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Quechua ladies of Peru

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I ticked off another destination on my bucket list and, in retrospect, am finding it hard to determine which vacation I loved more: the South African Safari http://singita.com/ or a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands.

" On the way to Tilcara and Humahuaca, the landscape is unreal, the color tones of the earth, and the huge mountains, are all overwhelming"

Aperitif on the beach at sunset, in Grand Cayman, is priceless

La Table d’Orphée

By: Elizabeth Brunazzi

Every New Year's Eve in Paris. It is the way I renew my calendar, reset my personal clock. I was looking forward this year to capturing my favorite dish for the réveillon (traditional feast in France on the eve) pintade aux cèpes (guinea hen with cepes, a black mushroom akin to the prized Italian Porcini) at Chedhomme a small but scrumptious traiteur in the fifth arrondissement a few steps from famed market street, Mouffetard, aka La Mouffe.

I had recommended Chedhomme to friends from Austin arriving in Paris for Christmas, and asked them to arrange my portion of the lovingly artisanal, traditional dishes the three petites dames of a certain age I like to call the "Paris food fairies" always prepare for a long line of clients during the holidays. All would be well. Then Mary Ewen e–mailed from Paris that there was a line of clients outside Chedhomme alright, but Chedhomme was no longer, Chedhomme had closed! Crisis!

I enjoyed the réveillon at the home of friends but something was missing. That guinea hen. I decided to check out the newcomers on rue de Bazeilles, shuddering as I walked down rue Monge at the thought of what or who might be replacing the beloved denizens of Chedhomne. Would it be some sort of chain courtesy of galloping globalization? McDo is not far away on the streets of Paris these days, nor is Starbucks for that matter.

La Table d'Orphée? It sounded poetic and even a bit pompous. Where Chedhomme was overstuffed, traditional and cozy, the new place is spare and elegant, with the look of a wine bar, and a minimum of offerings displayed in the window and cases, in a style, how to say. nouveau deco– italo–french, Milano–Pariso–Manhattan? It is very pretty, with modish Milano gray and red accents and foodstuffs peering from big jars everywhere.

La Table d’Orphée

But guess what? Yes, Virginia, there really is an Orpheus in residence there. The title takes it name from owner/director Orfeo Ruspoli. The "food fairies" have indeed disappeared but will be long remembered. They are replaced. . .by a phalanx of handsome young men. And La Table d'Orphée is anything but a "chain" or standardized entry. There is currently only one in Paris, chef Ruspoli's most recent venture (opened on December 18th, 2007), and the public face of a three–year–old catering business, 13 rue des Lyonnais, also in the 5th arrondissement.

"We wanted to do something original and refined but reasonable," was the way front–store manager Monsieur Lecoin, put it. Orfeo Ruspoli describes the cuisine of his top chef and partner Alexis Chavances as "very inventive. . .a mix of tradition and international flavors. The basis is typically French but with a touch of different countries, Italy, Spain, Asia, but the dominant one is definitely Italian."

Lecoin emphasized that everything is scrupulously fresh. The (long) list of dishes on the menu changes daily, and most can be prepared "à la minute," eaten at the bar with a glass of wine, or taken out. If this is "fast food," we're in heaven.

The menu features game, Filet de chevreuil avec sa sauce au porto et garniture de truffes, and Mousse de Homard (lobster mousse) at 12 to 15 euros per person, Magret miel (duck breast with honey), Boeuf Coriandre , Brick mignon avec mozzarella et garniture, for 7.80 euros per person, and Filet de veau avec sauge et parmesan, at 9.00 euros per person, Risotto "Rosewood," named for one of Ruspoli's chefs, and Chicken Chorizo, at 6.00 euros per person.

La Table d’Orphée

Choices from the wine list include: Costière de Nîmes–Château Beaubois 2005 (red), 9 euros, Sancerre–Château Tassin 2005 (white) 11 euros, and Coteaux du Layon–Château des Noyers 2005 (sweet white), 17 euros.

The desserts are also inventive. They remind me of miniature trifles or parfaits, layered in lovely colors. Lecoin allowed they are "experimenting" with non–alcoholic "cocktail" flavors such as piña colada. Personally, I prefer more classic desserts and, as an American, have seen one too many, overly sweet piña colada–flavored somethings to last into any afterlife. I hope they will give that one up.

Ruspoli's staff consists of twelve full–time employees, and for catering the group is tripled by about twenty–nine extra waiters and "party" chefs. Ruspoli's group will continue to cater and be available for private parties and dinners "à domicile."

Ruspoli's La Table d'Orphée just may do contemporary justice to the long, noble tradition of the French traiteur. It strikes me as a worthy new entry in the fierce flurry of openings of bistros and catering establishments in Paris these days.

And they do guinea hen, too, a Pintadeau, but the Pintadeau is the young version. Long live tradition AND innovation.

La Table d'Orphée 5, rue de Bazeilles
5eme Paris
Owner: Orfeo Ruspoli
Métros: Monge or Censier–Daubenton
Tel. 01–43–36–48–10
www.latabledorphee.fr/