It was hard not to take it personally.
The moment my mother and I stumbled off the plane onto Parisian soil this past June, the city was getting away from itself in a most unusual way.
Too-close-for-comfort terrorism alerts were being issued to Americans traveling to France. Torrential and relentless downpours of rain were pummeling the streets. The Seine was flooding to a historic level. A strike by transit workers and airport employees was looming. Unseasonably cold temperatures were forcing us to forego wearing the Paris-style fashions we had dreamily packed in our matching luggage sets. And, in an emergency act of protecting its antiquities from drowning, the Louvre had the nerve to close its doors - literally as we were arriving at the ticket booth - rendering us unable to so much as snap a prized selfie of us surrounded by hundreds of other tourists snapping selfies of themselves snapping selfies with Ms. Mona Lisa.
Frankly, the City of Light was looking more like the City of Uh-Oh, and I’m fairly certain my mother wanted to cry. After all, this was the highly-anticipated mother-daughter trip she’d been planning for a year now. A vacation to celebrate our triumphant survival through a previous year of abysmal woes. A vacation that had already been postponed once and had a lot riding on it emotionally and spiritually. A vacation that, at this point, seemed would have been better spent in the Bahamas. Or Trenton, New Jersey.
It was a hunk of meat that turned things around for Mom and me.
A few decades ago, my sister and I went to Paris at Christmas to see the legendary holiday decorations. Galleria Lafayette was near the top of our not-to-miss list. On the top floor was a collection of Kiosks set up just for the 30 days before Christmas that offered food for shoppers that were hungry and tired. The room was loud, too warm, and packed full of holiday shoppers but Petrossian's smoked salmon looked too good to miss so, we sat down at a tall stool and preceded to order 2 plates of salmon and 2 coupes of Champagne. We planned on just having the salmon and continuing on with our day...We sure were wrong! The smoked salmon arrived, completely covering the large 10-inch Limoge plate, hand-sliced, surprisingly thick, a pot of creme fraiche, and a plate of blinis and two coupes.
I remember taking that first bite – the room around me disappeared in a fog. I no longer was aware of the sound of the holiday shoppers, it was just those blissful mouthfuls of smoked salmon and sips of Bollinger Champagne. Our food had stopped the movement of time – looking at my Sister when the plate was empty we didn't need to say anything because we both knew we had to find the "Mother Store." We had to find the source! What else awaited us?
Our excitement builds as our tiny Peugeot navigates the streets of Paris heading for rue du Cherche-Midi and my mecca, Poilane. Poilane is an extrordinary bakery that I had been reading about and I knew well ahead of time exactly what I was going to buy. It was early morning in Paris and the streets were not bustling yet. Just a gentle calm with only the sparse activity of a few Parisians heading to market. We parked the car within sight of Poilane and got out.
The classic storefront is natural finished wood with a large polished brass door handle, I pushed the door open to a heavenly scent of baking butter. The store was starting to be filled with their famous large round pain au levain breads, pastries and only two other customers. I spin around taking it all in – the large rounds of bread with the big P cut into the dough before it is baked, the tarte de pomme are lined up like little soldiers, cello bags of round butter cookies known as sables and the smell of the chasson de pomme fill the air as they are baking.
An excerpt from "Hungry for Paris"
Some ten years ago, I went to dinner one night with no expectations. A
London newspaper had asked me to write about Lapérouse, an old warhorse
of a restaurant overlooking the Seine on the Left Bank—it was doing
historic Paris restaurants, and this one’s been around forever. I
politely suggested that there might be better candidates, because as
far as I knew, this place was still a slumbering tourist table flogging
its past: it has several charming tiny private dining rooms with badly
scratched mirrors—as the legend goes, these cuts were made by ladies
testing the veracity of newly offered diamonds (real diamonds cut
The editor was unyielding, so off I went. The stale-smelling dining room was mostly empty on a winter night, and though the young mâitre d’hôtel was unexpectedly charming and gracious, I was more interested by my friend Anne’s gossipy accounts of a recent visit to Los Angeles than I was by the menu.
While things change so fast in this world, there are still places where time stands still. The face of Paris changes faster every year that I visit and not always for the better. There are more and more fast food chains, pasta restaurants, pizza sellers and Asian takeaway because everyone wants to eat quickly and run somewhere...
At L'Ami Jean time has stopped, it is old fashioned, handcrafted French/Basque cuisine. The restaurant has an aged yellowed patina with acorn fed Spanish hams hanging from the rafter with an inviting glow that welcomes you. The menu changes daily and the ingredients could not be better sourced or fresher! Whatever they make is always breathtaking!
Brasserie Lipp is a magical place to me that has maintained its integrity for well over 131 years. Not much has changed with the decor, food or with the waitstaff since I was a small child. There are waiters that have been there every day for 40 years, rapidly shuffling along, flat feet and all, with huge trays of covered dishes. I love this place, period!
They have a thick Parisian attitude which means that it could take years for them to notice or acknowledge you, but when they finally do they never forget you no matter how far back in line you may be standing. The waters parts and you are summoned to the head of the line like royalty has arrived as everyone moves quickly out of the way with a confused look on their face as they try to figure out "who you are" that they are making such a fanfare over.
When was the last time you ate something that made time stop and took you back to your childhood? Berthillon in Paris is a dreamy ice cream shop on the Isle St. Louis that will do just that...They make the World’s best hot fudge sundae, period!
There are so many choices of ice cream and sorbets, that are all freshly made in-house. The ice cream case is filled with colors and texture like a Tiffany’s jewelry case without the armed guard. Most well-heeled patrons can hardly decide, pointing, discussing and trying small spoonfuls. Not me.
I always have Tahitian Vanilla, full of tiny crunchy seeds and I always have three "boules." Next comes the chocolate sauce, Valhrona of course, just the right temperature, not too hot just perfectly warm, served with a small pot filled with extra sauce. The whipped cream is from Normandy and piped onto the sundae by a bright red, hand-operated, vintage cream dispenser that makes a perfect but not too perfect rosette on the top.
The Isle St. Louis is like the Nantucket of Paris. One of the ancient islands in the middle of the Seine, with Notre Dame at its tip and many picturesque bridges connecting it to the Left and Right Banks, its narrow streets are quaint and relatively free of traffic, with a concentration of shops and galleries; therefore, it tends to be much populated by Americans, who don’t seem to have been discouraged either by the metro strike or by the plunging dollar from flocking there.
It’s hard not to find great food when visiting Paris, but if you’re looking for a truly authentic French experience, book a reservation at Julien Brasserie on your next visit. Located a bit “out of the way” in the 10th arrondissement, it’s totally worth the trek. Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis is rather unassuming, but once you step through the ornate brasserie doors, you feel transported through time – to the days of Hemingway, Dali and Picasso – greeted by the restaurant’s Art Nouveau charm. It’s just a beautiful room, with magnificently carved mirrors, a grand mahogany topped bar and an ornately designed mosaic floor.
I was first introduced to the restaurant by designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who said it was one of his favorite places and after eating there I can certainly understand his loyalty. The restaurant offers a reasonable prix-fixe menu (about 42 euros) which features several options – including starters like traditional onion soup au gratin, duck Foie Gras with seasonal fruit chutney and brioche bread, or scallops tartar and pink shrimps from Madagascar in lime and ginger; and main courses like Charolais beef tartar, Sole meunière, roasted duck breast from South-West France with Provencal vegetables, or Grilled Chateaubriand in béarnaise sauce.