Tag Archive | "Paris"

Letter from Paris: Les Arlots

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Les Arlots. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

Les Arlots. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

By Aexander Lobrano

So there are two things you need to know right away about Les Arlots, an excellent new bistro near the Gare du Nord in Paris. The first is that this tiny place is going to become very popular, so if you want to go, please pause now, pick-up the phone and make a reservation. And the second is that despite its diminutive size, it signals a major change in the gastronomic landscape of Paris.

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aleclobranohungryfe4e99_2Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and is a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com  (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: Kult, Casual Dining in Saint-Germain-des-Pres

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Kult, casual dining in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Photo copyright Alexander Lobrano

By Alexander Lobrano

Inspite of its dopey name, Kult, the stylish but easygoing restaurant in the just-opened hotel Le Saint, is a welcome new option for good casual dining in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Surprisingly, the restaurant offer in this storied Left Bank neighborhood, the most loved district of Paris for upmarket visitors to the city, is relatively meager. To wit, if you want a good French meal within a five-to-ten-minute walk of the Cafe Deux Magots or the Cafe de Flore, your best choices are pretty much Fish La Boissonnerie, Semilla, Le 21 and, a little bit further afield, the excellent Cafe Trama on the rue du Cherche Midi.

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alecAlexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: Papillon

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Photo copyright Pierre Monetta.

Christophe Saintagne in front of Papillon. Photo copyright Pierre Monetta.

 

By Alexander Lobrano

Papillon, chef Christophe Saintagne’s new bistro in the 17th Arrondissement, brings a bracing shot of hipster energy to a very bourgeois part of Paris. From its cobalt-blue facade to its friendly suspender-wearing waiters and market-driven Nordic inflected modern bistro menu, this relaxed, happy place with a decor of oak tables, parquet floors, and suspended lamps looks like a restaurant you could as easily find in Santa Monica or Sydney as western Paris. And that is a mostly good thing, since this Gaullist redoubt is long overdue for a good social, political and gastronomic shakeup.

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aleclobranohungryfe4e99_2Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

The Grand Train Stations of Paris

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Text and photographs by Deborah Loeb Bohren

 

The six grand train stations of Paris represent the best of design and architecture of their time boasting exquisite ironwork, intricate masonry, paintings and murals, and a myriad of clocks inside and out. Each station was designed to make the best possible first impression on travelers to Paris and all of the stations serve different regions, their names often offering clues.
Paris’ oldest train station, Gare Saint-Lazare was inaugurated in 1837.  Gare de L’Est opened in 1849 and hosted the original Orient Express on its premier journey to Istanbul in 1883. Gare du Nord is the largest station in Paris and its modern neoclassical architecture is decorated with 23 statues each representing the cities served, including Paris. Completely rebuilt to accommodate the influx of  travelers visiting the World Exposition of 1900, the Gare de Lyon has been home to the iconic (and ornate) Le Train Bleu restaurant for 115 years.Gare d’Austerlitz, originally know as the Gare d’Orleans, was renamed for the location of one of Napoleon’s most famous battles and its facades and roofs have earned it recognition as a historical monument. The glass, steel and concrete Gare Montparnesse traces it’s roots to 1840 but was rebuilt in the middle of the last century and exemplifies 1960s modernism.

Step inside of these stations and, if you look carefully, you can still feel the air of anticipation and be transported to an era when train travel represented a grand adventure and endless possibilities rather than the hassle of a daily commute.

Deborah Loeb Bohren is a fine art and travel photographer. Photography has been Deb’s passion since her father put a camera in her hand when she was only five years old. Today she combines that passion with her love of travel, using her camera to capture the intersection and interplay of light, line and color to create visual stories from the flea markets of Paris to the dunes of Morocco and from Machu Picchu to Havana and beyond. She lives in New York.

Deborah Loeb Bohren is a fine art and travel photographer. Photography has been Deb’s passion since her father put a camera in her hand when she was only five years old. Today she combines that passion with her love of travel, using her camera to capture the intersection and interplay of light, line and color to create visual stories from the flea markets of Paris to the dunes of Morocco and from Machu Picchu to Havana and beyond. She lives in New York.

Letter from Paris: La Rotonde

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La Rotonde. Photo credit Alexander Lobrano.

