Monday, July 13, 2009

It'll Be There on Wednesday

Where do I start. My wife and actually many others think I'm obsessed with food and they think it's weird. I don't really understand. Why is it weird? It's got to be at least 33% of the reason I decided I would make Paris my home - maybe I'll share the other 66% another day. Also, having an addiction to all things food must be better than being addicted to crack for example. Nevermind, since I've been pondering this food addiction (by the way - possibly the best panini in Paris can be found at Caldo Freddo on rue Montorgueil) I thought maybe I'd write about something else I've been passionate about -- well maybe passionate bordering on insanely irritated with for the last ten years -- the shipping experience in France.

Today, I feel like just recounting my most recent experience. I could probably write a whole book by now on the most inefficient country (leaving out countries which still lack mechanized vehicles for transportation)
for actually getting something delivered to your home.

Being fond of the internet and convenience, I tend to order as much as I can online. Usually you can find whatever you want in a couple of clicks, often times much less expensive than in a shop and most of all, you don't have to schlep half-way across town to buy those "what would we do without you" Tommee Tippee trash bags for our daughter's -- well, you know.

Anyway, you would think these things are easier to find, but they aren't. So my latest find was on (translation - Hello Baby!). I was a pretty happy guy when I found I could order these, get them delivered to my house and save a couple of euros. Who wouldn't take that deal for baby trash bags. Click, click, register for the site, enter card number and then forget it about -- well, not this time.

The first thing I found odd was when you confirm your registration instead of the typical userid/password combination you select on *every other website known to man* on Allobebe you receive some kind of ancient customer number (10 mixed digits) and your postal code is your password....right, like I'm going to remember that the next time I visit the site. Strike 1!

I think I made the order on a Wednesday or Thursday. On Saturday morning, I get a text message saying that I should call Mory to schedule a delivery for a package. Luckily I have a few brain cells left and I figured this must my trash bags. How I put that together, don't ask because I don't know any Mory and usually I quickly forget what I order online until it shows up. So I call Mory and and get a message telling me to call back during normal business hours. Umm, why did you send me a text telling me to call when you aren't open? Surely you could program that into your sophisticated supply chain management system (click "voir la carte" for some excellent animation)??

Monday morning, time to call Mory -- well, it just rings and and rings and rings. I figure maybe Mory has the day off like me -- not everyone works in France the day before a bank holiday - we're lucky like that. I decide to take a look at the email Allobebe sent me confirming my order. It said something like if I don't get my package within 10 days I should let them know - nothing about looking out for a text message indicating I should be calling to arrange for delivery. They give me a couple of options to get in touch with them -- phone or email. I should tell you now that it also appears they have outsourced their customer service. So I give them a call, a woman answers and tells me there is no one around right now who can help me so she will take my name and number and call me back. Huh? This is getting increasingly bizarre and I'm pretty certain I'm not going to be too happy with the ending.

I send off a little email as well just to cover all my bases -- I have yet to determine if the French appreciate my sarcasm. I told them they should consider using the French post office and that it works well -- that's a whole other post - or maybe book. Anyway, I've now spent way too much time on this and it's time to head out for the day and along the way enjoy the above mentioned panini.

Walking home, I get a call -- it's Allobebe babbling about a problem I'm having -- I'm not understanding much of what she's saying, but I finally get into a groove. She tells me I can expect delivery on Wednesday. I ask her about what time will that be. "I can't tell you that sir - it could be anytime during the day." I freak of course and pretty much go ballistic on her. After all this time in France, I still can't understand or accept the fact that it is expected behavior that one organizes themselves to stay at home all day to await delivery for anything except maybe a refrigerator or a sofa...but a simple package of trash bags?! And don't tell me I should use one of my 35 vacation days either -- vacation is vacation!

Thanks to my outburst or what I'd rather believe were superior negotiation skills, the lovely woman on the line told me she would try to arrange for the delivery to occur before 1pm in order to prevent me from carrying out many of my threats such as posting I hate Allobebe to my twitter account. Ooops, already did that.

Oh, I forgot to tell you -- I asked her why don't you alert your customers to what they can expect when it comes to delivery procedures on the site. She told me I could read the "conditions generales de vente" (terms and conditions) -- I did - they don't say anything about this nonsense. And furthermore, if you decide to cancel your order because you can't take the day off work for delivery that will cost you 10 euros.

