Tag Archive | "Paris"

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.

ld5

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.

 

 

 

5 Myths about France

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header

By Everett Potter

France is a country beloved by many Americans, yet it’s hard to name another destination that is so culturally intimidating to visitors. Perhaps it’s just a cultural clash between French customs and American expectations? That may be, but thanks to a strong dollar that will take many Americans to Gallic shores this summer, it will no doubt confound U.S. visitors yet again. So this seems like an especially good time to address five widely held myths about France.

Continue reading …

Letter from Paris: Auberge Bressane

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Auberge Bressane at lunchtime.

Auberge Bressane at lunchtime. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

By Alexander Lobrano

After a morning of musing on the question of where to go to lunch with a friend from London who loves old-fashioned French bistro cooking, the Auberge Bressane suddenly bobbed up in my mind as a possible solution. True, I hadn’t been to this Gaullist gastronomic redoubt in a very longtime, but a quick glance at their menu online left me with a pulse-quickening desire to eat there again. And besides, I’d already allowed the work of choosing a restaurant for us, complicated by the fact that many places are closed on Monday, to take more time than I really had.

The problem, you see, is that I’ve always taken the business of choosing a restaurant very seriously. Not only is there something both sad and vexing about a bad meal eaten anywhere but at one’s own kitchen table (happily, I can’t remember the last time that happened either, although if he were around this afternoon, Bruno would doubtless chime in to reprimand my free-handed tendency with the garlic and the chile peppers when I make marinades), but the remote possibility of a disappointing meal with a friend who loves good food as much as I do is something I’d work to avoid at almost all costs.  It’s complicated, though, since beyond the necessity of great food, they’re many other inputs to be considered as well–the price, bien sur; the atmosphere, which is a unique-to-every-restaurant mixture of the decor, service and clientele; the time allotted for the meal; accessibility; and the personalities and tastes of the other diners. Going to a restaurant is like casting yourself into a play, so it’s generally a good idea to make sure that there’s a role that appeals to you and suits you before you show up.

Auberge Bressane

Auberge Bressane. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

Of course counter casting can be fun, too, and that’s the sociological posture I chose in deciding to ignore the fact that the Auberge Bressane is so profoundly vieille France, or a bastion of the bourgeoisie, an address favored by penny-pinching aristocrats, and a place popular with conservative blowhard politicians. My friend and I didn’t tick any of these boxes, but we do like a good show and since we’re polite, our shaggier bohemian traits and attitudes can occasionally be concealed behind a scrim of manners. So we settled at a table in the very back of this restaurant with its oak-paneled walls, vaguely Violet-le-Duc mock medieval style woodwork and chandeliers, and all of the coats of arms and signage in typefaces that evoke France in the Fifties and Sixties and got to work with the menu, which looked like a mimeographed page like the ones I dealt with in grade school, minus, that is, the smell of the toner, which I’m certain was potent enough to make any receptive second-grader a tiny bit high.

Salade de pissenlit avec lardons.

Salade de pissenlit avec lardons. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

Since we were both “a la cherche des gouts perdu, ou presque” (looking for the much loved tastes, textures and smells of old-fashioned French bistro cooking), we had to have the salade de pissenlit avec lardons (those big chunks of bacon that are one of the top five reasons with bread, cheese and good cheap wine that I could never leave France) et oeuf poche, or a salad of dandelion greens with chunky bacon and a poached egg in a perfectly made vinaigrette. But what stumped us was that we absolutely wanted three main courses–veal sweetbreads braised in cream with morels, chicken braised in cream spiked with vin jaune from the Jura and morels, and a bouchée à la reine, or a puff pastry filled with chicken, mushrooms, kidneys and other tasty morsels in cream. Oh–do you see a theme emerging here? “Bouchée à la reine, that was something I adored when I lived in Paris in my twenties,” said my friend, who had to have it. So then I got it.

When the waiter came, I explained we’d start with the salade and a bouchée à la reine, which we’d like to split, and then I’d have the poulet and Madame the ris de veau (I wanted the ris de veau, too, but the resident of any city always cedes the mutually desired dish to the visiting guest when it’s a question of this being one of those meals where you want to taste as many things as possible).

We nibbled homemade gougères and sipped our excellent Crozes-Hermitage until our first course arrived. And the pleasure of seeing my friend, ditching my computer in the middle of the day, and the enchantingly unselfconscious fly-in-amber atmosphere of this restaurant quietly guardedly raised my hopes while we waited for our first courses to arrive. And then they did, and because we’re both obsessed, the first thing we cooed over the beautifully made and presented salad, a relatively easy hat-trick in the large scheme of things, and turned our attention to the bouchée à la reine with both of us wondering exactly the same thing: Was the pastry homemade?

Bouchée à la Reine, or a puff pastry filled with chicken, mushrooms, kidneys and other tasty morsels in cream

Bouchée à la Reine, or a puff pastry filled with chicken, mushrooms, kidneys and other tasty morsels in cream. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

Examining the bottom of the pastry cap, it was yellow and beautifully laminated, so we were delighted to conclude that it really was homemade, something the waiter later confirmed. The contents of the puffy case were succulent and individually cooked–the fowl needing more heat, for example, than the kidneys–and a there were a lot of expensive morels in the composition, too. “This really is lovely, and so is the salad,” said my friend, and I relaxed into the knowledge that we’d have both a good meal and a good time.

