Paris Snapshots: Favorites du Moment

Rouge Baiser & Cassis Eclairs

If you have followed this site or my quick stories on Instagram since January, you may have seen that the year didn't start off especially smoothly. France took a physical and emotional hit, I was knocked down by the flu and my cat became quite ill, leaving us in a fog of vet visits and parental panic. I'm sure those of with you animals can certainly understand the wrenching feeling.

Through it all, I've begun the process to make some big professional changes and done my best to fill my days with little pick-me-ups. Fortunately, a handful of projects and discoveries, most revolving around food, offered just the distraction I needed. Here are a few highlights:

1/ New éclair collection for spring from L'Eclair de Génie
Rouge Baiser, seen above, was launched for Valentine's Day and should be sticking around for some time. But the exciting developments are in Christophe Adam's new fruit flavors - blood orange, crispy raspberry, vanilla/green apple, wild strawberry, pineapple or blackcurrant (see above, right) - and the Barlette, his new creation that blends a bar and a tartelette into one fruity, crunchy treat. All new flavors available as of April.

Visit La Fabrique where the éclairs are mode (they can be purchased here as well):
32 rue Notre Dame des Victoires, 75002

Spring at Palais Royal
2/ An early taste of spring
As snow and glacial temperatures pummeled the east coast, we've been spoiled in Paris with an exceptionally mild winter with sporadic moments of incredible warmth and sunshine, best on display at my favorite spot in Paris, Palais Royal. 

Le Gabriel // La Réserve Hotel
3/ Lunch at Le Gabriel
There are food experiences that remain fresh in our minds long after we've had them; each dish almost as potent as the first bite. My lunch at Le Gabriel, the restaurant from chef Jérôme Banctel in the equally as new La Réserve Hotel was one of the experiences. The chef marries impeccable Gallic skill with a smattering of Japanese flavors for an elegant but not overly precious cooking style. His dishes are anchored in traditional technique but lightened to match the kind of cooking diners are coming to expect more and more. Each ingredient needed to breathe, he told me at the end of the meal, in part since the dining room is so grand. His modernist approach doesn't just allow each ingredient breathe, he makes them sing. If I could have any one of his dishes again at this moment it would be the refreshing mushroom ravioli you see below, drizzled with a lemon-ginger sauce and crisp, rolled cucumber strips.

Following the meal, I got to talk to the chef about his background, his ambitions for Le Gabriel and some of his favorite places in Paris to eat, drink and shop for culinary equipment. See a part of our chat on T Magazine!

Le Gabriel
42 avenue Gabriel, 75008 
  Crème de Champignons at Le Gabriel Pigeon at Le Gabriel Dessert at Le Gabriel

4// Sablés at Bontemps 

Sablé from Bontemps Pâtisserie
I never turn down an opportunity to discover a new bakery and was overjoyed when an outing with my friend Frank found us popping filled sablés at Bontemps, a new pâtisserie across from the Square du Temple garden. The mini sablé told me everything I needed to know about these ever-so-sweet confections and instantly ordered a box to take home. Two sisters and a pastry chef who previously worked with Pierre Hermé bring the sweet shop to life and are already having a ball introducing new seasonal flavors after only a few weeks since opening. If I can make any recommendations, it would be to head straight to the fruit flavors - passion-fruit and blood orange tasted of summer insouciance that I can only insist you try for yourselves.

Sablé teardrop tartes from Bontemps PatisserieBontemps
57 rue de Bretagne, 75003

5// Cake and coffee at Fondation Café
As much as change feels good and does us some good, I love the cake-and-coffee ritual I have established with a couple of close friends. This time, it was my friend Frank (yes, the same Frank who encouraged my sablé binge above) who brought the cake, a cupcake to be precise, that he made himself. He knows the way straight to my heart.