Allobebe just lost what I imagine is another customer. There is a long way to go before anyone will say they are satisfied with shipping in France, but someone at La Poste must be smiling today with the compliment I showered on them. If anyone wants to revolutionize a country, please come to France and show La Poste how they could better invest the 3.4 billions euros they've already spent on modernization by helping small companies like Allobebe acquire and retain customers because of their amazing delivery service instead of -- ummm, I have no idea where that money went -- new bikes?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Passage 53

When your wife's parents say how about we take your daughter Saturday night so you can have an evening out, there really isn't a moment of hesitation. Of course the answer is YES or in this case OUIIIIII!!! The reflection starts immediately after the harried response - where are we going to eat? Since my days of frequent restaurant dining have dwindled, I've been stockpiling a list of places I'd like to try. Google Maps comes in quite handy for this -- if anyone wants to collaborate on a Paris restaurant map, do let me know.

In this day of instant feedback, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and the like -- I post a quick question -- Yamt'cha or Passage 53 for Saturday night. A well known Parisian concierge responds nearly instantly and tells me I need to try the new "menu degustation" at Passage 53. Done! I head over to La Fourchette or the English version, The Fork and book my first online reservation. Confirmation comes through within a couple of hours and we are good to go.

When you arrive at the Passage des Panoramas just opposite the Musée Grévin, you start thinking what kind of tourist trap is this -- reminds me of Place du Tertre or what's the name of that street in the 6eme I used to affectionately call bacteria alley? Anyway, you move forward knowing you are going to find a gem in this Passage - apparently the oldest in Paris.

Et voila! A small, stylishly designed bistro if you will. There couldn't have been more than 20 seats and several couples were sitting alone at tables for 4 -- nice to have the space which is rare in a small Paris restaurant -- I doubt this will last for long unless it's intentional which is shocking. The staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating. After an aperitif, champagne of course, you are informed that you have a choice between two menus -- one at 60 euros and another more copious at 80 euros. Of course I'm going for gluttony here and the more the merrier if you want to sample a chef's creations.

What I really appreciated was the possibility to have wine by the glass accompanying the menu. It's a pleasure to have a chance to sample a number of different wines with a tasting menu than having to stick to one bottle, especially when your wife isn't drinking. The selected wines were excellent and I believe all from Bourgogne where the chef spent several months studying the regional wines and how they would work with his cuisine.

OK, enough background information. Let's get to the food and here's hoping I remember all 10 dishes. First up, a puree of broccoli with extremely minuscule broccoli flowers on top and a dash of Spanish olive oil. Good, but honestly not earth-shattering -- the contrast of textures was creative. Second was the chef's signature dish and something I had never tasted. A tartare de veau on a chopped oyster bed - very refined and subtle. The chef has a philosophy of never using more than three flavors in a dish, so you essentially are always tasting the purity of the ingredients.

The third dish was calamari - no, not the fried kind - but portions of fresh calamari exquisitely cut into small squares but remaining attached to the larger piece (if that makes any sense - a picture would have been better) - set on a purple cauliflower puree with shards of sauteed white and purple cauliflower -- ok now things are getting interesting and with the arrival of each dish -- better I'd say.

The fourth dish was likely my favorite of the night. Sauteed foie gras with mara des bois (wild strawberries) and a hot rhubarb sauce. This is one of those taste sensation experiences -- everything melting in your mouth at the same time. I usually prefer mi-cuit to sauteed, but in this case - pure pleasure.

Now on to the main courses -- 2 fish dishes and 2 meat dishes. I don't know if it was because I was blown away by the foie gras, or the wine was kicking in, but I don't remember as many of the details. There was a rouget followed by lotte. Both were good, I preferred the rouget. Then we had pintade with a nice crispy skin, followed by a very tender piece of veal.

(rouget = red mullet, lotte = monk fish and pintade = guinea hen)

There were two desserts, now you must be thinking I was drunk because actually I really don't remember them. I don't think I was drunk and I seem to recall I liked both desserts. What does this tell me? Write down the courses, take pictures, or just deal with the fact that this review is not comprehensive.

Bottom line -- I loved it -- thought it was truly creative without being over the top and for the time being, totally reasonable for a 10 course tasting menu. It was a lot like Astrance at the beginning -- let's see what happens when the stars come.

Passage 53
53, Passage des Panoramas
75002 Paris
01 42 33 04 35

*if you want a romantic experience, they have a private terrace on the first floor which you can reserve -- or for a group up to 8 people try dining in the private wine cellar