Archive for the ‘Montmartre’ Category

Dinner and a Show: Chez La Mère Catherine in Montmartre

March 18, 2012

The place du Tertre on a warm Friday evening

The ETs willingly succumb to the charm of Montmartre , despite the wild throngs of tourists in search of Utrillo and other starving artists from it”s golden years.  Hoping to get a sense of neighborhood life on the butte, Melinda and I made the climb one evening, after the tour busses departed.

We wandered around looking in shops and admiring village architecture masked by windows hawking teeshirts and Monet-themed umbrellas. It wasn’t long before we were hungry, with nothing to guide us but posted menus and the apparent satisfaction of patrons on the terraces.

Dining in Montmartre can be a hit-or-miss proposition.  On past visits, I avoided the central place du Tertre which is overrun by the aforementioned crowds.  But we were hungry, and somehow the crazy circus of passers-by fit our mood, so we decided to give it a try.

A Montmartre tradition

We found an outdoor table at Chez La Mère Catherine on the perimeter of the action, and got to work immediately by ordering our first bottle.  Wine is welcome at any meal in Paris, but mandatory for an evening in Montmartre.

A table for two was all we needed

It turns out that we made a fine choice.  Chez La Mère Catherine has been dishing up frogs legs, pork confit and crêpes suzette since 1793.  Opening a restaurant in the midst of the revolutionary Reign of Terror demonstrates a commendable optimism on the part of Mère Catherine.  And it was optimism well placed.  Her restaurant has outlasted two French Republics, the Paris Commune, the Second Empire, the Siege of Paris, the Nazis and the introduction of the Euro.

It is said that during the Battle of Paris in 1814, some invading Cossacks slipped off to Montmartre for a taste of Paris nightlife and made their way to La Mère Catherine.  Out on the town without the knowledge of their senior officers, the soldiers had alot to do in a short time. Between rounds, they yelled “Bistro! Bistro!” (Hurry! Hurry!) and coined the term.   The ETs feel justified when they can learn history while dining out in Paris, and here we find that Mère Catherine was right in the midst of it all!

Relaxed and dishevelled with toasts all round. The magic of La Mère Catherine transported the ETs

Once our attentive waiter advised us on dinner, we settled back to watch the show unfold.  Before us went groups of kids out for a Friday night, befuddled tourists swept along by the crowd and hungry portrait artists in search of paying subjects. This was better than the Lido, and cheaper too.  I don’t mind the Montmartre crowds when I am a drinking spectator with dinner on the horizon.

Tasty marinated pork isn't terribly photogenic

At last our meal was served.  Melinda chose tender pork marinated in cider with potatoes lyonnaise that were fine.  I had the ever-popular beef bourguignon with pasta and a grilled tomato that was adequate and filling.  Our satisfaction rose with the arrival of a gâteau au chocolat with crème anglaise  and raspberry coulis.

Fit for a Cossack - beef bourguignon and some puzzling pasta

Mère Catherine is a purveyor of standard cuisine and on that count, she delivers.  This wasn’t a Michelin meal.  But dear Readership, consider the balmy evening breeze, the checkered tablecloth, the warbling chanteuse accompanied by a rickety old piano, the entertainment in the place du Tertre and the warm goodwill engendered by the wine.  Clearly, you can have a delightful night out in Montmartre.

Popular lore claims that it was here that the revolutionary Danton wrote “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die”.  That was far more likely in Paris of 1793 if you were a fleeing aristocrat with the family jewels sewn into your seams.  Yet the ETs agree we could fare worse than to make our final stop at Chez La Mère Catherine to enjoy the ambiance over a leisurely, satisfying meal before the guillotine falls.

What might Danton have made of the raspberry coulis? Vive la France!

The “No Wine Left Behind” Tour

April 15, 2011

No Wine Left Behind: ETs Melinda and Julie working hard on behalf of the Blog

The Experienced Travelers can authoritatively state that a crisp côtes du rhône on a sun-filled cafe terrace in the Place Saint-André des Arts is the recommended treatment for cobblestone-worn feet.  And a carafe is even better. Associate ET Melinda and I had five fantastic days in Paris, while Nurse enthusiastically directed our activities from home base.  Melinda is every bit her mother’s daughter, and having her along was like Virtual Nurse throughout the trip.

St. Agricola of Avignon, the French patron saint of good weather, smiled on us with buckets of warm sun.  Thus the Parisians were in good spirits, and well-disposed toward tourists like us who leaked euros wherever they went.  Adding to the climate, Melinda’s glowing Texas charm melted the cool French demeanor and raised our cachet all across town.

Nurse supernaturally knew when it was meal time. We reported dutifully on this omlette and goat cheese salad

We went everywhere (one of us in stylish wedgie sandals) and photographed like mad. Nurse carefully monitored our pictures via Dropbox to make sure they were perfect for the Readership. Under strict direction from Nurse’s texts (what r u eating?) we documented every meal, so there are several scrumptious posts in our future! 

