Moving from Paris to Indiana the past fall (see also: the things we do for love), one of the things I expected to mourn the most was my film-going. You see, I spent rather a lot of time at the movies in the past two years, watching the sort of thing that one rarely sees on the big screen in America outside of New York or Los Angeles. I started reading Cahiers du Cinèma. Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week, because it meant a new Pariscope to obsessively scour with a highlighter. Basically I became a low-down, dirty little cinéphile, and I had friends and a city to support my habit. There may or may not have been weeping during my final viewing of Quartier Lacan at Accattone. Okay, there was definitely weeping, but that wasn’t really all that strange for that place.
So you can imagine my surprise upon arriving in Bloomington at the discovery that this is a town of serious film-going folks, small though their numbers may be. So serious, in fact, that about twenty-five years ago a group of them founded The Ryder film series and magazine. The Ryder screens independent, foreign-language, and revival films at a variety of venues around town. Many of these locations serve booze, making them aces in my book. The Ryder also publishes a free magazine available on nearly every corner around campus, which also covers about local theatre, opera, concerts, and lectures in addition to film. For those of you that wince whenever the cashier at the megaplex asks you to fork over eleven bucks for a movie, the price is oh-so-right at The Ryder. And they conduct free-ticket lotteries at the beginning of every feature, so sometimes your next movie is on the house! Because of the relatively transient nature of the operation, everything is screened digitally, which has its drawbacks, and sometimes the projection quality isn’t great. But for many newish independent films they are the only game in town, and you’ve got to respect that the operation is likely a labor of love for a few individuals who saw an absence in their community and devoted themselves to filling it. It’s a pretty fantastic thing, and it doesn’t happen very much anymore, especially in the arts. The Ryder is proof positive that you don’t need an enormous budget to dramatically increase the number of independent and foreign films available to a community, just the long-term commitment of people who care enough about such things to make it happen.
Speaking of commitment to film, following his 2009 appointment as Indiana University President, Michael McRobbie (a hard-core cinéphile if I’ve ever seen one) promised to fund the construction and maintenance of a world-class cinema facility on the university campus. He called it a much-deserved “place for film” for a university and town that had long shown an interest in the medium. And while presidents of all stripes often make big promises when they are taking office that end up moldering on the shelf, this particular president actually put his money where his mouth was. Appointing Jon Vickers as full-time director in 2010, the IU Cinema facility opened in the former space the university theatre in January of 2011. Most universities can’t even replace a broken photocopier that quickly. The space is exquisite, incorporating several 1933 Thomas Hart Benton murals from the original space with one of only 10 THX-certified university cinemas in the country. Thanks to unique collaboration with Sony, the IU Cinema boasts 16mm and 35mm film and Barco 2K and 4K digital projection equipment, and a Dolby sound system that makes you gasp.
It’s a magnificent facility, but it is really Vicker’s continuous programming that makes it sing. As their website can rightfully boast, IU Cinema hosts “film premieres and rare archival screenings, film festivals, conferences, filmmaker retrospectives and silent films accompanied by live music.” This year alone I was able to see everything from Los Olvidados to The Kid, Juliet of the Spirits to Ran, Agnès Varda shorts to Psycho. I watched films from the Australia in the 1970s series, the East Asian Film series, and New Trends in Contemporary Italian Cinema. Thanks to the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker series, I was able to attend lectures and film series by Chuck Workman, John Sayles, Monica Treut, and Whit Stillman this year. IU also periodically screens recent independent and foreign releases, so we were able to see movies like A Separation and Melancholia within a month or two of their release; no small thing once you get into the bowels of Southern Indiana. Next fall, they are (wait for it) hosting Werner Herzog. This news has resulted in our new favorite game: speculating on where we would take Herzog when he comes to visit Bloomington in the fall, if we were going to be in Indiana in the fall (we aren’t), and if somebody trusted us to be his chaperones (they wouldn’t). In my fantasy, the one other person in town who voted for Cobra Verde at the IU cinema can join me and Wern when we go to the quarries. In the meantime, doing Herzog impressions around town will have to suffice.
Perhaps my favorite moment of the year came when Michael McRobbie was introducing Solaris, one of the films he had specifically selected for his “President’s Choice” series. I know, I know, a university president who loves Tarkofsky! Crazy! He spoke about how establishing a serious venue for cinema on campus was not only an institutional improvement for the university’s reputation, but also an important gift to the community that this university inhabits. In an age of economic downturn and the rape and pillage nationally of public universities, it’s a rare thing for a university adminstrator to acknowledge the imbrication between the university space and the community, and the responsibility that both have to each another for cultural enrichment.
The Ryder’s showtime schedule can be found at theryder.org. Their films are screened at Bear’s Place, the IU Fine Arts Theatres, FARM Restaurant, or the Buskirk Chumley, with outdoor screenings in the summer at Bryan Park. Tickets are $5 for everybody. Food and drinks are available for purchase at the Bear’s Place and FARM screenings. Students beware, you must be 21 to enter screenings at Bear’s Place.
