Paris During and After the Attacks

It's been rough in these parts over the last ten days. I apologize for not having updated the site with my thoughts (or whatever coherent expression I could make out of the jumble in my mind) and I appreciate your many emails, tweets and Facebook posts sending your support.

In truth, it was a whirlwind from the start of the attacks and I was interviewed on BBC radio twice*, interviewed for the Philly Voice and contributed my account to Quartz, all within 36 hours of the attacks. By the end, unless it was to police the ignorant on Twitter and Facebook who fell right into the trap of Islamophobia, I barely wanted to speak about it anymore. I was reading everything I could get my hands on until the point of saturation. My heart ached, my eyes burned and my stress levels were through the roof.

But what worries me now more than anything are the livelihoods of my favorite restaurant and shop owners, chefs, designers and artists whose businesses stand to take a hit if travelers cancel their plans or avoid visiting Paris in the wake of this tragedy. High-end hotels saw a 30% drop in occupancy following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January and that was largely due to American guests who cancelled their travel plans. The thing is, the city and the entire country need visitors and Francophiles more than ever now.

Whereas the attacks in January were extremely targeted -- controversial journalists and Jews -- last Friday's events showed us that everyone is a target and that includes people well beyond French borders. With Paris as a symbol, the entire world has awakened to the need for a unified response, even if the journey ahead is bound to be long. That makes me feel as safe as we can realistically be in the world today.

I've hesitated about posting any 'normal' content on the site in the month to come but I think it's important to do so in support of the many people whose businesses depend on writers telling their stories and to commemorate lives lost - the last thing any of the bon vivants who perished would want is for la bonne vie in Paris to cease existing, for Parisians to stop living.

So by the end of the year, I plan to introduce you to my favorite Paris shops, some holiday pastry creations and a special visit from author Elaine Sciolino. I hope you'll keep reading and keep supporting the country I love so very much.

*If you'd like to listen to my BBC interview, it begins at 2:53:42. 


My 5 Favorite Restaurants in Paris

Pierre Sang and crew

If there is any question I am asked at least a handful of times per week it's, "what are your absolute favorite restaurants in Paris"? which is somewhat akin to asking a parent which child they prefer. I don't like to play favorites because at this point, there is so much good food in Paris that I feel like I would be doing myself and those asking a disservice by narrowing down my selection to only one or two.

BUT while I value what many chefs are creating in Paris right now, there are only a handful of places I return to time and again. The 5 restaurants below meet my personal requirements for a quality meal, from the atmosphere and service to what's on the plate. Will these change with time? Possibly. And if they do, I will update this post accordingly. I hope these pique your interest ! Bon appétit !

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 atelier 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.

You'd think that having Meilleur Ouvrier de France (a prestigious craftsman title) Eric Trochon at the helm of a restaurant would imply steep prices but at Semilla, you're in for one of the best meals and best deals. The international influence is strong here, where Ferrandi-trained chefs serve up modern interpretations of classic French dishes in a stunning open kitchen. The crowd is mixed, the service is smooth and attentive and the bread, an important element to any meal in France, is rustic and hearty - baked fresh in the adjacent sandwich shop run by the same owners. But the most unique aspect to the menu at Semilla is the option of half-portions on a selection of dishes. It's tapas with a twist and suitable for all tastes - meat, fish or veggie.

Open 7 days a week. (Be sure to call ahead and don't miss out on the shiitake mushrooms!)

Charles Compagnon is one of my favorite restaurateurs in Paris.  As evidenced by the success of Le Richer and L'Office, his neo-brasserie and neo-bistrot hot spots within a few meters of one another in the 10th arrondissement, he has a firm grasp on what casual dining should be about: accessible prices, seasonal dishes free of pretension but high on technique and an environment that is welcoming at all hours of the day. That experience extended several blocks over when the 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis opened over a year ago. The menu has a similar spirit to Le Richer - fresh, flavorful, creative - but the dining room more spacious.
I like to go for breakfast -- big, airy chouquettes, granola and coffee -- but my weakness is lunch and dinner where I always find myself surprised and comforted. 

