Midnight Supper In Paris

photo: market street

All you need for your feast is on a market street.

Two of Them, Plus Lunches

Paris:- Wednesday, 20. December 2000:- Wherever you are in the world, in any of the 75 to 85 countries where this will possibly be read, you might either be wishing you will be having your Christmas in Paris or you are planning how it will be.

The French and the Parisians have a slight advantage over you. They are already here. But more than this, they are mostly 'en famille.' This means they are going to have their 'fête' at home, either with their immediate family or with the whole bunch - aunts, uncles, cousins nieces, nephews, grandparents, in-laws and great grandparents.

This translates into 'réveillon,' which actually means the midnight supper held after Christmas Eve's midnight mass, or the one at New Years. Since fêtes for either or both only happen once a year, they are pretty big deals.

Generally, these supper parties are done two ways - old fashioned, with all the traditional fare, or completely modern - which means with no tradition at all. The second one could be done with pizza in Morocco or in Bangkok and nobody would notice the difference.

I'm going to assume you are interested in the traditional 'fête' - but one 'sans famille' becausephoto: variety of oysters you are dreaming of Paris without including 23 near and distant French relatives.

If it's winter and it's Christmas, then it's definitely oyster and shellfish season.

Before I get into details, I need to make it clear that I am personally 'sans famille' this year, I am too broke to afford any of this 'fête' - and even if I could, I have a fractured knee so I would be disinclined to go out for it. All the same, this is a true report - based on two decades of living in France - but this year it is largely theory.

While I may contemplate the question of who will wash the dishes after a mini-splurge on half of a take-out roast chicken, many Parisians have been planning their 'réveillons' since the last one ended, or at least since the end of the summer holidays.

Most of the time, most of the French eat with economy - if they do not actually get most of their foodstuffs from the frozen food lockers of supermarkets or giant hypermarchés. Partly this is because it is handy, and partly because it is less costly - which allows the budget for 'réveillon' to be stocked up.

Whether in a restaurant or at home, a typical 'réveillon' or Christmas Day menu could be something like like this:

It starts with some nibbles. These could consist of fine nuts, but this part of the meal is likely to be the most 'experimental' - so perhaps something exotic is substituted, like 'dips' with carrot sticks or industrial crackers. When I last looked, ready-made 'dips' themselves were not availablephoto: chapon, mercedes of chickens in France - so they may be home-made; This is okay so long as there is real garlic in them.

But more often the 'nibbles' are smoked salmon or toast and caviar. Salmon from Scotland or the Baltic can cost 300 francs a kilo, which is nothing compared to the six or 7000 francs a kilo for caviar. While this high-life is on the table, Champagne should be in the glasses.

Slightly less costly than foie gras, these fat chapons are ready to go - into an oven.

I always forget exactly where the foie gras enters the picture, but I think it should be about here. This is about 400 francs a kilo for average quality, which is a bagatelle compared to 1500 francs and up for fancy stuff, or double for truffles - which are still a French bargain compared to imported caviar.

If it is the fête of fêtes, then huge escargots and some boudin blanc - both inexpensive, but appreciated all the same - could be squeezed in around here, to tide everybody over until the next course.

After these appetizers, it's time to get into oysters, lobster, hearts of Saint-Jacques or giant prawns - or shrimps if you prefer. With this, there should be enough cold and white Sancerre. Chablis or Alsatian Reisling can be substituted if you like either of them better than Sancerre.

Even though France has no Thanksgiving, there are plenty of turkeys here, and they are even served atphoto: vin de paille hermitage Christmas. Alternatives are poulard, pintade or chapon, as well as lamb and wild game.

While turkey can be had for 50 francs a kilo, chapon is the Mercedes-Benz of chickens - running around 350 francs a kilo.. Red burgundy seems to everybody's choice to go with the birds.

'Straw wine' is more expensive than many Champagnes.

By this time you might be feeling a bit dizzy so this is when some of France's cheeses are trotted out. Camembert, little Crottins of goat cheese, Comte, Roquefort are all candidates, but the photo shows a piece of Brie de Meaux, which costs a reasonable 28 francs for a piece. If glasses are dry by this stage, a splash of Côtes du Rhône in them won't hurt.

Traditionally the 'log' ends the orgy. The 'Bûche' can either be a very rich cake or ice cream. A bit of marzipan, or dates and figs, or even clementines from Spain could stretch the 'log' a bit. This is where a sweeter wine is needed; such as a port-like Banyuls or a Vin de Paille Hermitage.

Then have a café, perhaps with a bit of 'eau de vie' to pep it up, to aid contemplation about 'how sweet it is.'

The word 'or' is scattered around within the above 'menu.' You are not meant to have turkey and a Chapon during the same meal. There are two 'réveillons' to consider, plus Christmas Day and New Years Day - you need enough items to cover four meals in all, without eating the same thing - or any leftovers - all the time.

The following menu is proposed by 'Le Ciel de Paris,' located on the 56th floor of the Tour Montparnasse, for the 'réveillon' on Sunday, 31. December. The 2800 franc price includes dinner and the drinks that go with it, plus a live orchestra for dancing until dawn. This tower is the only viewpoint of New Years in Paris from which you can't see the Tour Montparnasse itself. InfoTel.: 33 1 40 64 77 67.

Saint-Jacques en coque rotie au beurre d'herbes en amuse-bouche
- with a glass of Champagne 'R' de Ruinart 1995
Queues de langoustines en gelé aux grains de caviar
- with Château de Meursault, 1996
Fricassée de homard à la citronnelle
- with Condrieu Guigal, 1998
Granité à la clémentine Corse et Mandarine Impériale
Filet de biche au Foie gras d'oie et truffes, garniture Saint-Hubert
- with Les Hauts de Smith, 1996
Vacherin du Mont d'Or et salade Lorette
- with Les Hauts de Smith, 1996
Gâteau du Nouvel An
- with a glass of Champagne Pommery, 1995

Another reason for including this menu and the price for the evening is - except for the drinks betweenphoto: round of brie dinner and dawn - it is inclusive. Many well-known and high-end places in Paris have offers for far less than the 'Le Ciel de Paris.' But they include only a token drink, and few have live music or dance floors.

For two, you need one piece. For more, take the whole wheel of Brie.

Orchestras and dance floors are less important for Christmas' 'réveillon' and gala meals on Christmas and New Years Days. Many places have excellent offers in the 1000 to 1500-franc range for these occasions.

In fact, for gala meals alone, prices can be as low as 200 francs; not including drinks. The famous Café de la Paix near the Opéra - the Palais-Garnier version - is charging 350 francs for either 'réveillon' or Christmas Day, as well as offering a lunch on New Years Day for 380 francs. Drinks are not included here either, so simply double your budget unless you intend to drink only water. InfoTel.: 33 1 40 07 30 12.

if you are arriving in Paris within the nextphoto: chocolates few days, ask for 'Pariscope's Special Fêtes' edition at any news kiosk. Although many of the places listed in it are also advertisers, many of these are well-known and their offers are real. This special edition of 'Pariscope' costs 9.50 francs.

And while you are at it, pick up a few irresistable 'pièces de resistance.'

There will be plenty of places open with special menus. With Christmas being a family affair, but sure to remember that the waiters or waitresses serving you probably have families too. It won't hurt to show your appreciation regardless of what you've heard about tips being 'included.'

Add them to your budget. You are only going to spend one season in your life - passing from the 2nd to the 3rd millennium - in Paris. This makes me think maybe I should get a whole chicken.

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logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini