Paris for Lovers—Grand Coeur

Part of the romance of Paris is discovering hidden spaces. And when that space serves market fresh food on marble topped tables surrounded by tall windows, antique mirrors, and exposed stone walls…well then… tant mieux. All the better!

Restaurant Grand Coeur shares a cobble stoned courtyard with a dance studio just off rue du Temple, in the très chic Marais. In summer, it has one of the nicest patios I’ve seen.

In winter the large windows and artful lighting make the interior welcoming; smiling staff in long aprons recommend wines from the copious wine list and describe the preparation and provenance of dishes like line-caught sea bass à la plancha, tarte aux cèpes with hazelnuts, and orzo with Cantal.

Their 30€ prix-fixe lunch menu makes it even sweeter.

For dinner, count on about 70€ per person for three courses and wine. If you’re in the area mid-afternoon, they’re open between lunch and dinner for a glass of wine and small plate.

Carhartt Debuts in Marais

French sleepwear is apparently not all about sex appeal. American brand Carhartt has introduced blue striped cotton pjs that are decidedly not form fitting, in their new shop in the Marais.

The European Carhartt line, known as WIP, or Work in Progress, is modeled on the iconic Carhartt “worker” attire — jackets, pants, and sweatshirts worn by American farmers and construction workers. The brand was founded in Michigan in 1989 to make work clothing for railroad workers.

Traditional shapes are boxy, and fabrics rugged. But the new line uses refined materials. The pajamas in question are poplin, with sky-blue piping on cuffs, collar, and pockets (and the square brown raised Carhartt logo).

Sweaters are made from merino wool; sweatshirts and down jackets are trimmed with soft faux fur.

But there isn’t a scrap of lace or a waistline in sight.

JR at Galerie Perrotin in the Marais

When I worry about the state of the world these days, viewing the work of French activist, photographer, and film director JR gives me hope. A solo show of JR’s recent works is at Galerie Perrotin in the Marais until October 17.

JR is known throughout Europe for displaying large portraits, many of which people took themselves with equipment he provided, on city walls, rooftops, and most recently, the floor and ceiling of the Panthéon in Paris.

JR has been recognized by numerous human rights organizations, and in 2011 he received a TED award, which allowed him to expand his photography projects.

The exhibit at Galerie Perrotin consists of work from the artist’s last ten years, featuring a selection of videos, ink on wood pieces, and recent photographs. The video “Les Bosquets” (with English subtitles) is pure poetry in motion.

Using footage from the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, the seat of important riots in 2005, JR captures the injustice of the ghetto-like environment, and the humanity of its inhabitants.

With interviews of disaffected young men from the projects interspersed with stunning re-enactments of the riots by the Paris Opéra and New York City Ballet companies, the 17 minute film is more than moving; it’s a tour de force.

Paris Pastry Chase: Eclair de Genie in the 4th

All of Paris has been talking about pâte à choux, the pastry at the base of éclairs and cream puffs. I set out to sample pastries at two popular Paris bakeries in the Marais, to find out if they were worth the publicity they’ve been getting.

You can read about my first stop, Popelini, here. Now onto the second!

The specialty at Eclair de Genie is eclairs, and the selection is dizzying. Rows of brightly colored miniature eclairs in cases at the front of the shop range from classical flavors (chocolate, raspberry, lemon) to exotic combinations: vanilla-rose, pistachio-orange, noisette-praliné (hazelnut with bits of toasted, sugared almonds).

I settled on three flavors — chocolate, pecan, and pistachio-orange. They cost more than twice as much as the Popelini cream puffs, and I treated them with the same care: into the frigo soon after I bought them, and out a few minutes before eating them. At dinner that night, my sampling partner and I were eager to dig in.

The eclairs were beautiful, nestled in white paper, with lacquer-shiny green frosting; chocolate decorated with tiny squares of dark chocolate and edible gold leaf; and white icing dusted with chopped, toasted pecans. Wonderful presentation.

Biting into them, we found the outside soft and on the heavy side, rather than crisp and light. It was as if the filling had begun to soak into the cake.

The fillings were creamy and full of flavor, so this wasn’t a bad thing taste-wise. But it was disappointing from a textural point of view. Pâte à choux should be airy, not sodden. The toppings added another surprising textural note, as they were almost chewy. Across the board, we found the eclairs good, but not revelatory.

On a scale of 1 to 5, Popelini’s cream puffs were a 4.5. Each was an elegant mix of tradition and innovation.

The eclairs were sophisticated at first glance, but the pastry didn’t measure up, making the experience uneven, rather than original. (And to be honest, their flavor combinations seemed a bit fussy.) I give them a 3.5.

Le Slip Français Opens a Boutique in the Marais

If France is famous for women’s underwear, Guillaume Gibault, founder of Le Slip Français, is trying to change that. Not with hot colors or racy styles, but with a line of men’s boxers and briefs that combines modern design, traditional craftsmanship, and a sense of humor.

