Blog

Springtime in Paris

Signs of spring are everywhere on this sunny Sunday in Paris: lilacs are blooming, trench coats and sneakers de rigueur, and family dinners start with sharp-scented radishes, slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt.

Pictured above is a spring tradition with a new twist, served as an amuse-bouche at La Bourse et La Vie: house-marinated heritage radishes, served with tangy sourdough bread and sweet butter.

A glass of cremant from the Jura Mountains made everything sparkle.

Click here for more signs of springtime in Paris.

Paris for Chocolate Lovers

Greetings from Paris on Easter weekend, where chocolate, always a presence in Paris, is everywhere.

The most popular form, naturellement, is the egg. Maître chocolatiers display dark filigreed orbs nearly a meter tall—impossibly delicate, wonderful to look at, and with aromas that make you swoon.

Smaller, but still impressively large and fragile, are smooth oval sillouhettes wrapped in pastel-colored foil. Miniature versions, filled with chopped hazelnuts, nestle in beribboned cellophane bags.

Barnyard scenarios, tout en chocolat, are designed for the younger set: proud mother hens with sculpted breast feathers and scalloped combs; wide-eyed, open-beaked chicks; bushy-tailed squirrels nibbling on chocolate acorns; bunnies with tall, slender ears and faraway looks.

Even a mass market bakery chain has a hand in the celebration: stopping for a croissant at the train station this morning, I saw a brioche in the form of a rabbit, its ears and feet dipped in milk chocolate.

Easter in Paris is a chocolate-lovers’ holiday!

Paris Book Review: Flaneuse: Women Walk the City

 

From regular contributor Betty Guernsey:

The verb “flâner” – a particularly French concept roughly meaning to wander the streets, and its corresponding noun “flâneur” roughly meaning one who peers behind facades, investigates dark corners, and penetrates into secret courtyards – are also both words attaching themselves to the city of Paris.

In her new book “Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London”, American-born writer Lauren Elkin explains why “flâneurs” were historically always men, and how as women emancipated, how they too gained the right to walk the streets (and travel) on their own.

As examples she chooses French writer George Sand, French filmmaker Agnès Varda, and French artist Sophie Calle, among others, whose lives and careers were not merely shaped but influenced by this hard-won freedom to be themselves in public places.

I would personally have enjoyed the book more had I not felt too much digression, often at great length, on histories and observations largely unrelated to the subjects at hand. That said, my suspicions are that author Elkin (now a bona fide Parisienne) is herself the ultimate flâneuse, in the punk tutu.

Merci beaucoup, Betty!

Readers — are you a flâneuse (or flâneur)?

Paris via Vermont Part 2: Bohemian Bakery

 

If the secret to French cooking is butter (and I’m pretty sure it is), that explains the succès fou of the croissants at Bohemian Bakery in Montpelier, Vermont.

Add a chic, luminous space with white walls and bentwood chairs, espresso worth standing in line for, and a wooden coffee bar that overlooks a modest side street—and you might think you’ve stumbled into a pâtisserie near the Canal St Martin in Paris.

In the French tradition, Bohemian’s croissants are made with butter. Their motto, “Tout le beurre…tout le temps, All butter…all the time” hangs on a chalkboard just inside the front door.

The alchemy that results from layering sheets of butter with yeast-infused dough and folding the layers over themselves again and again is what sets these croissants apart. The plump, flaky pastries have moist, multi-layered insides and deeply-toasted, crunchy outsides.

While Bohemian’s butter croissant is almost ethereal in its flakiness, their almond croissant is a more solid confection. Nearly twice the size and heft of its cousin, it’s filled with almond paste, studded with slivered almonds, and coated in confectioner’s sugar.

A third variation—and my favorite—is the kouign amann (pictured above, pronounced “queen ahmahn”). This little jewel is both delicate and lavish. Its secret? Le beurre, naturellement, and more of it.

Bohemian’s black-aproned bakers (another French tradition is an on-site bakery) fill the center of a square of croissant dough with additional butter, pinch the corners together to seal in the sweetness, and sprinkle top and bottom with sugar and bit of salt.

