Book ’em, Danico

August 26th, 2016

barmanA while back I made a visit to Mama Shelter where I was impressed by the drinks, as well as the person making them. That was 2009 and the bartender was Nico de Soto. And while Mama Shelter may have kind of lost cocktail cred over the past few years, Nico has seriously gone places (literally and figuratively.) He went on to work with the ECC group in Paris, London and NYC, travelled all over the world, won awards (including most influential bartender at 2014 Cocktails Spirits), and opened his own successful New York bar, Mace. And now, he’s completed the cocktillian loop, returning to France to open his second spot, Danico.

wallpaperDanico is the bar attached to hotspot Darocco, a large light, and chic 180 seat Italian eatery all housed in Jean Paul Gaultier’s former flagship location and brought to you by Alexandre Giesbert and Julien Ross. Don’t hesitate to head straight through the busy trattoria to this bar hidden at the back or slip in via the Passage Vivienne side entrance.

In terms of décor, French contemporary and tattoo artist SupaKitch added signature touches like quirky wallpaper and a cool cocktail bar logo to the otherwise casually chic and unassumingly elegant small bar and its mezzanine. In Paris, where space is often at a premium and service is not, Darocco and Danico’s welcoming ambience and attitude offer a more inviting alternative that let you feel like you can breath…

mixing a drinkBehind the bar, good-looking Frenchmen in nautical striped shirts (*wink, wink* Monsieur Gaultier) welcome incomings with a friendly smile and ‘bonjour.’ The Paris-based bar trio have all worked internationally with the Experimental Group and Nico, making for a tight team with a shared vision, set of skills and an understanding of service that allows them to function well even when the big man behind the bar is back in the Big Apple.


The 21st Century, Seen by French in the 20th

August 25th, 2016

molecular cuisineMolecular cuisine and mobile homes were predicted long before they became a reality. Other notions about the future, such as a barber shop where machines tended to your haircut and shave, didn’t quite happen. Either way these illustrations by French artists in the year 1900 (and thereabouts) are a delightful look at what the French envisioned for the year 2000. See them all here. rollin house

They’re All the Same, Right?

August 22nd, 2016

brasserie lippBefore setting out for an unforgettable day of Paris dining, it’s important to understand the differences between these types of establishments. And once you do, it’s important to understand that the distinctions are becoming blurrier all the time.
Bistros are generally small, often family-run and open for limited hours at lunch and/or dinner. The food is typically hearty and traditional, but today’s bistro chefs are putting out creative, inventive cuisine, and many bistros have been opened by chefs who paid their dues at high-end restaurants before striking out on their own. Like the food, the wines can range from basic to spectacular. A few favorites are Le Bistrot Paul Bert, Chez Michel, La Régalade, Chez l’Ami Jean and Jadis. Always reserve–not just to make sure you have a seat but out of politeness.
Restaurants are traditionally the most formal of the lot, and from them you can expect an elegant, multi-course meal, careful service, great wine lists and a hefty check. This term certainly applies to legendary two- and three-star tables like Taillevent, Le Meurice, L’Arpège and Pierre Gagnaire. Booking in advance is imperative.
Brasseries, Alsatian in origin and many with glowing Belle Epoque decor, are iconic Paris dining. Numerous brasseries still serve specialties like choucroute garnie (sauerkraut with several different kinds of pork) and have beers on tap, but you can expect a broad menu and a bustling atmosphere. Many have oyster stands out front where an écailler prepares grand platters of shellfish. Two of the most famous—Bofinger, with a stunning stained glass dome, near the Bastille; and Lipp, in St.-Germain-des-Prés—are worth visiting for the atmosphere, though perhaps not for the food. Other classics include Julien and Le Grand Colbert.