A mountain of hot homemade frites.

A mountain of hot homemade frites. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

With the possible exception of the price–there’s an excellent value 24.50 Euros lunch menu, but it’s expensive to order a la carte, which we did–everything about this meal pleased. Served in a copper saucepan, her sweetbreads had a very light golden crusting and the texture of set custard, as they should, and came with a side of homemade mashed potatoes that I suspect might have been gently goosed by a little celery root, and she loved them. The mountain of hot homemade fries with my chicken was a treat, and the farmyard bird was pleasantly firm, lean and gently gamey.

We ate and we talked and we laughed and we gossiped and we kept going. And then I noticed we’d finished our wine, and when I looked over my shoulder to find the waiter so that we could see dessert menus, the restaurant had already emptied. But never once during this meal did we have the impression of being rushed, and having launched our meal just a little after 1pm, it was 3.15pm when we ordered a baba au rhum, one of our mutually favorite desserts, to share.

Staring at the fleur-de-lys motifs and the ship symbol of the city of Paris woven into our jacquard tablecloth, it occurred to me that this might be a perfect setting for a freemasons’ luncheon, but this idle thought vanished with the arrival of one of the best baba au rhum I’ve ever eaten. The particularities of this one were that it was homemade and that there tiny black currants suspended in its eggy crumb.

Baba au rhum.

Baba au rhum. Photo @Alexander Lobrano, all rights reserved.

 

The service was cordial and attentive throughout this meal, and stepping out into the bright sun on the sidewalk after three hours of gastronomic ardors brought on a version of the deliciously selfish and evanescent melancholia that can follow some good rutting. So after saying good-bye to my friend, who was sensibly going to try and walk down some part of the quart of cream she’d just consumed by returning to the flat where she was staying by foot, I raced home by Metro to try and meet a deadline. And to console myself before I got to work, I read the weekly lunch menu at the Auberge Bressane, usually posted on their site, and thought: Anyplace that serves up ‘Poireaux Mimosa” (Poached leeks with riced hard-cooked egg) and pot-au-feu as part of their 24.50 Euro lunch menu is going to be seeing me again very soon. And the 29.50 Euro “Menu du Dimanche” will tempt me back soon, too, both for the food–maybe a green bean and mushroom salad, coq au vin, and crepes flamed with Grand Marnier, and the show this place offers when the usual posse of God-fearing locals take their doddering elders out for some air and a meal. And come to think of it, I hope someone will kindly do the same thing for me when that day dawns.

L’Auberge Bressane, 16 Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 7th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-47-05-98-37. www.auberge-bressane.com Open Sunday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only. Lunch menu 24.50 Euros. Sunday prix-fixe menu 29.50 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 was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (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 was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

Hexagone, Paris: The New Shape of French Gastronomy

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Hexagone, Paris. Credit Jerome Galland.

Hexagone, Paris. Credit Jerome Galland.

By Alexander Lobrano

There are many things to like about chef Mathieu Pacaud‘s new restaurant Hexagone in Paris. Not only does it serve some exquisitely refined contemporary French cooking that tips its hat at the great traditions of Escoffier, it also has one of the best wine lists of any recent restaurant in Paris. This lavish list, which also includes a spectacular selection of grand cru wines by the glass, is run byBenjamin Roffet, one of the city’s most talented and charming sommeliers, too. There’s also a serious bar at this address with a major mixologist in the person of Thomas Girard.

What I find interesting about Pacaud’s new place, though, is that it represents what a talented and ambitious young chef with a serious culinary pedigree–his father Bernard Pacaud cooked at L’Ambroisie for many years before turning the kitchen over to his son–thinks French gastronomy should be about in the 21st century.

Hexagone, Paris. Credit Jerome Galland.

Hexagone, Paris. Credit Jerome Galland.

Oh, and there’s also the wild card of its address in the 16th Arrondissement, a silk-stocking part of Paris which never previously attracted young chefs setting up shop. Now, though, it’s starting to simmer with the arrival of Pacaud and other terrific new tables like Restaurant Pages.

“Many of the old style three star restaurants in Paris are struggling right now,” Pacaud said during a chat I had with him when I went to Hexagone for dinner with Bruno the other night. “They’re too expensive and too formal. The meals they serve take too long, and the whole drill isn’t appealing to a younger generation of Parisians or foreigners visiting the city. So my idea here was to create a place that my friends would want to come–a place that’s relaxed and where you have a good time,” said the chef, adding, “And I chose the 16th Arrondissement, because it delivers a good clientele of business diners at noon and an interesting and international mixture of people at night. Eventually, I’ll open a real restaurant gastronomique on the same premises (Hexagone occupies a duplex space space in the former Hotel K),” says Pacaud, who also plans a new seafood restaurant sometime this year. “I think it’s a really exciting time in Paris, because the old guard is changing and the future is emerging,” says the chef, a who insists that despite coming off as a very amiable and easygoing guy, he’s actually intensely demanding. “I dine in my own restaurant regularly and we’re still fine tooth combing everything,” he said.

