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As I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago, we made a reservation at Lucas Carton as our splurge 3-star restaurant experience during our visit to Paris. I had emailed the address provided at their website, provided a range of dates we would be in Paris and asked them to select whatever date they had available for lunch. I got back a rather formal reply to “Madame Cinq” saying they had reserved April 1 for our lunch, and cautioning it must be confirmed by March 27 by phone or fax. That meant unfortunately I had to call them from London on that day—-but no problem, the restaurant operator spoke English and transferred me to someone who said yes, we were now confirmed.

Our reservations were at noon but we were of course early, due to the anticipation. We realized later that we could have entered the restaurant an hour late and they would still have held our table as they only have a single seating for lunch and dinner—-the table was ours for the afternoon. So we browsed in some nearby stores till it was a decent time (like oh, ten whole minutes after) and then went in. We were greeted by the maitre d' who had our name in a very large book. He did not ask “do you have reservations”, but rather more politely “may I have your name”. Then we were shown our table. A very nice one, but I could see they were really ALL good tables. Mostly banquette type, all far apart from one another so you never felt crowded. We were three, seated at a table that would easily hold six. On the way to our table we walked past the staff who greeted us with warm smiles and tiny bows. From the way they were dressed in dark suits and silk ties and their young good looks, we assumed they were waiters—turned out they were the busboys.

The restaurant is simply gorgeous. Dark beautifully carved wood everywhere, with an very 1920s art nouveau look. But the atmosphere is somehow simple, not frou-frou. Classic white tablecloths. Beautiful, heavy silverware also in an ornate carved pattern. Yet the table has a minimum of silverware and glassware clutter.

We are given menus, all in French. DD's and mine have no prices. DH sees the prices on his menu and thinks he is going to order an entrée and be done. Think again, I tell him. After a subdued power struggle we reach the consensus to order the prix fix lunch which includes appetizer, main course and dessert. Our main waiter comes over and helpfully translates each of the choices. We discuss the wine. I am wanting to try the menu version where a different glass of wine is matched with each course. DH mentally adds up what 6 glasses of [their choice of] wine might cost versus if we order a bottle, and decides he doesn't want to play French Roulette with the bill. He orders their lowest price bottle of red and a bottle of sparkling water so DD has something. Fair enough.

A new waiter arrives with our wine, shows it to DH and starts to pour DH a little in his glass to taste. DH waves him away and says no thank you, go right ahead and pour. He never does the tasting ritual even at home, as he figures it's an unnecessary gesture--especially in a restaurant like this one where one would assume the quality control of wine would be very high. He was about to be very sorry.

A minute later, DH taps me. I turn to see what he's staring at, astonished. He whispers: “That waiter is drinking OUR wine!” Sure enough, the waiter had poured a small amount (an ounce or less) into a glass, swirled it, sniffed it, and drank it with what DH thought was an unseemly amount of enthusiasm. Turns out he was the wine sommelier and I suppose it was his unfortunate lot in life to taste everyone's wine to be sure it was good enough to serve. Since he seemed satisfied, he decanted the rest of our wine, filled our glasses, and kept the bottle on a separate table in the middle of the room. This I assume was to keep us from “helping ourselves” which simply would not be heard of. He did ensure our glasses never fell low. DH snorted and vowed he'd deduct that little taste from our bill. The wine was excellent.

I see I have already written a short novel and still not gotten to the food. You are all very patient with me. However I warn you, I am just warming up to my subject…..

We begin with an amuse-bouche (mouth amusement) consisting of a small bowl of intensely flavored ginger-chicken broth. There is a dainty, inch-long joint of chicken served along with it. The broth is wonderful and has a complete spectrum of flavor, from savory to sour, to sweet and spicy. I could not distinguish the separate ingredients or figure out how they crammed all this flavor into one soup. They also serve us finger bowls for after eating that tiny piece of chicken, and take the precaution (maybe overcautious...okay maybe not) of warning us that it is for dipping our fingers in only.

We are served a second amuse-bouche consisting of a single ravioli parcel with a large scallop inside, garnished with matchstick thin strips of green apple, and a few raisins. A sort of beurre blanc over. Very yummy.

Somewhere around here, they also serve us bread on our bread plates. There is a white dense roll of something like rosemary bread, and a miniature baguette, about 4 inches long tapering to a needle thickness at the ends. There is also a small pot of very yellow, very tasty butter. All the French butter I've had so far was dreamy. How can butter get better? Most days if I had stopped eating here, I'd be very content. But so much more was still to come...

Our appetizers arrive. DH and DD have ordered asparagus, which comes as several perfect thick stalks and I believe some kind of vinaigrette dressing and some chunks of bacon as garnish. I have gone for the jugular and ordered the foie gras, wrapped in cabbage leaves, and simply steamed, with a little oil drizzled over. My plate has two generous portions of this, each about the diameter of a baseball and maybe an inch thick, with two small piles of cracked pepper and kosher salt on the side, for sprinkling over. I've had maybe 2 or 3 bits of foie gras in my life, but never a portion like this. I cut a bite, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and……it's gone. As if it dissolved in my mouth like cotton candy. This is not liver by any sense that I know it. As I eat, I gradually become aware that this is liver transmogrified into 95% fat (and I know 95% of you reading this are probably horrified—-and you'd be more horrified if you knew what they did to the goose to achieve this gastronomic miracle) but the end result is incredible. It is light as air, and the flavor just amazing. I felt I had enough even to share with DH, so I made him a portion to taste with the salt and pepper and he also agreed that it was excellent. Our waiter seems happy to see our empty plates and seems more relaxed with us--we appear to have passed some kind of test at this point.

