The numbered duck (Le número de votre Canard: 1115233)
It is hard to not be enchanted by Tour d’Argent. I confess I was a just a touch concerned upon arrival. The downstairs seating area, with its mini-museum display of table settings of the bygone days, was a bit tired looking. However, a quick champagne, hors d’oeuvres and an elevator ride later we are seated at the table of the main dining area where all my concerns disappeared. Dining area is shiny with slivers, crystals and chandeliers. Rapidly, the room started filling up. We were seated at the center of the room. From where I sat, the view of Notre Dame was occasionally interrupted by Jeeves like accoutrement of the servers. Facing me was the duck press station, where an old gentleman went about the task of meticulously pressing ducks. I would have described it as an assembly line process were it not for the exaggerated rituals associated with the task.
Number of servers far exceeded the number of guests. While their movement in and out of the kitchen seemed chaotic, service at the table was a well choreographed dance. A couple of waiters coordinated placing the food on the table while the senior of the two took time to describe the food. A similar coordination took place when plates were removed from the table. Pacing was perfect. Nothing felt hurried, nothing felt delayed, no ho hum moment. One particular ritual felt quaint in this age – my husband’s menu had the prices and not mine. Wine pouring on the other hand could only be described as elaborate. A lot of deep inhalation, swishing and slurping happened before we were served ours.
Food could not be described as spectacular but it was competently done and so very satisfying. Perhaps it was as much showmanship as anything else that made for a memorable luncheon experience. Pike dumpling in cream sauce has a mousse like texture. Gently cooked haddock, accompanied by a variety of cauliflowers, smelled of the ocean. Duck accompanied by a poached pear was juicy and mineral-y. We hadn’t gone for their famous pressed duck, but the table next to us had. Consequently, I had the privilege of watching the rituals that accompany that famous dish. First, the bird was brought to the table and the guests, two well dressed European ladies, approved the bird in its entirety. Then, the bird went to the duck press station. Station master, for the first time that afternoon, stopped his duck pressing business and went about carving the bird expertly. No, this was no assembly line, his skill with bird carving definitely exceeded mine with bread slicing.
The ladies ate daintily and I wondered what happened to the rest of the uneaten duck. It was a bit hard not to think about the ducks at Tour d’Argent. Following our duck course, which of course we devoured down to the last bite, we were given a postcard that declared that we were served duck numbered 1,115,233. I was a little surprised with the postcard but my husband, who makes it his business to know all lores food related, of course knew all about the postcard. The house apparently has been keeping track. Now I am pretty sure that I would have cheered at the millionth duck but it was a little hard for me to feel equally gung ho about 1,115,233. It tasted pretty darn good though, as good as the millionth one I bet.
For a place that was meant to be so fancy, it was surprisingly easy going. The servers smiled frequently and offered to take our pictures. The best table in the room, the one with the uninterrupted view of Notre Dame, was occupied by an old couple who were celebrating life and each other. If there is next time at Tour d’Argent, I will remember to specially ask for that table. Perhaps my next duck would be numbered 11,235,813!