On the Town At Noël

Hotel Lutetia
The 'Art Deco' entry to the Hotel Lutétia.

If You Need Translations, You Won't Like the Menus

Paris:- Friday, 12. December 1997:- There are several ways to spend Christmas and New Years in Paris or in France.

If you are French, there are the old ways and the new ways - which might be the way it is done now. There are also ways to do it with the family and without, if you are young and not at home.

If you are a resident of France but not French, you can do it in French ways - either old or new - or you can use some of whatever tradition you brought with you - or you can do something completely silly, like go to the Canaries for the season. I am not going to write about the Canaries here.

The third possibility of spending the holiday season in France or in Paris is as a visitor, one who knows no one here. This could be the situation at any time of the year, so Paris is well able to handle this situation - it doesn't turn off the lights and shut the doors just because it is Christmas or New Years.

Elsewhere in this issue of Metropole there is a program feature, with a selected listing of events and entertainments. This is to give you Maxim's an idea of how to while away the time between more serious activities, like eating and drinking and celebrating in general.

It is not necessary to own a Bently to dine at Maxim's; this one's probably the doorman's.

Basically, the holiday season in Paris is about eating. You might say this applies to all the other seasons as well, and you are right. Let's say then, Noël is about extra-special eating.

Just like the French, you are either rich or not quite so rich. The people in the business of providing French food to diners recognize that there are differences in budgets, so they have prepared an offer to suit almost everybody's pocketbook.

The various guides lay it out like this: Christmas Eve dinners for under - not by much! - 500 francs, for between 500 and 999 francs, and for 1,000 francs and up.

My guide has 65 establishments with holiday menus priced under 500 francs. Without a guide, by walking around Paris, one can see that many other restaurants and cafés have similar offers - so there is no lack of choice.

For example, one well-known chain of seafood restaurants has a 95 franc menu, served at any time, and another for 135 francs. Seafood plays a large part on a holiday menu, so with this chain there is no need to go broke by having an ordinary menu and pretending it is a festive one.

Generally speaking, the Christmas Eve 'festive menu' will cost about half of the one for New Years, or slightly less. New Years usually has a bit of 'gala' thrown in and this costs a bit more.

Many festive menu prices do not include drinks - so a fancy menu for 490 francs with drinks, means a bill of double or triple that if you are not a hydraulic and like upscale Champagne. Other menu prices include a bottle of 'house' wine or Champagne and with these menus you know pretty how much lighter you will be when you come out.

Tipping extra is not illegal even though tips are included in the bill. If you think of it as a personal gift from you to the waiter - for working on a holiday - then tipping a bit extra makes you feel good and makes the waiter feel good to have treated you well, and everybody is happier for it.

Last year I plugged the Hotel Crillon's menu as a high-end choice, and I am sure people who gave it a try did not go away unhappy.

On Wednesday I was in the Quartier Latin near Sèvres-Babylone and I couldn't help noticing the Hotel Lutétia - it even calls itself Lutetia dining room the ocean-liner of the Latin Quarter. Since I don't know the place at all, I went in expecting to find my high-end super-luxo holiday menu.

One of the Lutétia's several elegant dining rooms.

Oh surprise! While the Lutétia does have a luxurious Salon Borghèse, which has a New Years Day gastronomic menu costing 950 francs without drinks or café as well as a New Years Eve menu for 460 francs - without drinks or café - in its Brasserie Lutétia; the hotel also has a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menu for 250 francs - sans liquids - in the Brasserie Lutétia.

All of this seems to be about average for Paris, so I will include the three menus - in French:

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menu in the Brasserie Lutétia, for 250 francs:

Crème de Potiron, Gouttelette d'huile d'Olive
Noix de Saint Jacques dorées, Artichaut et Céleri aux Noisettes
Oie confite rôtie, Pommes de Terre aux Châtaignes et à la Ventrèche
Bûche moelleuse au Caramel et à l'Abricot
Beverages and café, billed separately

New Years Eve menu in the Brasserie Lutétia, for 460 francs:

Crème de Châtaignes parfumée à la Noisette
Marbré de Foie gras de Canard, bouquet d'Herbes, fruits à l'Eau de Vie
Fricassée de Hommard et Saint Jacques aux pistils de Safran
Noisettes d'Agneau du Limousin rôties, sauce poivrade, Pomme clocharde au Céleri rave
Mêlée d'Agrumes rafraîchie à la Verveine
Dôme au Chocolat noir à la Framboise, crème légère à la vanille Bourbon
Beverages and café, billed separately

New Years Day gastronomic menu in the Salon Borghèse, for 950 francs:

Crèmeux d'Oursin parfumé à l'huile d'Olive des Baux
Salpicon de Hommard aux pointes d'Endives, jus pimenté aux herbes
Cannelloni de Foie gras de Canard à la Truffe noire
Noix de Saint Jacques dorées, Artichaut et Céleri rave aux Noisettes
Granité de Comptes de Champagne Tattinger rosé
Tournedos de Biche rôtie, Pomme reinette aux douceurs hivernales
Sorbet à le Poire Williams, pignons de Pin candis
Le tout Pamplemousse rose, craquant de chocolat Guanaja
Beverages and café, billed separately

The Hotel Lutétia first opened in September of 1910 and has been recently refurbished, without having its original Art Deco decor removed. Part of the work involved remodeling; the smaller rooms were window of bottles eliminated and now the hotel has 250 rooms and suites, down from its original 300. Room rates start from 1600 francs and go up to 12,000 francs for the exclusive Suite Arman.

If everything you want is booked out, then maybe a quiet bottle of very old Cognac will do.

If this seems a bit low-ball to your platinum card, there are a dozen establishments offering gala New Years Eves - Saint-Sylvestre - in the 2,500-franc range, either with a bottle of decent Champagne or with 'beverages and café, billed separately.'

When you are in for this, it usually means, in for two - so here the opener is a thousand dollars, and up. Let me look at that 95 franc menu again.

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