La Rotonde. Photo credit Alexander Lobrano.

By Alexander Lobrano

Like most Paris brasseries, La Rotonde was founded long before people started going to restaurants for revelations. No, in those days, people went to restaurants to eat, and they pretty much knew what the menu would look like even before they stepped through the door.

When it opened on the boulevard Montparnasse in 1911, the Left Bank neighborhood was just beginning to attract artists like Picasso and Chagall and it was a busy commercial thoroughfare leading to a one of the city’s main train station.

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alecAlexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: Alec Lobrano’s Ten Favorite Meals of 2015

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Rouget with green apple peashoot spelt at Le Crouzil in Brittany. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

Rouget with green apple peashoot spelt at Le Crouzil in Brittany. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

 

Celeste in London

Celeste in London. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

By Alexander Lobrano

On the eve of a new year, please receive this post as an expression of my gratitude for the huge privilege of good health, lots of travel to slack my insatiable curiosity and discover so many wonderful new chefs, kitchens, and foods, and also the pleasure of writing for so many superb publications. Among ever so many good ones–and believe me, I count my blessings, these were my ten favorite meals in 2015.

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alecAlexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Five Myths about Terrorism & Travel Insurance

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Photo: David Goldman, AP)

Photo: David Goldman, AP)

by Everett Potter

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali, not to mention the warnings for major cities around the world, have put many travelers on edge. For those of us who’ve already bought and paid for a trip, or are planning to travel in the near future, travel insurance might seem like a good idea. But what can it really do for you in these circumstances? Here are five myths about travel insurance and terrorism.

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Letter from Paris: Le Bon Saint Pourçain

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Le Bon Saint Pourcain. Credit  Alexander Lobrano.

Le Bon Saint Pourçain. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

By Alexander Lobrano

In Paris, the assiduously institutionalized exultation of the city’s past poses the same sort of risk as the sugar water in a bee trap. Like many people who live here, however, I forget how easy it is to succumb to the easy nectar of memory and to gloat over the beauty of a place that has pretty much shunned modernity, or at least inside of Le Peripherique, or the beltway that separates the city from the suburbs it ignores.

"Provence 1970." by Luke Barr. Credit  Alexander Lobrano.

“Provence 1970.” by Luke Barr. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

So as luck would have it, just before going to dinner at the new version of Le Bon Saint Pourçain, a Saint-Germain-des-Prés bistro I’ve known for years, I’d just read Luke Barr’s fascinating and beautifully written book Provence 1970, which puts the relationships of many legendary American and British food writers under a magnifying glass as they interact during a series of cross-hatching visits to Provence. What especially intrigued me in these pages was that two of my heroes, M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child, were both so wary of becoming trapped by the past. Both women saw that France was changing, in ways both good and bad, and so they sought in their own ways to re-situate themselves in their relationship to Gaul, not loving it less but perhaps not needing it as much as they once had. And both women also felt a powerful eagerness live in the present and discover new things, which struck a chord with me, because so many people, myself included a lot of the time, don’t want Paris to change.

But the city will change, and it does, and often that’s a good thing, especially in the kitchen. And for all of the dozens of very happy meals I’ve had at Le Bon Saint Pourçain through the years, the best dish here was always off-menu, since it was the ineffably charming and rather clubby conviviality of the place. And the food? Depending on who was in the kitchen, it was usually just fine, if rarely better than that, or the type of cuisine ménagère (home cooking)  your French maiden aunt might have served you, where the pleasure was derived more from her good intentions than her skills in the kitchen. To be sure, I always liked the leeks in a vinaigrette sauce and the boeuf aux olives (braised beef with green olives), and sometimes there was a good fruit tart to be had as well.

Inside Saint Pourcain. Credit Alexander Lobrano

Inside Saint Pourçain. Credit Alexander Lobrano

But the best of being here was the banter of François, the beetle-browed owner, and the fun of seeing who else would be there of a given evening, maybe Leslie Caron or Catherine Deneuve or a politician or writer or two, because this was always anur Saint-Germain-des-Prés kind of place. Happily, David Lanher, the shrewd restaurateur who took this place over, understood all of that, so it was no surprise that he hired a former waiter from the Cafe de Flore to run the dining room, and no one in the dining room did more than bat a complicit eye lash or five the other night when François-Marie Banier came through the door with two friends (and if you don’t know who he is, you can read more about this man, who would have been a wonderful character in a Guy de Maupassant short story, here). I also wouldn’t be surprised if Monsieur Lanher had been behind some last minute accessorizing in the dining room as well, see above.

