Restaurant round up, November 2015

I thought it might be useful to post a few comments on restaurants where we ate on our recent 10 day trip, partly so I can find them again myself ūüôā

Le Cafe des Musees, 49, rue de Turenne in the 3rd, and right across the street from the apartment we rented. This is pretty much a classic small bistro, and the food is reliably well prepared. The night we arrived most of the patrons were English speakers, which was very different from a few years ago, but the food and simple wine list were just fine. It also has the advantage of being open every day, so can fit nicely on Sundays and Mondays when many places are closed.

Chaumette,¬†7 Rue Gros¬†in the¬†16th, is a little hard to find, but worth the search. An excellent bistro near Radio France, where I’ve eaten several times over several years. The food is well prepared (if a little salty), and the daily specials can be wonderful. This time the surprise was beet ravioli stuffed with crab meat. Very thinly sliced roasted beet replaced the pasta, and was wrapped around a simply seasoned crab with mayonnaise and a little lemon. Delicious! Their fish is always fresh and perfectly cooked. It is recommended by Michelin, so likely it is a good idea to reserve. It certainly filled up about 9:00 on a Friday night.

Les Bacchantes, 21, rue de Caumartin in the 9th, close to the main department stores. Yet another excellent bistro. The service is friendly, and the food delicious. This visit the facade is being redone, which made it very hard to locate behind its painted plywood, but it was worth the search. Perfectly cooked fish and a very nice Sancerre by the glass.

Semilla, 54, rue de Seine in the 6th was great for lunch. This is much more modern than the bistros above, and at noon offers a prix fixe menu including 3 appetizers delivered together with a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian mains at a reasonable price. The vegetables were all well cooked, and the appetizer trio was great fun, including a nice soup, tasty hummus and a small, crispy felafel. A treat.

Les Cocottes Arc de Triomphe, 2, avenue Bertie Albrecht in the 8th, is the second Christian Constant restaurant by this name, relatively recently opened in a new Sofitel. The food is wonderful, and all dishes are served in Staub cast iron cocottes (surprise!). This location is much larger than the original no-reservation location, and at least the day we went, a Friday, had seating available for walk-ins. The style is updated bistro, with all the flavours very clean. Again here, vegetables are well cooked, and the fish was fresh and declicious.

Café Constant, 139 Rue Saint-Dominique in the 7th, was a considerable disappointment. After having had great meals in the 2 locations of Les Cocottes, this tired looking bistro had uncomfortable seating, overcooked food (even a simple pork chop), and rather rushed service. It certainly was busy, filled by a mix of Parisians and tourists but I would avoid it.

Septime,¬†80, rue de Charonne in the 11th, was definitely a splurge, and not surprisingly so for a Michelin 1 star. What was surprising was how informal and relaxed it was. My only previous experience with a star-holding restaurant was all stuffed-shirt and haughtiness, so it was very pleasant to find the atmosphere modern and the staff friendly, knowledgeable and happy to chat in response to questions. The food certainly merited the star. There is no menu really, just a tasting menu of 8 or 9 courses, plus an optional cheese plate. We went for the wine pairing as well, and found that they specialize in natural, unfiltered wine, often from very small producers and quite unusual. Perhaps because of the terrorist attacks a week earlier, there was no trouble getting a reservation only a couple of days ahead. Reviews said that is unusual. I’d say this is worth every penny and a long wait for a reservation as well if needed.

Restaurant Bon,¬†25 rue de la Pompe in the 16th, is a very nicely designed place (Philippe Starck) that serves South-east Asian-French fusion. It was great, and a pleasant break from the mostly-bistro experience of the week. The fusion is carefully done, leaning slightly more to the SE Asian side. Servings were large enough to share, and since we were eating with friends gave us a chance to sample quite a few dishes. A little out of the way, but thoroughly enjoyable. Our table was upstairs, not too far from a very large¬†plaster rhinoceros head placed strategically if dangerously above the service table, where the taller staff members were often in danger of being impaled on the beast’s gigantic horn.

