Restaurants

Frankly France

My boss is French. My skip-level is French. And I think I’m becoming a closet francophile, but NOT because of them. We had an offsite.

In Lyon, France.

For those not in the know — which, until about a week ago, included yours truly — Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. I was there for 4 days and gained approximately 1 pound per day, and so we can all acknowledge that this was due to the fantastic food. I ate everything and then some, and in a country where bread is served at every meal (and contains only the classic ingredients — none of this corn syrup business or dough conditioners, thank you very much), this was no small feat. Oh, and the wine.

The Wine!

As I stated, my bosses (plural) are french. And so when it came time for wine to be decided, the menu was handed to them, and after a studied reflection of the menu and nonverbal cues between them, they’d summon the wait staff and give them the cursory order. In French. In other words, I couldn’t understand a bit, and so I can’t repeat what they ordered, but everything tasted wonderful. (In the states I eschewed French wines as “dusty” — not a speck of it in France. Not sure what is up with that!)

I see I’m babbling. Let me go at it chronologically:

After a day of travelling — Seattle to Heathrow, Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle, CDG to Lyon via train — I checked into my hotel (the Radisson Blu, which has unparalleled views in Lyon and quite the nice breakfast!). It was 10pm at this time, and the short walk from the train station allowed me to see the perfect pinks and oranges of the sun as it set. Bracing myself for “French disdain of the American”, I asked the concierge downstairs for restaurant recommendations.

I was presented in a charming and friendly manner with a map, highlighted directions, and two options: did Madame want something “safe”, or did Madame want something traditionally Lyonnaise? Madam indicated Lyonnaise, because I am not about to let a little jet lag in the way of Madame’s sense of adventure. A right from the hotel, and then the next right, and then a left, down two blocks: I found myself at a not-very-distinguishable bistro on a cobblestoned lane.

I was one of 3 tables at that time: a french couple having a romantic dinner, a set of Americans doing their best to keep all sorts of boisterous clichés in place, and then, well, me. The waiter switched to nearly-flawless English (and not in a disdaining way) when he discovered my French was non. He did want to make sure I understood what I was ordering as I was picking it out of a French menu but fortunately French is a Latin-based language and I can understand it just fine, I can’t speak it. Anyway, chicken with mushrooms and a side of ratatouille, and an okay bordeaux was dinner. It was beautiful (hey Kevin — the ratatouille was WAY better than that one we did, so we may need to revisit that at one of the HP get togethers), and then there was dessert.

Oh yes I did. I’m sorry, but my weight loss programme does not extend beyond the borders of the US, and so tarte tatin it was, and it was AMAZING. That, and coffee in a little demitasse cup.

Sated, I went back to my room… and woke up promptly at 5am. With the local gym not open until 8am, and no power converter (the three that I had brought with me did not work, and the person in charge of adapters at the hotel was not in until 9), I went for a run. Lyon is an excellent place to run — the walkways are wide, it’s mostly flat, and you cannot help but look at amazing architecture, beautiful scenery, and it’s cool in the morning even on a summer day. I only did about 4km — the knee is messed up again (that is another post for another time). However, it helped me feel better about the caloric intake of the night before.

I will say nothing of the meetings in Lyon that I was there for because they are proprietary to my company, with the exception that they were incredibly productive and useful. I was surprised because usually these sorts of things are endless power point decks and stifled yawns, but by day 3 we were still active and passionate about what we were doing, and had come to a better understanding of how each wheel works in this little clock of ours. I came home with 7 pages of notes.

At any rate, each day had breakfast in the hotel — oh, the cheese! — and a prearranged luncheon. Dinners were out on the town with the bosses, and that was where the careful wine menu scrutiny/ordering took place. Dinner conversation was equally as pleasantly a surprise as the meetings themselves: our party included two from Hong Kong, one from Amsterdam, two from London, the aforementioned two French, a few Americans, an Italian Australian, an Italian Italian, a Swede, and three from India (originally). I discovered many things, including that restaurant service and gratuity expectation/practice varies widely globally, that personal space in social situations does as well, and that the US is sorely behind in languages for its children. Case in point: my colleague from Amsterdam had mandatory Dutch and English until she was 10. Then French was added in. Two years later, so was German. She took Latin and Greek for fun.

(If you’re counting that as six languages, let’s take note that she knew a handful of words in other languages including Spanish and Italian).

