The Many Ways to Wear Scarves (like the French)

I met New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly in Paris nearly six years ago on one of her many trips to Paris. I had long admired her work, both in magazines and online where she regularly shares snippets of her deft creative hand, and was so pleased to share a drink with her and chat about artistic cultures. Her work has sent her all over the world to speak but France in particular has been an open-arms creative home away from home. As we saw in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, France is a country that embraces the illustrated arts and cartoons with a political bent so her work nestles in perfectly.

Since we're heading into Paris Fashion Week, I thought it was fitting to share one of Liza's recent cultural commentaries that gave me a great laugh.

In discussing the spark for this cartoon, Liza told me "it was inspired by French women who know how to wear scarves in SO many ways! And they do it beautifully, not like this cartoon depicts, of course. Whenever I go to Paris, I always feel like I must look so American, even though I try to up my style just a little bit in the subtle ways the French do. I am sure I am horribly unsuccessful"

No matter how many different ways lifestyle magazines recast and repackage their 'wear your scarf like the French' articles, much of the public finds itself perpetually befuddled by French men and women's innate ability to accessorize the neck. Will we ever learn?

To see more of Liza's fantastic work, visit her website and follow her on Twitter!


A Better Brunch in Paris

Of all the Food topics discussed at length in the last couple of years all over the world, brunch has perhaps been the most polarizing (a couple examples here and here). I'm all for it when the formula is respected - a sweet and savory offering that caters to a variety of tastes, good coffee, a fun atmosphere (since typically this meal is taking place before the start of a new week, a historically dismal day), and a fair price. As an early riser, I like that I can go for a late breakfast and continue my day while sleepyheads roll in after noon to while theirs away. 

When the craze infiltrated Paris, which I attribute in part to the influence of Sex and the City and a growing openness to Anglo traditions, it was at once parodied and emulated. No reason to reinvent the wheel, just pull the easiest and most cost effective elements from the borrowed concept, wrap it up in a fixed price package and tack on "Le Brunch" label and you've got yourself a trend. And it was initially amusing to see how ravenous Parisians were for the idea. Lines regularly snaked onto the sidewalk at Breakfast in America. Disgruntled and starved bohemians suffered through inordinate waits at Rose Bakery. Hungover or easily hoodwinked by a 'deal', a wide swath of the population fell prey to one of the most poorly executed meals in the city. It's as if brain function collectively misfires on a Sunday morning and people find themselves willingly shelling out 25€ for a fixed menu of days-old bread, excessive doses of sugar, overdone savory options like burgers or runny scrambled eggs, bottom-barrel coffee and wimpy pancakes (for dessert!). No cocktail concoctions, no originality, no effort. 

It's true that some venture out more for the ambiance than the meal's substance. But when scene predominates over the quality of the experience, the concept can glide quickly into gimmick. That's largely what happened in Paris. So excessive became the outing, my friends and I started an at-home weekend brunch routine. 

But it takes lousy interpretations of almost anything to shine a bright light on opportunity. A few restaurant owners in particular identified the shortcomings of brunch in the city and decided to act. They are by no means the only spots for brunch but they are among the places executing a smarter approach. At HolyBelly and Bespoke, the primacy of hospitality and service is a hallmark not only of their weekend brunch but their approach to running a business in general. That it's maintained during brunch chaos only adds to their appeal. And on the menu, even bedfellows like eggs, toast, pancakes and granola get a reboot. 

So what other spot am I referring to? Read on! I share all three in a story for Conde Nast Traveler, available HERE

What makes your favorite brunch spot special where you live? 

*Photo by Jesse Morgan.

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Wish List: Hand-Drawn Illustrated Map of Paris

From books to film, music and art, the paeans to Paris are boundless in form and in seemingly endless supply. But a particular affection has grown for maps and illustrations of the capital in particular. Like many of you, I too find myself perpetually charmed them. Whereas digital illustrations have largely become the rendering of choice, I'm drawn to pieces crafted by hand.

One of my favorite recent finds is the new hand-drawn illustrated map by English illustrator Jenni Sparks, known for her pop-art style and keen eye for details. She spent several months canvassing Paris for cultural spots, dining favorites and other attractions to include in her latest city map - now available for purchase on Evermade - anchoring each highlight with the colorful thread of the metro which lends utility. For Paris lovers or those learning about the city, Jenni's vision makes for a playful addition to any artistic collection.

Scroll below for a few close-ups of the map!

To see more of Jenni's city maps and other illustrations, visit her website and pick up a copy of the Paris map on Evermade!


Rue Amandine: Custom Stays in Paris

We're approaching the end of January and the worst of winter which means travelers, myself included, are itching to plan their next escape. Those considering their next Paris visit have a Herculean task ahead of them, with heaps of information to sift through and costs to compare in their decision-making process.