The IU Cinema’s schedule can be found at www.cinema.indiana.edu, along with excellent podcasts. Ticket prices vary, but many events are free to the public. However, the Cinema requires that you pick up tickets for all screenings, even the free ones. Tickets for first-run and popular films often run out weeks in advance. You can pick up tickets at the IU Auditorium Box Office, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday or online at the cinema website. Tickets are available on the first day of the month of the screening, so we made a habit of planning our film-going in advance and getting our tickets all at once. A box office in the cinema lobby is also open 30 minutes prior to any screening and a standby line forms there, but again, the early bird gets the worm.
When my mother and I began planning our five-day sojourn to London in May, I immediately began researching restaurants like it was my goddamn job. It was a first time visit for both of us, and I live in some kind of irrational terror about not knowing where to eat in a new location and ending up overpaying for tourist grub. It’s easy to fall into the rabbit hole when it comes to London restaurant reviews – it’s obviously a first-rate foodie town with review ink spilled to match. I read about all kinds of super-bobo things like “gastropubs” and “locavore menus” and something that people were calling “the St. John diaspora,” apparently with a perfectly straight face. Part of me was a bit skeptical about the heavy-duty language that seemed to align itself with a cuisine that I always suspected was bland city. The fact is that no matter how many times I had heard that London was the new culinary center of the world, I just couldn’t believe that a nation that consumed potatoes in that many different iterations could possibly on the new wave of progressive cooking.But I’m still a restaurant researching fiend, so I did a lot of homework (and made a lot of reservations) before we arrived in London.
Much to my surprise, London really is all that it’s cracked up to be from a culinary point of view. I will seem like the ultimate Paris traitor in saying this, but London really does have the monopoly at this point on beautifully simple, seasonal ingredient-driven cooking that draws on the rich international community who inhabit the city. Libelous as it may seem given my current digs, visiting London was like waking up in an Technicolor dreamscape of exquisite produce and fish and meat. Locally sourcing ingredients has obviously become de rigeur in London, as has providing comprehensive lists of where ingredients originated on menus. London is basically how I imagine West Coast cooking in the US will look in about a decade. And while all of this is obviously the product of a lot of food-obsessed people with a lot more money to put where their mouths are, it has trickled down into even the most basic sorts of fast-food lunch spots around town. I was flat-out amazed by the quality of the food at places like Prêt à Manger and Eat, chains that are as ubiqutous as Panera in the States or Bonne Journee in Paris, yet manage to be about a hundred times more ethically sourced and delicious than their American and French counterparts. And I know that as Americans we are always getting pounded sideways by the dollar/pound conversion, but I was geniunely surprised by the reasonable prices on food in the UK. Even my mother, who, um, was footing the bill pointed out the radical discrepancy between the cost of eating in Paris at a place like Rino and some of the spendier places we dined at in London, namely that you can get a lot more bang for your buck in London. I particularly loved the democratic feel of dining out in London, where suits mixed with totally casual duds, white tablecloths were rare (if not totally absent), servers were almost irrationally friendly, and you can make reservations just about anywhere online. I hate talking on the phone with strangers. I love being able to make reservations online, puzzling over the best time slot for as long as I need to in crafting the perfect eating itinerary. London is this obsessive deliberator’s fantasy city as far as that is concerned.
So where’d we eat, you may ask? In fact, my dearest J and B did ask me recently, as they are visiting cute-as-all-get-out niece and nephew in London this coming month. So for them, and for all of my other dear readers, here are some highlights, in chronological order:
Electric Brasserie (191 Portobello Road, Subway Ladbroke Grove) was our first stop after taking the Eurostar from Paris and checking in at our quirky, if un-recommendable accomidations in Notting Hill. It’s as hip as they come and attached to an interesting-sounding cinema, balancing a slightly formal dining room with an outdoor patio that is quite popular with locals that camp out for hours on end. As we were feeling a kind of “when in Rome” vibe, we both ordered the fish and chips with mushy peas and homemade tartar sauce. Oh man, did this ruin me for all future versions of this dish. The cod was perfectly cooked, just the right amount of crispy and greasy on the outside and flaky and moist on the inside. The mushy peas were super-sweet and tasted of spring. And that tartar sauce was sexy enough to slather all over your lover. The rest of the menu looked dreamy as well, and would pair delightfully with a date-night movie at the Electric Cinema (not that I’m already planning date nights for when I live in London or anything foolish like that. Ahem).
Dinner on our first night was at the original location of St. John (26 St. John Street, Subway Farringdon), the gastropub that apparently started it all. I made reservations about a month in advance online, and it was evident by the smirk on the hostesses face when the guy in front of us asked if they had any availability that night that reservations are a must and a half here. Our server actually continually reminded us of our good fortune to be eating at St. John, not in an ugly way, but in a “well, of course you should order some Welsh rarebit, you’re HERE after all!” kind of way. It was actually quite charming, so we did.
We also ordered the roasted beef bone marrow with parsley, onion, and caper salad served with toast. Mama L was skeptical about spreading marrow on bread, but the look on her face was pure complicit joy at first bite.
Our main courses were roasted lamb and fennel, which was quite possibly one of the most amazingly gamey-while-delicious cuts of meat I’ve ever encountered and pigeon with lentils (slightly bloodier than I usually like my pigeon, but maybe I’m in the wrong on that one). Either way, both were completely amazing, if a total departure from the oft-fussiness of high-end Parisian cuisine.
