PARIS — Day 2. We met our tour guide for a historical overview of the city. There were no issues with translation because our guide, Alexandria, was an ex-pat from Nebraska. “What brought you to Paris,” I asked her. “Have you ever been to Nebraska?” she said.
We went by Notre Dame, stepped on the disk that designates the exact center of Paris, strolled by the Louvre and finished at Place de la Concorde standing on the spot where Marie Antoinette was behead. Alexandria related a particularly gruesome story that involved a sadistic executioner and the origin of the phrase “The third time’s a charm.”
So to lunch. We gathered around a table and mostly ordered starters or small plates in anticipation of our afternoon tour and the dinner beyond. (My bowl of chilled beans was refreshing and light, just what I needed after our long morning of walking.)
We stayed mainly in the 7th arrondissement, not too far from our hotel off Boulevard St. Germain. Our afternoon guide, Marie, showed us the Sweet Side of Paris, with chocolate shops, patissiers, more macarons, more chocolates and pastries. I set most of mine aside to try later; wouldn’t want to spoil my dinner at Jules Verne.
Jules Verne is the Alain Ducasse Michelin-starred restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower. After getting through security, our group walked the dusty gravel path —warning for freshly polished shoes and open-toed heels — to the pillar with the private designated elevator to take us to the restaurant. After going through another security check.
I had dined here only once before, when there were no security checks, but the date of that visit surely had something to do with today’s strictures.
I had lunch there the Monday after 9/11, when the world, including the French, was still stunned at what had happened in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.
Removed by 17 years, I wasn’t going to let past memories of the meal cloud this visit. We all got giddy as we stood beneath the massive landmark for pictures and as we rode the windowed elevator through the steel maze.
We had a wonderful table with a commanding view of the city. Though it was 8 p.m., the sun was still bright (it doesn’t get dark until well after 10 o’clock this time of year), so we could pick out all the monuments.
Our menu had been prearranged to begin with sparkling wine, Ducasse’s own brand, and sipped, nibbling on gougeres while we contemplated how the impractical chargers and impossibly slender flatware would be used. (They were just for show and removed before the food was served, though that long fork would have been a dandy olive picker.)
Dinner included a starter of Marinated Sea Bream with sorrel that tasted like the sea, but in a good way. A briny freshness on the palate. Served with a 2016 Condrieu from Lionel Faury.
It was followed by Preserved Duck Foie Gras, a mousse pate with cherries and almonds, paired with 2016 Savennières, Clos de Saint-Yves, Domaine des Maumard.
A wonderful 2012 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru from Xavier Monnot was poured with the course of Warm White Asparagus with Maltaise, a hollandaise finished with blood orange.
Next came the Langoustine, seared and served with young vegetables in an intense shellfish reduction.
Roasted Pigeon Breast was accompanied by white and green Swiss chard along with our first red wine, 2011 Pessac-Leognan from Chateau Carbonnieux.
Raspberry Shortbread with olive oil ice cream and Crispy Tower Nut finished the meal (along with assorted bonbons). Two desserts deserved two dessert wines, Domaine de l’Alliance 2013 Sauternes and Niepoort Porto Colheita, 2000.
At some point, the sun began to set and the sky turned the buildings in La Defense on the west side of town into dark silhouettes with a glowing burnt orange backdrop.
And at 11 o’clock the light show that sets the tower aglitter began. It was fun to see it from the inside.
And the elevator ride down gave another unique perspective as the steel beams, now a glowing golden, went by.
As we waited for our driver, we talked about the meal, and the consensus among the group was that the langoustine course was the best.
In the morning, after further contemplation, they all agreed that it was a once in a lifetime experience, mostly because they didn’t see the need to do it again. The setting is the draw of Jules Verne — the food, though good, and the service (spotty) don’t match it. (One observation about service: There are no jack stands for trays, so assistant waiters must stand just off the dining area and wait for the lead servers to fetch the food.)
I felt the same way after my meal there 17 years earlier. Our waiter back then showed a sense of humor — when he opened our bottle of wine he looked at the cork, sniffed it, then put it to his ear and shook it. Maybe it was his way of putting guests to ease in a place where pretentiousness is the expectation.
But it was the memory of that wine moment (for I remember little else about that first meal except that we were dining in another tall landmark) that made me realize that our lead waiter at this dinner was the same man.
As we left, I thanked him and told him I’d see him in another 17 years. But to be honest, I think that was my last time.
Next: A cooking class in Paris and dinner overlooking the Seine.