Monday, February 23, 2009

Nature and the Chase

As part of our never ending tour of parisian museums we dropped by the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Hunting and Nature Museum) in the Marais. This was my second time around, and I loved it as much as the first. I'm going to go out on a limb by stating that there is no other museum in Paris that is as intelligently and imaginatively executed as this one. The emphasis is less on the objects themselves, but more on the synthesis between concept, history, science and culture. Another important element is the integration of the architecture. The museography, designed by Frédérique Paoletti & Catherine Rouland, makes no delineation between architecture and object, nor amongst various artistic genres or medium. This is how I understand European museums to be at their best and most modern, when there is a unique mix of diverse elements and time periods.

The visit takes you through various themed rooms, such as the Wild Boar Room, and little niches called cabinets, my favourite being the Cabinet Rubens (the ceiling is a trippy composition of owl heads and feathers). The collection is housed in a mid-17th century hôtel particulier, L'Hôtel de Guénégaud, which is the property of the City of Paris. The museum itself is operated by the Sommer Foundation, created by François et Jacqueline Sommer who were not only hunting enthusiasts but also passionate about the stewardship of the natural environment. Indeed there is a varied mix of emphasizing the value of wildlife, and, well, instruments with which to kill them. But, interestingly enough it works.

Each room contains a cabinet containing information regarding the namesake animal. They are full of technical, and cultural facts and curiosities. This cabinet on the wolf houses prints embossed into bronze, water colours, replica glass eyes, a looking glass onto the natural environment of the wolf, poems with a wolf theme, and examples of wolf droppings.

Some architectural details. Nothing off the shelf here.

Animal information card, just like in the Dewey decimal card system (yeah, you know what I'm talking about).

A little niche art diorama with crane sticking beak into cutout of fox. Do you see all the cast positives of the fox? There were no less than 7 micro spots designed to create that effect...

There is a great deal of fawning over this museum whenever I mention it to fellow museum enthusiasts. But for some odd reason it is never packed to the gills like the others. This, for someone who lives in Paris, is a gift. No pushing around, plenty of seating, lot's of meditative silence. It is a place to find some peace with a particular, and beautiful, perspective of nature.

My favourite moment, zzzzz.....

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gare St. Lazare

Few words, just a series of photos I took at the Gare St.Lazare a while ago, which is on the verge of a major renovation...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Because we're nerds

It will probably come as no surprise that we visit a lot of museums in and around Paris when we have the time. As a museum capital we have a fine selection of every type of museum one can think of, from the small and eccentric (Museum of Cast Teeth) to the grandiose and internationally renown (Louvre, well, did I need to even mention that?). This weekend we went to see the Galerie de Paléontologie et Anatomie Comparée a building constructed at the beginning of the 20th century by Frederic Dutert, situated by the Jardin des Plantes.

Really, this is one of my favourite types of museums. When you walk in you feel as if you entered into a great cabinet of curiousities where the animals are on the loose. It's the stuff you imagine in films (as you can tell the place is extremely photogenic). The exhibits don't look like they've been touched in a hundred years but manage to still maintain a modern dynamic feel about them. The details of everything from the exhibit stands to the vitrines to the handrails are exquisite and just as interesting as the numerous skeletons, preserved organs, and fossils on display.

A place like this draws you in, walking around taking in the smells (dusty, worn wood stain, slight camphor) the light (large windows at a clerestory height allowing in abundant natural daylight on the first floor and a skylight for diffused light on the second floor), and the sound of floorboards underfoot...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Not just pickled fish and dark breads