The next day we spent a lovely morning at the Tate Modern and decided to duck in to their museum restaurant before heading over to the Globe Theatre for an afternoon matinee of Much Ado About Nothing, an experience I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone of either a theatrical, touristical, or human disposition. The restaurant at the Tate Modern was a totally yummy surprise, with an inventive menu with all-artisinal ingredients (the tomato chutney, the cheese, and the beef on my burger had homey-sounding names) and an excellent booze list. Yes, I drink and go to museums. Sue me. I got to sample my first-ever Scottish Brew Dog Trashy Blonde beer, which was a welcome change from the beer-desert I live in here in Paris (cue world’s tiniest violin, I know). Mama L had a vaguely Middle-Eastern platter of roasted vegetables, hummus, and salad, because she felt that we had eaten too much meat the previous evening and needed a reprieve. Amateur.
Our third night, we followed the “St. John diaspora” (snort) and decided to try Hereford Road (3 Hereford Road, Subway: Notting Hill Gate), a relatively new space from the former chef at St. John Bread and Wine, Tom Pemberton. I’m going to just go ahead and say it: we liked it even better than St. John. The space is beautifully designed with an enormous circular skylight in the main dining area. The staff is thoughtful and articulate about the food and wine. And the food, while simple and unfussy, is gutsy and delicious and traditional while also being totally out-of-the-box. To start, Mama L had an exquisite spinach, bacon, and seared scallop salad. Don’t you love it when a simple scallop screams “Whoever cooked me is a total artist!”? I sure do:
I began with a Meantime Pilsner (yum!) and the potted crab, a dish which I’ll admit I had never heard of before that night. Consider me schooled: potted crab is just about the most decadent fat-kid concoction you can imagine, pairing fuss-free crab claw meat with drawn butter and toast. I could literally eat this every single day for the rest of my life and live a warm and happy existence:
For our main courses, I tucked in to a serious slab of pork belly served with a sweet broth and some game-changing zucchini. I’m not kidding, this zucchini transformed everything I ever believed about zucchini.
My mama took one bite, and another, and another, until I actually had to bat her fork away from my precious vegetable side dish. It was that good. Mama L had braised rabbit with fennel and a healthy scoop of aioli. She took a bite, closed her eyes, and said “My goodness, London has sure changed my opinion of fennel.” Clarence’s mama WOULD have “an opinion about fennel,” wouldn’t she?
For dessert, we shared an Eton Mess. Like many Americans, I had heard of Eton Mess but didn’t have a clue what it comprised. At Hereford Road it’s a mix of fresh sweet strawberries, candied rhubarb, and bits of meringue cookie smothered in whipped cream. It’s the kind of thing that I imagine might give a schoolboy a serious sugar high.
Our final culinary destination was Ottolenghi (several different locations, but we ate at the restaurant in Islington at 287 Upper Street, Subway Highbury & Islington). I’ll be frank, I am straight-up, fan-girl obsessed with chef Yotam Ottolenghi since “discovering” his genius Guardian column The New Vegetarian. So obsessed, in fact, that I’m seriously contemplating using his amazing sensibility as a framework for revamping my cooking to include more veggie-centric meals. Take the best vegetarian (or, at the restaurant, vegetable-driven) dishes you’ve ever had or imagined you could have, then multiply it by about a thousand. That’s how good this man’s food is. Mama L went back to the States and promptly ordered his cookbooks. I would die a happy, smug vegetarian if Ottolenghi was my personal chef.
The dinner menu at Ottolenghi is made of two sections: from the counter and from the kitchen. Everything is a small plate meant to be shared, and the servers recommend that you order a mix of plates from the counter (usually cold, and served more or less immediately) and from the kitchen (hot dishes that take a little bit longer to arrive). Our server recommended five dishes between two people, which was exactly the perfect amount with dessert. Our dishes from the counter were barley and farro with asparagus, feta, preserved lemon, green peas, and pink peppercorn (left) and roasted aubergine (eggplant) with apricot and ginger yoghurt, spiced pumpkin seeds, chili and sumac (right), served with the most orgasmic selection of bread I’ve seen in awhile:
Plus a char-grilled courgette (zuchini for you Yanks out there) with Parmesean, chervil, pistachio, and truffle oil, which will have you putting Parmesean and truffle oil on every vegetable that comes out of our kitchen, trust me.
From the kitchen, we ordered a pan-fried sea bass with garlic crisps and a mixed mushroom, seaweed, and truffle oil salad. While the sea bass was as perfect as can be, the real star of the show was the seaweed salad: tangy-sweet, tender, and umami to the max. My mom, never before a fan of seaweed salad, declared herself a convert.
Our second dish from the kitchen was smoked lamb cutlets with miso burt aubergine, pickled Jerusalem artichoke, and jalapeño sauce. Again, the lamb was great, but the vegetable accoutrements were the real breakout stars. I want to take a bath in this bright green jalapeño puree:
For dessert, we split a slice of amazing carrot cake, and on the way out we bought two “granola bars” (let’s just say that these are unlike any granola bars I’ve ever eaten before) for our travels the next day. Mama L said Heathrow airport looked a hellava lot nicer at five a.m when paired with a hot cup of coffee and an Ottolenghi granola bar.
