A Hot Spot Goes an Extra Mile

April 7th, 2014

When I called up the restaurant Spring and asked if they could accommodate someone with a dairy allergy, and they said “oui,” I squeaked with joy. I NEVER would have EVER thought that such a posh restaurant would be willing to modify their whole menu just so I could eat there.

We arrived at Spring for our lucky reservation (someone had canceled), at the address on a tiny old street in the 1st arrondissement. We rang the bell for entry. It felt like we were being invited almost into someone’s home. We caught a glimpse of the chef, Daniel Rose, heading back to the kitchen. We didn’t think to ask for a photo with him then, plus he was busy, but we regretted it later when he left before we remembered to do so. Nonetheless we were about to “meet” him via his cuisine.

We were sat at a little table in the back of the sous-sol, next to the coat rack, (the last spot to be had) but we didn’t care, our entire focus was on what we were about to taste, and the giddy feeling of living dangerously (aka : spending way too much on a dinner). We took our daring to the max and asked for the “pairing” of wine with the meal: wines selected to compliment perfectly the flavors of each course. So for each course we would have a new glass of wine to enhance the dish.

The meal began with an aperitif of champagne served chilled with a small “mise en bouche” of razor clams seasoned with cayenne pepper and butter (so sadly I didn’t ge that dish, I had a marinated radish dish instead. There was also a celery purée garnished with a slice of pear, and a slice of compté cheese (again which was omitted on mine). A basket of buckwheat bread was placed on the table. We tried our best to make the little mise en bouche last long enough for the champagne flute to empty some.

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A Chateau Just an Air-Kiss Away

April 6th, 2014

If you want to see a spectacular chateau with no lines and no shoving crowds then you really should visit the Château de Chantilly, just 25 minutes north of Paris by train. The magnificent château houses the Condé Museum of paintings, while the thatched roof Hamlet (great for lunch or strawberries and Chantilly cream for afternoon tea) is hidden beyond the canal within Le Nôtre’s vast formal gardens. If you go in April you can see the newly renovated Living Horse Museum in the Grand Stables, as well as the new equestrian show, Kavallisté, which combines polyphonic singing with choreographed horse performances beneath the grand dome. If you have kids, they will love the pony show, but you can also take them to the Potager des Princes, where they can see rabbits, chickens, and geese in the manicured gardens (Easter activities for the family every day from April 12-May 4). The Domaine de Chantilly website has more info in French than English, but it’s handy for purchasing advance tickets: get the Domaine Pass (€20 for adults) if you’re not visiting during the horse show, or the Spectacle Equestrian (€30) which includes the Domain Pass plus the horse show on days it’s showing.

His Home is a Shop!

April 5th, 2014

Chez Moi, Paris is a new boutique in the 1st arrondissement based upon the concept of an apartment – complete with bathroom, living room, dining room and bedroom – in which owner Jean-Baptiste Charpenay-Limon lives, eats and sleeps, and in which everything is for sale. The sleek space, kitted out with a wooden runway leading from the front of the shop to the sleeping quarters, designed by the conceptual Freaks architects, is a backdrop for a sharp selection of artworks, home goods, magazines and journals (including Self Service, Purple, Roven), wine, furniture, clothes, and accessories. The idea is that you come and hang out with JB and his friends (and their cute dogs, on our visit), admire the decor, and leave with some of it under your arm.

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In a Land Not So Far

April 4th, 2014

Although the Temple of Sybil, in the Buttes Chaumont, may not appear all that high on the cliff, it is indeed a hike and a suspension bridge away. How can all of this be only a mile or two from the center of Paris?

BALMy Night

April 3rd, 2014

Pierrick Mathon is French, and his wife, Kanya, is from Thailand, so it is only natural that when they took over the mechanics shop that had been the historic Boeuf à la Mode (BALM) from 1792 to 1932, they composed a French menu that relies heavily on strong Asian notes, unique among Paris restaurants.

Peeking in from the narrow sidewalk tucked behind the Palais Royal, just steps from the Minister of Culture, passersby see dynamic modern art and natural stone walls enlivened by contemporary white furniture and lime green accents. Warm wood table and wall units add a welcoming touch that evokes the English definition of the name, something comforting and soothing. It looks so relaxing, yet fun and lively, you want to go in and join the diverse crowd that fills the three generous dining areas.

Inside, locals hang out at the long, brightly welcoming bar, savoring exotic cocktails that really do merit the encore round diners desire. Couples sit in true French fashion: tête-à-tête and oblivious to the world around them. Stylish young women sip drinks at the tables by the bar, a large group from the neighboring Minister of Culture jubilantly holds court at a long, oval table.

No matter how cool the place may be, what really matters is the food, and the chef clearly understands that, because the dishes come out of the kitchen bursting with flavor: Jerusalam artichoke playing the perfect counterpoint to perfectly grilled sea scallops, spice-laced crab chilled under a cucumber, mint jelly, sea bass balanced atop carrots prepared three different ways. It was all as light and refreshing as the decor, a gorgeous melody for the palate. And then there are the desserts, berries with champagne, vanilla ice cream, chestnut cream with mandarin sorbet and chocolate. The exotic flavors a symphonic end to a harmonious meal.