 

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The long road home

Sorry for the lag since my last posting. We went to a lovely restaurant for a meal that ran very late. The next day we moved from our somewhat grungy Marais apartment to a much neater but minuscule room in a business hotel by the Eiffel Tower, much closer to the OECD workshop that was the real reason for the trip in the first place. I found it much less conducive to sitting quietly and jotting notes, even if I hadn’t been engaged for a couple of days in the intricacy of Internet governance.

Moving day allowed enough time to go through the Musée du Quai Branley, specializing in anthropological collections. The feature exhibits were from the Sepik River valley in Papua New Guinea and the North-eastern part of Siberia. Both were filled with amazing material. I was particularly struck by the similarities between the faces in the photos of Siberian aboriginal people (related to the Ainu of northern Japan) and some of the early photos of BC first nations. I will add some photos later when I am better set up.

Thursday after the workshop brought reasonably good weather, which we spent humouring my desire to wander aimlessly through the left bank, ostensibly in search of the Clairefontaine notebooks I like.

And Friday we got to the new Frank Gehry-designed Institute Louis Vuitton just opened in the Bois du Boulogne. What an amazing building it is. Again, photos to follow. They are currently showing the third tranche of their opening exhibits, centred around Pop and Music. I admit that sounded pretty unappealing, but it turned out to have its high points. Best were a walk through the museum assembled by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller (now based in Grindrod, BC, in the Northern Okanagan!), and a video and sound piece showing a rather creative approach to imploding a defunct high rise in a Paris suburb.

This was a great trip, and I’d say 9 or 10 days is about right for a visit to Paris in November. Lots of good restaurants, much walking, great museum, some time with friends, and a little work tossed in as a reality check, at least for one of us. I expect to get around to posting names and addresses that might be useful for others heading that way before too much more time passes.

Speaking of reality checks, 24 hours travel door-to-door on the return, including the 6 hour layover in Toronto, certainly takes some of the glow off. Sigh.

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Paris social whirl

The last couple of days have approximated a social whirl. Three sets of friends in Paris, all working folk, and most travelling somewhere else on Monday, so visiting was naturally scheduled through the weekend. It is a great treat to see the inside people’s homes in other countries, in this case a couple of Paris apartments and a house about 25 minutes north of the city in a small village. Their housing culture is quite different from ours. Just one example: one friend who recently rented an apartment tells us that kitchens usually come stripped to the walls. No cupboards. No appliances. Just wiring and a gas outlet. It is normal to outfit a kitchen completely when a new tenant moves in, and thus for the departing tenant to take everything when they move! Obviously this creates a strong incentive to stay in a rental accommodation, rather than having to rebuild your kitchen with every move. French friends confirm that this is normal for Paris. For a North American it is hard to imagine that level of investment in a rental place, or for that matter for a new purchase. The transaction costs and moving expenses alone are usually pretty daunting on their own.

Saturday dawned cold but clear, proving that the French forecasters are no better than Canadian, or so we hoped. After a quick stop at a wonderful coffee shop called Fragments, we were off to see more art at the Mus√©e d’Art¬†Moderne, which is always worth some time. A pleasant surprise was getting in relatively easily, with little need to line up, except for the much more stringent security checks that are in evidence everywhere, as you might expect. On show was (another) Andy Warhol retrospective, an “immersive experience” called CO-WORKERS: network as artist, and an excellent photo display that was part of the Prix Pictet, entitled disorder. A very mixed bag.