So the food was great and unpretentious, the museums are mostly free, the people are absurdly friendly, and the public transportation wasn’t nearly as confusing as everyone made it out to be. Other things I’d totally recommend you do in London (besides the stuff you are already probably going to do) include visiting the Freud Muesum and the Esorick Collection of Modern Italian Art (both fascinating and largely empty) and taking a nice long stroll along the Canal or inside the Hampstead Heath. I’d also recommend, especially in the summer, a classic Pimm’s cup (for the uninitiated, it’s a refreshing combination booze, sparkling lemonade, cucumbers, berries, apples, citrus, and borage or mint). I had mine at the excellent-looking The Bull and Last (168 Highgate Road, Subway Tufnell Park), where among other things, they have a delicious sounding dog snack menu. I’m pretty emphatically sold on London – now all I’ve got to do is convince B that it is an excellent setting for our future adventures.
Speaking of B, I told you a few weeks ago that I had a big announcement to make. Well, here it is: I’m leaving France at the end of this month as expected, but instead of heading back to Southern California, I am moving to Indiana for a year (and I don’t mean the Tex-Mex restaurant chain in Paris). B’s got some coursework to finish and a teaching gig there, you see, and I’m in desparate need of a place free of distractions with a university library for my year of fellowship-funded dissertation-writing. I know a lot of you will be taking me off your regularly scheduled blog programming without the “Paris-factor” (and I don’t blame you) but I hope that you’ll still keep stopping by for the crêpes-to-cornfields chapter of my life. We’ve got big plans, you see, including a Bourbon tour of Kentucky, a pulled-pork orgy in Memphis, and lots and lots of home-cooking. I’ve been chomping at the bit to start some smelly home-fermentation projects (can anyone say “homemade kimchee and sauerkraut”) that B has prohibited me from beginning in our tiny Parisian apartment. Moreover we’ve got Amish farms to visit, fruit to pluck, and an entire Larousse Gastronomique to work our way through in a Bloomington kitchen. What I’m saying is that I hope you’ll stick around for the ride. I’ll bribe you with some Best Of Paris entries soon, that is, when I can stop my current cycle of pre-packing, compulsive shopping at Dehillerin, charcuterie-eating, and weeping. I hope you are happy and staying cool this summer, dearest reader. As always, you’re looking lovely.
When I first lived in Paris for a semester back in 2002, I stayed with a lovely family in a very residential part of the 17th arrondissement. My memory of Sundays in that part of town is pretty bleak, with all restaurants and shops closed and tumbleweeds rolling across the streets. After ending up at the McDonald’s on the Champs-Elysées on more than a few Sundays, I became an obsessive Saturday market shopper. Better to have a full fridge than starve on Sundays, I reasoned. So you can imagine my surprise when I moved in to my Marais apartment a year and a half ago and discovered that my new neighborhood was quite the bustling affair on Sundays. It is literally as if someone sent out a city-wide memo saying that the areas around my street is the only place to be on a lazy Sunday.
I joke a bit – there are many neighborhoods around Paris that have finally gotten with the program on Sundays, much to the delight of the people that live here and the people that visit. You’ll still be hard-pressed to do much shopping on Sundays, and the grocery stores that tend to be open in central Paris aren’t usually the nicest ones. But increasingly restaurants are offering something new and exciting: American-style Sunday Brunch!
I’ve been unabashed here before in declaring that I love all things brunch. Fancy brunch, buffet brunch, boozy brunch, greasy spoon brunch – you name it, I’m in. Paris was remarkably slow to catch on to brunch as a concept, especially compared to cities like New York or Berlin where there has been veritable brunch culture for decades. While there are a lot of great places for brunch in Paris, you should be prepared for a few things. Number one, brunch isn’t nearly as boozy an affair as it is in the States. Remember all the things we’ve said about the French and their inability to make proper cocktails and their phobias concerning spicy food? This means that if brunch for you means Bloody Marys (let’s hang out!), you’ll probably be disappointed. Number two, if buffet brunches are your bag (hey Berlin readers!) be prepared to drop a serious chunk of change for a likely underwhelming spread. None of this delightful Kreuzberg nonsense where you pay eight euros and eat lox and mackerel rolls until you can’t move. We’re talking 28 euros a head without the coffee here in Paris, and the turnover you might expect in the cheese/charcuterie/smoked fish/cocktail shrimp platters is never quite what you hope it will be. I’m a buffet brunch strategist, dear reader, and you’ll never catch me filling up on bread.
Those caveats aside, you can certainly get a great bite to eat with friends on a leisurely Sunday morning these days in Paris, France. I say morning because the French seriously can’t imagine showing up to a restaurant on a Sunday before noon. Arriving at 11:30 at any of the places I’m about to name will secure you a large, handsome table by the window or the good-looking stranger reading the newspaper (FYI, he’s probably British). Arriving at 12:03 will mean a long, testy wait in a line stretching down the block, likely in the rain, because that’s how those things always work out, am I right? This is seriously the best advice I can possibly give you about dining out in Paris. Get to brunch at 11:30 a.m. (or noon on the nose, as many places offering “brunch” aren’t open in the morning) and dinner at 7:45 p.m. and you’ll rarely have trouble getting a table, even at the most popular places. The French are ridiculously rigid about their eating schedule, and you’re not. Have a leisurely drink from your prime table, watch the impatient cue form, and revel in all the wisdom that Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background has brought to your life. You’re welcome.