At any rate: Lyon was pretty, with a variety of architectural styles but mostly consisting of the beige stucco/stonework and reddish-tan roofing, most buildings not exceeding 4 or 5 stories. We visited the local cathedrals (the two biggies, anyway), if I can get them off of my iPhone I will post pictures.

In short: Lyon is a 2-hour train from Paris and worth it.

As to Paris: I spent half of one day there (by the time I got the train and metro sorted out). In that half of a day I saw the Arc de Triomphe (larger than expected, and there were people at the top, which I hadn’t realized was possible), walked down the Champs-Elysees (endless shopping possibilities, but I’m not a shopper and people were thick — in both senses of the word), walked around the Louvre (not in it, I’m afraid, time being what it was), and down to Notre Dame (did walk in, it is GORGEOUS).  If you’ve ever seen the TV Miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, you will learn how they figured out how to make the heavy stone archways (and not have them pulled down by gravity and killing people, for example) or the architectural purpose of flying buttresses; and this makes the Notre Dame all the more impressive. That, and the realization that all of that lovely colored glass was done without chemicals — or not the way we think of them. For example, did you know that in order to get RED glass you need gold?

I didn’t make it to the Eiffel Tower, as I dawdled (dawdled??) in my walking — the architecture in Paris is AMAZING. You can tell the difference in building ages just by their accoutrements — who has gargoyles, who has scrollwork, what kind of columns were in fashion. Some buildings are relatively new — say, mid-1900’s– and about twenty feet wide, having been risen between two older buildings that formerly may have had garden space between the two. Cobblestone streets abound, and the smell of everything is in the air. I don’t know a better way to describe it, but I’m in love, I truly am.

My only dinner in Paris I had close to my hotel (Hotel Ampere, 17th arrondissement, absolutely beautiful in and out) and was a fixed-price with some choices. I sat outside, so as to watch the people walking by — I love people watching — and had a very leisurely dinner. The service was very friendly and attentive, I had to ask the people to my left — four older French people, two older couples — if tipping was okay or would elicit offense. I had to do this in Spanish as it was the only common language we had, their English being only fractionally better than my French. (I am not dissing them at all — at least they spoke another language! Never mind two. America, we need to catch up!) After some discussion, they agreed that the service was very good, and that leaving service (propina in spanish) was okay — in this instance. Of course she would not be offended, I just needed to realize this was only done when it was *really good*, not as a matter of course.

Morning came on my last day, with enough time for a quick breakfast and then 4 Metro lines (kinda like our subway system) to the RER train, back to my flight. In all, travel on my last day took 22 hours. I was very happy to see my bed.

I will be seeing France again though. I politely informed the male person this morning we are going back and spending some real-time there. He took it rather well.

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Culture!

Greetings from the dining room at McCaw Hall, where I am without a doubt the youngest person here. I have all my own teeth.

Flying solo as I am this evening it affords me the ability to play with my phone at the dinner table without offending anyone. This in turn offers camouflage whereby I can pretend I am at a loss for what to phone-type next and let my eyes wander and review my dining “companions”:
1. I am not the only Dona sola here: there are two others, but they are infinitely more secure because the are not fiddling with their phones.
2. There are a good deal of elderly couples… One and all are dressed nicely and appear to be having those comfortable conversations that long term couples do. (“Well I’m not sure I should have a martini… There are *two* intermissions.” “Say what was that martini we had the other day… Yes you do know what I’m talking about it was at that place… Of course you were there…”)
3. There is too the very rare four top.

Pardon the pause… You may not have noticed it but I had to load the WordPress app for the iPhone. Much better.

At any rate I am halfway through dinner and the dining room is quite full now, lively and loud. I am fighting the urge to join a conversation to my right. The couple next to me is wonderful: not cloying, at ease, happy and laid back. They are now apparently celebrating being debt free and she knows the origins of pasta puttanesca.

I am also now, in this new crowd, much more cheerfully anonymous.

More at the first intermission.

Screams and Scares and Pizookie Pie

Oh my. There are two things battling for Most Scary Aspect of Last Night: Maris Farms’ Haunted Woods, and my caloric intake.