Melinda claims I am a travel taskmaster, but that just isn’t true!  It’s perfectly reasonable that, on our jet-lagged day, we breakfasted on the Rue Cler and tried the first macaron in our Taste Test, hit the Bon Marché food hall, shopped the rue de Sèvres and visited the chic new Hermes store, stopped for a pick-me-up and people-watching at the Café Flore and explored the rue Montgoreuil market for the second macaron in our Taste Test at Strohrer.

The dreaded cobblestones tested the ET endurance

After a short metro ride, we genuflected before E. Dehillerin and bought lovely new knives, tried fresh oysters and a crisp vintage at Au Pied du Cochon, passed the construction site over Les Halles, made our way to happy hour at a faux-Mexican bar on the rue de Bucci and had a light dinner of an omlette and a chevre chaud salad (with wine, n’est pas) at the Café Danton.  Taskmaster?  Moi? 

Over the next four days, we had Paris at our feet – which we would have realized if we had any feeling left in them. Early on, we ordered wine at every opportunity.  By the end of Day 1, we consumed 14 glasses between us.  By mid-day 2, we invoked emergency ET legislation requiring us to drink Perrier every other round. Yet by the time we dined in Montmartre that evening, we passed an amendment suspending the Perrier rule after sundown.  As we toasted the throng in the Place du Tertre,  the portrait artists lured willing subjects and the lady inside warbled Piaf songs to a piano accompaniment.  Exquisite.

Toasting the crowds in the Place du Tertre

Watch for more reports on our Parisian sojourn in future posts!

La Vie Boheme in Montmartre

November 30, 2010

Above Paris - Montmartre offers vertigo sufferers a rooftop view

When the ETs get into a bohemian mood, they don their berets and fingerless gloves and climb the hill to Montmartre.  At the turn of the 20th century, it was the hub of artistic life, cabarets and shady dealing.  Today Montmartre is a magnet for tourists in search of “Amelie”, and pickpockets in search of the tourists.    

On a sunny weekend, this square will brim with sightseeing hordes.

Two earlier visits on sunny weekends were absolute hell;  huge crowds filled narrow streets, leaving the ETs mortally bruised by free-swinging Nikons and “I ♥ Paris” shopping bags.  The headwaiters were delighted. The ETs vowed “never again”.  We plan our Montmartre sightseeing for mid-week, preferably in a drizzle. 

Nurse surveys the artists in the Place du Tertre for the occasional gem

The Place du Tertre is the epicenter of madness on the butte.  Nurse will examine the artists wares, but hasn’t found the “next Picasso”.  It doesn’t deter the ETs from taking out battered sketch pads and looking artistic.

The Lapin Agile, a cabaret known to entertain dubious characters, anarchists and assasins.

Same view, circa 1880

There are still reminders of the freewheeling days when Picasso, Utrillo and Satie wrote, painted, drank  and fought in neighborhood.  The cabaret Le Lapin Agile is largely unchanged since it opened in the 1830s.  The ET’s were ready to liberate their eccentricities, drink shots and sing in bad French.  But alas, it was closed.   

View from the Musee de Montmartre. Were there once nuns working a vinyard out there?

View from the Musee de Montmartre. Were there once nuns working a vinyard out there?

Further up the hill, the odd little Musee de Montmartre documents the history of the butte and showcases the works of Maurice Utrillo and his mother, Suzanne Valadon. 

The paintings were nice, but we remember best the story of Les Dames de Montmartre.  Just after the Revolution, these talented wine-making nuns started the ball rolling by selling tax-free bottles.  We have the Sisters to thank for the strolling accordion players and 7-euro glasses of plonk. 

Sacre Coeur - When you are taking in the view from the famous steps, beware of pigeons overhead. I caution you from experience...

Flush with historical knowledge, the ETs followed the crowds to the steps of the  Basilica of Sacre-Coeur.  The white “wedding cake” church was consecrated in 1919, and it’s unusual style has been controversial ever since.  From the Basilica steps, the view over Paris is splendid.

Bohemian ETs opt for Alsatian fare in Montmartre

Hungry from our artistic ventures we went in search of sustenance.  Nurse assessed restaurants on the quality of their gardens, so we settled on an outdoor table at Chez Plumeau.  As the sky cleared overhead, we enjoyed choucroute, sausages and a bottle of reisling, toasting the artistic spirit of old Montmartre. 

Who needs a funicular! Nurse celebrates her ascent.

No visit to Montmartre is complete without character-building suffering that awakens our bohemian spirit.  Nurse favors trekking the long, steep stairways that line the hill.   I prefer the pain of the souvenier shops.  In Montmartre, we both grow artistically, each in our own special way.

The Place du Tertre "after hours"

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