Tannat is not only a grape variety produced in the French southwest but the name of the 11th arrondissement latest entry into the bistronomy movement. A block from Inaki Aziparte's Le Chateaubriand, Tannat was opened by two best friends - Simon Auscher and Ariane Stern - who worked together at 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis (yes, the one above!) after stints at the Shangri-La. Now that the bistronomy movement is anchored into the food landscape, it requires extra care to carve a unique space for new eateries but they've done so with the location, the decor (sleek with superb natural light- designed by Ariane's architect father André Stern who worked on the restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria) and the menu (produce-driven with young chef Olivier Le Corre who left the kitchens of high gastronomic tables like Le Bristol for the world of neo-bistrots, which inspired him more). 

They sought to create their ideal restaurant and I believe they've succeeded. I celebrated my 30th birthday with close friends here and I return for lunch often. I always look forward to Chef Le Corre's use of seasonal produce, line-caught fish and poultry and his unconventional desserts. Evidently still loyal to the Compagnon family, they serve the restaurateur's coffee -- Café Compagnon -- on-site.  

Hot news: this spot has just been awarded the title of Best Table of the Year by Le Fooding for their 2015 restaurant guide. Japanese chef Taku Sekine and megawatt mixologist Amaury Guyot (of the bar Sherry Butt) are behind this neo-bistro in the 12th arrondissement and since day one, I knew their concept of gastronomic-style tasting plates paired with creative craft cocktails was going to find a curious audience. Sekine's cooking is nothing short of personal, inventive and bold-- seeing him in the open kitchen is like a front-row seat to a musical performance where the artist is visibly transfixed by the emotion of the moment, giving off an energy and a sensation that can only be described as spectacular. In opening Dersou, Sekine brought with him high-caliber technique (Ducasse Tokyo, Saturne and Clown Bar) and an insatiable desire to express himself creatively. When I interviewed him for my book, he reiterated what many Japanese chefs have told me: it takes a concerted effort to break free from the rote cooking they are trained to do. They can reproduce recipes - any recipe, almost - to perfection, day in and day out. But they struggle with deviating from the 'rules'. Here, and in tandem with Guyot who improvises his cocktails throughout the meal based on what Sekine has prepared, his creativity soars. 

Dinner is either à la carte (and sans reservation) or the full tasting menu: 5 dishes + 5 cocktails or 7 dishes + 7 cocktails, a bold move in a city that has only warmed up to cocktails paired with food in recent years. The secret, though, is Sekine has the most fun at lunch on Saturday when he tests recipes and incorporates street food influences into the menu. And because the duo has thought the experience through, they also offer one of the city's best Sunday brunch menus. A la carte dishes vary from avocado toast with feta and fresh vegetables on freshly toasted bread from nearby bakery Boulangerie Bo (one of my favorites) to pancakes with fruit and honey and Taipei style Bo yu. 

For more of my food picks, be sure to follow me on Instagram where I regularly share snapshots from favorite meals! 

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Mini Paris Getaway: Les Etangs du Corot

Les Etangs du Corot

Those who don't live in Paris (but dream of it) often have little empathy when expats whine about needing to get out of the city. Skipping town for a day or even a weekend becomes a pressing need for me in a few key contexts: a particularly stressful stretch of time, related to any variety of factors - professional, bureaucratic, interpersonal; the realization that I can no longer remember how much time has passed since the last time I felt close to nature (usually triggered by an annual spike in pollution levels); or some form of discomfiting change. 