And in a rare moment of style-blogger-behavior, I'd like to draw your attention to that pretty little watch I sported to our coffee date. I discovered Daniel Wellington through my pal Will of Bright Bazaar who loves their collection with striped bands and bought one for C. for the holidays (I should note that he has since become the bastion of style at his office). Then the envy settled in and I wanted one for myself - the Classic St. Mawes Lady arrived soon after. Now it's your turn: the fine folks at DW have offered my readers 15% off any timepiece (free shipping guaranteed) until March 31! Just use the code LOSTINCHEESELAND at checkout! Take a look at their watches here: www.danielwellington.com 

Fondation Café
16 rue DuPetit-Thouars, 75003

Philippe Excoffier

6// Bistro lunch chez Philippe Excoffier
Fun fact about Philippe Excoffier: he was the head chef for the American ambassador in Paris for eleven years, regularly organizing banquets for two-hundred guests. For nearly four months, he has managed a much more intimate space- his namesake bistro in the 7th arrondissement - but with just as much finesse. His cooking skews traditional, sauce and all, with a slightly more modern twist. Seasonal, market-fresh ingredients are the focus of his straight-forward, generous cooking and never deviates too far from the tried and true classics, at least in spirit. He's made lobster one of his specialties, seen above in the form of a mini burger starter, mixed with avocado and a bite of crispy bacon. His celery remoulade with smoked haddock was an equally pleasant way to begin the meal. If you're still hungry by the end, which he hopes you will be, you should splurge on one of three soufflés, all sinfully comforting. This is the perfect address for those looking for no-nonsense, unequivocally French cuisine. Content belly guaranteed.

Philippe Excoffier
18 rue de l'Exposition
75007, Paris

Until next time...
*See more Paris photos on Flickr HERE

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts


Paris Photos: Levitation and Dance by Mickael Jou

What happens when you merge a dancer with a love for photography? A series of photos that challenges, perplexes and impresses on many levels. 

Franco-American Mickael Jou, who I had the pleasure of getting to know when he lived in Paris (he is now based in Berlin), is a trained dancer and had developed a habit of dancing ballet and modern dance throughout Paris. As you can imagine, this attracted the curious eyes of tourists and locals who regularly stopped to photograph and film his mini street spectacles. It was upon seeing the photos taken of his freewheeling ways that he considered staging the photos himself. He bought a camera, studied the instruction manual and released what appears to be an innate gift for the art of photography, creating a poetic series of self-portraits that he has collated into a 365 Project he predicts will take the next three years to complete. 

A sampling of these Paris images are shown below. As much as I love them all, I'm particularly drawn to the mystery of the very last shot. And you? 

To see more of Mickael's exceptional series in France and beyond, explore his website, follow him on Instagram and connect to his page on  Facebook 


How to Find Good Coffee in Paris

Last year I shared with you WHERE you can find specialty coffee in Paris (a post that is regularly updated). Now, I want to share HOW to find the best in a market that is rapidly maturing. The below is the unedited version of a coffee story I wrote for the NYT T Magazine this week, with loads of additional thoughts from the coffee movement's experts. 

The coffee tune in Paris has changed. In the last two years, coffee has evolved from much-maligned to much-adored by a burgeoning set of specialty coffee aficionados, celebrated as much for the newfound awareness the third wave movement inspired as for the talents pioneering it. With new openings every few months, the market is rapidly maturing. But with greater choice comes a greater challenge for the coffee lover. 

Given the growing democratization of artisanal coffee, particularly in Paris, almost anyone with business acumen and an ability to ape the coffee shop pre-requisites - colorful Inker ceramic mugs, La Marzocco machinery, minimalist, distressed wood interiors, artisanal cakes and tattooed baristas - can presumably open and run a shop. With those characteristics firmly in place, the assumption among many is that the product must be quality.

Lest you end up at spots trafficking in trend rather than technique, I sat down with the city's top brass after hours to find out what indicators you can look for to discern a mediocre roast from an excellent one, no matter what kind of cup it's served in. 

Do your homework to suss out the spots that have been consistently well received. For David Flynn, co-owner of Belleville Brûlerie, one of the city’s leading roasters, one of the best ways is by asking the staff at your favorite coffee shop back at home what they recommend. “The specialty coffee scene worldwide remains close-knit. Baristas are often reading up on what’s happening in other places and will most likely be more informed than a web search”, he explains. Then once you’ve found a place in Paris you enjoy, he recommends asking the staff for their personal favorites.  