The Last of Summer

August 19th, 2016

august in ParisAugust is a famously sleepy month in Paris, the time when the juilletistes (those French who take their summer holidays in July) switch places with the aoûtiens (pronounced “ah-oo-sien”, who prefer their vacation in August). Small shops may close for the month, and bakeries go on rotation. Even some cultural institutions go into standby mode. For those stranded in the city, there’s always “Paris Plage,” that bizarrely agreeable transformation of the banks of the Seine into a stretch of the Côte d’Azur. Anyone not familiar with it should go. On the right bank, stretching from the Louvre to Bastille, you’ll find more than artificial beach (5000 metric tons of sand) available for lounging and tanning, but also tai chi, games for kids, an open air library, space for playing boules, and more. (A similar installation runs along the Bassin de la Villette, which you can access near the Métro station Stalingrad.) This year Paris Plage runs through September 4th, so there’s still plenty of time to enjoy it.


An Action-Packed Day for 50 Euros

August 6th, 2016

I don’t normally work with companies promoting services, but I recently received a challenge that I thought would be genuinely interesting in connection to a service that seemed particularly useful to travellers. The challenge came from WeSwap, who asked how I would spend £50 in one day in Paris. Obviously it’s pretty easy to spend that amount of money very quickly in the French capital, but the challenge was rather to see just how much I could do with that sum.

weswapWeSwap is a social currency service that enables travellers to exchange money between themselves without the need to go through banks. WeSwap credited my account with £50, which I actually swapped before the Brexit vote, meaning I got a now generous looking €64.25 for my £50. Given that withdrawing money from a cash dispenser is charged at €1.75 (although this fee is waived if you withdraw €200 or more), I have rounded this down to €60 for the purpose of this challenge.

So what did I do with €60? A mix of history, culture and sport, with a little bit of food and drink to keep me going!

Museum of Fun!

July 25th, 2016

Blue Sky RioA new museum opened in Paris by the name of Art Ludique Musée, housed in the same building as the MoonRoof restaurant and the Mode et Design museum–you know, the big crazy green thing on the Quai D’Austerlitz. If you’ve not yet been there it’s a hotbed of happenings including Wanderlust and Nuba restaurant, cocktail and nightclubs.

Jeanne & Chris Wedge, whom I know from back home in New York, were attending a show in Chris’ honor at the Museum, a retrospective on his work at Blue Sky Studio–the only East Coast animation studio in the US. Despite the rainy week, we had Blue Sky in Paris. He’s an Academy Award-winning animation director and has directed such movies as Epic, Robots and the first of the five Ice Age movie. His studio has produced many more films. Some of the best animated work out there in the past 30 years was created Blue Sky Studios. The company that he created with a group of colleagues will turn 30 next year.

ludiqueHe says it all with art. And that’s the point of this show and in the museum in general, to let people in on the artwork and illustration as well as the hundreds of hours of conception work that is done to create great animated movies. As a lover of film but someone who knows absolutely nothing about animation, getting the headphones at the museum was critical.


Understanding Champagne

July 15th, 2016

dave in champagneFact: A bottle of Champagne pops open every 2 seconds somewhere around the world. If you’re like me, that fact conjures up a bevy of celebration images; people clinking glasses at weddings, Bat Mitzvahs, graduations, anniversaries, cheering career promotions, expanding families or new adventures. But the reality is that in France, Champagne isn’t merely reserved for momentous occasions nor is it only suitable pre and post-mealtime. This is something I came to fully understand on my recent trip to the Champagne-Ardenne region (now known as the Grand Est region, which also includes Alsace and Lorraine) where I was on assignment for Atout France last month. In fact, awareness around champagne (it pairs well with food! It’s complex!) and its aging process is still rather weak. I had a lot of ground to cover in four days but I do believe I came away with a new appreciation for Champagne the drink, and Champagne the historical and cultural destination, thanks to pairings, tastings and tours, both through the vines and through cities like Reims, Epernay, and Troyes.


