Gosh, it’s been a long time! Too long it seems, as I had to dust the metaphorical cobwebs off just to log in to my WordPress account. In the time since we last spoke I made a pretty big move, from Paris to Bloomington, Indiana. It hasn’t been easy, though it hasn’t been terrible either. I’m firmly of the mind that happiness is what you make of it, and that one can be happy anywhere. Perhaps not Antarctica or a war zone, but you know what I mean. I’m here for about a year, writing my dissertation on a fellowship while B teaches and finishes up some of his obligations at a large university nearby. That is officially too much information for a pseudo-anonymous blog, but there you go. I’ve got scads and scads of unstructured time and heaps of work to do in it, a combination that has more often than not leads to some very bad, very un-grown-up behavior. I’m not completely feral yet, but I have noticed that my work clothes are identical to my gym clothes, which are also identical to my sleep clothes. The Marais feels far away indeed.
Our last few weeks in Paris in July were rather melancholy. Most everyone we knew had either departed permanently or was on one of those achingly long and delicious vacations that Europeans take in the summer, so it was pretty much just B and me killing time. It was a record-breakingly wet summer, so my plans that we spend the month of July drinking Campari cocktails and working on our tans at Paris Plage were quickly dashed, as it rained nearly every day. We also found ourselves in a bit of a money pickle, what with the cost of moving internationally and our traveling in the spring. So those final days we were living pretty frugally, to say the least. That is to say, when we weren’t living frugally, like the day I managed to drop about a hundred euros at Dehillerin on Laguoile cheese knives and silicone trays for making madeleines and cannelés bordelais (which, um, I’ll get to making, someday), or the day when I bought a heap of antique lithographs and Turkish kilim pillow covers at the flea market. I think I was hoping that if I insulated my future digs with enough things from Paris, I wouldn’t miss it so much.
Most days we would trudge over the Louvre in rain (tough life) and continue our increasingly manic quest to tour the entire damn thing. We succeeded in the end, though I’ll admit that certain sections are just a delirious blur in my memory.
I cooked a lot of rabbit and boudin noir, and we ate rillettes and cheese for many meals. Every morning we ate croissants from our local bakery Huré, and most afternoons I would insist on a Paris Brest or a chocolate éclair with my afternoon coffee. Many evenings were spent with books, a bottle of wine, and a plate of charcuterie at our favorite caves. I probably gained ten pounds that month as a result of constantly saying “I won’t be able to eat this ever again!” We took a lot of long walks, went to see a bunch of Buñuel movies, and I cried a lot on various bridges.
Inexplicably, in our final weeks in Paris a magical thing happened. We were suddenly at home. Our neighbors chatted with us, the ladies that worked in the button shop downstairs joked around when we came through. Our baker, our vegetable man, our seafood lady, that guy that owned the bookshop down the road — everyone suddenly knew us and made small talk on the street. We got into long conversations with strangers while we hung out in bars, or sat in cafes, and or waited outside the cinema. The women at the market where I shopped every week knew what kind of lettuce I wanted to buy before I told them, and the man at the butcher shop where I bought our rotisserie chickens knew I wanted enough potatoes for two people without asking.
In short we were suddenly, amazingly, after two years, a real part of the community. And then we had to leave. I think that was the most heartbreaking part of the whole thing, and the part that has made it really hard for me to come back to writing here. In the end we said goodbye to Paris, for now. But I’m happy that I left plenty of things on my list for future visits, and I’m comforted that Paris is one of those cities that only gets better as you get older.
Our move was a real monster, as we both had things in storage with our respective families. We shipped (gulp) thirteen boxes of books to the States and managed to carry the rest of our junk in our luggage (it helped that we had sent a lot of stuff back with assorted visitors throughout the spring and summer). Upon arriving stateside with miraculously none of our precious glassware or ceramics in pieces (and a giant gratuitous bottle of Aperol to boot), we then managed to drive through ten states in the course of the month of August. B worked out that we spent more time in the car than we did in any one stationary location. We took a little jaunt to Santa Fe and Taos for B’s thirtieth birthday, which was lovely. I’d really like to tell you about it because I’m so in to New Mexican food it’s kind of crazy, but that has to be another entry for another day.