Buffeted by choice in every area - hotels, short-stay apartments, day-excursions, restaurants, bar - it's no wonder travelers seek out the advice of locals or magazines that collate their recommendations into one, easily digested helping.  I too get overwhelmed by the emails from friends and family begging for ALL of my go-to spots or ALL of the latest places du moment in the city they can't miss. Though my resources page isn't exhaustive, I do try to keep the list updated and call out my personal favorites.

Still, some people need more that that; they need an itinerary to follow that matches the ambitions for their trip. And that's when I'd refer them to Rue Amandine, a boutique travel agency run by Parisian Amandine Dubessay and a team of two other women. Amandine offers custom stays in the city which can include all the nuts & bolts -  a quintessentially picture-perfect Parisian flat plus a ready-to-execute itinerary - or just the personalized roadbook for a visit that matches precisely what you want to see and experience.

What I love about Amandine's approach is that it truly approximates the local experience and keeps you connected to French locals for the duration of your stay. There are countless ways to experience what I call 'Princess Paris', by which I mean the superficial layer of the city, fringed with luxury shops, pastries and upscale dining institutions, but travelers looking for that highly-coveted (and sometimes elusive) local experience will need more than a list of a local's favorite haunts. Rue Amandine is an adorable, perfectly Parisian place to start.

Now for your thoughts: how do you plan your trips to activity-dense cities like Paris? 


Aux Merveilleux de Fred Opens in Manhattan !

Aux Merveilleux de Fred meringues

If 2014 was all about the Cronut and its evangelical, queue-happy enthusiasts, 2015 is poised to become the year of the meringue if pastry chef Frédéric Vaucamps has a say in the matter. And with a century-old recipe as a guidepost, his ‘Merveilleux’ are liable to become more than a passing trend.

The serial patisserie shop owner from Lille is credited with popularizing the Merveilleux, an airy, layered meringue mound coated with sweet whipped cream and enveloped in a variety of coatings, from chocolate flakes to caramelized hazelnuts, whose origins can be traced to Northern France and Flanders (see my WSJ piece that mentioned them HERE!). This month, the first U.S. outpost of Vaucamp’s multi-location meringue shop AuxMerveilleux de Fred opened its doors to New Yorkers on 8th avenue. Which means, if Paris or Lille aren't on your travel horizon, there's an alternative destination to taste Fred's marvelous meringues. 

Wide-eyed and seduced by the West Village’s European charms on his 2013 visit to New York to kickstart the project, Vaucamp was determined to find commercial space in the neighborhood that would reflect both the pâtisserie’s image and heritage. What he found was prime real estate in a three-story landmark protected building (circa 1850) near Abindgon square. 

“I stayed at The Standard and loved the area. At night, I enjoyed coming back to the West Village and Meatpacking district, and experience how an historic identity can be elegantly combined with the best of modernity. The location was an obvious choice”, he said.

The shop’s design hews to the aesthetic in each of his international locations – a discreet wooden storefront, counters and display cases in Alicante marble, a bohemian crystal chandelier that lords over the kitchen, beige marble floor tiling with tiny black cabochons and murals and frescoes inspired by XVIII century art. And to further recreate the original experience and immerse the uninitiated into the pastry’s storied tradition, all Merveilleux are prepared, ingredient-by-ingredient, in front of customers in a commodious open kitchen.

With the official imprimatur of New York expats in Paris after a formal taste test, Vaucamp’s six signature flavors will take center stage in the Manhattan shop but the offering is set to evolve. The chef confirmed that he was currently working on a seventh recipe tailored to his new American audience and while he wouldn’t offer any specifics, he did guarantee it would be as ethereally light (read: low calorie) as its predecessors. Indulgence à la Française! 

Aux Merveilleux de Fred
37 8th avenue at Jane Street
New York, New York 10014

Forthcoming locations for Aux Merveilleux de Fred in 2015: Geneva (May), Lyon (date TBC) and potentially Shanghai.

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Eating, Drinking, Seeing: End of 2014 Favorites

Royal Monceau, Paris

I hesitated quite a while about jumping back into new content and travel stories when many of us are still reeling from last week's events and closely following ongoing investigations. But then I thought, we can't stop writing nor should we stop giving people all over the world reasons to visit France. So we plough ahead. Well, in this case it's more like looking back since I want to share some of the people and places that infused the (rocky) end of the year with joy in all its forms.

So let's look back:

1/ Lunch at Clown Bar 
When one of your editors comes to town and asks you to lunch, particularly someone who writes often about food, you select the destination carefully. Given Jen Murphy's culinary writing for Afar, I was confident she would love Clown Bar, the historic bistro (1902) and former watering hole for the Cirque d'Hiver staff. The space was taken over by former Saturne talents who propose a market-driven menu of shareable small plates and natural wines offered by the glass. And while the interior was refurbished for its May opening, the most whimsical elements have been preserved beautifully: tiling featuring Sarreguemine clowns that adorn the wall behind the zinc bar as well as on the painted glass ceiling.

Favorite dish: beef tartare with homemade spiced ricotta and raspberries.
To see the iconic tiling inside, click HERE.