Moroccan Paradise in the Latin Quarter

July 10th, 2016

MosqueParis is not only a romantic city, it’s also a melting pot of cultures. So sometimes your steps lead you to an exotic architectural site right in its heart. That’s what happens in the 5th district, at the foot of the Saint Geneviève hill, where a white wall hides a mysterious building, flagged by a colorful tower and a massive wooden door. This monument is actually the Great Mosque of Paris, a little piece of Morocco hidden in the French capital.

mosque3This sanctuary, built between 1922 and 1926, is a tribute to the Muslim soldiers who died during World War I fighting for the French Republic. 100,000 volunteers from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia perished during the war, far from their native lands. Afterwards, the French people wanted to give the Muslim community a place to commemorate this tragedy. That was the beginnings of this mosque, a Muslim Institute, several reception rooms, and a library. A restaurant and hammam (steam baths) completed this Moroccan haven in the heart of the Latin Quarter.

Mosque2Nowadays, visitors and prayers go together in this quiet atmosphere of the Great Mosque. A peaceful garden welcomes you to this reconstituted paradise, with its fountains, palm trees and roses. Beyond that is the courtyard of the mosque, decorated in the tradition of Fez, the spiritual capital of Morocco. Ceramics, engraved plaster, sculpted wood, and calligraphy running all along the walls and beneath the arcades evoke the North African heritage. At the end of the corridors and terraces a huge door opens onto a majestic reception hall reminding us of the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights.


Gros, Not Gross!

June 30th, 2016

gros 1At lunch Gros, in the 10th arrondissement, has a 17€ (appetizer and main course or main course and dessert) or 22€ for appetizer, main course and dessert. You choose between three items for each course. I started with lentils mixed with a delicious and delicate hummus and a big crust of hard sesame bread. My lunch date Lynn was delighted with her poached egg perched on sautéed mushrooms with spinach pesto.

Since we are both sticklers about portion size, Lynn was pleased with a more than ample sized piece of codfish accompanied by buckwheat tabouleh and a Greek yogurt sauce. I had Banh Mi, a Vietnamese-style sandwich with pork, carrots, and cucumber with a dusting of coriander. Wrapped in brown paper, the sandwich seemed as though it was from a local food truck.

gros 2The dessert, rice pudding drizzled with salted butter caramel sauce, was a little too sweet for my palate, and it was too finely pureed to taste the texture of the rice.

The faux sandblasted pinky-beige walls and tin inlaid tables gives the dining room a cool, industrial look. Service was laid back and pleasant but the wait between the appetizer and main course dragged close to 30 minutes. Still for the prize, Lynn and I declared Gros a winner!


Paris Bike Rental 101

June 21st, 2016

dave velib muralI love using the Vélib to get around Paris, especially now that it’s so nice outside (read: between sudden thunder showers it’s actually sunny and gorgeous). It looks a lot scarier to ride a bike in Paris than it feels when you’re actually on the bike. Maybe it’s the high of cruising through the capital with the wind in your hair, but it’s very quickly addictive.

I got a native Parisian hooked last weekend when I suggested we grab two Vélibs to go check out the street art murals in the 13th arrondissement. I have an annual pass (€29), but he was a newbie and needed a day pass (which are currently €1.70; weekly passes are €8). We figured, being locals of average intelligence, that this wouldn’t take us long to figure out. But getting the pass from the terminal was enormously confusing.

Just to give you all a heads up, there are two main steps: creating an account, then checking out your bike.

First you need to create an account. We did this right at the bike terminal (there’s one at every bike rental station). One side has a map on it and a touchpad for those who already have a subscriber number. The other side has an interactive screen and a place to insert a credit card. Go here, touch any number on the keypad to get started, and change the language to English to make your life easier. Note that there are instructions on the big screen but also on the little screen next to the credit card slot. A bit confusing.

laurie velibTo create a subscription account you need to click on 2 to “Buy a Ticket,” then select a 4-digit code (pick any code you can easily remember, but not 1234 or 0000). Then you need to pay for your subscription with a credit card (and when it asks for your code, it means your credit card PIN, not the Vélib code you just made up). Once it’s done you get a little receipt (récépissé) with an eight-digit code which is your subscription ID (or abonnement) number. Hold onto this for the duration of your subscription. You can also create your account online in advance, which may be easier (at least you’re not standing on the street with your wallet out!) and is the only option for those without micro-chipped credit.