CAFE TRAMA–Great Casual Dining on the Left Bank, B

October 3, 2013

Cafe-Trama-Squid-with-white-beansSauteed squid and white beans at Cafe Trama

If all big cities change constantly, there’s one change that I’ve witnessed over the years in all of the cities I know and love best, including Paris, New York and London, that consistently saddens me, and that’s an ever decreasing diversity in their center-city streetscapes. What really brought this thought home was a recent Saturday morning in London when I was walking down Sloane Street and found it transformed in a souless alley of luxury boutiques guarded by security men with little curly black devices in their ears. Sloane Street has always been prime turf, of course, but when I last lived in London a longtime ago, there were still several pubs, a hairdresser and even a convenience grocer on that patch of pricey turf, and now they’re all gone. The same thing’s happened in many parts of Paris and New York, too–rising rents and increasing real-estate values thresh a neighborhood in favor of the same international luxury brand names you see in every city all over the world, and in this process what goes missing are the quirky little shops that give a place its character and also many of the homely ones that sell things you actually might need if you live locally.

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LA TABLE D’EUGENE–The One Great Place to Eat in Montmartre, B+

September 22, 2013


Perched on a hillside overlooking Paris, Montmartre, once a country village and later a bohemian neighborhood known for its lively cabarets and popular with artists like Toulouse Laurtrec and Utrillo, is one of the most visited districts of the city. The basilique du Sacre Coeur and the Place du Terte, where the artists once congregated, are its main attractions, but to enjoy the handsome church and the fine views over the city from its steps, I send out-of-town friends up there early in the morning and also advise them to skip the tourist-heavy Place du Terte in favor of a long walk with no itinerary through the streets of

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LE MEURICE – Alain Ducasse: New French Haute Cuisine for the 21st Century, A

September 14, 2013

LeMeurice004-Boy-wglass@Bob Peterson for Hungry for Paris    With its lavish ormolu moldings and grand crystal chandeliers, Le Meurice is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Paris. For all of its rococo splendor, however, the special affection I have for this space runs back to a soft Indian summer morning fourteen years ago when I came to have a tour of the hotel while it was undergoing renovations. I entered through a side door in the construction hoardings, and looking for the woman with whom I had an appointment, I found myself on the edge of the dining room, where a team of men in dusty blue overalls was arguing in Italian.

“No, no, that’s not the right color. That’s cream, not almond,” an older man said to his colleague as they stared at a tiny piece of stone down on their knees on the mosaic floor they were creating. “The almond is too dark, the cream would be better. This is a corner of the room and the light in Paris is so often gray,” said his colleague.  They changed it back and forth several times, and finally settled on the cream. I’d never seen such a large and elaborate mosaic being created before, and I never enter this room without remembering their pride and their seriousness.

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RESTAURANT ENCORE- Cuisine d’Amis–A Pleasant Modern French Bistro, Again (Ou encore?) B-

September 5, 2013


Walking home from dinner at Restaurant Encore, a new contemporary French bistro with a Japanese chef, the amiable and earnest Yoshi Morie, in the 10th arrondissement last night, I gave a lot of thought to the meal I’d just eaten. Overall, it was pleasant, and I liked the space, a former kosher butcher shop in the rapidly gentrifying rue Richer, and the service, which was really charming, a lot. The impact of the food, however, a suite of tasting plates as part of the 48 Euro prix-fixe dinner meal, was so evanescent that it made only the most fleeting of impressions. To be sure, Morie, who formerly cooked at Le Petit Verdot on the Left Bank, works with impressively pedigreed produce from a prestigious roster of suppliers, including Joel Thiebault (vegetables), Annie Bertin (vegetables and herbs), Terroirs d’Avenir, butcher Hugo Desnoyer, and the Pain des Amis bakery for bread, and several of the dishes we ate were momentarily interesting, but these fragile compositions worked like haiku, offering a brief moment of sudden clarity before rapidly fading away.

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EDGAR–An Indian Summer Address for Casual Eats in the Sentier, B-

August 25, 2013


There are few things I love more than discovering a French town by visiting its market, and through many years of doing so, I’ve developed a short list of favorite French markets, many of which are in smaller cities and towns, including Rennes, Narbonne, Arles, Antibes, Saint Remy and most recently, Provins, a charming little town just an hour east of Paris (N.B. If you have a favorite market in a French provincial town, I’d love to hear about it). This past weekend, I also had a chance to shop at the market in front of the Musee des Beaux Arts in the small northern French city of Valenciennes, and I snared a very rare treat that I’ve been reading about for years, a tress of l’ail fume d’Arleux, or smoked garlic from the little French town of Arleux, which is famous for same. In fact, the thrill of finding the taste of smoke and garlic combined made it very hard to go out to dinner last night, since I was chomping at the bit to get to work with the odorific braid now dangling in my kitchen, but we hadn’t seen our friends Laurent and Carole since they returned from a two-week trip to Thailand, so we agreed to meet for dinner at Edgar, the restaurant of a new hotel by the same name in the Sentier, which is one of my favorite parts of Paris.

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THE SUNKEN CHIP–A Good Chippie in Paris, B; LA ROTISSERIE D’EN FACE–Fowling Out in Saint Germain des Pres, C

August 9, 2013