The pastry that emerges from the busy oven has an intensely caramelized, almost glassy outside, and an exquisitely tender, sweet, rich inside.

Ahhh, Paris… Bohemian does you proud!

Have you had the croissants at Bohemian? What did you think?

Pissarro at Musee Marmottan

 

Camille Pissarro, the First Impressionist,” at the Musée Marmottan Monet, is the artist’s first retrospective exhibit in Paris in forty years, and a joy to behold. The sixty masterpieces on view come from major museums and private collections around the world.

The show traces Pissarro’s technical evolution, from his early work, depicting the island of his youth in the Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands), to his plein air studies of the French countryside, for which he is best known, and eventually his urban vistas of Rouen, Le Havre and Paris.

As his career progressed, Pissarro’s landscapes shifted from mostly dark tones to the Impressionist palette that he developed with contemporaries Cézanne, Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Degas. These works, prioritizing light over detail, are wondrously fresh and invigorating nearly a century and a half later.

Said one art critic of Pissarro’s revelatory color choices: “Try to make M. Pissarro understand that trees are not violet, that sky is not the color of fresh butter …”

But the show celebrates much more than landscape. Throughout his career, Pissarro took a profound interest in the relationship of people to their environments.

Two Women Chatting by the Sea,” an early work, exemplifies both high technical quality and the depth of the artist’s regard for humanity.

Have you seen this exhibit? What did you think?

 

Paris via New York: Paris Refashioned at FIT

 

Paris Refashioned 1957-1968” at the Museum at FIT (7th Avenue at 27th Street) examines the influence of popular culture on the Paris fashion industry during those pivotal years – 1957 being the year Christian Dior passed away and was succeeded by Yves St-Laurent, and “soixante-huit” the year that ushered in a period of social and political ferment not merely in Paris, but everywhere.

Those heady in-between years marked the shift from the haute couture house to the ready-to-wear boutique, spurred on by couturiers St-Laurent, Givenchy, and Cardin, and giving rise to exciting new designers such as Courrèges, Ungaro, and Emanuelle Khanh.

“Blast from the past” highlights include Courrèges’ famous white leather boots and white sunglasses, a Mondrian-inspired geometric dress from St-Laurent, and an elegantly pared-down black suit and black quilted bag with gold chain by Chanel.

Show runs from February 10 to April 15, 2017.

Merci beaucoup to frequent contributor Betty Guernsey for this review!

 

Paris via Vermont: Beau Butchery and Bar

 

A surprise and a delight on an unassuming side street in Montpelier (Vermont), Beau Butchery and Bar reminds me of a Paris wine bar, where high quality food and drink are served simply, and the clientele are regulars.

I return most often for the charcuterie. One night recently, my husband and I tucked into silky chicken liver pâté, traditional pork rillettes, and marvelous house-smoked salmon, accompanied by a lesser-known French wine from the Jura mountains.

Nearby, two women gossiped over plates of French Kiss oysters and glasses of cava. One of the women works down the street, and stops in at least once a week.

Across the narrow room, a couple who had left their young kids at home sat at a table fashioned from an ironing board. They celebrated their freedom with mid-century cocktails, oysters, and bowls of long-simmered beef broth, brimming with noodles and fermented cabbage. Beau is their favorite date-night spot.

Home cooks came and left in a steady stream, lining up at the meat counter for dry aged, pastured pork, cut-to-order Vermont beef steaks, locally grown roasting chickens, hand cut bacon, and jars of nutrient-rich broth. Jules, Beau’s co-owner and affable butcher, offered cooking tips and asked after friends and family members.

With seating for 10, shelves of vintage glassware, bovine artwork, and stacks of meat-centric cookbooks for browsing, Beau is indeed beau — beautiful — a bit of urban Paris in small town Vermont.

Are you interested in exploring French cuisine in Paris or Montreal? Check out our Montreal Gardens and Gastronomy weekend in June, and Authentic Flavors of Paris tour in October!

