Day Three France/Belgium c. April/March 2011

So, I'm determined to get past day two. I've tried twice now, and I think this will be the push to finish this flight/train/walk/metro/bus/taxi down memory lane.
We left out on day three, took the subway and headed to the Pantheon. I was excited to see the French Pantheon (as you usually only hear of the one in Rome, Italy). According to the sign, they were preparing for a visitor and had closed it off to tourists. This area seemed to have quite a bit of action around it as there was a couple of schools and kids with parents all about - looking for offices and kicking soccer balls. (I found myself booting one back to some kids in front of a university building). Lots of cars parked on the street. We did come across a guy playing a tiny piano on wheels on the street. He had a crazy sort of floppy hat (Harry Nilsson-esque) on and had the attention of the crowd. It sounded a bit like a slightly out-of-tune tack-hammer piano playing some ragtimey tunes.
The tea shop was a nice quiet space with interesting paintings on the walls (sorta early Rauschenberg/Twombly-type paintings). They offered loose teas and had a couple of areas with tables for teas to be enjoyed. The tins reminded us of our sipping chocolate tins and made for great gifts to a few people back home.
We spotted a crepe shop and ducked into the tea store next door before settling into the area behind the crepe-master. The two guys were very college-kid friendly and had lots of tables crammed into every possible area of the two story shop. They asked us a bit about the US and we told them - as they offered us canned cokes - about how (in the South) we call just about every soda/beverage a "coke." They didn't recognize the name "Chattanooga Choo Choo," but I figured that since they knew Coca-Cola they could get some type of connection by knowing that we were from one of the first Coca-Cola bottling towns.
We took the train to visit Hugo & Victor. This was possibly my first encounter with a truly intimidating chocolate/pastry shop. The pastries/desserts were paired according to ingredients and flavors with wines along pillars from floor to ceiling. Very sheik and jewelry-shop-like. They placed truffles in little boxes that looked like Moleskine sketchbooks and didn't merely pull your dessert selection from a case. They had a staff ready to assemble the goods in a room behind the scenes. We ordered a fresh grapefruit tart and chose several truffles/bonbons to go.
La Patisserie Des Reves had an extremely considered retail space/experience. The customer walks in and is immediately confronted with a series of glass domes over plated desserts offered. The domes not only protect the dessert from the elements but also provide light for the dish/arrangement as if it's on a pedestal in a museum. Like Victor & Hugo, desserts were constructed after they were ordered. This is the shop where Wendy over heard an employee say, "American" after asking for a disposable fork. If you're unfamiliar with French culture, they tend to take desserts home to be eaten. So our request of a fork - in order to eat our dessert and keep moving - must've seemed utterly barbaric!
Note this variation in packaging. One was shaped like a pyramid. Both had little pieces of foam board with logo-wielding toothpicks holding the travel-worthy dessert in place.
Stalking the Mont Blanc (a dessert made with pureed chestnut cream). This is how we ended most days while in Paris. Taking samples of each dessert and making notes on the experiences of flavors/textures/combinations/presentation/etc.
A Cross-section of a Mont Blanc.
An Easter themed storefront window. We didn't visit this shop, but saw tons with the same kind of display. So colorful.
This is actually a dessert case in an upscale grocery store. They had a great selection of chocolate bars and various fun shapes/themed candies. This store also made whole foods look like a convenience store.
This is a couple of interior shots of Christian Constant's shop. It had a sort of Miami, FL feel - or maybe like Trump Plaza's lobby in Atlantic City. I don't know how to explain it other than it had that fake gold trim work around on cases and here and there. We picked up a couple of flavored truffles (seems like a cassis and some type of single origin truffle). The flavors were good and the portions were a bit on the small side.
We visited one of Sadaharu Aoki's Paris shops and was amazed at the use of matcha throughout several desserts. This shop was tiny - so much so that I had to wait outside while a customer with a stroller shopped. We took home an enrobed matcha macaron and the layered hazelnut dessert seen below (with the macaron on top).
A Macaron tree sculpture.
Enrobed Matcha Macaron.
One of Patrick Roger's shops. We walked in and Patrick Roger, himself, was present in the kitchen area. We asked a shop attendant if we could talk to him and she said, "He doesn't speak English at all." So we were left to watch him take off on his motorcycle - wearing his M.O.F. colors. This shop was so well designed. So meticulous. We asked if we cold take pictures and were told, "Sure!" Most shops would not allow all-over snapping of photos, whereas, Patrick Roger was fine with it. My guess is because it would be nearly impossible to copy. Giant Chicken sculptures sitting atop a field of eggs (that come to find out, had been hollowed out and then filled with chocolate). Imagine peeling egg shell off of an egg of chocolate. Probably the most conceptual chocolatier we visited.
Large bricks of Nougat.
The Eiffel Tower at night.
Here we are at the top of the Eiffel Tower, taking in the view and resting for a second from all of the walking around Paris.
Stay tuned as we'll be posting about our Belgium experiences next!