Le Weekend, 5/5/23: Life-Changing Mashed Potatoes in Paris and Desperately Seeking Suzanne au Bain at the Louvre ??

A sculpture of a person

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May 05, 2023

Dear Frenchly Readers,

It’s raining on an April Tuesday and we arrived in Paris only a few hours ago. We’ve taken a nap, gotten dressed in clean clothes and made our way to meet our friend, Philip, for dinner in the enfolding and drizzly Paris darkness. We are going to one of the restaurants featured in the New York Times’ article, “The 25 Essential Dishes to Eat in Paris,” published earlier this year. The endroit is Les Arlots, a small, 30-seat establishment located near the Gare du Nord in the gentrifying 10th arrondissement of Paris. We have a back table, against a tall shelf sagging with a dazzling array of wines. Every so often, one of the two proprietors reaches over us to grab a bottle for a table. We order what the Times said to order: the mashed potatoes with sausage, or what the English would call “bangers and mash.” While we wait, we devour, at the mustachioed chef de cuisine’s suggestion, a plate of cheese with confiture, or jam. (He encourages us: Why not do it first, with the wine?) We eat grilled artichokes on top of hollandaise studded with bottarga, or mullet roe. A red wine is chosen for us by the very same chef, which we happily glug away.

And then the mash arrives, each with a sausage draped over and a clear pour of gravy on top of that, a dish of grain mustard on the side.

Reader, if I could have, I would have gotten onto that plate of mashed potatoes and rolled around in them as I ate them. They were unlike anything I had ever eaten. The crisp on the outside, meaty centered sausage was good, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t care about it. All I cared about was that mash with the beef gravy. It blew my mind. It had me at spud. Or butter. Or crème fraîche. Whatever was making them so insanely good!

I truly have no idea what the hell they are doing to that mash at Les Arlots, or how you can get potatoes so smooth and yet never make them bland, sticky, or hot-public-school-lunch-like. Or, for that matter, how you can even aspire to make gravy that has that many levels of flavor. But they do it. And I will never look at mashed potatoes the same way again, though I am wise enough to know, also, that I will never achieve that level of spud sophistication. And I shouldn’t even try: holiness, after all, can only be found in a few spots on earth. Sainte-Chapelle chapel; in the woods of my home state of Maine; in the Lascaux Caves; swimming in the Gulf Stream off of Prince Edward Island and a handful of other places. (I’d love to hear from you, actually: email me 5 holy—however you interpret that word—places you’ve visited? I will do a roundup from your answers next week!)

But one thing I am sure of now: a plate of mash at Les Arlots in the 10th arrondissement makes the list. Divine is the only word that works.

For dessert, we had little glasses of the earthy, mulchy, raspberry digestif called framboise, and three desserts to share: a mousse au chocolat with fleur de sel on top; a rice pudding that reminded me a bit of Dorie Greenspan’s recipe (but this one had the coup de grâce of a spoonful of confiture du lait, or the French version of dulce de leche, on top); and a Pavlova with faicelles (a fresh, mascarpone-like cheese), French strawberries, still-toothsome rhubarb, and pistachios. We ordered a second Pavlova. It was just all that. 

A few days later, we were in the Louvre desperately seeking one of my favorite sculptures on the whole planet, “Suzanne Surprise au Bain.”  When I lived in Paris thirty years ago (how did all that time go by?) I used to go to the Louvre at least once a week. Often more. I had a friend who took tickets and, in those days, I went for free because I was student at the Sorbonne. I’d go and look at a few things, go eat. Go back two days later. One sculpture I went back and back and back to see was that of “Suzanne Surprise au Bain.”

Now found in the Richelieu gallery somewhere in room 225 (it used to be, when I frequented her as a young woman, somewhere else, set apart, so you’d come upon her, suddenly). Suzanne was sculpted by Pierre Nicolas Beauvallet in 1813 out of marble and was acquired by the Louvre in 1953. The sculpture tells the Bible story of Susanna, who was spied on by two old men while she was washing herself in the bath. She refused their advances and then, go figure, she was accused by them of adultery, and maligned. However, the prophet Daniel intervened and came to her rescue,  proving not only her innocence but that not all men are bad.

I spent a lot of time on my trip over the last two weeks thinking about Suzanne and the look of shock but not surprise on her chiseled face. The violation she feels is enormous and, yet, she also looks like she expects no better from the world of men. As a young woman, I had already had my share of violations when I saw that sculpture. And it resounded for me. It occurred to me last week, that, perhaps, seeing her back in 1992 was my very first #metoo moment.

À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:

I got to write this week, my first piece that culls from my trip: Check out my 7 Tips for How to Take Your Kids to the Louvre (And Have a Blast!)

Also, we have a smorgasbord of watching for this May weekend: My colleague, Cat Rickman, reviewed the new binge-worthy Apple TV show, Drops of God, about the interior machinations of the wine industry…I cannot wait to tuck in tonight and watch. I only wish I had a glass of framboise to sip along. Bordeaux will have to do.

Check out this piece on Set Jetting, where Philip Ruskin pairs Paris films with their real-life locations. It is a joy to read. And it comes with an amazing “to watch” list, to boot. He is a true film aficionado.

To cook: We have a new “step by step” video to teach you how to make croissants (Mother’s Day, folks?) with Brooklyn French Bakers.

And Cat and I collaborated on a piece this week about why the French buy little bouquets of lily of the valley, or muguets (or even just chocolate muguets),  to celebrate the 1st of May. I was in Paris just before May 1st, and they were everywhere.

Before I sign off, it’s great to be back! Especially because we have a new website! We are still tinkering and trying to get new pieces up, but what you will see is the aesthetic result of a year of meetings and work and talking and thinking about what we want to do with Frenchly—take a look HERE and send us your feedback!

I have so much fun stuff to share in the coming weeks from my amazing two weeks in France. Finding the time to write it all will be the challenge!

Thank you to Cat Rickman and Emmanuel Saint-Martin for steering the ship in my absence. More soon!

À bientôt,

Caitlin.

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Caitlin Shetterly is the Editor-in-Chief of Frenchly. She is also the author of 4 books: Fault Lines, Made for You and MeModified and the upcoming novel, Pete and Alice in Maine, which will be published on July 4th, 2023 by Harper Books. She is a native daughter and she lives with her two sons and husband in an old house on the coast of Maine.

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