After seemingly endless schlepping we made it to Bloomington, where we quickly discovered that the little 1930s Craftsman-style house we are renting had fleas. I don’t know if you have ever had fleas, dear reader, but I’ll go on the record as saying that it was quite possibly one of the most annoying things that has ever happened to me. How generations of garret-dwelling 19th century artists and writers dealt with this and didn’t lose their goddamn minds is beyond me. We only made it through by pretending that we were Baudelaire and occasionally sleeping at B’s sister’s house. It took fumigating our house with six rounds of bug bombs and vacuuming and cleaning every day like madmen before we finally got rid of the little buggers, and I still feel assume that every piece of lint and pencil shaving I see is a flea waiting to bite me. I now officially understand what is meant by “the heebie-jeebies.” So September was written off to parasites, as I for one could think and talk about nothing else. I’d tell you to try it sometime, but I wouldn’t wish a flea infestation on my worst enemy.
The following months flew by, with a little trip to California and visits to Colorado and Michigan for the holidays punctuating long periods of rather solitary writing on my part. I’m a jerk and a half to complain about having nothing but time to research and write, but I’m finding it hard to feel purposeful and excited about my work everyday. The town we are living in is lovely, but this work is very lonely. I find myself talking a little too long to the cashier at the coffee shop or the grocery store. Thank goodness for the convention of Midwestern small talk, or I’d be a goner. I miss teaching, even teaching those crazy and disorganized classes at the university in Paris, where I did (as silly as it sounds) feel like I was making some kind of an impact on my students. But I’m deep in my writing now and it makes for good company on the days I let it. I suspect that what I’m writing it only feels stupid because I’ve been thinking about it so long, and some days it actually feels okay. On the days it doesn’t, I keep running over the final passage of the Great Gatsby in my head: “Gatsby believe in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther…” Writing well and with discipline may not really be an ‘orgiastic future,’ but I do find reassurance in the idea that tomorrow I will be better than I was today if I keep trying.
For those of you that have dozed off already or are wondering where in the hell all the food talk has gone, I’m still eating! Say what you will about the Midwest, the produce and the meat here in Southern Indiana are to die for, and I’m a happy camper in the food department, especially at home in a kitchen four times the size of our little culinary closet in Paris. We’ve been cooking up a storm with the welcome addition of some lovely culinary tools and cookbooks from Santa, including a stand mixer, an ice cream maker, the new Silver Spoon, and two tomes by Yotam Ottolenghi. And I still get my mandatory offal fixes, like when B took me to the oh-so-lovely Restaurant Tallent here in town for my birthday last month. Veal sweetbreads and seared foie gras never tasted so good.
So thanks for coming back, my friend, and I hope you stay even though my life has gotten exceedingly less glamorous in the past six months. Thanks especially to An Accidental Expat for his kind comment that prompted me to write today, and to M, whose gentle prods about the blog make me hope that she hasn’t banished me from her Google reader just yet. I’ll be back soon!
About a week and a half ago M left Paris. She stayed as long as she could this summer, but needed to get back to the States to move to Boston, where she’ll be living with her wonderful husband this year while he studies at the Big Fancy School near there while she works on her dissertation. We had sort of “reserved” her for her final week in Paris. We didn’t do anything particularly out of character, maybe a few little things that we hadn’t managed to do before, but basically we just shared a few lovely days of rambling around town, chatting and lounging in the park, seeing films at our favorite places, and eating some great meals. It was impossibly sad.
M was the first person I came to know in Paris. We were both working at the same university here and had both had a terrible time with the process of getting a visa back in the United States. I contacted her about her consulate visit before she arrived, and she sent me a long, concise, yet surprisingly warm e-mail about what I could expect from my own appointment. I recall showing the note to my mother and declaring that I was going to make friends with this woman. At our first staff meeting, I pounced on poor M, declaring that I thought we should be friends. She seemed a bit flustered by my forwardness (she’s unfailingly reserved with new people), but nevertheless agreed to my proposal that she accompany me to see Lars von Trier’s Antichrist at Le Nouveau Latina next door to my apartment. That lead to coffee, and that lead to falafel, and the rest is history as they say. Somewhere along the line we picked up B and the three of us were inseparable ever since.
