The first half of summer whipped by with such breakneck speeds that I hardly had a moment to process it all and stay on top of my monthly highlights. Proof of time well spent, no? Below, five highlights from the last two months:
Taking my family to my favorite spots in Paris
Based on discussions with my father before his arrival last month, I was uncertain I’d get to adequately introduce him to the local dining and drinking spots I frequent the most – Fondation Café, Verjus, Willi’s Wine Bar, to name a few. All would depend on my little brother’s willingness to soldier through action-packed afternoons, museum visits and miles of walking. Setting low expectations in that regard proved to be the right move as I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up being able to show them. And of course, those experiences bore a few lessons. Check those out here!
Discovering Menorca (aka my future retirement home)
The trouble with vacation is that shortly after it ends and you’ve returned to a normal routine, the experience feels like an evanescent memory. Fortunately, I have more than Menorca’s unspoiled beaches to keep our trip last month front of mind. My friend Will Taylor, whose nuptials we attended, has posted several updates from his wedding weekend that should offer a crisp sense of place.
For non-wedding highlights, check out a few of my photos from our trip HERE.
Getting a sneak peek at the Peninsula Paris Hotel before it opened
Paris has no shortage of grand playgrounds for the ultra well-heeled traveler – the Plaza Athenée, the Ritz (still under renovation), Le Bristol, the Mandarin Oriental, etc. – but luxurious lodging has some new competition with the arrival of The Peninsula Paris, the group’s 10th hotel and first European outpost. Twenty years in the making, the overhaul of this Haussmannian building on Avenue Kleber is as storied as the structure itself.
As Hotel Majestic, it played host to literary greats and artists like James Joyce, Marcel Proust (who had their first and only meeting here) and George Gershwin whose “An American in Paris” came to life while as a guest in one of the hotel’s suites. Once sold to the French government in 1936, the space assumed more political leanings, first as the headquarters to UNESCO, then as the International Conference Center for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Henry Kissinger led peace talks with the North Vietnamese from the ballroom and signed the peace treaty to end the war four years later, in a room that has been repurposed as a bar.
Given the enormity of the space and the historic elements to be preserved, the redesign required an all-star team of artisans, many of whom were accustomed to working on fastidious restorations at the Louvre and Versailles. The investment has truly revived this grand dame to sumptuous effect and while a stay may be hors-budget (nearly $1,000/night to start), most of us can splurge for a cocktail on the rooftop terrace attached to the L’Oiseau Blanc restaurant or a digestif and cigar in the Kleber Lounge. Whatever your tipple of choice, drop by to see the Peninsula’s magnificence up close.
Lunching at Bistro Urbain
When I arrived in Paris eight years ago, menu items like Caesar salads, cheeseburgers and cheesecake were not only scarce but unwelcome food additions to the culinary scene. The French had little to learn from Americans about food (or so they thoughts) and strongly resisted what they perceived to be the wayward effects of globalization. But locals were evidently ready for some outside flavor and rushed to try the new and novel. With this rise in international influence, however, came a remarkable downturn in the traditional bistro model. Classic dishes were supplanted by trendy (and to some, mediocre) comfort fare, the chalkboard wall menu replaced by shock white metro tiles and the experience altogether changed.
Many have clamored for a sort of bistro revival, Alec Lobrano chief among them, and seek out the spots that buck the trends to focus on simple, high-quality French dishes in an environment that channels the past without being bound to it. Bistrot Urbain – Urbain for the owner’s last name – is one such place inspired the bistro greats of yesteryear and offers an ever-so-slightly modern update. I had a fantastic lunch, beginning with a fresh heirloom tomato salad, followed by a perfectly-cooked codfish filet and a mixed cheese platter for dessert. The menu rotates regularly but you can count on a short but balanced offering, worthy of the bistro label.
Also check out their sandwich shop a few blocks over, Comptoir Urbain.
Like fashion, French pastry evolves in seasonal collections. Typically this translates to a few new flavors added to the menu or limited edition recipes that follow a theme or inspired by pop culture. Available through September 3rd, Fauchon’s latest collection Fruit Fiction marries seasonal fruits and vegetables in an array of goodies from macarons (think: blackcurrant, apricot-lemon, chocolate passionfruit) and tea to jam and éclairs (specifically, raspberry-avocado). Pillowy soft and flavorful, the dozen I picked up vanished within minutes of serving them for friends. The jam, on the other hand, has been gussying up my breakfast every since I picked up a jar. See the collection (and its amusing marketing material resembling a galaxy of flying pastry) and visit their Madeleine boutique on your next visit.
What have been the highlights of your summer?