inventions: duck cooked in duck fat. And the potatoes were delicious. Absolutely delicious. They were very simple: sliced potatoes, garlic, and duck fat. Nothing else. Potatoes adore duck fat. Be on the lookout for french fries cooked in duck fat. If you see them in a restaurant, give me a call.
Le Minipalais is a lovely place to eat. The food is very good and the price is quite reasonable for what you get. Go there.
And go to whatever exhibitions are on at one or both Palais. I enjoyed both exhibits. La Luna was a mixture of the details of the moon landing (Neil Armstrong wore an analog watch!), travel to the moon in popular culture, and perspectives of the moon in art through time.
Rouge was fascinating on many levels. There was little of the socialist realist art I expected. Rouge was more a reflection of the thought of the regime and the steps the Bolsheviks took to remake society. Intellectuals designed clothes for workers to wear (everyone was a worker, so worker=person), exercise regimes for workers, and Frank Gehry-ish buildings in which workers would live, complete with communal wardrobes and communal petty cash. The early films were fascinating. It closed with the Cult of Stalin — for example, a film, set after Lenin been shot in 1918, in which Lenin positively fawns over Stalin. And this priceless painting of the friendly and loving Stalin among his people.
What a guy.
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