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Prince Tiny Meat

April 2nd, 2014

I got wind of Clandestino, an up and coming restaurant serving inventive French cuisine which hasn’t hit the big time yet and still sort of a secret.

The restaurant was mostly empty when we arrived at 12:30 and my infatuation with cute waiters was stimulated again with two new hotties, one with the sweetest, million-dollar smile.

We liked the quirky décor with table settings of vintage dishes and a pasted together wall sculpture of kitchen utensils and objects.

As with many restaurants in Paris, the formule only has two selections of each dish. My starter was a refreshing dish of micro-thin slices of raw sea scallops and radishes marinated in tangy passionfruit. Lynn had endive with Roquefort cheese and slices of Iberian ham, which she loved, even though she doesn’t usually like ham. I had the most tender, falling-off-the-bone pork ribs with sautéed cabbage. The only criticism I had was that is it was so good there wasn’t enough to satisfy me. Citrus seemed to be a theme, and Lynn’s daurade was also citrus-marinated with a sprinkling of walnuts.

When these odd food combinations work it’s a delightful surprise but sometimes they fall flat on their face. A dessert of a thick chocolate concoction that was too rich and gooey, topped with a beet sorbet, was a flop, and we were both disappointed because the meal had a promising start.

The other shortcoming of the lunch was the portions were on the puny/precious side. When food is that good you want more of it.

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Watch Your Back

April 1st, 2014

Happy Poisson d’avril! Just like April Fool’s Day, the first of April is a day for hoaxes and pranks. The difference in France, however, is that it is also a tradition to pin a paper fish on an unsuspecting person’s back. One the poisson is discovered, the pranker shouts, “Poisson d’avril!” Leave it to the French to bring something edible into yet another cultural tradition.

Where Are the Jobs?

March 31st, 2014

The Guignols of Canal + went for the jugular this week, showing no mercy to unpopular French president François Hollande after the catastrophic first round of municipal elections.

In this brilliantly–and painfully–funny bit, the puppet Hollande sings his desperate search for jobs, looking everywhere for them, including in bookcases and under his car. “Emploioutai!” he sings “Jobs where are you?”

Originally broadcast last September, it’s based on the hit song “Papaoutai” by the talented young singer Stromae. In Papaoutai, an angry young boy demands to know where is father is, while his father (the eerily beautiful and strange looking Stromae) sits inhumanely stiff with a fixed and desperate smile on his face. Visually stunning, “Papatoutai” is actually a very sad song about failed fatherhood and disappointed youth.

This Guignols parody hits especially hard for several reasons.

  • Young French kids know – and love – Stromae’s orginal song, so as they watch Hollande’s puppet’s ludicrous search for “jobs” they’re hearing Stromae’s heartbreaking lyrics about an angry boy’s search for a father worthy of the word.
  • Unemployment in France, particularly among the young, continues to rise from an already unbearably high level. If you want a simple, one word explanation to France’s hard right turn, unemployment – and Hollande’s inability to do anything about it – will probably do. So the topic is well chosen.

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Dark Inspirations

March 30th, 2014

The fashion exhibitions at Musée des Arts Decoratifs are always presented in a special designated space. The atmosphere is almost like going to the theatre: it’s pitch black except for the vitrines, which are dimly lit. It doesn’t always work, and for some shows it’s been difficult to see the details of the clothes. For the “Dries Van Noten: Inspirations” show, however, it worked to its advantage, creating an air of mystery and romance. The thing we liked best about the show was that, instead of just a retrospective, it’s built around the designer’s sources of inspiration, which covered everything from pop art and music to brilliant painters to even other fashion designers. It was like getting to know his creative process from the inside.

The first vitrine featured a selection of other designers clothing from the 1980s including Claude Montana, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Vivienne Westwood and posters from 1980s music icons Grace Jones and Klaus Nomi. Along side the first vitrine is a clever walkway with names of artists, musicians, and celebrities emblazoned on the wall and ceiling in bold white capital letters against a black background.

Eclectic themes in the other vitrines include Frances Bacon, The Duke of Windsor, and Cecil Beaton and more abstract themes such as enchanted gardens, feathers and camouflage

The exhibition is dense with over 400 objects so you must take your time to absorb every detail. Upstairs Japanese artist Azuma Makoto has created a floral wonderland with large-scale flowers and plants on a black background to show off Van Noten’s sumptuous floral prints heavily used in his collections.

You can also see the brilliant and prolific range of Van Noten has created over a 28-year span. I most love his original prints and the way he freely mixes completely different prints in one garment.

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The Marie-Antoinette Diet?!

March 29th, 2014

“Let them eat cake!” is the most famous quote that the Queen of France never said, but if you want to look just like her, then just pretend that she said it anyway! A new diet trend that was developed by author Karen Wheeler in her new book, The Marie Antoinette Diet: Eat Cake and Still Lose Weight, highlights that you don’t have to swear off sugar completely. As long as you eat your cake for breakfast, eat your largest meal at lunch and settle for boring soup in the evening, then you can “let YOU eat cake!” There are some restrictions: as long as the cake is accompanied by your typical breakfast of berries and yogurt and the cake is no more than 75 grams (2.64 ounces), then you are good to go.

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