His boxers and briefs (slip in French means underwear) are made in a former tack mill in Saint-Antoine-Cumond, on the Dronne River in the Dordogne. Designs range from 100% cotton versions in red, white or blue, with names like “Formidable,” “Valiant” and “Triumphant,” to cotton blends printed with the French map (the “Unlikely”).

The basic product line was introduced in 2011; in 2012 a clever video, “Le Surprise du Chef,” went viral, launching Le Slip into a world-wide marketplace.

The line has since expanded through collaborations with French designers Princess Tam-Tam, Claudie Pierlot and Agnes B. Products are entirely made in France.

You can see the collection, which includes espadrilles, scarves, beanies, and women’s underwear, in their new Paris boutique, at 137, rue Vieille du Temple in the Marais. The line is also on sale at Galeries Lafayette.

Le Gorille Blanc in the Marais

image_gorille_blanc

The ambiance at Le Gorille Blanc is old-style France, with stone walls and hand hewn beams. But the cuisine—traditional foods from southwest France—is decidedly up-to-date.

Boudin noir, the dark-hued blood sausage normally served in a casing, is pressed into generous flat discs, pan fried, and accompanied by apple confit, shaped into quenelles for a lovely presentation.

Flan d’aubergine, a lucious eggplant purrée, is tucked under fresh, steamed fish— hake or cod, depending on the day.

Tender lentils from Puy are paired with salmon fillet, and rich, pureed potatoes accompany the popular roasted duck breast with its sweet sauce.

A signature dessert is the flotignard aux pommes, halfway between a cafloutis and a flan—a rich yet light custard with baked apple and laced with calvados.

Equally surprising are the central location, just off rue St Antoine in the Marais, and midday formules of around 25 euros.

 

Muji

I usually look to French designers for original clothing that will stand the test of time. But I’ve been won over by Muji – a Japanese store with affordable, well-made basics and simple, clean, design.

There are a half dozen Muji stores in Paris, including one in the Carrousel du Louvre. My favorite shop opened about a year ago on rue des Francs Bourgeois in the Marais, selling men’s and women’s clothing: shirts, pants, sweaters, dresses, accessories. Colors are earthy, fabrics are often recycled, and packaging is almost nonexistent.

Muji has a panel of design consultants, but their ethic is anti-brand – no big names or branded labels.

In fact, there is no label on the crumpled t-shirts that pack so well for travel, or the pale pink linen scarf that I bought in August. I get compliments every time I wear them, and when friends ask where I bought it I say Paris – by way of Japan.

Images et Portraits

There is a lot of good photography in Paris. But only one place, Images & Portraits, specializes in found photographs. This sliver of a shop in the Marais is a collector’s dream, with thousands of images, all original and uncredited.

Framed photographs occupy the top third of the shop’s white walls. Beneath them are bins of images, sorted by subject and size. Some shots have recognizable subjects (the Eiffel Tower, Princess Di), but most are vintage portraits of anonymous individuals and groups – and images are interesting and evocative.

Prices are reasonable, too. A Kodak snapshot from the 80s might fetch a few euros. Matted and framed works, and larger images, cost up to 130 euros.

And while you’re there, make an appointment to have your picture taken. The shop doubles as owner Fabien Breuvart’s portrait studio – and his work is excellent.

Pedestrian friendly Marais

The Marais is hopping on Sundays, and road closings make the busy streets safer for shoppers and residents out for a stroll. At the southern end of the neighborhood, off rue de Rivoli, several streets are barricaded, blocking all cars from 10 am til 7:30; others allow local traffic.

Vehicles are restricted at the east and west ends of the Marais as well. Add this to the Sunday afternoon closing of the Voie Georges Pompidou, along the Seine, and you have kilometers of streets to stroll with boutiques, cafés, felafel joints, lovely parks, and wonderful views. Bicycles are permitted.

Au Petit Thai

Normally in a Paris restaurant, sharing a dish with your dining partners is frowned upon. But at Au Petit Thai in the Marais, the practice is encouraged.

Our party of three started with Thai Nems, which arrived steaming hot, packed with beef and minced veggies, arranged just so on a strip of banana leaf. The accompanying red sauce was sweet, spicy and wonderfully perfumed.

Next came Pad Thai – light and flavorful, with the earth and crunch of peanuts accenting the sweetness of several plump shrimp – and curried vegetables, with tender chunks of cauliflower, brocolli, scallion, carrot, red and yellow peppers, in a sauce rich with coconut milk.

We eagerly spooned chicken sauteed with basil and perfectly cooked white rice onto our white porcelain dishes, and even though we went back for seconds, couldn’t finish everything our friendly servers placed in front of us.

The restaurant is small, and reservations are encouraged. Our starter, three dishes, rice and drinks came to 80 euros – combining good value with fresh, memorable food and pleasant surroundings.

4, rue du Roi de Sicile

01 42 72 75 75