13 avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris
Yesterday I went and watched some psychoanalysts fight with each other at the Sorbonne for a few hours. The conference I attended ended with one of the panel members storming off the stage and the other throwing his glasses on the table in frustration. The were fighting over the stakes of a dogmatic reading of one of Lacan’s seminars, which I’m sure to most people would seem like a pretty irrelevant thing to get so bent out of shape about. But this was a niche audience and everyone got really fired up. It was kind of exhausting to witness, though I suppose that my ability to mock an angry French speaker improved immeasurably.
Worn down to a single raw nerve, I met up with my friends afterwards for an evening at the Palais de Tokyo, a museum that I’ve mentioned here before. How to explain the Palais de Tokyo to the uninitiated? It’s a rather enormous, partially unfinished contemporary art museum with no permanent collection. They put on a few large-scale exhibitions a year and have weekly lectures, concerts, film screenings, and other cultural happenings on Thursday nights. On the upside, some of their curatorial work is really sharp and the vastness of the museum space itself allows for certain work to be showcased that might otherwise have difficulty finding adequate museum space. The also have, hand-down, the best Photomaton in Paris (it’s actually nearly impossible to find the black and white kind that make photos in a vertical strip here, Amelie be damned). The downside? Well, sometimes the exhibitions indulge the emptiest trends of contemporary art. The last exhibition at the Palais, Chasing Napoleon, was a good example of the former alternative: a fascinating group show that hinged upon the idea of the Unabomber as an exemplary escape from the social into a kind of aesthetic isolation. The current exhibition, Pergola, which is supposedly about the haunting of architectural space, is well, let’s just say it’s not that great. It’s the kind of show that makes intelligent people wander around bewildered, musing about how they too can get in to this conceptual art racket and make a killing assembling boxes out of construction-grade plywood. Or maybe that’s just my friends and me.
What’s kind of terrific about the Palais de Tokyo, however, is that even if the art viewing is a total bummer (an entire installation of non-functional pneumatic tubes? really?!), the bookstore is consistently amusing and the bar and restaurant at the museum are pretty excellent. I’ve told you about the excellent neon lighting at the Tokyo Bar before, but I’ll emphasize again that it is a great place to meet up if you find pinky-orange light to be very flattering (I do). While the service at the bar is comically bad (just order at the bar, because seriously they are never, ever coming to your table), the bartenders are cute guys that certainly provide evidence that my students are wrong to say that there is no such thing as a French hipster.
The restaurant, Tokyo Eat, has a diverse, pseudo-Asian fusion thing going on that provides a nice break from Paris bistro fare. While it’s trendy and kind of expensive (a nine euro milkshake guys? for that price it better be laced with cocaine), I actually really like eating there. Last night, my friends and I ate the tartare de boeuf au saté et sésame, roquette et frites maison (standard steak tartare/salad/fries with the twist that the tartare was made with a kind of lovely Asian sesame and saté flavor), the pastilla d’agneau aux aubergines et oignons confits et mesclun (a really lovely Moroccan-style lamb pastilla filled with eggplant and onions and served with a heap of salad) and the adorable daurade à la plancha, aubergines confines, et sauce cacahuète (sea bass with roasted eggplant and a peanut sauce). For dessert, we shared the mini macarons d’Hermès, dissident d’Hermé, aux parfums varies (an assortment of macarons served with a “dissident,” which I believe is what they were calling a small piece of lacy caramel). I’d been eyeing a large display of macaroons in tall milkshake glasses all night, and my friends humored me in ordering one for dessert. I felt kind of bad when I realized that M doesn’t even really like macarons. Though how can you dislike macarons? They are practically the most perfect Parisian foodstuff! The tourism industry might likely crash to a halt if Ladurée or Fauchon closed their doors! I’m not going to bore you with a long description of the macaron culture in Paris (there are fifteen other blogs that can do that for you just as well), but I will say that the ones at the Palais de Tokyo are pretty amazing. While they didn’t have a lemon one (my personal favorite), the assortment of pistachio, rose, vanilla, and passionfruit that they serve is really lovely. Further proof in my growing pile of evidence that M is actually a Soviet spy.
Details: Lunch and dinner served whenever the museum is open (noon to midnight everyday except Tuesday). Reservations totally unnecessary. Dinner service starts at 8 p.m. A nice alternative to the many overpriced tourist traps in the area (surrounding the Eiffel Tower and the Musée du quai Branly).
Photos via Palais de Tokyo.