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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Afterglow


Although I've been back from my gustatory tour of Paris for a few days now, I find myself still wrestling with the temptation to book a plane ticket to return immediately.   Even on my last visit as a student, I found the city completely captivating -- much more so, in fact, than any of the other incredible European destinations that I explored on that same trip.   But this time around -- having acquired in the interim a significantly greater appreciation for fine cuisine -- I found Paris to be even more enchanting.   Indeed, as I came to realize on the long flight home, only one other city has ever taken hold of me so quickly and effortlessly, and that was San Francisco.

Over the course of my much-too-short trip, I sampled a lot of degustation menus, took a lot of pictures, and scribbled a lot of notes.   As I now wade through the process of sorting this all out, I'm also trying to take a step back to see things from a broader perspective -- one that includes, for the sake of comparison, our own high-end restaurant scene here in the Bay Area.   For this reason, I thought it might be interesting to bookend my Paris trip with meals at some of the Bay Area's best restaurants.   Accordingly, shortly before I left, I visited The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton;   the day after I returned, I dined at Fleur de Lys.

One of the benefits of sampling so many great restaurants in such a short period is that it tends to simplify the process of comparing them.   After all, it's much easier to compare tonight's meal with last night's than it is to contrast two meals experienced several months apart.   On the other hand, a significant drawback to the approach I took in Paris is the sheer number of dishes that I had to try to keep in my mind.   Before I could let the nine courses served to me by one chef seep fully into my memory, I found myself poring over an entirely new nine-course menu.   Sitting here today, while several dishes stand out as being particularly memorable, others are swimming around in my head temporarily dissociated from the restaurants at which they were served.   So perhaps you can understand why I guarded my notes, pictures, and copies of menus as carefully as I did my passport as I wound my way through airports and taxis to get back home!

Overall, I found the entire week to be extraordinarily educational, revealing a lot about culinary innovation, the state of fine dining, Michelin ratings, and even the Bay Area's restaurant scene.   In the coming days (or more likely, weeks), I'm going to walk you through each of the seven excellent meals that I enjoyed in Paris, sharing photos and impressions along the way.   After that, I'll wrap things up by describing some of the conclusions that I reached -- and the new perspectives that I acquired -- as a result of my fantastic week in France.

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