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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Paris in Mourning

On September 11th, I was in my school cafeteria when the first plane struck the North Tower. When the Boston Marathon bomb went off, I was on Twitter, watching tweets devolve from frivolous to frantic, the story unfolding before my eyes in real-time. And as the calamitous events in Paris on Wednesday terrorized the city, I again sat rapt before my social feeds as every shot, cry, tear and expression of fear distorted France's narrative. Never will I forget. The week of Galette des Rois became a week of national questioning and grief so mighty that perfect strangers gripped one another in hysterics,  aching with loss. I live but a ten minute walk from the Charlie Hebdo office in the 11th arrondissement. As much as I felt heartache for America as innocent lives were shaken and lost in Boston, I was completely inert, thunderstruck by what was happening in my neighborhood. 

With my colleagues, we sat slack jawed all day as the story developed. The atmosphere was heavy and grim but we watched intently as the #jesuischarlie sentiment took form and mushroomed into a veritable movement. By that evening, 35,000 people gathered at Place de la République for an improvised vigil and the fear and panic, which were unquestionably present, were quelled temporarily by immense love and national pride. Never have I felt more French than this week nor more saddened by the venomous hate that continues unabated to infect the world. 

Some insightful articles have been published since Wednesday, analyzing what this attack symbolizes for France, for the rest of the world and for Muslims who disavow violence in the name of religion. I commend the journalists and cartoonists, many of whom were in paris to experience this pain firsthand, for their ability to articulate the larger economic, geopolitical and religious implications of the catastrophe. I've even seen opinion pieces questioning the morality of Charlie Hebdo's work - pure satire or racism girded by free speech? Then followed the articles insisting that France's barely-veiled contempt of immigrants and their French-born children is equally at fault- after all, jobless, disenfranchised citizens are more susceptible to the brainwashing and recruitment tactics of religious extremists

But I believe I speak for many when I say that kind of acute discussion feels premature at a time when most of us are still trying to make sense of the tragedy. The conversation is meant to be focused on wanton acts of violence and lives lost. I can't allow myself to actively engage in much more than that right now. 

However, what this week has revealed (and a fact we must accept in today's world), is that no place, no matter how small or historically peaceful and tolerant, is safe from blind hate and ideologies in which death and destruction are a barometer of sanctity. 

An unprecedented 3 million people marched in the streets all over France in peaceful protest of terrorism today. The day's events, even the bits that were politically charged, were moving and truly unlike anything I've ever witnessed in my life. But what made me most proud to be French was the moment the crowds erupted into song, singing the 'Marseillaise' in unity. Even those whose nation the anthem may not represent sang wildly and in collective support for a touching conclusion to a horrific week. Millions marched to piece back together the fragmented shards of hope and send a message that we will not allow fear to define our future. 

There are deeper conversations to be pursued and should not be taken lightly. But for now, let us feel the jumble of emotions we need to feel and mourn, not only France but to all those who have been silenced. 

** All photos by friend and photographer Jesse Morgan. For more of his photos from today's march, visit Instagram.


2014: A Year in Review from France and Beyond

Royal Monceau Paris, Noël

Two years away from American soil is a long time; long enough to spark a flurry of incongruous feelings when faced with an impending visit - nervous anticipation, excitement and of course the disruptive concern that the people and places I know and love have changed irrevocably, either because I've become too detached or because environment truly does alter perception. 

Fortunately, my homecoming has been delightful, without too many heartbreaking changes and full of down time to indulge in some end-of-the-year woolgathering while lounging in front of the sparkling Christmas tree. I still haven't figured out how to condense a roller-coaster year into one neatly polished synopsis or conclusion but I can say that I had to white-knuckle my way through it; asking myself uncomfortable life questions along the way all while attempting to pursue my goals and keep the online curtain drawn to the disorder.

While the rewards were legion - from co-authoring my first book to contributing to the WSJ - they were punctuated by what I can only call an emotional pummeling. For more than half of 2014, I was convinced that something - an ineffable something - needed radical change. I was listless and pessimistic which only served to send my relationship spiraling into dangerously dark waters. It wasn't until we pulled ourselves out of the Parisian landscape and forced a change of scenery in Israel that the fog started to lift. Priorities were coming into focus.

Becoming a French citizen was a watershed moment in my journey toward a crystallized identity and doubly gratifying because, as an expat, there is always a dull but pervasive concern about things turning out as they should. In June, we celebrated crazy, passionate love and in July, we received an important reminder to slow down thanks to a week-long visit from my 7-year old brother. A weekend in Bordeaux was an invigorating way to start the fall season while a visit from an old friend lent the familiarity I needed during a particularly uprooting end to 2014.

The unequivocal high points I'll remember most were both those with friends and the moments where I acknowledged and overcame a fear that was preventing me from moving forward. The very things I mistakenly thought required change earlier in the year are, in fact, the stabilizing forces behind my courage to imagine a different path. So my plan for the last day of the year is to shake off the hurt, stress and discomfort that may have plagued a part of my year and raise a glass to deliberate, liberating C.H.A.N.G.E. in 2015.

Have you made any firm resolutions for the new year? 

As always, thank you for continuing to show your support for this site and my stories! Here's to more adventures in 2015.

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Bonne année! xx


(VIDEO) Inside the Alain Ducasse Paris Chocolate Factory: La Manufacture

Alain Ducasse is often called the Godfather of French cuisine and for good reason. The multi Michelin-starred chef has opened restaurants across the globe, run a well-liked cooking school in Paris, authored several cookbooks and become a brand unto himself in his illustrious 25+ year career. That he has moved on to open Paris's first bean to bar chocolate manufacture speaks to his unflagging ambition and ever-widening reach.

While Paris has no shortage of renowned chocolatiers, none produce their chocolate from scratch given the complexity of the process which requires expensive, highly specialized machines and the savoir-faire to operate them. And that's saying nothing of the keen sense for sourcing the beans which is equally as important.

The idea for the venture emerged from a conversation with Ducasse's head corporate pastry chef, Nicolas Berger. Unwilling to settle for yet another chocolate shop in a saturated market, he insisted on working with Berger from the very beginning, to focus on releasing the distinct nuances of each bean to produce an intense product that speaks to the most discerning of chocolate lovers.

If you can't make it to Paris anytime soon to visit La Manufacture, take a look at the video below* for an enchanting glimpse into the savoir-faire of Ducasse's modern-day chocolate factory. 

*If reading this in your email, click to be taken to the web version and watch the video. 

Chocolat Alain Ducasse
La Manufacture
40 rue de la Roquette, 75011 

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