The photo above, of Les Etangs (ponds) du Corot in Ville d'Avray, was taken mid-August on one such getaway precipitated by the loss of our sweet cat. From the moment we learned she was ill in the beginning of the year, we knew it would be challenging to commit to any concrete travel plans. When I went to New York in June, my husband stayed in Paris. When he took a week to rock climb, I stayed with her. And that went on for seven months, right up to the end. That we lost her two days before our wedding anniversary cast a particularly dismal cloud on the occasion but what exacerbated the ache was staying in our apartment and going through the rote motions of everyday life in the city. All we could feel, see or hear was her absence. 

Les Etangs du Corot

Ville d'Avray isn't the most remote getaway; it is only a 15 minute ride from the west side of Paris and about 8km from Versailles. But with such a bucolic landscape, it was just far enough from the urban din to provide the distance we needed to begin processing our loss. We had delayed doing much of anything for ourselves for so long that the idea of a quiet, restful weekend without responsibility felt like the right salve.

Les Etangs du Corot
Les Etangs du Corot

Home for the weekend was Hotel Les Etangs du Corot, the charming crown jewel of Ville d'Avray with 43 rooms, a Caudalie Vinotherapie spa, leafy gardens and three lovely restaurants, one of which was awarded a Michelin star in 2014. Gracing the halls are photographs and paintings that serve as reminders of the town's historic draw for impressionist painters and literary figures of the 19th century, particularly for Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot whose work captured nature with, as Baudelaire expressed, "as much intelligence as love".

Les Etangs du Corot
We walked along Les Etangs, a protected historical monument, and watched transfixed as sudden rain showers cast ripples in the water where a paddling of ducks, unfazed by the downpour, continued to chase after one another. They slipped beneath the water with great ease, only to bob to the surface seconds later to shake off the rain in one swift motion. The droplets cascaded off their feathers while they left us chilled. We hurried back inside to warm up even more aware of how cozy the hotel would be during the winter months.

We slept in late, ate and drank with vigor and talked about positive things: my book, home projects and travel plans for 2016. We were breathing again. And laughing, and planning and reminiscing in a way that didn't leave us feeling quite as raw.

A special place, even one so close to home, can do tremendous good. For us, Les Etangs du Corot will indelibly be attached to the start of our healing.

Les Etangs du Corot 
55 rue de Versailles
92410 Ville-d'Avray 

At only 15 minutes from Paris and less than 10 minutes from Versailles, it's a great place to stay or enjoy a meal if you're planning on visiting the Château or looking for a day trip outside of the city. 

See more photos from Les Etangs du Corot HERE.


Old vs. New Craft Cocktails: the Evolution of the Bloody Mary in Paris

Café Cluny - Bloody Mary

Up until fairly recently, Paris was anything but a destination for cocktail enthusiasts. You could find bar classics at extortionate prices in luxury hotels, uber sweet Mojitos at no-name bars, but little else. But since the Experimental Group stoked a movement with the launch of the first Experimental Cocktail Club in 2007, the cocktails and spirits scene has undergone a drastic transformation. Today, Paris ranks among the world's best cities for innovative craft cocktails and talented mixologists. Celebrating this exciting change is Doni Belau, founder of The Girl's Guide to Paris, in her new book Paris Cocktails (Cider Mill Press). Belau not only covers the new wave of bars and bartenders but also a historical context that may surprise most readers (hint: a cocktail culture in the capital first emerged in the 1800s!). 

Here, the author shares a bit of background to one of the world's most iconic cocktails and how it has been updated for today's tastes.

The classic Bloody Mary cocktail has come a long way from its creation in 1921 as a cure for a hangover to the various ingenious riffs on the recipe, which you can savor today in Paris or in your own home.

Harry’s N.Y. Bar was moved from NYC to Paris in the early 1900’s because its owner smelled prohibition in the air. A little known and somewhat controversial fact is that Harry’s head bartender Fernand “Pete” Petiot, a Frenchman, created the Bloody Mary to aid one of his regulars’ hangover. While the Bloody still works handsomely as a cure and remains the perfect Brunch drink, what most people are surprised to hear is that it wasn’t created in New York, London or Spain….it is truly a French invention.