Being in Paris for two years has been a magnificent experience, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But a huge part of what has made it so amazing has been the presence of these two remarkable people in my life. I fell in love with Paris because I fell in love with M and B. I truly have never felt more cared for than I do with this crew, and I know that they feel the same way.
The best part of leaving Paris is that I get to take B with me. The worst part of leaving Paris is that I don’t get to take M. Her final week was profoundly bittersweet, with poor B having shepard two women liable to burst into tears at any moment around town. I spent most of the day she left sobbing, and even though it will come three weeks later, I don’t think that the day we finally leave Paris will be anywhere near as difficult.
The good news is we’ve talked every day since she left, and I know that it’s only a matter of time before visits to Boston and the Midwest will be planned. I also know that she will be my Skype buddy during the long, likely lonely days of writing I have ahead next year. She’s not getting rid of me this easily.
A few have you have asked about my list of things to do in Paris before I leave. We’ve crossed off a lot in recent weeks, though I haven’t been stressing about doing everything. There is something strangely reassuring about the idea that there are still things left to do sometime in the future, a yet-to-be-determined “next time” with two of my best friends in tow. But a few little things that can be crossed off the list include:
Take B and M to the Cimitière Montparnasse
Not only did we cross this one off the list, but we did so with a bang. We tracked down all but one of the graves we wanted to visit (damn you Eric Rohmer!), blessed M’s new Repetto Zizis (the same ones that Serge wore, but in black, not white) at Serge Gainsbourg’s grave, and finished our afternoon in Montparnasse with a coffee at Le Dôme with M and E. It was a perfect afternoon.
Visit the Maison Rouge
What a lovely place! We especially liked touring the current exhibition of contemporary Canadian artists called “My Winnipeg.” Oh, and they have one of the only original-style Photomatons in town.
Go to Marché des Enfants Rouges as many weekends as possible The last few months we have been positively religious about our Sunday Marché visit. M was the one who “discovered” what we now fondly refer to as “McDo Bobo,” so it was fitting that her last Sunday morning was spent happily over a yummy marinated tuna tartare.
Eat at Frenchie
So after two years of trying to get a reservation at this place, they apparently finally took pity on the Americans on the 4th of July and granted us a table at 7 p.m. (the French equivalent of social suicide). The food is excellent, though the service was kind of weirdly abrupt. Um, yes, we do want that final hunk of foie gras before you whisk away our plates, thank you very much! Still, it was a lovely evening. I’m not going to spill too much ink over it, because too many people on the interwebs already have, and there are indeed better places to eat in Paris along the same lines that aren’t going to give you an attitude (La Gazzetta, Rino, and Yam’tcha among them). But still, here were the highlights:
Followed by a visit to Le Champo for a final Monica Vitti flick, Buñuel’s Le fantôme de la liberté, it made for a perfect Fourth of July in Paris. Three little Americans (okay, two little Americans and one little Soviet), three friends forever. Don’t worry, the blog snark will be back next time. For now, I just want to wish my lovely friend M happy travels always. Thanks for letting me come along on the ride.
So you know how it goes when you have a really great friend and you haven’t talked to them in a long time and you really ought to get in touch but it can’t just be a “hey, how ya doin’?” kind of catch-up, it has to be long and involved and messy and full of apologies about what a cruddy friend you are for being MIA for so long? And because that interaction is so dread-inducing, you keep putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off. Which only makes things worse, of course, but you aren’t really thinking about this rationally anymore. You’re just a jerk-off who hasn’t been in touch for months.
Part of the problem is that I’m admittedly kind of a train wreck about my t-minus 50 days left in Europe. I’ve been crying over my dissertation. I’ve been crying at the cheese store. I’ve been crying over Godard movies. I’ve been crying over commercials. I’ve been crying over shoe returns, papercuts, the homeless couple who have taken up residence on my block with their two wee dogs, and my last day of a job that I didn’t particularly like in the first place. I’m a capital M Mess, people. It’s no excuse for abandoning this here blargh, but it’s definitely contributed to the paralysis I’ve been feeling with regards to catching up.
Let’s start small, shall we?
I ate at Rino!