Royal Monceau Paris

2/ A weekend to remember at the Royal Monceau 
I knew very little about the historic palace hotel Le Royal Monceau but what I discovered left me with a whole new appreciation for the space as a convening point for locals and for the work of Philippe Starck who led every stage of the renovation (completed in 2010) from concept to design. Baccarat light fixtures were preserved from the original hotel and brick from the monastery that stood in the hotel's place before 1928 was incorporated into the wall running up through the central staircase. Starck's quirky touches and penchant for street art finds its way into the rooms but what struck me most was the harmonious balance of styles - warm woods, deep armchairs and a library full of art books and artifacts in the Grand Salon, mirrors at every turn in corridors and in the bedrooms, and touches of orange, Starck's signature color, in surprising places. It's the first time I could genuinely say I loved Starck's vision. It was inviting in the all the ways I feel a hotel should be.

My reluctance to spend time in luxury hotels in general is a result of the mood, which is often staid, even cold despite attentive service. If I feel like an interloper from the moment I step through the doors, the experience ends there. And that detached, nobody-in-a-sea-of-wealthy-somebodies feeling was noticeably absent at the Monceau where its history as a hangout for intellectuals and local creatives lives on. Though they might not be spending the night, many of the guests sharing the space with me in the Grand Salon, in the restaurant La Cuisine, at the bar Le Bar Long and even in the Clarins spa were French, many of them regulars. Some were having meetings, some came to chat with friends over tea and others to dine with their families. Foreign guests were of course present but the locals added warmth and familiarity.

La Cuisine, Royal Monceau Paris

While I was blown away by the interior, I was most keen to dine. Pierre Hermé created the pastry program and has temporarily replaced afternoon tea with a Bar Chocolat (through March 31st), which is as divine as it sounds. He concocted four original hot chocolate drinks and several pâtisseries. If you can't make it to that, his bestselling desserts make the menu at La Cuisine and at weekend brunch which is worth a visit of its own. Both restaurants, La Cuisine and Il Carpaccio, have one Michelin star each (the latter is the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy to boast a star) and are delightfully unfussy. We dined at La Cuisine for a meal that was refreshing in its simplicity and creative in presentation and would love to return in the spring.

So go when you're in town, not only to see Starck's impressive work but to experience what I believe is one of the best Palace hotel dining experiences you can have. And remember: Pierre Hermé has dessert covered, you can't go wrong.

For a few more photos, click HERE.

3/ Dinner at Pierre Sang's newest restaurant 
Since Pierre Sang, Top Chef finalist and former Christian Constant pupil, opened his first restaurant in 2012, I've observed his evolution with studied interest. His market-to-table ethos carries over to his new restaurant Pierre Sang on Gambey, which opened in August, but he has greater confidence. Here, he plays up more of the Korean flavors that recall his origins in a space that feels like a cross between New York loft and wine bar. The five-course meal is carte blanche which some might consider a tired trend but here I think it works well as an introduction to Sang's passionate cooking style.

About the chef's talents, fellow food writer Wendy Lyn said "Pierre doesn't just cook for you, he feeds you". And therein lies the difference between him and many of the other young chefs that opened restaurants around the same time. He wants nothing more than to give you the best of what he's got, introduce you to new flavors and share his unwavering passion for cooking with every single guest. There's a little bit of showman in his sociability throughout the dining experience but it's all done with heart.

Select tables available by online reservation, no telephone.

4/ Holiday adventures in Philly & New York 
Family, friends and incredible food. That's all I wanted to conclude the year and that's what I got. I'm always astounded by how much Philly has changed over the years and it makes me wish I could be part of it, following the emerging chefs, artists and creatives who are transforming the city year after year but I caught up on all that I have missed with a serious 2.5 day dining and exploring mission. I won't go into much more detail for now but here are some the restaurants and cafés I loved in NY & Philly this trip (not all are new):

New York: 
Toby's Public House (pizza!) in Brooklyn
Maison Première (oysters, cocktails)
Narcissa (brunch) at the Standard Hotel
Toby's Estate Coffee
Little Collins (Australian coffee + sandwiches)
Jacob's Pickles (rich, southern fare)
Breads Bakery

Terrain Café 
Menagerie Coffee 
Elixr Coffee
Shane Confectionary (old school candies, get the buttercream)
Talula's Daily & Talula's Garden 
High Street on Market 
A. Kitchen 

5/ New Years Celebration with Friends 
I already feel fortunate to have seen my dear friend Susan of the site Fleurishing earlier in the year (more on that here) but it was a real pleasure to ring in the new year with her and her family at their home in historic West Chester, PA. They regaled us with an Alsacean-inspired menu (with a decidedly American bent - fried turkey!) that featured cheeses and treats from nearby artisans. We read bedtime stories in French to their twins who, as the evening proved, are poised to become equally as enamored with France as their mom. Keep an eye on Susan, she just launched a fun new French-inspired series! www.fleurishing.com 

How did you ring in the new year?

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