Another strategy for a great brunch is to frequent the handful of establishments run by British ex-pats in town. Rose Bakery (I like their Marais location at 30 Rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris, Métro Filles du Calvaire, but they now have three locations around Paris) is the mamma of this movement. Husband and wife team Jean-Charles and Rose Carrarini started it all in a tiny space in Montmartre, where they dish up market-fresh salad plates, vegetable pizzettes, and savory tartes alongside egg-based dishes and yummy baked goods on the weekends. There is probably no space that could be better described as ground zero of bobo chic in Paris than their second location in the Marais, which I like because it has a bit more seating in a brightly lit space with a ceiling of ancient whitewashed wood beams. I’m not a tea-drinker, but I’m told that these Brits know how to properly brew a cup of tea (something my English friends are constantly complaining about in Paris). My favorite part: the fruit crumble of the day, served piping hot from the oven with a generous bowl of crème anglaise. Last week when I visited this little beauty was filled with tart rhubarb and sweet apples. One serving is a hearty dessert for three people. I’d call this and a cup of tea a nearly perfect lazy afternoon.
English breakfast traditionalists should head to the delightful Le Bal Café (6 Impasse de la Défense, 75018 Paris, Métro Place de Clichy) housed in the amazing contemporary art space of the same name. After you take a leisurely brunch in the achingly hip cafe, you can an afternoon of it by visiting the current exhibition (currently a wonderful photography show featuring heartstopping work by Emmet Gowin and Alessandra Sanguinetti) and browsing the carefully curated bookshop.
Run by Willi’s Wine Bar veterans Anselme Blayney et Ivan Kouzmine, Le Bal Café will scratch every English breakfast itch you might have in style with its sausage rolls, Welsh rarebit, kippers with toast, kedgeree, and of course a “classic English breakfast” with over-easy eggs, crisp bacon, and tomatoes. The clear winner at Le Bal, however, is their amazing scones, which will make a convert out of even the most scone-skeptical (yours truly included). Additionally, Le Bal is credited by some people in the know as serving the best cup of coffee in all of Paris. I’m not going to get into the details of why this might be so, but if you want a long lecture on the difference between robusta and arabica beans and the proper roasting duration and temperature and how the French are generally doing it all wrong, you can certainly contact my boyfriend. He gave the nod of approval to Le Bal’s cuppa, and as a coffee philistine, I also thought it was delicious. Plus they did that pretty thing with the foam on the top!
I’m such a prole.
Finally, should you find yourself in Montmartre, might we recommend a visit to newcomer Marcel (49 avenue Junot, Paris 75018, Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt). Even if you don’t find yourself in Montmartre, this might be a lovely place to visit if your only impression of that part of town involves the seedy sexclubs and the tourist hoards that surround Sacre-Coeur. The post neighborhood around Avenue Junot is an entirely different affair, and Marcel is a well-executed riff on the formula that Rose Bakery brought to Paris.
Their menu features another traditional English breakfast (this time with oven-roasted tomatoes and some dreamy sausages in addition to the bacon), eggs Benedict, and an assortment of nice sandwiches. B sampled their Ruben, which isn’t really a Ruben in any classic sense of the word and needs about triple the pastrami and some proper sauerkraut. Not that anyone with any decision-making ability in such things is reading this, but if they were, there you go.
The clear winner of the spread (god, I’m so competitive!) was the perfect, oh my lord, I haven’t eaten one of these for nearly two years, thank you sweet girl, BaLT. I live for a proper BLT, people. The combination of toasted white bread spread with mayo, crisp bacon, tartly sweet tomatoes, and crunchy lettuce is my Ur-sandwich. Add avocado and I’m reduced to a quivering heap of joy. You don’t see these in Paris, and you certainly don’t see them looking like this. The dessert we ordered (fromage blanc with salted caramel and an apple crumble) wasn’t spectacular, but I didn’t care. I’ll be back for a the BaLT. Tomorrow.
So that’s about it as far as my brunch recommendations for Paris, though you might want to revisit my reviews of Le Loir dans la Théière and Breakfast in America if you have a hankering on this lovely Sunday morning. We’re off to our favorite market instead today, something I can’t wait to tell you about when I’ve got enough pictures assembled to make a post. I’d love to hear about your favorite way to spend a Sunday in Paris (or wherever this might find you).
Happy Sunday, dear reader.
Apparently all this time I thought that you wanted to be talking about what I ate for lunch, you actually just wanted to talk about The Bachelor, huh? Thanks for all the nice comments. I am happy to hear that among other things, B’s sister who I hope to charm is as much of a TV addict as I am.
And, for the record, our money’s on Emily for the finale (obviously). I’d put Chantal’s odds at ninety to one.