Pacaud may still be putting the finishing touches on this place, but it already has a lot of charm and is quite unlike any other restaurant in Paris. Arriving, it gives off a decidedly fashionable vibe that had me dreading an imminent bout of attitude from the staff and servers, but no, the welcome was warm, and the staff was charmingly playful from time to time, as if winking at the whole idea of the ‘very serious restaurant,’ and yet they were also flawlessly professional. We were immediately at ease in the good looking dining room designed by interior architects Patrick Gilles and Dorothée Boissier, too, because tables are large and widely spaced, the lighting is impeccable, and the tongue-in-cheek look of the place–the designers were inspired by “Alice in Wonderland”–was witty without going over the top.

Waiting for our first course, it was interesting to observe the evolving clientele here. There was a business dinner going on over my shoulder, and the crew of six hailed from several different countries and went back and forth between speaking French and English. A few pearls gathered from their chatter included the observation that “The United States isn’t a serious country if anyone could really take people like Mick Huckabee and Rick Perry seriously as possible presidential candidates,” (D’accord); “The food in Holland is terrible” (Wrong, the food in Amsterdam has become very good); and “Portuguese cooking is so peasant and basic” (And this with a very good-looking Portuguese woman at the table! I’m not sure if I’d describe it as ‘peasant and basic,’ but rather as often hearty and appealingly rustic, but then I like ‘peasant and basic.’) There were also several tables of well-groomed beautifully dressed middle-aged professional women, always a good sign, since this local tribe is both keen and discerning at the table, and surprisingly, a couple of tables of young stubbled types with their plastic motor cycle helmets sitting on the banquette next to them and their apparently bored girl friends, who spent a lot of time fiddling around with their phones. Soft lounge music played in the background, and for once it wasn’t irritating.

At Hexagone, you can order the tasting menu, a gastronomic phenomenon I no longer really enjoy, or go a la carte with a starter, fish, meat and dessert, since the portion sizes are perfectly calibrated to produce satisfaction without leaving you feeling overfed at the end of a meal. With the gizzards a little squeamish after so much lavish good eating during the holidays, I loved our first course, a feather-weight ‘Marquise’ of blanc manger meringues on a bed of truffled celery root puree that contained a slow-cooked egg hidden under a tumble of black truffles cut into fine match sticks. What intrigued about this dish is that it manages to be pretty and light but deliver a full punch of comfort-food pleasure, since the thickly runny egg yolk perfectly sauced the puree.

Crayfish from Lake Geneva  on a bed of star-anise-flavored aspic with green mango puree and cauliflower mousseline was magnificent.

Crayfish from Lake Geneva on a bed of star-anise-flavored aspic with green mango puree and cauliflower mousseline was magnificent.

For anyone who hadn’t guessed, Hexagone in French, means hexagon in English, and the reference here is more than just geometric, since the French often affectionately refer to France as the Hexagone, because of its six different borders with several seas and different countries. In this instance, the word has other resonances, too, since Pacaud aspires to serving profoundly French food, and in this he succeeds, because the modernity of his plated aesthetics and his dextrous culinary lightness notwithstanding, the flavor constellations in his dishes are indeed exquisitely French. If a single langoustine thatched with finely shredded root vegetables in a pool of saffron cream was pleasant, crayfish from Lake Geneva  on a bed of star-anise-flavored aspic with green mango puree and cauliflower mousseline was magnificent, with flowers decorating the plump sweet tails of shellfish and the percussion of the garnishes elongating their natural taste in a way that would make Escoffier proud even if the great French chef probably never worked with such ‘exotic’ seasonings.

Making things taste of what they are is Pacaud’s compass point, and the subtlety with which he pulls this off is thrilling. But his real shrewdness comes from understanding that Escoffier would have been horrified to find himself cast in the role of ‘curator’ chef, which is how too many French cooks see him today. Instead, I suspect that he’d rejoice at Pacaud’s intelligent gustatory innovations in the kitchen.

John Dory with shellfish.

John Dory with shellfish.

If my sole in vin jaune sauce was pleasant and very pretty with its carrot roses, both of us preferred Bruno’s John Dory with with a reduction of Noilly Prat vermouth that shirked its retro mantle with the clever addition of mace and garnishes of finely shredded leeks, cockles and razor-shell clams. Our meat courses were excellent, too–a riff on a carbonnade (beef in beer sauce from the north of France) for Bruno and braised veal sweetbreads with a garnish of black-and-green olives and a vivid green herb reduction for me.

Hexagone-Chocolate-dessert-520x390

Bayano Brésil ganache.

 

By the time we got to dessert, the quiet question that had been bobbling around in the back of my thoughts all night had been answered. To wit, is Mathieu Pacaud as talented a chef as his father? He is, I decided while tucking into a charming post-modern riff on a Poire Belle Helene. Meanwhile, across the table, Bruno was absent in the chocolate bliss induced by his Bayano Brésil ganache with honey ice cream, chilled buckwheat cream and a crunchy hazelnut wafer.

If Mathieu Pacaud is cooking this well just a few weeks after opening, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s on the starting blocks as one of the next great chefs in Paris.