The main course is now served when we are already at the stage of what I would call comfortably full. DD has the sole with a light greenish curry sauce, accompanied by a sort of tempura of vegetables. I am quite proud of her ordering something like that. DH has slices of pork loin with some kind of sauce, and eggplant prepared three different ways. I have <drum roll> veal which has been braised for 72 hours </drumroll> along with a bit of sautéed spinach and carrots prepared three different ways. My stewed veal is as you can imagine, fork tender, with a light sauce of tomato and white wine. French cuisine at its best, without a single doubt. All the food is served attractively, not tortured into unnatural positions, bridges or towers. The portions are not nouvelle either--but just enough. We eat, making little happy sounds, and later, full-but-still-happy sounds.

Soon after our plates had been cleared, a platter of desserts arrive. This is no amuse-bouche, this is one awesome selection of sweets designed to keep us from starving till our real dessert arrives. I sense the chef murmuring in the kitchen “now...we separate zee boys from zee men” After a couple deep breaths we dig in. This platter consists of FOUR different desserts: Three tiny aromatic pound cakes (flavored with rum perhaps?) Also three tiny lemon tarts—size of a petit four, and with a paper thin wafer of crystallized sugar lying atop each. Also three tiny chocolate sandwiches. Well, that is how DD described them and I can't improve on it. Thick chocolate wafers on the top and bottom layer, and something else chocolate on the inside. More? Oui. Three large curved crispy crunchy lacy caramel thingies (DD is SO much more articulate than I) with ground nuts and chocolate bits. Any one of these selections could have made a memorable dessert on its own. We ate them all.

We are now in deep merde. Our real dessert is but moments away. When we ordered our food in the beginning, we had all decided--not the crème brulee, not the Napoleon, not the platter of ices--but the Chocolate Thing was what we wanted for dessert (can't remember the real name). It was described to us as a sort of flourless chocolate cake with warm chocolate ganache inside. The kitchen had to know because it must be prepared in advance. But while we are munching on our first course of dessert above, I spy a plate of what looks like the prettiest Easter Eggs being served to the table on the other side of the partition. It is the freshly made fruit ices, served as a seductive rainbow of perfect scoops, which we had rejected thinking “that's just ice cream”. DH and DD stand up to peer at it and their jaws drop. DH says “I want THAT”. “What about the Chocolate Thing? Can we change it?” I ask the waiter—-no problem, he rushes off to the kitchen. Now DD is feeling envious. “I think I'd like to have that too, do you think they'll be mad if we both change?” I tell her these waiters take an oath to commit French hari kari if any customer is denied the smallest whim concerning food. Again the waiter appears. We tell him to change DD's dessert as well. He looks barely nervous, clears his throat and says with a smile “Well, the chef will kill me...but it's alright” Apparently DD's Chocolate Thing was already in the oven.

We have dug our own grave. The waiter not only brings DD and DH their plate of ices and me my Chocolate Thing, but ALSO brings the Chocolate Thing that DD cancelled apparently a second too late. He said the chef said it was already made and it would be a shame to waste it. No hari kari for him, thank you very much.

We gaze at the ices. There are five different scoops. Lemon, chocolate, strawberry, mango, and pineapple. They taste of intense natural fruit flavors, and are quite refreshing. DD and DH also share bites of the Chocolate Thing, and I cut into my own. How does one bake something like this without melting the chocolate on the outside, I wonder. It is truly death by chocolate, wonderfully rich, dark, and delicious, molten inside. I also out of familial concern, help DH and DD with their ices.

We are paralyzed, stuffed, and dazed with way too much sugar, pastry and chocolate. Not to mention the prior food. The waiter senses it is time for the kill. No, not the check--the final dessert course. He puts on the table a small raised tray of incredible chocolates, three different kinds and three of each. Three were cocoa dusted truffles. Three were thin round chocolate mints, on which the Lucas Carton initials were delicately iced, and three were long chocolate finger-shaped things with jelly inside. We stare at them, mentally commanding our stomachs, Hey! Show some enthusiasm here! But no luck. DD and I excuse ourselves to howdoyousay powder our noses. We return to our table and ever so diffidently, sample tiny bites. The waiters look on, approvingly………

A post-script: DH said after our meal that the service was the best he'd ever seen it done. And he is a severe critic—-he glares when a waiter reaches in front of one of us to clear a plate. However, being the people-watching type of person he is, this was like being at the best show in town. For him, the service was better entertainment than the food because the less obvious they were, the more attention he focused on them trying to figure out how they managed their little choreography. The wait staff was not obtrusive or obsequious. They did not do overkill stuff which I detest, like lurk in the corner by your table, or put napkins on our laps like little children. But when one strode past, his eyes swept the table and everything on it, and us. Though I felt self-conscious in the beginning that they're watching me eat, or if I'm using the wrong spoon, they really weren't. They were watching to see the instant that I might need anything, hopefully before I'm aware of it myself. Water and wine was refilled when necessary, not a second before or after, and in a way that you weren't aware they had even come by. Only once, when I had a lengthy pause with my Chocolate Thing (to come up for air) our main waiter paused a moment too long at our table, indicating perhaps he thought Madame had admitted defeat. I smiled up at him and waggled my forefinger ever so slightly to let him know he would lose a hand if he even dared. He silently retreated with obvious respect for Madame's tenacity.

We could not contemplate eating any dinner that night of course, but did a lot of walking, and reliving of small details of our meal. We would go back there in a heartbeat next time we visit Paris. I think the lunch is a great deal. I don't think I could survive dinner.

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