When I was a kid, I always loved Jules Verne, especially his classic “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. In it, Captain Nemo explores a strange underwater world using a new invention, the submarine. Verne was ahead of his time, and so I was delighted by his name being attached to a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, which was also far ahead of its time when it was built during the glorious Belle Epoque era back in the nineteenth century when Verne was kicking around Paris.
Normally, to get a table at this eatery, you must have made reservations back during the Mitterand administration, or be so famous that everyone knows you merely by one name. I, however, am not famous even if I use my full name along with my AA card unless you ask about me in some of the seedier bars in Mobile, Al or Kiev, Ukraine…and yet, somehow, I find myself seated in the restaurant at 7PM, just in time over the two-plus hour course of our dinner to watch the sun go down over Paris.
Now, if you know this city, it comes alive at night. It isn’t called the “city of lights” for nothing, and as dusk creeps across the Seine and the lights pop on one by one like so many diamonds on a field of deepening blue, you find yourself enthralled with it all over again. She’s is like a beautiful goddess that never seems to age.
I have no idea why I’m so lucky. I really had zero expectation of eating at one of the finest restaurants in the world when I started out from my run-down apartment in the 15th,, as can be attested to by the fact that, upon arrival at the Champs de Mars, I was decked out in a pair of Sears jeans, hiking shoes, and an Everyman shirt: not exactly ready for the Ritz. Neither was my girlfriend. But, I have a natural aversion to lines, a disdain that I honed over many years as a parent during the wonder years of a child enthralled by, and living within the very tentacled reach of, Wally World.
And so it is that, when confronted by queues, I recoil in horror in a way akin to a vampire and garlic, though of course Count Dracula always was far better dressed than me and probably never had a problem being admitted to the Jules Verne, since after all when you hear the single name “Dracula”, everyone instantly knows who you’re talking about and, although he might suck all of the blood out of your veins, he will look very elegant and act very sophisticated in the process (speaking flawless Parisian French,. no doubt), while I, at 17, reached my peak charismatic power when I wore a blue crushed velvet tuxedo to the prom and managed to cop a feel in the back seat of my 1971 ‘Cuda.
So I looked at the line snaking out of the ticket kiosk at the base of the iconic structure with a mixed sense of foreboding and horror, and immediately tried to find another way in. That’s when I remembered a review of the Jules Verne on Trip Advisor, and that is why I knew enough to proceed to the southwest support of the building, away from the madding crowds, and there I found a discreet sign that led to a small door for the restaurant.
The elegant gentleman that greeted us as we entered a small room immediately told us (in perfect London English) that they were booking dates in October, if I were staying long enough, and I’m pretty sure he must have chuckled inside a little when he said it. Then he helpfully suggested I try the web site, and I told him I already had and that it was impossible to get reservations anytime during this decade, but thanks anyway, and turned to go. I don’t to this minute know why, but he stopped me and asked if I were OK with a table away from a window? Faster than I could say “is this a trick question?” he was showing me the menu on the placard out front at the foot of the red carpet, and I’m pretty sure it was to gage my reaction at the prices, which at first I thought must be for bankers or mobsters, but then I repeat myself.
When I did not run screaming from the menu like a Republican at a Woody Allen film festival, he invited us back inside, and to my great surprise, turned us over to the lift man, a repulsive, yet somehow…snotty kid, who tried his best in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the Gallic sneer off of his face when I tried to ask him stupid questions, which, coming from an American, or anyone who was not born a Parisian for that matter, I’m certain included just about anything to him, and so I finally gave up, and just oohed and awed as we gently and silently rose at an angle up the slope of the graceful arched side of the tower, where we were afforded views through the open skeleton of the building toward the 15th district from whence we’d come. Before I could remind the little shit operating the elevator that his job could be done by a reasonably intelligent silverback, we had arrived at our destination, which was a coat room operated by a gorgeous woman to whom I would actually pay money just to hear her roll her R’s around in her mouth, and we were seated at a table that afforded a fantastic view over the Left Bank of the Seine, still shocked that we had actually arrived.
We were seated against the wall between two other tables, sardine style, which were so close that on the bench side there was an armrest to separate one from another. Once wedged in, I was comfortable enough, though Lora, who is almost always embarrassed by my sense of fashion, was now looking around at the other diners in their fine evening clothes and saying to me in her thick Russian accent, “Vhat are ve doing here?, a sentiment that I’m pretty sure was shared by everyone in the dining room, not the least of which was our waiter, who must have been wandering if we had been properly vetted, having just come in from a light drizzle and looking like we were there for the free government-sponsored soup, having heard about it from our other amis living under the Ponte Alexandre.
But they still brought us out some very, very good Champagne (Bruno Paillard), and we toasted our good fortune, then ordered up our dinner. Now, all this is going on 400 feet above Paris city center, more or less, and the view is amazing, while the restaurant itself is hushed and reserved, like a library in a fine gentleman’s club, and not the kind you find in Ft. Lauderdale, which are actually oxymorons. The linen is snow white, the cutlery is Parisian, and the dinner is really a work of art rather than food. Except for the appetizer, which was brought out unsolicited by us, which was a kind of green pea puree of some sort, the likes of which I haven’t tasted since I was 2 and likely won’t again until I’m 82. But I am almost sorry to destroy my turbot served with asparagus and smothered in a hollandaise sauce, since the dish is so well presented, while Lora’s lamb chops are thick and succulent. Both are delicious, though I prefer Lora’s dish. And of course the service is beyond outstanding.
I order up a second glass of Champagne, and now people around us are wondering if, instead of a street bum, I am a Russian Oligarch, since Russians are not known for their delicate table manners or sense of sobriety and decorum and neither am I, and Lora has a rather thick but sexy Russian accent, and the bubbly costs as much for each glass as I am used to paying for an entire dinner.
We finish with the chocolate mousse, which I wisely ordered at the beginning of the meal, and it was a culinary triumph, fluffy light but dark and sweet and served with various ice creams, marshmallows, cocoa cubes, and the like. Delicious.
I am embarrassed to tell you my bill, but I will say it is more than any car payment I’ve ever made. There is a moment when I’m pretty certain that both the German/Swiss couple next to us and their French counterparts on the other side are waiting to see my eyes bug out of my head, Barney Fife style, when I get the bill, but I manage to breath through the moment, having braced myself for it with another shot of Champagne, and using all of the yoga skills I learned while watching babes bend over double down at the local gym.
So I produce the money in cash with somewhat of a triumphant, if not arrogant flourish, and there is a collective sigh of relief from the wait staff, who have long since given up on their tip and are just hoping to break even with me, which they do, and then some. At this point, we walk the perimeter of the dining area to survey the view and other tables, and it is small, maybe 30 tables in all I’d guess. Then we head out to the balcony to soak in the grandeur that is Paris at night from high over the city…and I was ecstatic that we didn’t have to wait for it, though I think I have to cash in my IRA early to pay for it now.
Afterward, we ride down again in the private elevator with the same douchebag kid, and take a walk down the Seine and back to the hotel.
Now, that’s a great story as far as I’m concerned, but I must say it was a great day all around. I started out with great café’ au lait, fresh squeezed OJ, and a buttery croissant, then took a short walk around the ‘hood just to check it out before Lora arrived from Manchester.
I had time to snap a few pics of the flea market/food bazaar before she arrived, and enjoyed that as well. Lights out for now…J