The occasion was my mother’s visit, which was lovely. We decided to take her to Rino, as she had been hearing all about the goodness springing forth from talented young chefs in Paris working outside the conventions of the Michelin star system. That is to say, she (like everybody else I know) watched the hundredth episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, in which our sourpuss host treated the contemporary culinary scene in Paris as if it was this fraught battle ground between stuck-in-the-mud, Michelin-starred chefs (Eric Ripert was his co-host for the episode) and young, impertinent Le Fooding-backed geniuses who are reinventing the landscape with every licorice-smoked langoustine tartare they prepare. Which, yes, okay, sure, I guess that’s basically what is happening, but also, can we say also file this under rich people problems? Yes, there a lot of amazing new restaurants in Paris, some of which have a price point that can be met by proles like me and my boyfriend, provided we don’t buy shoes and eat dry lentils for the rest of the week (adding water would put us over budget). But it’s hardly a “revolution,” and it seems kind of gross to use that sort of language to describe the culinary landscape in Paris when uh, well, there are kind of a lot of real revolutions happening elsewhere in the world.
(Aren’t I fun to hang out with now! Do you see what kind of self-loathing monster I’ve become since we last spoke? Did I mention that I’m actively contemplating becoming a vegetarian! Should we quit this entry, bury our face in our sixth consecutive Margaret Atwood novel, and plan another tear-drenched trip to the Louvre this afternoon? No?! You mean you want to hear about the food?)
Okay, let’s do this.
Rino (46 rue Trousseau, 75011 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin) is the brainchild of Giovanni Passerini, the former second-in-command to Petter Nilsson of La Gazzetta, which is conveniently across the street from Passerini’s newish digs. Winner of Le Fooding’s 2010 “Meilleur bistrot d’auteur,” Rino is a delightful fusion of Italian forms with a decidedly progressive New York via Paris, seasonal ingredient-driven sensibility. If that makes any sense. (I’m rusty.) It’s really good! It’s unfussy! You don’t have to make any decisions, aside from if you want five or seven courses. Culinary proles we may be, but when you finally get a table at a place where you have to reserve months in advance, the answer to that question is always seven. Especially when the add-on courses involve lobster and cheese, which they did on the night we dined at Rino. Done and done.
I was excited to share this kind of beautiful, rarefied cooking with my mother, who is definitely Clarence’s mama and a lover of food. But I was also psyched by the relaxed, casual atmosphere of the place, which makes catching up with family and drinking a little too much while you enjoy your seven course meal a pleasure, not a white-linen headache. The servers were extremely knowledgeable about the menu and very kind to the Americans. And we had a great view of the kitchen, where Passerini himself had his hands in every single thing we ate, which is something I really appreciate about the Le Fooding-sponsored “revolution.” If I am spending 250 euros to experience a particular chef’s cooking, I damn well want to see him in the kitchen.
Well, what did we eat?
First course was pecorino ravioli, served in a sweet pea sauce and topped with fresh licorice. The salty tang of the pecorino wedded perfectly with the springy sweetness of the peas, and the whole thing was elevated by the unexpectedly bitter aftertaste of the licorice. It was smart, but not so smart as to be anything but totally delicious.
Next up was maigre de ligne in with both conventional and wild asparagus and roasted onions. It was perfectly cooked and an exquisite use of spring vegetables.
Third course (the optional one the night we dined at Rino) was tagiatelle and lobster in a cucumber broth. I was excited as soon as I spied Passerini lovingly pulling out each individual strand of fresh pasta. The cucumber broth was light and perfectly balanced with the lobster. Europeans have gotten me thinking that the American thing of drenching lobster in butter is overkill. Light vegetable broths, like celery or cucumber, actually help the lobster’s sweetness to sing more than a heavy dose of butter.
Our meat course was a sinfully-tender pigeon served with bing cherries, another kind of pea sauce, and braised cabbage. I’m a total slut for small birds, so this was the best thing I’d put in my mouth in a long time. Nevermind that thing I said about becoming a vegetarian.
Then we had a cheese plate, which was well-balanced if otherwise unmemorable. What completely did me in, however, was our dessert. Strawberries, rhubarb, Greek yogurt ice cream, and fried cubes of a sweet semolina custard. Lord have mercy, I could eat cubes of sweet semolina custard all day long and never tire of it.