BJ’s in Tukwila is known for good beer and pizookie pie (a large, warm cookie with a scoop of ice cream on top); the have this unfortunate aspect of their menu, however. Like most 1Up to Applebee’s type places (Cheesecake Factory, anyone?) they  have a menu that rivals a phone book, so that you actually spend time reading it. They should get Patrick Stewart or James Earl Jones to read it, I’m sure they could lend the proper gravitas to something as ubiquitous as a Cobb Salad. I digress…

At the end of the BJ’s menu, in very very small print, is the nutritional information (including horrifically realistic calorie counts) for everything you can get there. Having something as seemingly innocent as chicken pasta got me nearly four-figures in the hole, and the couple of glasses of wine followed up with most of a Cookies and Cream Pizookie Pie pretty much finished me. I’m fairly certain I’ve had enough calories to power me for the week. Scary, scary stuff.

Then we went to Maris Farms. Maris Farms is located out on the Sumner-Buckley Highway, and you just know as you exit the 410 E you aren’t in Kansas anymore. We were passed by a large red pickup truck with ANTLERS on either side of its rear-cab windows. ‘Nuff said.

The Haunted Woods at Maris Farms is ostensibly 30 minutes (not including line wait, which we didn’t have much of thanks to fast passes) and it feels longer. If you’re a screamer (Hi!) you will be hoarse at the end of it. If you’ve been there before, note that they do change it up — I went last I think 3 or 4 years ago, and there was definitely some novelty. The souvenir mud lining the base of my jeans and my black docs was part and parcel of the fun. This year it included dead bodies, zombies, ICP kids, hillbillies with chainsaws, ghosts, vampires, people being sawn in half, people being medically experimented upon, a weird set of walkways that make you feel like you’re being squeezed out of them, trick floors, pitch-black mazes, and people just scaring the hell out of you.

It is important to note that there are porta potties just outside the entrance and exit, but nothing midway.

I think I’m good for another 3-4 years.

Squeak

Ah, Billy. We hardly knew ye’.

Last night I had the dubious pleasure of seeing Mr. Corrigan musically masturbate at the SODO Showbox. Before that, let’s talk food.

Il Terazzo Carmine in Pioneer Square is tucked away behind first (you won’t find it if you’re looking for it on first, okay?) and, walking in, you have the feeling of someone being admitted into a very rarified world. A world of old looking dishes, tucked-away tables, and hand-penciled reservations. The waitstaff is there in a very ubiquitous and yet unobtrusive manner, and the menu is full of “oh but I LOVE that” items. You will have finally (after agonizing minutes) decide on what you want… until the waiter/tress comes with the specials of the day. Que indecision.

Everything was wonderful. Everything. The wine, the food, the dessert! But the height of awesomeness was not only delivered by the food and ambience, but the people watching.

Watching people is a very very fun past time of mine. In this case, several people arrived at several tables with several potential backstories. There were the aged trophy wives (doing quite well, thank you), and the buzzing socialites. It should not surprise me in the least to learn that million dollar business deals, or marriages, were contrived there. I, in my simple Gap Jeans and shirt, did not feel out of place. Nor would I in say, a DKNY suit or a BCBG dress. Food and ambience — both five star.

Hooterville was the next destination: aside from a stellar vodka tonic (which you could have lit on fire) and the ability to use leftover glassware to build some engineering feats (which made some people around me nervous, but hey if you can’t stand it move on bub) no comment. Peoplewatching: yes. Good booze: yes.

We got to the Showbox perfectly in time to watch Billy (aka “the Smashing Pumpkins”, with him as the only Pumpkin) on the stage. I will give him this: he didn’t have a hissy fit (or not much) and did finish an entire set. His bassist is crazy cute and talented, the drummer wasn’t half bad either. But after a relatively strong start, and after some declarations that he was in fact my own personal Jesus Christ, I got a little tired. After he kept stressing which music was “new” vs “not new” (something most of us could figure out, thanks, Bill) I got a little more tired. Entertaining vignettes included a dig at Courtney Love (a small riff of a Hole song and a statement about “classics” — it was cold, yo!) , the Asian Snooki-wannabe who needed physical help standing, the two guidos outside the club who were hitting on my friend (appropriately, as Ms.Krieant is hot) and failing horribly (appropriately, because their combined IQ was less than a bag of Chee-tos), and the towncar ride home with a very understanding driver (as in, OMG thank you for rescuing us from said Guidos who all but wanted our social security numbers).

Note to Guidos: when you tell me not to “judge” and I ask why using “judgement” is a bad thing, be prepared for an anthropological discussion on “judgement” vs. “rationalization” vs. “instinct”. Or prepare to shut up. We just exited a Smashing Pumpkins show, don’t bait me intellectually unless you are armed.