Hexagone, 85 Avenue de Kléber 16th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-42-25-98-85. Metro: Trocadéro. Bar open Tues.-Sat. 11am-2am; Restaurant open Tues.-Sat. for lunch (12pm-2pm) and dinner (7pm-11pm). Lunch menu 49 Euros; average four-course a la carte 175 Euros; tasting menu 180 Euros. www.hexagone-paris.fr  

Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (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 was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: Les Poulettes Batignolles

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Les Poulettes Batignolles, Paris.

Les Poulettes Batignolles, Paris.

By Alexander Lobrano

After working for twelve years in Barcelona, Parisian-born chef Ludovic Dubois, son of the distinguished fromagere Martine Dubois, has returned to Paris and opened Les Poulettes Batignolles. It’s a good-looking modern bistro in a quiet side street with a very appealing Catalan inflected contemporary menu. “I really like the way the Catalans marry seafood and meat,” says Dubois, who runs the kitchen while his Catalan wife Judith Cercos, former sommelier at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Barcelona, supervises the dining room and excellent wine list. “I also developed an appreciation of arroz (rice), in all its many possible incarnations while living in Catalonia, an experience that tutored me in the Mediterranean palate,” adds the amiable Dubois, who apprenticed with Jacques Cagna and Michel Rostang before going off to Spain, where he cooked at the El Palace Hotel, among other kitchens.

An impeccably fresh sea bass tartare seasoned with seaweed and garnished with several types of fish eggs,

An impeccably fresh sea bass tartare seasoned with seaweed and garnished with several types of fish eggs,

Going to meet Marie, the lovely friend who tipped me off to this new address, for dinner on a frosty early winter night, I found myself thinking about how much I like Les Batignolles, a dense village-like neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement that only became part of Paris by decree of Napoleon III in 1860 and which is bisected by the train cut going into the Gare Saint Lazare. The old train yards at the north end of the neighborhood were intended to become the site of the Olympic village, had Paris’s bid for the 2012 games succeeded. Instead, they’re being redeveloped into a new urban neighborhood centered on a large garden named in honor of Martin Luther King. What will doubtless change this part of the city a lot is the arrival of all the courts now found on the Ile de la Cité in a new set of buildings, La Cité Judiciaire, which will open in 2017. For the time being, though, it’s a companionable and unpretentious old Paris neighborhood with a real vie de quarter, or neighborhood life, and with its chic pair of teal blue dining rooms, retro lighting fixtures, warm friendly service, and interesting menu, Les Poulettes Batignolles has immediately become a local hit with an enthusiastic following of regulars.

Since Marie once lived in Barcelona, and I’ve spent a lot of time there through the years and it’s one of my favorite cities, it was fun to discover the original but subtle cooking of Dubois and decipher the Catalan influences in various dishes. The Catalan love of seafood–Barcelona is still going mad for sushi and ceviche–was beautifully expressed by an impeccably fresh sea bass tartare seasoned with seaweed and garnished with several types of fish eggs, while the artichoke hearts and salad leaves that came with a coddled egg in bread crumbs with tartare sauce–a perfect

Artichoke hearts and salad leaves that came with a coddled egg in bread crumbs with tartare sauce

Artichoke hearts and salad leaves that came with a coddled egg in bread crumbs with tartare sauce

tapas sort of dish–reminded me of the tidy lovingly tended vegetable farms seen from the airport train that still fill the flat fertile plains between the city and its airport. This proximate patchwork of farms also explains why the produce in Barcelona is so good. In Paris, however, it comes from the rue de Levis market street where Dubois does his shopping every morning. “My cooking is completely market-

driven, so I really need to see and smell and touch the produce myself. It just wouldn’t work for me to be supplied by Rungis (the big wholesale market outside of Paris, bien sur),” said the chef. One way or another, I’m a hopeless sucker for tartare sauce, especially when it’s homemade–this might be explained by the fact that I liked this condiment as much if not more than the fried-clam strips once sold by Howard Johnson’s, a once-upon-a-time sincere Boston-based restaurant chain specializing in respectable quality American comfort food.What Howard Johnson’s never had, however, was the rich, melted-in-your-mouth jamon, or ham, which melded this dish together with a plucky porcine punch. With the possible addition of some good Cabrales, or Spanish blue cheese, I’d happily eat this perfectly pitched umami-rich soft ball for lunch everyday for the rest of my life.

Beyond the pleasure of Marie’s company–she’s not only beautiful but absolutely fascinating–the recurring reason for the strong sense of well-being all during my meal at this restaurant was the warm unselfconscious reflexive hospitality of Judith Cercos, a woman who deeply loves both wine and seeing the pleasure her shrewd choices bring to other people. I was too engaged by Marie and Bruno to break away from the good time I was having at the time, but later, I did find myself musing on the odd Paris phenomenon of

 Domaine Giudicel from Corsica.

Domaine Giudicel from Corsica.

restaurants that are run by people who would appear to find their customers a dreadful nuisance just for the fact that they’ve come through the door–Jadis and Saturne came to mind. In any event, the Domaine Giudicelli wine Judith served with our main courses was one of the best viniferous discoveries of the year for me, because I’d never have first guessed that it was a Corsican Patrimonio, because it was so supple and suave, but when we all paid it the attention it deserved, it had a lot of Mediterranean character and was a brilliant food wine.