This has been a bad week for bottom feeders like me. First, Charlie Sheen unleashed a sound-bite ready storm of interviews that I consumed like a cokehead trying to budget their stash. Just one video and then I’ll get to work! Well, maybe if I just watch all the videos now, then I’ll be able to get some work done. There are more videos!? Gimme my fix! Poor B, who is diligently trying to do some kind of project that involves lots of Latin translation and spreadsheet columns (I had no idea that Medieval Studies involved so much Excel) has been forced to listen to near-hourly updates on the status of Sheen’s dubious sobriety, two live-in girlfriends, and child custody. I’m relatively certain that B wasn’t even aware that Sheen was still on television, as when I first showed him a video he made a comment about Hot Shots 2, which is digging pretty deep as far as I’m concerned. B is like an old man whose cultural references dropped off somewhere around 1995. Mention any band popular in the past five years or so and you’ll get nothing more than a blank, uncomprehending stare. Play any band popular in the last five years or so and you’ll surely have to listen to the entirety of Peter Gabriel’s So during dinner.
And if Sheen’s rapid televisual disintegration wasn’t enough, the swirling mass of controversy John Galliano’s bar fight and subsequent dismissal from Dior has kept me riveted to all fashion blogs French and American. Part of my interest in this whole fiasco stems from the fact that La Perle, the bar where the incident took place, is a mere stone’s throw from my apartment and was a frequent setting for boozy evenings during my first year in Paris. I’ll cop to still kind of liking it in an “ooh, look at all the beautiful people” kind of way, but B and M have made it abundantly clear that they hate La Perle in so many myriad different ways that I can’t suggest that we go there anymore. The two of them even make a point of crossing to the opposite side of the street from the bar when we walk by after eating pizza at our cherished Pink Flamingo on the same street. If either one of them walked by La Perle without muttering something along the lines of “hipster scum” under their breath, I would die of surprise.
Anyway, we used to hang out there a lot. The booze is ridiculously cheap for the neighborhood, and if you get there early enough you can snag a booth to while away the evening. I live for bargain beers and booths. We never saw John Galliano there, though there was always the possibility that he might be around, as it is the watering hole for all the local designer ateliers. I find the description of La Perle as “a neighborhood bar” in the New York Times rather laughable, as I’ll bet you ninety-six percent of the people that go there don’t live within a twenty-block radius of the place. (Did that sound smug? I didn’t mean it to.) In fact, I’ve bristled at most of the characterizations of the Marais that have accompanied news coverage of the Galliano event. Yes, of course this neighborhood is filled with gay bars and fancy clothing stores and falafel joints. But it’s not even faintly dangerous, nor soulless, nor hopelessly bourgeois. It’s my wonderful, weird neighborhood, one I feel more attached to than anywhere I’ve lived in recent memory. That is to say, I definitely feel like a Maraisienne these days than anything else, and you better watch what you say about my beloved marsh. Thems fightin’ words.
* * *
I had a lovely week otherwise, the highlight of which was a girly day with M and her lovely friend AR. The three of us had lunch at Rose Bakery, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages (it’s on the list!) and I can’t wait to tell you about (tomorrow: Clarence Goes to Tea!). Then, we did a bit of window licking in the Marais before heading to the superb “Women in the Orient” exhibition at the Musée Quai Branly. To my dear Parisian readers, I’d definitely recommend you go and see the amazing collection of historical and contemporary garments from Jordan, Syria, and Palestine curated by Christian Lacroix. I’m usually hesitant to recommend things at Quai Branly because it is so goddamn dark in there that people with bad eyesight like yours truly usually spend their whole visit worried that they are about to walk into a poorly-placed glass wall. But this exhibit is worth strapping on your pocket flashlight and venturing in.
* * *
Among a smattering of other smart things that M said while we were window shopping (this girl understands a bias), she made a great observation that A.P.C. basically gets all of their design ideas from Eric Rohmer’s movies. You know, the ones where all the bobos hang out in their beach houses and talk endlessly about their romantic problems and nobody seems to have a job? Well, it hardly seems necessary to spend hundreds of euros on an aesthetic so easily obtained by just by watching the Six Moral Tales, which I intend to start doing this weekend. For your Friday afternoon looking pleasure, here are some sartorial ideas from all six:
The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1963)
Susanne’s Career (1963)
My Night at Maud’s (1969)
La Collectionneuse (1967)
Claire’s Knee (1967)
Love in the Afternoon (1972)
And, finally, French summer beach style owes everything to 1983’s Pauline at the Beach:
Happy Friday, dear reader.
In my looooong absence (sorry ‘bout that!), I managed to make a pretty serious dent in The List, my to-do list for final five months and change in Paris. It’s a pretty idiosyncratic affair, but nevertheless it goes a long way in justifying indulgences. We have to eat at this incredibly expensive restaurant! We have to buy this stupid print! It’s on THE LIST! Best of all, it’s not even me that has to do the justifying. M and B are my own private little enablers, both deeply concerned that I won’t finish in time. The List ties in pleasantly to M’s preemptive nostalgia for leaving Paris months before she has even left. She has begun, rather annoyingly, I might add, declaring that everything we do might very well be for the last time. “This might be the very last time the three of us eat pizza at La Briciola.” Uh, highly unlikely. “This might very well be the last time we all window shop on rue Sainte Anne!” Well, maybe, but have we ever done it before today? She’s even begun keeping a journal in which she chronicles all of her “last things” in Paris. I’ve been giving her a hard time about it because I don’t want this to become a moody, end-times kind of period. I also don’t really want to think about the fact that I’m not going to live in Paris by the end of this year, and that I won’t live in the same city as M. Sometimes you can only just trace the periphery of something sad, because you know that if you actually dive in, it will be too much to bear. So that’s what The List is, limning the contours of something that throbs.