When the waiter came to prop the chalkboard menu up on a chair next to our table, I was extremely curious to see if his next move wouldn’t be to pour us both a welcome glass of white Saint Pourçain wine, since this was one of the hospitality fixtures that distinguished this restaurant for years. Reading my mind, Bruno answered my question. “I don’t think so,” he said, so we had a rather skimpy pour of Petit Chablis instead, and a trip wire went off. As moneyed and worldly as the regulars at Le Bon Saint Pourçain have always been, they’ve also always been a particularly pennywise crowd who are most expediently seduced by generosity.

Eggs and leeks at Saint Pourcain. Credit  Alexander Lobrano.

Eggs and leeks at Saint Pourçain. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

So this one little tradition might wisely have been perpetuated, and wines served by the glass should be poured generously. If the menu had very little to do with what had previously been served in this dining room, there was a wink or two at the past, particularly in terms of the marinated leeks in a silky camel-brown Satay like peanut sauce with a coddled egg that I had as my first course. Though it was rather murky looking on a matte black plate, this dish was unexpectedly satisfying–the peanuts actually flattered the vegetable, and everyone loves the drama of slitting open a coddled egg. Bruno’s foie gras with pickled mushrooms was lush, pleasantly salt and peppered, and generously served to boot.

Mychine de porc at Saint Pourcain. Credit  Alexander Lobrano.

Echine de porc at Saint Pourçain. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

And on a summer night, the discreetly refreshed look of the dining room, with its globe lamps, patches of exposed brick and curtain-less windows (they’d formerly been dressed with the sort of thick lace you might once have seen on your grandmother’s dresser) was appealing in its Gallic simplicity. Our main courses registered as excellent modern French bistro cooking from the moment they arrived at the table, too. Myechine de porc (pork shoulder butt) was cooked pink, which is just how I like it in spite of the fact that my mother used to reduce nice pork standing rib roasts to near cinders in the belief that pork had to be nearly incinerated to be safe to eat, and this rosy meat road a bed of sautéed mushrooms and greens lapped with a nicely jus de viande that I’d guess was veal based. Perfectly braised, with a crispy skin, and an identical garnish, Bruno’s free-range chicken was similarly satisfying modern French comfort food, too. And because this was Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where everyone knows the carnal catechism that you should never eat anything starchy or farinaceous in the evening, because it leads, quel horreur, to weight gain, there wasn’t a grain of rice, a potato or a noodle to be found within a block of our table.

Three ladies at Saint Pourcain. Credit  Alexander Lobrano.

Three ladies at Saint Pourçain. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

As it got later, the early-bird Americans on the terrace left and more and more old regulars arrived in the snug little dining room, eye balling the changes with guarded curiosity, as if still hoping for the best. Since we were at the end of our meal, like the three elegant ladies next to us, we’d spent an evening watching people attempting to diagnose and decide about the change, and every newcomer caused us to exchange fleeting complicit glances. But what consistently brought us to the edge of mirth was the frustration of the regulars at the stingy pours of the wines by the glass–we’d glance at each other, exchange pursed lipped smiles and half nods, and savor this recurring moment, since the few people who still drink in Saint-Germain-des-Prés–so many have lost their toys–are very serious about it.

Cheese plate at Saint-Pourcain. Credit  Alexander Lobrano.

Cheese plate at Saint Pourçain. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

A good cheese plate and a pleasant modern riff on a baba au rhum (sponge cake with whipped cream and lashings of rum) ended this pleasant if pricey meal, and the grand finale occurred a few minutes later when we were walking to our car and saw Catherine Deneuve peck someone on the cheek before hoping out of his car and immediately lighting a cigarette. Noticing Bruno and me standing there rubber necking, she grinned and said, “Ca va, les garçons?” (How’s it going, boys?), which was a rather wonderful conclusion to our Left Bank outing. So the only things that are missing at David Lanher’s reboot of this venerable bistro are the welcome pour of wine, and, I’m afraid, the young eager eyes that would be intrigued by this profoundly Parisian institution but which are very rarely found in gentrified and vaguely geriatric Saint-Germain-des-Prés anymore.