In the quiet calendar of Parisian gastronomic pleasures I’ve learned so deeply it’s become the second much-loved almost subliminal alphabet that informs my daily life, few things are more welcome than the gusty arrival of seasonal crustaceans like oysters and scallops on the city’s menus. Perhaps with this in mind, but also likely guided by compasses of nostalgia with different true norths–hers, an old relationship; his, a lifetime of holidays spent on Catalan beaches over a span of more than forty years from the days of tents and ice cream cones purchased by Father to friskier adventures in Barcelona and Sitges–Marie and Bruno had the ‘creamy’ rice garnished with grilled artichoke hearts, mushrooms, squid, octopus, lobster and langoustines. What are I yearned for were the sweet fleshy Erquy scallops, which came cooked in their shells with breads crumbs, buttery leeks and a natty garnish of chives. “Rather nice, isn’t it, to be in a dining room where a pair of tattooed forearms fits in just as well as an Hermes pocketbook, isn’t it?” Bruno said, and it was true that there was a rare and bracing variety of Parisians around us who

Sweet fleshy Erquy scallops, which came cooked in their shells with breads crumbs, buttery leeks and a natty garnish of chives.

Sweet fleshy Erquy scallops, which came cooked in their shells with breads crumbs, buttery leeks and a natty garnish of chives.

were keenly enjoying their food as much as we were.

Since my sweet tooth, such as it exists, keens most to all forms of burnt sugar, aka caramel, then fruit, and finally really potent dark chocolate, I let Bruno and Marie rush in when it came to choosing a dessert–vanilla rice pudding with dulce de leche for her, and New York cheesecake for Bruno, who’s been obsessed by same ever since a first ecstatic artery-clogging encounter at the Carnegie Delicatessen in New York City a few months after we’d first met 17 years ago. Oh. And me? I know what a serious cheese mistress Ludovic Dubois’s Mom Martine is, so there was no way I’d pass up her Vacherin, that sublimely runny high-altitude cow’s milk dairy balm that’s in season right now, especially since it meant I could lay claim to the rest of the Patrimonio.

After dinner Ludovic Dubois came out of the kitchen to greet his customers, and watching him with Judith Decros, I finally got the X factor that makes Les Poulettes Batignolles so irresistible. This restaurant is an expression of their love affair, which they kindly decided to share with all comers. So if you want a really good and original won’t-break-the-bank holiday meal this year, I think you’d do very well at this charming table.

10 rue de Chéroy, 17th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. 01-42-93-10-11. Metro: Rome or Villiers. Closed Sunday and Monday. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. www.lespoulettes-batignolles.fr Average lunch 30 Euros, Average dinner 40 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 was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (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 was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: Chardenoux

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Chardenoux, 1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris

Chardenoux, 1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris

By Alexander Lobrano

Chardenoux has always been a very good bistro. This is saying a lot, too, since it’s also one of the very rare restaurants with which I’ve had a long and consistently happy relationship during the more than twenty-five years I’ve lived in Paris. Oh, to be sure, as is true of most relationships, we’ve had our moments. But the longevity of this connection is precious to me less for its durability than because it’s proven to be so reliably delicious.

When I first began going to Chardenoux, the neighborhood where it’s located deep in the 11th Arrondissement was still quiet and filled with artisans of various kinds–wood-workers, furniture makers, metal casters, jewelers, lamp makers and others–working in local ateliers (workshops). Previously working class, the neighborhood immediately around the Bastille was becoming trendy, however, and the eastern arrondissements of Paris were just at the beginning of the transformation that eventually made them the younger and hipper half of the city. I was living a tiny apartment next to a convent on the Left Bank. I liked it during the summer, the season of open windows, when I was often awoken by the nuns softly singing hymns. The rest of the year, though, it had the distinct disadvantage of being too far away from Chardenoux.

The chef at Chardenoux then was Bernard Passavant, and the reason I remember his name is that I owe my mad love of foie gras to him. Maybe the second or third time I ever went to Chardenoux, I ordered something called a salade folle, or ‘crazy salad.’ I had no idea what this might mean, so the big mauve slab of foie gras that topped a tidy tumble of chive-flecked match-stick-sized green beans and shaved button mushrooms came as a hugely unwelcome surprise. Why? Well, believe or not, back in those days–this was probably 1987–I not only didn’t eat foie gras, but I actively avoided it. Like many suburban Americans, I flinched at anything offal, in fact, but that night I found myself shamed into trying the duck liver by the teasing of the Greek born Paris based men’s underwear designer who was taking me out to a business dinner I’d been avoiding a long time.

“Oh, how patheeeetic!” he said. “I can’t believe it! It’s delicious, a so so so sensual luxury! You must try!” So reluctantly I did, and I’ve never looked back. I also used to love Passavant’s veal with morels; cod with a warm vinaigrette of fresh herbs; “Cervelle de Canut” (silk worker’s brain, canut being Lyonnais slang for silk worker and the term a reference to how hard they once worked in deafeningly noisy mills). which is a Lyonnais cheese speciality of fromage blanc flavored with chives, garlic, shallot, parsley, salt, pepper, oil, vinegar and white wine; and black cherry clafoutis.

