Before beginning this post, I just thank you for indulging for a bit of girlie stuff….yes, grammar and all. For as many years as I’ve come to France, and specifically to Paris, I have wanted to have tea in one of the BIG 5 hotels. Frankly I used to find them intimidating; but with age and a vast shift in cultural norms, that is no longer the case. So while planning this trip, I mentioned to my friend of many years Sue Wilson that this was on my bucket list and it was not to be shelved any longer…and she quickly said, “I’d like to do that too.” And that’s what we did Tuesday afternoon…Tea at the Dali Room at Le Meurice Hotel on rue Rivoli. And you are about to read a point by point account of this fun afternoon.
For starters, we arrived on time and were asked to wait just a few minutes. That was not too hard to do in the elegant foyer. But Sue, reminding me very much of past travels with Patty Kaylor VanCurler, asked “Où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît” and I decided to go find them with her. We got lost and were “escorted” to the proper hallway. As we walked into the equally elegant restrooms, she confessed that she just wanted to see the place and finding les toilettes was a good excuse. (Is this sounding familiar, Patty?). Maybe some of you have seen toilettes someplace that do everything but dance for you. We have now have been from the ridiculous to the sublime. Stepping into the marbled, beautifully decorated private WC, the toilet lid slowly opened, a cleansing blue light came on, and I think la toilette said something in French. There was a “clicker” in a chrome holder with directions in French for many of the amenities performed by this TOTO toilet. We dared not try them, because like French washing machines, some of the words do not readily translate into the same meaning in English as they have in French. Nevertheless, the clicker would perform a half dozen tricks if one knew how to work it.
Hand washing in marble sinks with French terry cloth towelettes that one dropped into an unobtrusive slot in the marble counter…we were duly prepared for Dali (as in Salvador) Tea.
We were seated at a table next to a very young French couple…she dressed in very nice jeans and a polo T-shirt and he in jeans and a white shirt, collar open who carried on very animated conversations the entire tea time, cell phones on the table but untouched. That is part of what I mean by changing cultural norms. My phone was also on the table and I DID use it to take photos throughout the meal. And we were “dressed for tea” in the way ladies of our generation did and still do such things. I’ll just say, given my farm girl history, I could never wear jeans to a starred hotel for tea…and that is no judgement, simply a fact.
Once we had ordered, our table was prepared with the tea service…slender silver tray with two silver tea pots each with our particular flavor of tea, a silver pitcher of milk and a small beaker of packaged tubes of raw sugar. In addition there were three small pots…two of jam and one of clotted cream, with tiny spoons for service.
Because our tea was not fully steeped, the server poured just a short cup for each of us.
We were then served with the tower of tea goodies and given an explanation of each sandwich, scone, and sweet pastry, one course served on each of three long black faux slate trays resting in silver tiers. Two each of four kinds of sandwiches including smoked salmon on brioche, eggplant carpaccio on wheat toast, roast beef and cheese, and beet with goat cheese. This explanation was given very quietly in French and although we heard her words, the title of each did not translate well…we knew there was beef, beet and carpaccio of something…little surprises were still in store as we tasted things. The middle tier held four perfectly rounded and very tall scones…two plain cream scones and two very seedy scones (making me think it was a version of bird seed I had sampled earlier on this journey). Homemade red fruit jam and the buttery clotted cream were necessary accompaniments to otherwise somewhat dry scones.
We were still in the sandwich mode when a very tall, slender and seemingly quite young chef with his even taller white toque arrived with two pottery molds of freshly baked, still warm, and already sliced Kugel…buttery, with raisins, light and delicious. He invited us to take a slice. Quite a fun sight and an unexpected surprise. Shortly afterwards he returned bearing, in their tins, freshly baked Madeleines…warm, puffed in the middle to pregnant perfection and fairly oozing from the center with warm lavender honey. Those of you who know my Madeleine history will hopefully understand that I was so overwhelmed by this second presentation I totally forgot to take photos. Dang.
We managed our way through most of these sandwiches and pastries and realized it was already 6:00 PM. There was food left-over…left OVERS as the owner of a crêperie in La Bussiere sur Ouche used to say as she tried to mouth that American idiom for us. Noting that the couple next to us had their leftOVERS in a tidy little box, we requested one as well. Now that was a first for Paris…boxed snack as the server said when he brought l’addition (the check) along with the to-go box.. We had been talking non stop and enjoying our tea since 3:30. Time flew as we caught up on our respective explorations of Paris, compared notes about the quality of food this trip, how age takes its toll on energy, and of the changing culture here in France. Both of us agree that we were very fond of an earlier France and acknowledged that in the 21st Century change is necessary. A brief conversation about Gertrude Stein and her coterie of friends who gathered in the early 1900’s just a few doors up the street from my apartment and like the proverbial midnight bell, our bucket list tea time came to a close.
The Dali Room at Le Meurice hotel was indeed a splendid spot. Service was impeccable. The ambiance was lovely. We were able to fulfill that long-held wish for fairytale tea time in Paris.