The Best Croque-Monsieur in Paris

The croque-monsieur — a gloriously crunchy, salty ham and cheese sandwich, filled and/or topped with béchamel, and brushed with butter before grilling — is one of my favorite café/bar foods. It’s a classic comfort food, and it’s trending.

Chefs are tinkering with traditional ingredients — substituting comté cheese for the classic gruyère, and using bread from celebrated bakers and surprise additions, like truffle salt.

These three cafés have croques to savor.

• At Café Trama, near the Bon Marché, sel de truffes (truffle salt) is the transformative ingredient. The aroma is both delicate and intense, and the cheese-ham-truffle combination sings. The bread comes from artisan baker Jean-Luc Poujauran (who delivered croissants daily to President François Mitterand).The addition of a lightly dressed salad and slices of house-pickled onion turn everyday bar food into something special (pictured above).

• With blue velvet divans, brocaded stools the color of soft gold, Christofle cutlery, and arched windows overlooking the Tuilieries, pâtissier Sebastian Gaudard’s new salon de thé is a study in refinement. His croque-monsieur is equally sophisticated: three golden, crustless sandwiches contain tender white ham from the Aveyron region and creamy comté cheese from the Jura mountains. The bread comes from wunderkind baker Rodolphe Landemaine, and in place of béchamel is crème pâtissière salée, a savory custard. The sandwich is crunchy, tender, rich, and light — and the whole experience très élégant.

• For a no-frills croque-monsieur in an upbeat brasserie setting, eat at L’Entracte, in the luminous shadow of Opéra Garnier. It’s a bustling place with tufted red banquettes, lamps resembling bunches of grapes, and tall windows overlooking the stunning opera house. The clientele is a mix of tourists, locals settling into their preferred spots, and students, performers, and spectators from the Opéra. The café’s traditional ham and cheese sandwich is served on grilled Poilâne bread. This tangy, crumbly sourdough is another Paris tradition, made from stoneground flour in wood-fired brick ovens. 1, rue Auber, 9th

Where did you last enjoy a croque-monsieur?

Paris via Montreal: Chagall at the Musee des Beaux-Arts

Russian-French artist Marc Chagall is known for his striking images and vivid colors, but less well known for his love of music. “Chagall: Music and the Rite of Colour,” the current exhibit at the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montréal (Montreal Fine Arts Museum), aims to change that.

The show explores a large and diverse body of work, paying special attention to its musical connections. Nearly 400 pieces — book illustrations, stained glass, full size stage sets, dada-ist ballet costumes, ceramics, and paintings that range from simple watercolor portraits to icon-filled larger works — have music as subject, or have been designed for musical venues.

The pièce de résistance is a detailed video of the ceiling at the Paris Opéra Garnier, which Chagall painted in 1964. I’ve attended many performances at the Opéra, and have hung out over the balconies looking at the ceiling. But it’s still so far away — the video, zooming in on details, made me feel like I was back in Paris.

If you live in Vermont, and would like to see this exhibit, I’m leading a Montreal day trip focused on the show, Saturday, May 6. This full day of looking, listening, and learning is designed for artists, art lovers, and art educators. Click here for the itinerary and details. Transportation is included.

 

Paris via New York: Sel et Poivre

Mille fois merci to regular contributor Betty Guernsey for sussing out this little bit of Paris in New York!

Set on a strip of Lexington Avenue filled with old-fashioned pharmacies, corner stores, hardware stores, and newsagents, Sel et Poivre “A Taste of Paris on Lex” feels like a microcosm, a taste of what French restaurants in New York City used to be like pre-millenium.

And it’s kept its old-fashioned neighborhood ambiance. White linen tablecloths, black and white photos of Parisian street scenes on the walls, and a menu that includes à la carte delicacies seldom seen in Manhattan these days, such as frog legs in pernod sauce, escargot with garlic butter and herbs, terrine de foie gras with red wine grapes, duck pâté à l’orange, and sweetbreads.

That said, it also has reasonably priced prix fixe menus at both lunch and dinner, popular with Upper East Side locals. Though it’s been around only since 1989, it has the air of having been there forever – 853 Lexington Avenue, near 65th Street.