Terrace at Chardenoux.

Terrace at Chardenoux.

Every meal at this beautiful little dining room with a ceiling covered with swirling floral Belle Epoque moldings, a delicate screen of etched and beveled glass and wood panels diving the room in half, and a stone clad zinc topped bar just inside the door was a pleasure. Passavant eventually left, to be replaced by Michel Cornubet, and another chef or two, but the quality of the food remained uncommonly good. When young chef Cyril Lignac took over, however, I had my doubts. I was doubtless not being entirely fair, but his food-television celebrity made me dubious, and I feared an old favorite might be rejiggered into something trendy or fussy or both. Happily, I was wrong–Lignac respected the traditions and spirit of this century old bistro when he took it over in 2008 and painstakingly restored the interior. The food was good, if not better than good, too, but I hadn’t been in here in a very longtime before a recent sunny August day when I was trying to think of a good bistro when I might lunch with a friend visiting from London. The two new places she was keen to try–Le Servan and Restaurant David Toutain, were closed, but knowing how much she loves traditional French bistro cooking and also that they serve outside during the summer when the weather’s good, I booked at Chardenoux, where I hadn’t been for several years, and kept my fingers crossed.

My date was late, but I enjoyed sitting on the terrace on a sunny day mulling over the menu over a cool glass of Chateldon. It was also a pleasant diversion to observe my neighbors, all of whom were seriously enjoying their lunches with a pleasure that was absolutely contagious.

 

Coddled eggs with girolles and favas.

Coddled eggs with girolles and favas.

Then Madame arrived, hungry, and we ordered. Since she’s a talented London based cook and food writer, we usually try to order different things, so that we can taste some variety, but on this occasion no one was giving any ground on the starter of coddled egg with girolles, fava beans, and freshly made croutons. We both wanted it, we both had it, and it was superb, since the egg yolk slicked the perfectly braised mushrooms dressed with a little jus de veau and finely chopped shallot, and the favas and croutons added an earthy high note and some texture respectively. Coddled egg starters are surefire crowd-pleasers, since they appeal to something subliminally serene and infantile in all of us, but for them to work, the produce has to be of the very highest quality. Happily, here it was.

Since I’d come into town from the borrowed house in the country 75 minutes outside of Paris just for the day where I spent much of August, I was hankering for fish, since neither of the two larger towns near our hideaway has a fish market anymore, which means the only place to buy fish is at the ice-lined morgue-like counter of the local ‘grand surface,’ or giant supermarket. Having done that once, I’d never do it again, and besides, more pleasure was to be had from having a real live barbecue, which begged for the excellent sausage made by a local farmer or some of his superb free-range pork over and over again. So I chose the cod baked with white miso on a bed of fresh peas with lardons. The gently meaty taste of the miso flattered both the fish and the peas, while the lardons added texture and salt but most all appealed to that deep primal limitless yearning so many people–me very much among them–have for cured pork, aka bacon.

The cod at Chardenoux.

The cod at Chardenoux.

I rather envied Madame her sweetbreads, however, since they came with baby carrots and an elegantly acidulated sauce of chopped capers, lemon and meat juices spiked with tomato and turmeric. They were impeccably cooked, too, but when I tasted them, I immediately found myself thinking that a side of tagliatelle would have been a nice occasion to elaborate the pleasure that well-made sauce. “Some good sturdy noodles would have been nice with this,” Madame suddenly announced, and I laughed, because our friendship was born from the naughty avidity of our shared appetites. “Excellent product, and if at first I found it a little under seasoned, that’s really only because I’m too accustomed to food that’s been over-salted. This is some very suave bistro cooking indeed.”

Madame said she’d been craving a good baba au rhum ever since she’d gotten on the Eurostar in London that morning, so I left it to her, and had a fine slice of Corsican goat cheese with cherry-cinnamon marmalade and salad instead. The baba, which came from Lignac’s bakery across the street, had imbibed a perfect dose of rum-spiked sugar syrup, to which a nice little pour of caramel-and-sulfur scented Martinique rum, the world’s best, because it’s made with fresh cane juice instead of sugar, was deftly added by Madame.

“This rum is superb, so nuanced and ambered but clean tasting,” said Madame, adding, “I’d be half-tempted to tuck the bottle into my handbag and bring it home it’s so good but I rather doubt I’d get away with it.” I didn’t encourage her either, so the rum remained on the table, and after coffee we parted in search of our respective summer siestas, mine swaddled with the pleasure of knowing that one of my favorite Paris restaurants is still so good.

Le Chardenoux
1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. 01-43-71-49-52. www.cyrillignac.com Open daily. Prix-fixe menu 39 Euros, lunch menus 22 Euros, 27 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 was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (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 was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Poolside in Paris

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Swimming pool at Shangri-La, Paris

Swimming pool at Shangri-La, Paris

By Bobbie Leigh

If you were to hold a Paris hotel swimming pool competition today, the likely winner would be Shangri-La’s huge pool, delightfully bathed in natural light from a wall of glass doors leading to a lush outdoor garden. This is the pace to dip into paradise, a Paris equivalent of James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon.” Like the novel, the pool’s narrative is peaceful and dreamy. The adjacent health club has a menu of treatments that are over-the-top, even for a Shangri-La. The “Experience Precieuse” is nothing less than rejuvenation if not the “unique rebirth….” as promised.