In order to settle the score with the Ritz, Paris and the St. Regis in New York, the latter which still claims “Pete” invented it at their hotel, I had to consult with cocktail historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller of Mixellany. The husband and wife duo and authors of many cocktail books confirmed that Monsieur Petiot created the famous cocktail at Harry’s in Paris in 1921, and popularized it later in New York at the St. Regis where he moved after prohibition.

What’s interesting about the first recipe is what isn’t included. There’s no lime (just lemon), no celery salt, no Tabasco sauce, and no horseradish.

The original Bloody Mary Recipe, courtesy of Harry’s NY Bar (used with permission from Cider Mill Press & Paris Cocktails)

• Salt, cayenne pepper, and
black pepper to taste
• 6 dashes of Worstershire
• Juice of 1/2 lemon
• 2 oz. vodka
• 2 oz. tomato juice

Method: Create this in the glass starting with 4 dashes of salt, 2 of cayenne, and 2 dashes of black pepper. Add the Worstershire, lemon, vodka, and finally the tomato juice.

Be sure to use ground not cracked black pepper and do not add celery salt! Originally there was no garnish, and to this day at Harry’s you won’t get a wedge of lemon, or a celery stick, or,
God forbid, a pickle! They do add Tabasco sauce now, so feel free to add a dash or two if you prefer, but why not give it a sip first?

Cut to 2015 when I discovered some new mixology talents who’ve taken that original recipe and flipped it on its head for some surprisingly delicious results. This winter, I toured 55 bars in Paris for my newly released book, Paris Cocktails. What I found was both surprising and delicious, especially with regard to the Bloody Mary.

Valentin Calvel, one of the most talented bartenders in Paris, created a fresh version for the Apicius bar and restaurant, which serves them by the handful at lunch. Try one and you’ll see why. His is very different from your standard Bloody because it uses fresh tomatoes (and is impossible to put down).

The Incredible L’Apicius Bloody Mary courtesy of Apicius and Cider Mill press.

• 1 cup of cherry tomatoes
• 4 drops Tabasco Chipotle
• 2 dashes white balsamic
• 1. oz. cranberry juice
• 3/4 oz. vodka
• 2 turns of a pepper mill
• 3 drops Memphis BBQ bitters by Bitter End
• Celery salt

Method: In a Boston shaker, crush cherry tomatoes, add Tabasco Chipotle, balsamic cream, cranberry juice, vodka, 2 turns of the pepper mill, 3 pinches of celery salt, and the Memphis bitters. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds, double strain, and serve in a chilled martini glass.

Serving suggestion: Decorate the rim with celery salt or spicy Tabasco salt, 1 cherry tomato, and one grind of the pepper mill (white pepper is preferred). White Balsamic Cream is available from gourmet food distributors online.

The other wildly interesting version I had during my sampling of over 150 cocktails in Paris was the Bloody Celery, a winter version of the Bloody created by Amanda Boucher at Pas de Loup. Amanda, a midwestern girl and one of the most talented bartenders in Paris, reinforces the notion that the French prefer not serve vegetables out of season. So in winter, she dehydrates a tomato or two and grinds them down into a powder. She then uses fresh celery juice as her base with the vodka and the spices and rims half the glass with a beautiful red ring of dehydrated tomato, which tastes 99% as fresh as the best August tomato from your garden. Amanda is one of the few bartenders in the world who uses molecular gastronomy techniques in her craft cocktails.

After learning more than I ever thought one could know about the history of cocktails as well as the new craft movement that has taken Paris by storm, it was interesting to taste my way through illustrious Parisian cocktail history via the humble yet ever delicious Bloody Mary.

To enter to win your own copy, leave a comment below sharing your favorite cocktail. As an extra entry, leave a second comment about your favorite Paris cocktail bar and why you love it. A winner will selected at random on October 25th! Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to Catherine Bennett!

