Cruising up the smooth, broad A10 highway toward Paris at 130 kilometers per hour (roughly 80 miles per hour) — guided by a soothing English-accented GPS — makes nearly five hours on the road fly.
Paris itself is less alluring by car. Like all major capitals, there are the annoyances of traffic congestion, parking (about 50 bucks a day) and the like, but the culinary rewards and general joie de vivre are enchanting.
Wandering near the Tuileries Garden, we head to Angelina, a gorgeous 1903 teahouse favored by Coco Chanel. Its cup of hot chocolate is really a pitcher of dark chocolate ganache, just melted and thinned with cream.
As if this isn't decadent enough, the drink includes a piped rosette of freshly whipped cream in a dainty pot on the side. With one quick dip of your spoon, the cream tops the beautiful china and dissolves in contact with the warm thick liquid like an iceberg fighting global warming. Add a sublime quiche Lorraine with impossibly flaky crust and smoky bacon-laced custard and you've had a dream lunch.
The only thing to top that is to surprise a friend who's celebrating a special birthday with dinner at Le Jules Verne, now in tip-top shape under the wing of French culinary kingpin, Alain Ducasse. The restaurant is not on the cutting edge of cuisine but, instead, is a love affair with tradition.
And, did I mention that it's 120 meters above the city in the friggin' Eiffel Tower?
I surreptitiously whisper to our taxi driver that this is a surprise, so "ferme la bouche." He plays along, and as we pull up at the tower's base, he starts slapping the dash and announces that his cab is on the fritz — we'll need to depart here.
My group is incensed, but that tone soon changes when I point out an awning and entrance to the private glass elevator that will whisk us to our table. We start with a battle of brut versus rosé champagne that launches us on a surreal, more than four-hour journey through six magical courses matched with ethereal wines.
The superb cuisine and Michelin-starred service anticipating every whim is unforgettable. As we watch the late-setting summer sun settle over Paris with Sacré-Coeur in the distance, bateau boats floating down the Seine river and the Invalides complex's gold dome glistening in the fading light, there's a sense of euphoria.
The eyes at my table tell all. This is a perfect "joyeux anniversaire" indeed.
Editor's note: CL food critic Jon Palmer Claridge is in France doing "research."