Lest you get sappy too, dear reader, let me say that I’m not too worried about the blog. I fully intend on seducing the shit out of you, so long after I have no Paris restaurants to tell you about you still want to come here. Come autumn we will be visiting Amish farms and learning to make our own kimchee and planning a barbecue tour of the American South. I’m playing the long game for your affections. Consider yourself on notice.
So back to The List, let’s see what I’ve accomplished lately, shall we?
- See the Jean-Michel Basquiat show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris before January 30th
That one was a bit trickier than I had anticipated, as every time we were over in that part of town, there was a line down the block to get in to the exhibition. But a teeny-tiny bit of advance planning meant we were able to buy tickets online, and gloatingly skip past a line of impatient tourists. Suck it, short-timers. The show itself was pretty great, but I won’t bore you with my art history 101 analysis, as it has closed already, so if you were going to see it, you saw it.
- See the Arman show at the Centre Pompidou before January 10th
Now this was seriously awesome. I only really knew Arman as “the trash guy,” but the retrospective at Centre Pompidou was exquisite. It’s pretty rare to encounter aesthetic objects that completely shift the way that you think about a given piece of material, but that is exactly how I felt about Arman’s work in burned furniture, resin, and cut household objects. As someone who used to work on the exhibition end of the art industry, I am always thinking about the sheer labor that goes into the hanging of large-scale artworks.
An exploded car hung vertically, entitled “White Orchid,” drove home what an accomplishment the installation of this enormous show. Perhaps our favorite part of the exhibition was in the collection of paper ephemera. A notice, issued by the Black Panthers of America, encouraged people to bring in “any and everything” to be cut in half by “artist Arman’s amazing saws.” The halved objects would then be signed and sold back to the owner for a fee, which Arman was then charitably donating to the Black Panthers. Did this fundraising event actually transpire? Where are the photos? Internets, you let me down!
- See The Gospel According to Matthew and Oedipus Rex at Accattone, working towards the project of seeing all of Pasolini’s films on the big screen
Yes, I’ve started taking pictures inside of movie theatres. Sue me. To be fair, most of the movies I see have pretty small audiences. It’s usually me, B, M, and a creepy-looking guy that is slumped down unconscious in the back row. So I’m not too worried about the etiquette. I don’t use a flash, either, Miss Manners. We’ve still got Porcile, Accattone!, and Medea to go. I’m starting to get worried about this one. While Accattone! is on regular screenings, I haven’t seen Porcile or Medea in my Pariscope, like, ever. If you are playing along at home, let me know if you see either of those playing in Paris. I’ll buy your ticket and a beer.
- Obtain an oyster knife and oyster shucking glove, learn to shuck oysters, and do so for my friends on New Year’s Eve
Done and done. Except instead of a shucking glove, we decided on this amazing device known as the Clic’ huitres. It’s sort of a rubber stabilizer that makes it easy to get leverage on your oyster. On New Year’s Eve we bought two dozen bivalves, an assortment of excellent cheeses, some beautiful foie gras, and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. Only Prairie Wolf showed up to our last-minute gathering (more oysters and foie gras for everyone!), but the three of us had a pretty lovely time. We only sustained one oyster-related injury (Prairie Wolf cut his thumb), but he was so drunk by the time it happened that he barely noticed. B proved himself to be a dyed-in-the-wool shucking demon, expertly prying apart shells without so much as a drop of liquer going to waste or a shard of shell ending up in the meaty bits. That’s right, people. Not only can my boyfriend explain to you why the bits of mortar you are looking at in this heap of rocks are actually from the late Roman Empire and not the early part (silly rabbit!), he can also shuck the shit out of a pile of oysters. Don’t you wish I hadn’t gotten here first?
- Eat a Pierre Hermé foie gras and chocolate macaron (if possible)
As we weren’t in town for the holidays, I was worried that we would miss the limited window of time where Pierre Hermé’s foie gras macrons are available. When we finally got our lazy asses to the store on January 6th or so, we discovered that the only way the foie gras macarons were available was in boxes of sixteen. Fifty euros for a box of cookies?! But it’s on THE LIST! We bit the bullet, bought the box, and had an impromptu macaron-tasting party that evening. We sampled both the classic dark chocolate and foie gras as well as the wild rose, fig, and foie gras variety.
The verdict? Well, they aren’t like anything you’ve ever eaten before. There is a strange harmony between the fatty richness of the liver and the sweetness of chocolate. But, to me, the sweetness of the macaron somehow accentuated the meaty quality of the foie too much. It was really overpowering to me. Sometimes macarons are too rich for my palate, and these were the worst offenders yet. But B and our new friend L really loved them, so who am I to judge? Should you want to drop the bones, I’d definitely encourage you to try them next December. I’ll be sticking with my classic lemon and rose. Unless a white truffle or green tea with red bean makes it into my life again.