Dining in København was delightful. I shouldn't say I was expecting to eat badly, but I can't say that I had high expectations either. Well, what a delight to be proven that my pessimism was unjustified. The Danish cuisine we had was excellent. The ingredients were always fresh, the presentation was aesthetically pleasing, service was professional and smily. It seems that the Nordic countries, namely Denmark, Norway and Sweden, have entered a sort of culinary renaissance for a while now. There is an extreme enthusiasm to rejuvenate traditional cuisine with influences culled from all over the world, ideas brought back from chefs who have gone abroad and returned home. In turn they have created culinary hybrids like smushi (a cross between a smørrebrød, the Danish open faced sandwich, and sushi), found at the Royal Café... the more conceptual and experimental cuisine at the restaurant Geranium, situated by the lovely Rosenborg Have, a picturesque park in the city centre. The restaurant is headed by Chef Rasmus Kofoed who in 2005 won bronze and in 2007 won silver in the Bocuse D'Or (the Biannual Chefs World Championship in Lyon) and Søren Ledet, a friend and colleague who worked with Mr. Kofod when he was at another fabled Danish restauarant, Noma. At any rate they are creating some fine culinary moments at Geranium, very much in the spirit of El Bulli. Lot's of bubbles, gels, organic produce and poetry.

ok, less talk, more foodie photos.

The ambiance at Geranium is tranquil, super chill, we were definitely feeling the hygge.

The amuse gueule was comprised of 2 savoury marshmallow-like morsels. I believe there were little nuggets of bacon throughout. On the side we were served paper thin sheets of a sort of rye bread. I savoured my marshmallow, B downed his like it was a big peanut.

Appetizer of lobster soup (poured at the table) with tiny portions of lobster meat, raw shaved carrots and diced carrot confit. Plus alfalfa like sprouts as garnish for good measure. Now isn't that a handsome bowl! I would also like to point out that the spoons were marvelously designed, with a slightly extended lip to rest on the diner's lip when tipping the soup back into one's mouth. Ah, the Danes and their design sensibility.

Next up, and explained by (in french) the very chef who had prepared it, was a dish of lobster pieces (done up 3 ways), plus some morsels of venison, walnut pieces, thin medallions of wild Danish apples at the base, covered by a sheet of subtly infused apple gelatin, topped with young pea shoots, dollops of some mysterious cream, mystery jeunes pousses, and apple blossom petals. B and I had no idea how to eat this dish. Do you eat everything off the top first? Do you go for all layers at once? Do you eat in a clock-wise or counter clock-wise motion? So we asked the opinion of the chef. In response he shrugged his shoulders and answered, "oh, well, whatever feels most comfortable". So we just massacred this poor masterpiece. It tasted like a spring pasture by the sea.

B and I diverged on the selection of our next dish. He went for surf and I went for turf, as usual.

This dish was envisioned by the chefs as a walk on the beach. A cold Nordic beach. So from what I recall the dish consisted of a white fish (turbot?), wrapped in a light silky seaweed, on a bed of white savoury foam, and covered with poached pearl onions, mystery orange berries, and an assortment of sea plants. On the side there was a bowl of frothed potatoes and golden fried potato chip flakes. Looked gorgeous, though I preferred my plate over his.

A thick medallion of venison wrapped with a melting sheet of animal fat (I know, doesn't sound appetizing, but it's a common technique for a french dish whose name escapes me at the moment), chanterelle mushrooms, blackberry, thin slices of beets, plus beets 2 ways, and a frothing mound of potatoes and potato chip flakes. Imagine the aromas and textures of a slight fruity tea like sweetness, slight saltiness, and the smooth melting venison. mmmmm.....

Next up was the cheese course, which was, well, sadly lacklustre. Pitting most countries against France in the cheese department is formidable and daunting. Danes simply do not have the same affinity for cheese the French do. As our server explained to us the Danes prefer their cheese mild. So no photo for this course, which was pleasent enough but not memorable.

Our dessert was by far the most entertaining dish I've ever been served (well, with the exception of a condor carved from one very large eggplant in Peru). We were served a ball of white meringue encasing a very "fresh" (perhaps it was lemon?) tasting gelato with a centre of chewy melting caramel. But the best part was the gold bowl of small pine branches and bubbling vapour they set on the table. The bubbling liquid heated the pine so it set off a very pleasant warm forest scent. Who is allowed to have this much fun coming up with these fun ideas in the kitchen?!

As with all good things our meal came to end, with a delicious latte and mignardises of caramels and a traditional Danish licorice, all soft, black and spongy.

After our relaxing meal we ran to the metro to be late for the concert at the new concert hall by Nouvel, and then to later on be stuck in a malfunctioning elevator. But that's another story.....All in all we loved Copenhagen and we will be back.