As it turns out, Lan and Quang live four blocks away from Fauchon’s flagship store at 30 Place de Madeleine. Fauchon is a high end gourmet store, a French version of Dean and Deluca (or maybe the reverse that Dean and Deluca’s is an American version of Fauchon?). Fauchon was founded in 1886 by Auguste Félix Fauchon, a grocer from Normandy. Fauchon learned about the “chain” store concept from Félix Potin, to whom he was apprenticed. He started with a small vending cart on the Place de la Madeleine in 1885 and opened his first store a year later, as a purveyor of fine foods and gourmet items. After his death in 1938, the business was taken over by his sons, who later sold the business to business man Joseph Pilosoff. Under Pilosoff’s tenure, Fauchon expanded to include international items, and after his death, ownership passed to his heirs. Fauchon was acquired by a private investment group in 1998 and there are now over 600 stores internationally.
Per Wendy’s instructions, Jules and I headed over to the store to partake of the truffle omelet and to buy lobster butter. Upstairs in salon de thé, Blondine, our hostess, explained that they served the omelet only during lunch, but suggested some pastries with tea instead. It was 6:00 and we had dinner reservations at Les Bouquinistes, one of Guy Savoy’s restaurants, at 9:30, but I have no problem beginning with dessert. Jules ordered the green tea with orange blossoms and I had the mélange Fauchon, a black tea with raspberries, lavendar, and vanilla. We also ordered a half bottle of the house champagne.
Our dessert selection was vanilla meringue enveloped in a thick dome of Gianduja ganache, textured with chocolate spray (achieved using a paint sprayer with melted chocolate), and dotted with chocolate meringue.
Okay, see that little brown square embedded in the dessert? It was inscribed with “Fauchon” in gold lettering. As Jules asked me about my birthday evening with Hubby, I popped what I assumed to be a chocolate square in my mouth.
“So where did you guys go?”
“Hold on,” I said, gagging. “I’m eating cardboard.” I removed the sodden, teeth-marked piece of paper from my mouth and stared at it in horror.
Jules doubled over. “I’m so glad you did that first,” she said. “I was about to eat it, too.”
It reminds me of a Far Side cartoon in which two sharks are munching on body parts and one shark says to the other, “Is this some sort of cruel joke?” In the background is a sinking ship with floating boxes labelled, “mannequins.”
Apart from this grotesque pastry trompe l’oeil, dessert was an exquisite play in contrasts. The ganache was just creamy enough to be rich instead of heavy, and the chocolate fine enough to be subtle and not sugary. The meringue provided a satisfying “crunch” to an otherwise smooth and lush mouthful of chocolate.
In between bouts of admiring our view (“We’re in Paris!”) and consuming a zillion calories, we were catching up when Jules suddenly reared back and gasped.
“Oh my God!”
Jules clapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes bugging out. “There’s a mouse over there!”
I turned to watch a furry little grey body scurry towards the back of the room. As we were the only two people in the salon, it was easy to spot Mr. Mouse’s trajectory throughout the restaurant.
“I’d rather see that than a cockroach,” I said.
“I’m thinking there’s not much difference,” Jules answered, gritting her teeth.
“I was at Nieman Marcus on Fifth Avenue last year when a mouse ran up a woman’s leg.”
Wrong thing to say. Jules went ashen. “I’m on the verge on getting on this chair.” As it was, she had already planted both feet on the chair next to us. She remain fixated on the area behind me. “What if he climbs up the wall and gets on our table?!”
“Jules, he’s a mouse, not Spider-Man.”
“Then how did he get up here to this level?!”
“Up the stairs, like everyone else.”
Since I was facing the opposite direction, I could not see Mr. Mouse’s second run at us, but Jules began to sound like Beaker when confronted with an experiment about to blow up in his face. When Jules is panicked, she also begins flapping her hands in front of her face violently, resembling an illiterate sign language speed demon.
“Oh my God!” she wailed. “He’s coming right at us! He senses my fear and he’s circling!”
You know, I try hard, but sometimes, I’m just not as good a friend as I should be. I began snorting and laughing. At this point, a waiter walked into the room bearing a tray.
“Excusez-moi, il y’a une souris là bas,” I told him, pointing at the mouse who was taking a break in the middle of the aisle, likely tired from his divebombing runs at Jules.
He put the tray down and ran towards where I was pointing. “Oui je la voies.” He came back towards our table.
Jules began swigging from her champagne glass.
“S’îl vous plaît,” he said, “Je veux expliquer. C’est Paris. Il y’a des souris surtout. Ici, chez moi, surtout. C’est un magasin vieux, dans une ville très vielle. Nous sommes désolées.” (Please, I want to explain: this is Paris; there are mice everywhere. Here, my house, everywhere. This is an old building, in a very old city. Sorry.)
Then he walked away. The French do nonchalance so well.
“Listen,” I said, “We’ll get the check and you can sprint for the stairs.”
“No, dammit, I’m going to maintain my dignity and walk out.” (Bear in mind her feet are still planted on the seat at the table next to us). "Okay, okay. I can do this. You ate cardboard, I saw a mouse. This will just be something you'll put in your blog."
Oh, and Wendy, we did go downstairs to the store and look for the lobster butter, but there was none. And Jules said that if I want the omelet and lobster butter today, I'm going to have to go by myself. Maybe la petite souris will join me again.