10 rue Servadoni, 6th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. (33) 01-42-01-78-24. Metro: Saint Sulpice or Mabillon. Open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. Closed on Sunday and Monday. Average a la carte 65 Euros.

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and is a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, www.alexanderlobrano.com  (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and is a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

Letter from Paris: Benoit

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Benoit. Credit C.-Sarramon

Benoit. Credit C.-Sarramon

By Alexander Lobrano

Paris without Benoit, a wonderful old bistro on the edge of the Marais that’s been in business since 1912, would be almost as unimaginable to me as Paris without the Eiffel Tower. Why? Though I’ve occasionally had a bone or two to pick with Benoit through the years, it remains an august monument to the eternal goodness of Parisian bistro cooking. And that’s why today I’m grateful to Alain Ducasse for taking it over in 2005. I was a bit skeptical at the time–after all, what could Ducasse bring to a bistro register as brilliant as the one perpetuated by the Petit family for 93 years? Not much, as it turned out, but in his quiet role as a restaurant curator and collector, he saved this place.

Without Ducasse, Benoit might have suffered the same ignominious fate as Le Grizzli, a once charming old-fashioned Auvergnat bistro across the street where I used to love the fricot de veau (veal stew with wild mushrooms) that’s now become an insipid could-be-just-about-anywhere  type of table–I mean, does anyone really come to Paris to eat skewered chicken with sate sauce?

My most recent meal at Benoit was born of a heart-felt desire to lift the spirits of a much-loved friend, a longtime American resident of Paris like me, who’s going through a very hard time. Aside from daily phone calls, I was trying to think of what I could do to cheer her up, to distract her, and then it occurred to me that a really good meal with some great wines would be perfect. So I invited her to join me at Benoit.

On the way to dinner, it was a soft Paris night in May when the air was scented by chestnut flowers, a distinct but soft and fleetingly floral moment in the city’s annual calendar that never lasts more than a few days, and I thought of the first time I went to dinner at Benoit, with Ken, a handsome guy from the corn-belt in Ohio who used to work for the same company I did. He liked to eat as much as I do, and we drank a what-the-hell expensive bottle of Cote Rotie with our meal, which wasn’t a long-planned event, but rather an off-the-cuff let’s-go-out-to-dinner feast before obligatory reservations strangled such spontaneous pleasures. Yes, there really was a time in Paris where you could walk in the door of a very good restaurant in Paris and get a table. What a shame it is that meal planning has become as strategic, intricate and carefully plotted as D-Day.

Asparagus with a truffled mousseline sauce. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Asparagus with a truffled mousseline sauce. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

What was racketing around in my head on the way to dinner was my recurring exasperation with several of the most exhausted cliches of contemporary food writing, to wit, women love salad and fish, while men want meat and more meat, and younger people don’t want traditional French bistro food like older ones do but would rather have pizza, sushi and cheeseburgers. None of these ideas are true, actually, but their persistent existence throws any discussion about good food in Paris way off course. Many of the women I know and love are even more enthusiastic eaters of offal and big bloody steaks than I am, and a good number of my youngest friends crave blanquette de veau and coq au vin even more than I do.  So do you care to guess which one of us ordered the asparagus with a truffled mousseline sauce?

Well, we both did, but that was after we’d shared an order of Langue de Lucullus, a speciality of Valenciennes in northern France comprised of fine layers of smoked tongue interleaved with pork-liver pate; it’s a dish I never eat without thinking of Bruno’s lovely mother, who now insists I call her “Maman,” because I’m her ‘American son,’ since she was the one who introduced it to me. It’s sturdy old-fashioned French food, and as much as I love it it always induces an apprehension that I might soon be a worthy model for Rodin, the sculptor of large solid people, if he were still alive.