There! That wasn’t so terrible! I have a feeling that this is like ripping off a bandaid. Stay tuned for tales of a life-changing vacation to Georgia and Ukraine (What?! I know!), our mother/daughter culinary odyssey in London, and a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. And feel free to leave your vitriolic comments about what a lousy blogeuse I’ve been in the comments! I’ve missed you, dear reader. You’re looking more comely than ever.
About a year ago B and I decided to play with fire and mess with our then excellent friendship by dipping our toe into the world of romance. Best. Decision. Ever. Suddenly I’m one of those obnoxious people that gives relationship advice like this:
“Well, you know, when it’s right, it’s right.”
“Well, why don’t you focus on your friendship first, and your relationship second.”
Basically the kind of platitudes that only the ridiculously lucky can administer, ones that more or less amount to saying “Meet someone awesome and then you won’t have any relationship problems!” I’m an obnoxious friend to have these days.
Anyway, this week we were celebrating the year that has passed since we made the fateful decision to totally mess up our friendship. Since “celebrating” is synonymous with “eating something amazing,” we had made reservations the requisite six years ago that it takes to get into Yam’Tcha (4 Rue Sauval 75001 Paris, Métro Les Halles). B had to make reservations before we started dating, before we came to Paris, in fact, before the beginning of time. I jest, but we did make our reservations well over three months ago, so you might want to make sure that you really to keep someone around if you intend to make an evening Yam’Tcha into a date.
The location: Just off of Les Halles, Yam’Tcha is tucked onto a small street. Inside, muted colors contrast with the gorgeous, centuries-old rough-hewn wood beam ceiling (why oh why do I live in a 400 year old building but lack one of these amazing ceilings?!). The concept: Chef Adeline Grattard serves an elegant fusion of Chinese and French food alongside expert tea pairings made by Chiwah Chan. The staff is warm and friendly, and able to use a staggering amount of interesting adjectives to describe the various notes in wine and tea. The menu is a set five course tasting menu that changes nightly, the only thing you select is whether or not you want tea pairings, wine pairings, or a mix of the two (we selected the latter).
Oh, what lovely, elegant, subtle food this is! Yam’Tcha serves the type of cuisine that forces your palate to rise to the occasion, to think about delicate scents and reconcile flavors you might not have imagined so harmoniously inhabiting a dish. The wine and tea pairings were equally sensitive and often transformed the experience of eating a particular course. This restaurant is absolutely worth all the fuss surrounding it (and apparently, this year, a Michelin star! Aren’t we fancy?).
So what did we eat? Well, we began with an aperitif of quince-infused champagne and an amuse-bouche of corn velouté with fresh herbs and tender cubes of tofu. Even Indiana agreed that it was the best corn he’d had on this Continent:
Our first course was an other-worldly sweet asparagus and cured sheets of beef, dressed in a slightly spicy peanut vinaigrette.
Served with the house buns, which are everything I’ve ever wanted the consistency of a pork bun to be…Should Yam’Tcha stuff these little guys with barbequed pork anytime soon, I’ll be the first in line.
Second course was Mozambique shrimp and scallops, served with heavenly straw mushrooms and a light citrusey sauce that was punctuated by the presence of lemon parsley faux-caviar. It was my first experience with faux-caviar in real life (Top Chef really makes you blasé about these things, doesn’t it?) and it was fantastic. They exploded in your mouth with this tangy punch.
The fish course was black cod (do we call it sablefish in English??) served over a bed of black soybeans and bean sprouts. It was perfectly prepared. I recall saying that I believe that if I ate that dish every single day I would likely live forever. If not forever, I would certainly live out the remainder of my days a happy woman.
Next up was a cured pork belly seasoned with little more than black pepper, served with some of the sweetest, most succulent eggplant imaginable. We’re talking an Ur-vegetable preparation here, the kind of thing that makes all future eggplant ingestion seem bleak and disappointing. I wasn’t quite as crazy about the pork belly, but B tells me I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Fair enough.
Dessert was an exquisite combination of fresh strawberries and mango, topped with mint, ginger confit, and a fromage frais that I would happily eat by the gallon. It was topped with a tea wafer, which perfectly echoed with jasmine tea that it was paired with. If a dessert ever sung “It’s Spring!”, this was it.
It was a lovely night.
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.
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.