The former home of Napoleon Bonaparte’s grandnephew, the Shangri-La is a masterpiece of renovation. Clearly battalions of stoneworkers, gilders, master craftsmen of every stripe contributed to the massive renovation of what is now a mini-Versailles, a palace with distinct royal bloodlines in every room, most of which have stunning views of the Eiffel Tower.

The Grande Dame of Paris hotel pools used to be Le Bristol. It is shaped like the bow of a sailing ship and has panoramic views of Sacre Coeur. It is lovely but in a quaint sort of way. Other hotels including the Four Seasons Hotel George V and the Mandarin Oriental can share pride of pool place at least for a while… until two icons of Parisian luxury re-open. The Ritz and the Crillon, are currently closed for extensive reservations but when they finally make their grande entrée, their swimming pools are bound to be dazzlers.

The new Paris Peninsula, the former Hotel Majestic, is scheduled to open its doors beneath a new glass-and-steel canopy August 1. It has been a huge work in progress – including an underground pool and below level parking – for about six years. With rooms starting above 1,000 € per night, guests will enjoy all the usual Peninsula bells and whistles including a courtesy fleet of cars and drivers.

Paris hotels are always recreating themselves. Where once only a spiffy health club was obligatory, now to swim with the tide, it’s a palatial palace fit for a princely pool.

 

bobbie  Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Le Bon Georges

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Le Bon Georges, Paris

Le Bon Georges, Paris

Le Bon Georges, a recently opened bistro just five minutes from my front door in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, offers a delicious lesson in how to judge the city’s food right now. Let me explain. As someone who travels often, I’ve long since learned that the best way to evaluate the quality of the food in any given city isn’t by going to the trendy new openings crowed about in style supplements, much less any place that has been anointed with a Michelin star or one that’s popular with business diners, who have the luxury of an expense account.
 
No, the better way to see how well a city eats is to go into its neighborhoods and sample the places the locals go to all of the time, or a place like Le Bon Georges, for example. No surprise in this strategy, bien sur. For lots of reasons, the most obvious being that I’m constantly sampling new places or checking up on tables I recommend in HUNGRY FOR PARIS, I’m not really a regular, as such, at any Paris restaurant. And yet in deference to the indefatigable Bruno, who dutifully accompanies me to remote corners of the city on tasting missions night after night when he’d much rather be eating at home, I’ve somewhat improbably become something of a regular at Le Bon Georges, a place I’ve now been over a dozen times since it opened this past winter. Understandably, he loves the idea of going someplace he knows and likes with good, solid, simple food. And so when I recently returned from a fascinating but challenging-in-the-last-act trip to Fez to report on a new restaurant there (the bus from Beauvais airport to Paris is a circle of hell that Dante missed, since it has some of the rudest and most inefficient service of any public transport I’ve ever used in my life), Bruno blessedly collected me from the Porte Maillot, and told me he’d booked at Le Bon Georges.

Le Bon Georges, Paris

Le Bon Georges, Paris

“You need some good meat and a nice bottle of wine,” he said, and his diagnosis was pretty accurate, since a heavy travel schedule had been depriving me of both. The pretty dining room, which had previously been the venue of the clubby and over-rated trattoria Dell’Orto, was packed when we arrived, and we had a warm welcome from proprietor Benoit Duval-Arnould, a smart and charming restaurateur who’s done a better demographic analysis of the neighborhood he chose to set up shop in than anyone else I can think of in Paris in a longtime. To wit, Benoit aced its bobo appetite and gastronomic ticks, including a preference for pedigreed produce. Benoit, who trained as an agricultural engineer and who once worked for the Campbell’s Soup Company (Campbell’s owns the Leibig brand of soups in France), decided to bail on a successful corporate career, and it turns out he’s a natural in the restaurant business.
 
Benoit is extremely observant, reflexively generous, and good at casting, whether its his chef, Anton Guillon, who formerly cooked at Les Enfants Rouges, or his suppliers, who include the ever more omnipresent Joel Thiebault (the truck farmer from the Yvelines who supplies many young Paris chefs with locally produced seasonal produce, for those who don’t already know him), fish from Terroirs d’Avenir, and mostly importantly among many other good producers, beef from Alexandre Polmard, a farmer in the Meuse region of La Lorraine who raises Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle. Beef, you see, is the star product at Le Bon Georges, and the rich mineral taste of Polmard’s dense but intriguingly tender garnet-colored meat got my mouth to watering as soon as Bruno told me where we were going.
 
So we eye-balled the chalkboard menu, and Bruno lunged at the brioche with lobster, while I wanted a last feed of good white asparagus from Les Landes before the season ended. Bruno was happy with his brioche, which I’d have spread with something a little more emollient than just butter, and I liked my roasted asparagus with a well-made hollandaise sauce, but would have happily eaten more than the rather modest portion of four spears.