Boeuf Wellington. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Boeuf Wellington. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

There were ever so many tempting things on the menu at Benoit the other night, but what caught my eye, oddly, was Boeuf Wellington, that ur American suburban dinner-party show-off recipe from the Seventies, which consists of a filet of beef anointed with a sauce Perigueux (foie gras and truffles) wrapped in pastry. I hadn’t eaten Beef Wellington in beyond the nets of recent memory, but since it’s served here for two (until the end of May 2015, as part of a tiny collection of wonderfully retro recipes) I had to be sure my friend was onboard as well.

She was, so we did, and it was wonderful, because the beef wasn’t the insipid filet most often found in the same preparation in North America, where tenderness is the ultimate and rather sorry measure of good meat, but juicy mineral-rich French beef with a pleasantly chewy grain. And as I ate it, I thought of the long butterfly-print culotte halter dress that my mother wore with tangerine sandals when she wanted to buck back against a world of make-up-free suburban women in wrap skirts with the same bob haircuts they’d had since they were twelve. Mind you, my mother was all scorn (and still is) when it comes to anything that might be construed as feminine wiles, but she still occasionally felt the need or desire for a little bit of glamour, a timeout from the spaded femininity of American suburbs in the Northeast in the sixties and seventies, and it’s true I’ve never ever known a man who looked at a metal duck-head belt buckle, one of the embarrassing emblems of female preppy privilege, and gone wild with desire.

So certain dishes become repositories of memory in all cities, all countries and all cultures. And this was why it was so poignant to eat Beef Wellington at Benoit–it fused France and America in a gentle subconscious soup of happy memory for two gastronomically exigent American expatriates (and I’d still insist that I’m not an expatriate, but rather an American whose curiosity led him to chose a life abroad). Mind you, the impulse could have gone very wrong if the dish hadn’t been so beautifully prepared–and this is Benoit’s glory, it’s Vieille France glorified by exquisite modern cooking methods and the exalted sourcing of the best Gallic produce.

Mind you, it’s expensive, and the service is still organised according to an unspoken and not always accurate table plan of snobbery that these days is probably snubbing some of the most interesting people in the room. To wit, people who still dress up get seats in the prized corral in the heart of the restaurant, those who are deemed runners up sit up front in the area adjacent to the bar, and everyone else is sent to the backroom, a dull dining room that was one of my bones to pick with Ducasse when he took this place over. The decision was all business, and it blunted the restaurant’s charm.

Poule-au-pot sur assiette. Credit Pierre Monetta.

Poule au pot sur assiette. Credit Pierre Monetta.

Benoit is still the kind of place, though, where you might have a gracious and unexpected surprise during dinner. The beautiful woman from Manila sitting next to us with her American husband insisted we try some of her luscious poule au pot, because she couldn’t finish it but must have been sporadically listening to our frenetic chatter about good French food, and when asked, the waiter didn’t blanche. After barely being able to finish the beef Wellington, it was stretch to eat anything more, but this bird was beautiful and the pool of bouillon it rested in was rich, restorative and earthy.

And then we finished up with an exquisitely made strawberry Charlotte, and a flirtatious little plate of chocolate-sauced napped profiteroles, which came to the table because the waiter liked us and wanted to please and provoke in equal measure. Our whole meal tasted of the food which made us decide to live our lives in Paris a longtime ago, but it was also fresher and more vivid than any of those remembered dishes of yore. This is where Ducasse, and acting chef Fabienne Eymard, have so admirably succeed, since there’s a very good possibility that the bistro cooking served here is even better today than it was when the Petits owned it. Memory is slippery by definition, but taste very rarely lies, because it’s so primal: Benoit is still a very good bistro.

Benoit. Credit Pierre Monetta.

Benoit. Credit Pierre Monetta.

20 rue Saint Martin, 4th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. (33) 01-58-00-22-05. Metro: Chatelet or Hotel de Ville. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch menu 39 Euros, Average a la carte dinner 85 Euros. www.benoit-paris.com

aleclobranohungryfe4e99_2 2Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and is a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, www.alexanderlobrano.com  (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

Le District: Paris on the Hudson

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Le District, in lower Manhattan.

Le District, in lower Manhattan.