Beyond firsthand feedback, another guidepost for your research should be the types of drinks offered. David specifically calls out filter coffee as a reliable indicator of a café’s seriousness. “It’s been an integral part of the specialty scene for quite a while now and almost every specialty shop serves some kind of filter coffee. Outside of specialty shops however, filter coffee is almost nonexistent. While its popularity here is growing very rapidly, it has yet to trickle down to the shops that are ‘just pretending’. If you see filter coffee on the menu, there’s a good chance you’ve found yourself in a good shop”.

The last tip: ask the roasters for their advice as well. “While there are a lot of shops of varying quality opening all the time in Paris, there are still only a few specialty roasters. Check out their websites, send them an email or see what shops they’re talking about on social media. Roasters want to highlight the shops that are doing the best job with their coffee”, explains David.  

The entire panel of experts agreed, it doesn’t require being a ‘coffee geek’ to ascertain whether the barista making your drink has a deep understanding of the craft. A few key questions can reveal wonders. Chris Nielson, co-owner of Fondation Café, recommends starting with quite simply ‘what are you serving?’ as one way to illustrate whether the person manning the bar knows the difference between the coffee’s origins and its roaster. “If someone can’t make that distinction or doesn’t seem to be taking responsibility for what they’re making, that’s a good indicator for me of their motivations. Either they’re serious about coffee – the actual product and searching for the best in every cup- or they’re more into the idea of having a café”.

Then, perhaps the most important move, is to put your choice in the hands of the barista. If they’re good, they will know how to guide you. “Ask what they recommend”, explains Nicolas Clerc, owner of three-year-old Télescope. “We taste our coffees all day long so we’re bound to have a preference. Also, coffee is seasonal so we will know which is the newest harvest and how best to serve it”.

For Channa Galhenage of Loustic, having new, top of the line machinery isn’t the most crucial part of the equation. “You can have all the right gear and all the greatest beans, but the result comes down to the baristas and whether they are properly trained,” he says. There are a couple of ways to know. Nicolas Alary of HolyBelly suggests watching the barista make a drink or two first and pay attention to a few details. “Are they clean or is the workspace full of coffee and milk? When you watch them make a coffee, do they take the porta-filter out, tap the puck out and give it a good wipe? Do they flush the group before making the next coffee?” Other things to look for: clean steam wands, clean milk jugs, clean wipes called ‘chucks’. If you hadn’t guessed, bar cleanliness is part of baristaring 101 and absolutely a non-negotiable for serious shops. “If someone doesn’t know how to clean that machine”, adds Galhenage, “they’re not a barista.”

For the average coffee drinker, it’s a challenge to know where to go for the best when most shops come with impressive machinery, baristas who have perfected the coffee vernacular and attractive, widely-Instagrammed spaces. “There are plenty of pretty walls in Paris. Don’t get distracted by design if you’re looking for good coffee”, cautions Nielson.

Whether you’re going for espresso or milk-based drinks, it’s ultimately a matter of taste. Sourness and saltiness are key indicators of under-extracted coffee, bitterness or dryness in the mouth often a marker of over-extraction. With lattes and flat whites, it’s about striking a harmonious flavor balance with perfectly textured milk (soft, smooth, not overly milky) and a well-pulled shot. “Places serving coffee, even the non-specialty shops, are getting very good at fooling you with aesthetics so you just need to bite the bullet, buy the coffee and taste it to know”, insists Alary. “When I went to NYC last summer, even I was duped! You hear about all these shops, there’s cool music, everyone looks like they’re having a great time and so it’s easy to assume it’s good. But until you try it, you really can’t know.”

And judging the taste is easier than you think, according to Clerc. “I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t able to tell the difference between a good and a bad espresso so this is a very good first step: taste it! How is it? If it tastes good, you really don’t need to know much else”.  In other words, no need to be an expert to say, “This is damn good”.

Below, the barista's shops and those they recommend: 

Télescope, 5 rue Villedo, 75002
HolyBelly, 19 rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010
Fondation Café, 16 rue Dupetit-Thouars, 75003
Loustic, 40 rue Chapon, 75003
Ten Belles, 10 rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010
Belleville Brûlerie, 10 rue de Pradier, 75019 (open to the public for tastings on Saturday mornings only)
Cream, 50 rue de Belleville, 75020
Honor, 54 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008  
KB, 53 avenue Trudaine, 75009

All photos by Jesse Morgan. 

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts


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.

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts


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!
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