Steak tartare at Le Bon Georges, Paris

Steak tartare at Le Bon Georges, Paris

Tempted by a steak, I ended up with steak tartare–it’s just so good here, as are the home-made frites that accompany it, and Bruno did same. But Benoit decided to spoil us with baby carrots cooked in butter and a side of one of the best gratin dauphinois I’ve had in ages. Philippe and Natalie Gard’s Coume Del Mas – Schistes – Collioure 2013 went down a real treat, too, which is why we decided to end this very satisfying meal with some cheese, a perfectly ripened brie stuffed with walnuts for me and an ash-rolled chèvre for Bruno.
 
In Paris, we eat very well indeed.
 
45 rue Saint Georges, 9 Arrondissement, Tel. 01-48-78-40-30. Metro: Saint Georges or Pigalle. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Lunch menu 19 Euros. Average a la carte 60 Euros. Website: http://www.lebongeorges.com

 

alec  Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris & France. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Clown Bar

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Clown Bar, Paris

Clown Bar, Paris

Adjacent to the Cirque d’Hiver (Winter Circus), a handsome 1852 arena between the Place de la Republique and the Bastille, the Clown Bar has always been one of the most charming places in Paris for a quick bite and a glass of wine. Now under new management–a dream team that includes Sven Chartier and Ewen Lemoigne from the restaurant Saturne, plus Xavier Lacaud, it’s suddenly better than it’s been for many years. They recruited talented Japanese chef Sota Atsumi, who cooked at Vivant, another intimate little place with landmarked Belle Epoque tiles, to run the kitchen, and Atusmi’s short produce focused menu, which changes often, runs to intriguing small plates, which are easily composed into a pleasant and very satisfying meal.

There’s also a deep terrace on the quiet street out front, and this has instantly made this beloved address even more popular than ever with a diverse but stylish crowd of Parisians. Coming for dinner the other night with Bruno after I’d returned from New York City the same day, we toyed with the idea of the terrace, but sat inside instead to enjoy the beautifully restored little dining room, a real triumph of French Belle Epoque decor with a glass ceiling in the bar area painted with a circus theme and a wall of tiles from Sarreguemines, the northern town that was once one of France’s great ceramics towns, with a frieze of clowning clowns behind the big zinc bar. The last time I came here, the room, which had been closed for a while, still had walls that were amber tinted by years of cigarette smoke, but that’s all gone now, and the sleek contemporary furnishings, including tables with the silverware tucked away in secret compartment, are flattered by the vintage setting.

Camembert croquettes

Camembert croquettes

We started with a plate of two-year-aged Basatxerri ham from the Basque Country and some delicate herb strewn camembert croquettes, both of which went well with aperitifs of Edelzwicker and a Viognier from the Languedoc. The hors d’oeuvres were good, but lest I bring the natural wine (unsulfured) crowd down on my head, I couldn’t help but thinking that not all wines are better in their ‘unadulterated’ form, since oxidation can mask the nuances of gentler cepages (grape varieties). Even though they arrived at the table stone cold, an order of grilled langoustines from the Breton port of Le Guilvinec were superb–sweet, cooked just to that perfect point where the tail meat had pearled, and garnished with a winning simplicity of salt, a little lemon, a few needles of fresh rosemary.

Getting things to the table warm will be a recurring challenge here, since the kitchen is in the basement, but our second starter, bonito in a bracing foam of fresh horseradish, a really inspired idea, since the raciness of the root met that of the fish, didn’t suffer a temperature problem and was a succulent dish, which might only have been improved by being served with some hot toasted country bread.

Turbot, clams and asparagus at Clown Bar

Turbot, clams and asparagus at Clown Bar

Turbot with razor-shell clams, white asparagus and rhubarb in salted butter was one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve had for a long time, since the product was impeccable and the constellation of tastes made sense on the palate but was pushed just off-center enough by the rhubarb to be unexpected. A brilliant puree of dates and yuzu played the same role with an exquisitely well-made pithiviers de canard, or ground duck in a little dome of buttery golden pastry.

“Natural wines often taste the same to me,” Bruno said of our white Haute Cotes-du Beaune as we finished it up with a good cheese course. I suggested that maybe if he’d learned to drink natural wines before ‘traditional’ ones he might feel differently, although I personally find it really interesting to pinch hit between them and liked this provocatively different orange-colored quaff from the terrific little wine list.

Couple on terrace of Clown Bar

Couple on terrace of Clown Bar

A caramelized pignoli nut tart filled buckwheat flavored pastry cream was the happy ending to this excellent meal where the only recurring problem was the timing of the service, not just in terms of hot dishes delivered cold but some slackness that jarred the rhythm of an otherwise excellent meal. All told, it’s really heart-warming to see this delightful little corner of Paris renovated and rebooted in the service of seriously good food and wine once again, and I know it’s going to become a new Sunday night favorite, especially during the summer when the terrace is open. N.B. They also serve breakfast, since this place functions as a cafe cum wine bar between lunch and dinner serving hours.

Clown Bar, 114 rue Amelot, 11th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. 01-43-55-87-35. Metro: Filles du Calvaire, Saint-Sébastien-Froissart, or Richard Lenoir. Open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch (noon-2.30pm) and dinner (7.30pm-10.30pm). www.facebook.com/pages/CLOWN-BAR-PARIS/1443072882610254  Average 40 Euros.

 

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit 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 was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and 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 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

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