By Beverly Stephen

Photos courtesy of Le District

After a solemn and sobering visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in lower Manhattan, a snack could be in order.  What could be more restorative than steak frites and a glass of hearty red?

ld9So why not go to France? Or at least a French market by simply crossing under the West Side Highway via a space age tunnel that emerges in the soaring Winter Garden with panoramic views of New York Harbor.  There beckons the newly opened Le District, a 30,000 square foot Gallic fantasy divided into four districts—restaurant, café, market, and garden.  Within these districts all culinary needs for eat-in or take-out can be met from poisson to  patisserie from fleurs to fromage. Tourists and worker bees from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Conde Nast are likely to eat-in at one of the restaurants, at one of the counter seats scattered throughout, or on the 7,000 square foot plaza looking out to the Statue of Liberty. Residents and perhaps the same office workers on the way home can buy the raw materials for dinner.  And don’t forget the flowers. Even if you’re staying in a hotel, there’s nothing like a bouquet to make a room feel like home. Fleuriste  Yasmine Karrenberg offers an array of chic arrangements at her shop inside Le District.  “I’ve been doing flowers as long as I can remember!” she says. “As a child, there were lilacs, peonies and lillies of the valley in our family garden. Then my parents always had five bouquets delivered to the house every Saturday!”

Le District is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Peter Poulakakos of HPH restaurant and development company and his business partner Paul Lamas (they pretty much have downtown cornered with Harry’s Café and Steak, The Dead Rabbit, The Growler, and Financier Patisserie among others). They took inspiration from Parisian markets such as La Grande Epicerie and even other countries that have been touched by French culture such as Morocco and Vietnam. Chef Jordi Valles, an El Bulli alum, was recruited to be culinary director of the whole project. Under him is an army of chefs and cheese mongers, butchers, bakers, and sausage makers. It’s part of the stunning development of Brookfield Place, formerly the World Financial Center, which is now home to a carefully curated food court called Hudson Eats, a bevy of high end retailers such as Theory, Hermes, and Burberry and the newly relocated International Center of Culinary Education.  Time, Inc. and Saks are coming soon.

 

 

Little more than a decade has passed since the area suffered the devastating 911 attacks. And then there were the angry flood waters of Hurricane Sandy. Now FiDi, (Financial District), arguably the hottest real estate in the overheated Manhattan market, has literally risen from the ashes.ld

 

The first thing you see entering Le District is the riotously colorful French  candy store La Cure Gourmande which offers an astonishing array of nougats, caramels, biscuits and even olives au chocolat (chocolate covered almonds in disguise) all available in gift worthy tins. This is the first U.S. outpost of the store that originated in Languedoc-Roussilon and now has 45 locations around the world.

The chocolate mousse bar

The chocolate mousse bar

Across the aisle is a creperie, a waffle station, and a patisserie displaying jewel-like French pastries. And of course a coffee bar.  Save room for dessert! But proceed to other temptations—freshly baked breads, cheese, charcuterie, salads, and sandwiches (I chose a delectable roasted lamb sandwich with ras al hanout and hummus white sauce), brasserie style meals, wine, and beer. And packaged goods for Francophiles to take home—French olive oils, argan oil, mustards, spices, salts, and sausages.  If you prefer to avoid temptation, graze before 4 p.m. when the salad bar transforms into a chocolate mousse bar offering eight different varieties white and dark with such toppings as orange confit and speculoos cookies.

Poulakakos himself was standing in the aisle munching on a crepe when I stopped him to ask about his vision. “I’ve always been thrilled with French cuisine,” he said. “It’s the backbone of precision.”  As for the customers. “I want to be there for everyone. People who live and work here love it.”  Of course, he’s not oblivious to the fact that 12.4 million visitors were counted in downtown Manhattan in 2014 and more are expected this year.

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Foie gras cones

Comparisons to Eataly, the insanely popular Italian food hall, seem inescapable. Le District  has already been dubbed the French Eataly. But who’s complaining?  Eataly has become one of the top tourist attractions in New York City behind the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Last year seven million shoppers crowded its aisles while the cash registers rang up $85 million in sales. Should Le District be far behind? Mais non!

Visit Le District

 

Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is currently an independent journalist and consultant specializing in food, travel, and lifestyle. She began her career as a newspaper columnist and reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Daily News.

Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is currently an independent journalist and consultant specializing in food, travel, and lifestyle. She began her career as a newspaper columnist and reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Daily News.