Doni Belau is the founder and creator of Girls’ Guide to Paris 
and author of the newly released Paris Cocktails by Cider Mill Press. 
She survived tasting over 150 drinks in Paris with her liver in tact.
Key tip: just two sips. Click here to buy the book!


Shakespeare & Company Café Opens in Paris

There are a few special places in Paris that need little introduction - the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, a handful of parks and, I'd argue, the literary institution, Shakespeare & Company. But I'll give you a little background anyway. When it was owned by American expat Sylvia Beach in the 1920s-1930s, it was a magnet for the period's literary greats, from Hemingway to Fitzgerald and Joyce. It shuttered during the Nazi occupation and only reopened in 1951, when George Whitman, another American, took over the space. Under Whitman's charge, the bookshop continued to be a draw for writers (Langston Hughes, Anais Nin, James Baldwin) who came to work, hangout and eventually present their work. When he passed, his daughter Sylvia took the reigns and has grown the business ever since. That one bookshop with such legacy has been so fervently protected and cared for is a testament to Sylvia's love for the space; what it symbolizes within her family and for so many readers and writers around the world.

So when I was interviewing Marc Grossman of Bob's Bake Shop (and Bob's Juice Bar and Bob's Kitchen) for my book and learned he was going to be involved in the Shakespeare & Company Café - specifically, crafting the menu of sandwiches, juices, salads and literary-inspired sweets alongside coffee supplied by Parisian roaster Café Lomi -  I knew it was a story I wanted to share. The project had been in the works for a very long time, largely because Sylvia wanted to honor her father's wishes for the space, which meant waiting for the adjacent (vacant) property to be officially available.

 I only had a small window of text to do so in a September issue of T Magazine (also available online HERE) but it came paired with such a beautiful illustration by Konstantin Kakanias that it seemed like the perfect way to announce such a momentous new project.

I had a chance to stop by this morning for opening day and instantly ran into Sylvia Whitman and her husband David Delannet, the duo who took George Whitman's archival drawings and plans and made them a reality. The space has a handful of countertop seats and a few tables (more seating outside on benches) and is poised to become a destination of its own in no time. If you find yourself browsing at Shakespeare & Company next door and feel like you need a boost, pop by the café for cake and a cuppa. While it has preserved quite a number of original features, from retro floor tiles on one side blend into the new, concrete floor on the other, the exposed stone was brushed and cleaned and the garage door from the previous space has been repurposed to enclose the bathroom - the space feels considerably more modern than the adjacent bookshop. "It felt right to bring it into the future a bit", Sylvia told me this morning "but the past is very much still here!"

Click for a view of the café on my Instagram page
Read my short piece in the NYT T Magazine 
Read more about the legendary bookstore in this fantastic story from Vanity Fair
Learn more about the café via Paris By Mouth

Shakespeare & Company Café 
37 rue de la Bûcherie
75005 Paris

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Paris Dining: Au Passage (video)

It's an exciting time to live in Paris. In fact, that's been true for the last five years as I've watched sleepy neighborhoods and fringe enclaves come alive with interesting food concepts, niche boutiques and a creative energy I never thought I'd feel in the city. My own neighborhood, the 11th arrondissement, has seen perhaps the most dramatic changes and most of them have been in food and drink. There are a number of establishments that can be credited with inspiring food-conscious Parisians to leave their familiar quartiers and travel to the 11th to dine (some of which I will talk about in my book!) but Au Passage ranks high on the list of relaxed bistrots that have radically shaken up the Parisian dining experience, with an approach that feels at once completely French and yet completely novel.

 Bon Appétit magazine just released a new video that takes you inside Au Passage and manages, in only a few minutes, to tap into what is so special about the place and what continues to draw in crowds. Watch below!

(email readers, click over the blog to watch!)

Ps. today kicks off the two-week photoshoot with Charissa Fay for my book! Things might get a little quiet in these parts temporarily but we'd love for you to follow our adventures as we go along:

Instagram: @LostNCheeseland @Charissa_Fay
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lostincheeseland

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