- Eat at La Gazzetta
For my (gulp) 28th birthday celebration, B had tried to snag reservations at Spring sometime in early October. They laughed at the audacity of a young man who wanted not only to eat at Spring in December, but on a Friday night as well. They offered him a Thursday night in early January, and he delightedly accepted, realizing that it was just a few days after M’s birthday. So for my birthday, we ate at the (also much-hyped) La Gazzetta (29 rue de Cotte, 75012 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin). Let me just say that I can certainly see what all the fuss is about. Swedish chef Petter Nilsson offers a fixed-price, five or seven course dinner that changes on a weekly, if not daily, basis (five plates 39€, seven plates 52€). Everything was totally inventive, unexpected, and exquisitely executed. On the evening of my birthday, we started the evening with an aperitif of aged Amontillado sherry from 1922. Seriously! Bring on the Edgar Allen Poe jokes from a group of literature graduate students! It was surreal it was so perfect. Dinner was Saint Jacques scallops served in a shrimp and bacon broth; red chard and cauliflower served with an egg yolk confit, giant capers, and crunchy almonds; an aromatic dish of white beans and cod; Breton lobster in a light celery broth with fresh hazelnuts; a Pierre Duplantier chicken cooked with cedar, peppers, and pickled pink onions; mandarin oranges soaked in espresso served alongside chocolate and bread sorbet; and finally, an almond and yougurt daquoise paired with fresh lychees and mint. The ambiance of the restaurant is comfortable and cool without feeling fussy. I’d actually go so far as to say that it is a bargain for the kind of meal you are getting. We’re excited to go back and see what the bounty of spring brings to this innovative restaurant.
- Eat at Spring
Even before arriving in Paris, I’d heard of Daniel Rose’s much-celebrated Spring (6 Rue Bailleul, 75001 Paris, Métro Louvre-Rivoli, but don’t even think about trying to walk in without a reservation unless you are Brad Pitt). An American chef cooking something that all the Parisians are twitterpated about? This must be a thing to behold. Spring was closed for renovations during our first year here, which somehow managed to only increase the buzz that surrounded this restaurant and this chef. As I said earlier, it was next-to impossible to get reservations. Poor B must have called for three weeks without ever getting through to a real live human being, only to be scoffed at when he asked for a reservation in December. Still, we got a pretty amazing table for dinner on January 6th, which ended up timing perfectly with M’s return to Paris after traveling with her husband for her birthday a few days earlier.
The renovations were well worth the wait – the space is quite fantastic if you are interested in watching expert chefs yield their knives. Like La Gazzetta and many of the best new restaurants in Paris run by young chefs, the menu changes on a daily basis and reflects the incredible diversity of seasonal ingredients available here in France. Our meal in January began with champagne and a single perfect oyster dressed with a fresh herb and soy vinaigrette. I expected the vinaigrette to overpower the oyster, but it instead brought out some of the green, salty notes that I might not have otherwise picked up on. That is to say I could have shot those bad boys all night long and been one happy camper. But instead we had to move on to a course of foie gras, served with house-pickled vegetables and a quince chutney. Then on to another noix de Saint Jacques (sea scallops) dish, this time in a chestnut and bacon foam, with both roasted chestnuts and crispy deep-fried chestnut slivers. As an unexpected pop of flavor, the dish was spiked with red cipolline onions. Heaven.
Next up was a whole battered and fried merlán truffle butter, Meyer lemon wedges, and a frisée salad dressed with a lemon curd vinaigrette. Yes, we are the type of table who fights over who gets the fish head.
The meat course was a perfectly cooked piece of venison served with both roasted brussel sprouts and tart, flash-fried brussel sprout leaves. Somehow M translated chevreuil as baby goat, so we ate this course assuming that was what we were eating. B kept insisting that his father’s venison tasted JUST LIKE this baby goat flesh and wasn’t that STRANGE? Then we went home and looked up what chevreuil actually means. It’s venison, fyi. And at Spring, it’s like buttah.
Then, we added a cheese plate, because hey, if you are only going to get to eat at Spring once in every six lifetimes or so, well, you probably should add a cheese plate. We’ve been debating for the past half hour or so what all was on it. Brillat-Savarin and Roquefort Papillon, for sure. The other two are up for debate. This is why one ought not to try and write about meals they ate a month and a half ago.
Finally we made it to a two-part dessert. First up was a piece of pineapple soaked in Japanese whiskey served with vanilla gelato and some kind of crushed cookie and lime zest…
…followed by a pistachio ganache and chocolate mousse served with a smoky black tea wafer. I could happily spread that pistachio ganache over toast for the rest of my life.
It was pretty cool, all in all, to have an opportunity to eat at a place like Spring, though I didn’t particularly love the staid, stuffy crowd that we dined alongside. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is I like in a restaurant, and I find that the Michelin-star experience is one that generally leaves me cold, even if the food is something to change your life over. I’ll take every time a more casual and innovative restaurant, one where their might be misses in individual dishes but where the overall experience makes you want to spend the evening relaxing with friends, perhaps talking and laughing a bit too loud. I’m so lucky to have such great peeps for such a very purpose.