Paris Travel Tales
Chapter 4: Crazy for Costes Cafes and the Enormous Profiterole (continued)
Cafe Beaubourg is another Costes cafe with a killer view of a famous museum, the Pompidou Center. The Pompidou Center, like the Louvre pyramids, was hated by the Parisians when the initial designs were displayed. Now, the Pompidou is beloved and actually receives more visitors each year than the Louvre.
The Pompidou Center is an amazing building in that the architects' designed it "inside out". All duct work, electrical conduits, etc. are not hidden behind plaster walls. Instead, they are exposed and coded in bright colors on the outside of the building. The colors are blue for the air ducts, green for water pipes, yellow for the electrical wiring, red for the people movers (e.g., escalators and elevators) and gray for corridors.
The Pompidou Center's architect, Renzo Piano, wanted the building to "not be a monument, but a celebration, a large urban plaything." I think he acheived his vision.
I love to sit on the large patio outside the Cafe Beaubourg and watch the action taking place in the square in front of the museum (see picture from the terrace below).
Many people aren't too fond of this area with the masses of teenagers hanging out at all hours doing what teenagers typically do - looking bored enough in large groups to worry adults about what they are up to. This area seems more like "real" ethnic Paris to me, than the gentrified neighborhoods around the Louvre and the Left Bank.
At Cafe Beaubourg, I enjoy watching the street performers while tracing with my eyes the various "inside-out" parts of the building. On this wet November day, this was not going to happen. It was raining and the chairs on the terrace were soaked. Samantha was relieved that I didn't push that we sit on our purses under our umbrellas just so that I could admire the architecture.
The inside of Cafe Beaubourg takes its cue from the modern art museum next door. The minimalist, industrial space with cement floors and exposed steel beams contrasts with the thick red velvet curtains, gray leather armchairs and marble candle lit tables.
There are two beautiful, but slow servers working tonight. At Costes Cafes waiters wear uniforms, but the waitresses dress all in black in their own clothes. Sitting and watching how stylish some of these waitresses are reminds me of sitting at a catwalk. They are definately hired based on their "look" and the cache they bring to the restaurant - not on how great they are at serving.
We decide to order appetizers for dinner. Tuna tartar with avocado (11 euros), Fois Gras de Canard (14 euros), and the plate of Calamari (11 euros). We order our Parisian drink of choice, French Champagne (Lanson Rose - 11 euros/glass). The portions were large and delicious.
As Samantha and I dig in, we hear the first crash. We look over and keeping with the Costes tradition, a stunning, tall brunette waitress is holding askew a tray of tipped over glasses. Bummer. But, spilled trays happen to every server at times.
We continue debating about what to do later that evening when we hear the sound of glass breaking. I turn behind me to notice the French waitress lackadaisically do the "Parisian shoulder shrug" before bending down to pick up the broken glass.
The crashing continues.
I usually have pretty good service in Paris and don't understand the complaints I hear about French waiters and waitresses. It dawns on me that maybe the popular Cafe Beaubourg is the root of the discontent.
After the sixth crash, I turn to Samantha, "She just dropped a full tray of five dinners. Food is flying everywhere." I feel really bad for the party who is going to wait even longer with the slow service for their dinner.
A few minutes later, I stare incredulously and relate to Samantha. "Oh no, she is going over to another table to take their order. And, the table of four looked freaked out and ran away." I've never seen a group of Parisians move so fast.
"You're kidding me."Fascinated Samantha looks over, "They have our waiter trapped against the wall. Probably asking if he'll be their server. I don't blame them."
Our waiter now is basically serving the entire restaurant. Poor guy. He is paying the price for being competent. Exhausted, he comes over to ask if we want anything else.
Samantha says, "I'm still hungry. I'll have a dessert. The creme brulee."
He looks at me inquiringly. "I'm fine." Then, I suddenly change my mind. I'm not the least bit hungry, but figure with one waiter working the increasingly busy dining room, I'll probably be starving by the time he returns with Samantha's dessert.
I quickly glance at the menu and order "The Profiteroles". Profiteroles are a standard dessert on most menus in Paris. They are miniature balls of pastry, like a cream puff, but usually filled with ice cream and smothered with a dark chocolate sauce. Yummy.
Our desserts arrive. He serves Samantha's creme brulee. Then, he places this huge, white ball with brown sauce running down it. It is the size of my kid's small soccer ball. It looks like nothing I've ever seen before. At least, not in a restaurant.
"What is this?", I ask horrified.
"The profiterole, madam", then the waiter rushes off.
Samantha starts snorting champagne out of her nose.
"What's so funny?"
"Didn't you read the menu?"
"Sort of," I try my best to do a "Parisian shrug".
"You ordered the "enormous profiterole". I wondered what you were thinking?
I stutter. "I knew it was the enormous profiterole. But, but... I thought it was an enormous dessert by French standards making it a normal sized dessert by American standards. I didn't expect an "all-american-super-sized" puff pastry filled with a gallon of ice cream."
I try my best to dig my spoon into the soccer-balled size dessert to Samantha's amusement. I slowly eat the profiterole until I am stuffed. I didn't make a dent in it.
As we walk out of the Cafe Beaubourg, Samantha laughs and points to a table behind me.
"Look, they're eating your dessert." I watch as five large guys who look like Rugby players dig into the "enormous profiterole" sitting in the middle of their table. It looks just the right size for them.
At Cafe Beaubourg, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers run from 10-15 euros and are large enough to share. Entrees are 15-20 euros, and wine/beer costs 5-9 euros a glass. Samantha's smallish creme brulee was 7 euros, and my monster profiterole was an amazingly cheap 8 euros.
Address: 100 Rue Saint Martin, 75004 Paris
Tel: 01 48 87 63 96
Photo Credits: Alex Bartel--Science Source/Photo Researchers, Inc., Beaubourg outside - 1998-2004 Aaron Elliott, Outside Pipes - Adrian Pingstone. All other photos property of Paris Escapes.
Author: Cheryl Montgomery