The Warhol show included quite a bit of video, many of the normal works for such a show, and an unexpected piece called “Shadows” that occupied a gigantic room, as you can see at the link above. There were 102 of the 108 original components, and it makes a strong impression. Although I think I’ve almost seen enough Warhol for a while, this show was amusing because of the slightly caustic curatorial text accompanying the various sections, which often cast an interesting light on the work. It also struck me that most of the people in the gallery were likely seeing the show very differently than were Helen and I. For us, the show was essentially revisiting a portion of our lives, because we were around to experience the work’s disruption and shock value as it happened. Much of the rest of the viewers were likely in their 20s and 30s, so for them this would have been looking at some sort of historical retrospective, similar I suspect to my going to a Picasso or Matisse show; looking at art that had been produced somewhat before I was born, with a few pieces that might have been done before I was aware of art at all. I really wondered what their reactions were when confronted by grainy 16 mm film, or the silkscreens. Looking now for reviews by newcomers.

The CO-WORKERS show struck me as quite strange. It appears that much of the newest artworks, benefiting from and invoking the power of the Internet ends up looking like an amateur newscast on television. Talking heads against a bland background. Some others included more visual elements. Colourful backgrounds and people wearing disguises or with painted faces, and sometimes talking more animatedly. But talking heads on television would cover off much of the show. Which I don’t find great use of time in a gallery, where the beginning or end of the “program” is unknown, and frankly, one misses having¬†somewhere comfortable to sit. Assuming the content is interesting enough to hold one’s attention. I’d have thought perhaps I could link to some of the works here as examples, but of course there is no on-line catalogue for this “network as artist” show. Nope. But you could buy a printed one, but of course that wouldn’t help my desire to share the network as artist show on the network, would it? I obviously need to spend a bit of time figuring this out.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be good, so I am hoping we can go for a walk down the Canal St. Martin. Oh yeah. Did I mentioned it’s been raining?

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P.S. I did figure out how to post a video of the Christmas lights on Le Drugstore. See bottom of preceeding post.

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Jet lag and art appreciation

I don’t think jet lag helps art appreciation. It is a long way from the west coast to Paris, especially with a lengthy stopover in Toronto. But trying to pay attention to the displays in the Centre Pompidou is a losing battle a few hours after arrival. Even the next day, two galleries are hard to take. The nature of the exhibits didn’t help. In the Pinacotheque they’ve hung Karl Lagerfeld. Not literally, but his photographs and prints. Some are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed his large silkscreens that emphasized the colour and black and white half-tone dots. At magnification, they add a fair bit of interest. But the fashion work, sometimes wrapped around allegorical themes, worked less well. On the other hand, the permanent collection is well displayed and varied, with a nice interleaving of older works (Botticelli or classical Indian temple erotica) mixed with Picasso’s drawings and paintings and up to contemporary. But a little goes a long way when short on coffee.

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After lunch we visited the Jeu de Paume and found more photography — a large exhibit of¬†Philippe Halsman works, including lots of Life magazine covers and celebrity shots. An impressive body of work, but a little detail for a jet-lagged viewer.

After a break, we visited friends at their apartment for a glass of wonderful wine, followed by a great dinner at a newer version of Les Cocottes, which I’d liked in its original form. Life is tough in Paris. Four meals so far and three of them excellent. Dinner was followed by the search for the nearest Metro station, and that turned up a wonderful surprise — Christmas lights on the Champs Elys√©e, including a fabulous show on Le Drugstore. I’m amazed traffic keeps moving.

*And here’s a video of how it looked!*

After all that, I’m amazed I was able to get back to our apartment, hoping for a good night’s sleep.

 

 

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It must be a sign

I certainly had not remembered that the third Thursday of November marked the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau in Paris, but the signs are everywhere, including in the little place where we had lunch. I confess it’s never been my favourite tipple, but when in, er, Paris… It certainly is a wine made of grapes, noticeable in the scent and flavour after only a few months in the bottle, and pretty robust at that. I think I’ll give it a couple of years before trying again.

Third Thursday of November

Despite the slightly elevated presence of armed agents in the streets, Paris seems to be getting on with its business. Christmas decorations going up, restaurants open but not very full, crowds in the Pompidou Centre. Lectured by the perhaps Sri Lankan driver on the way in from the airport about how France is the most free country in the world, and people should appreciate that, not try to blow it up. Crowds certainly coming out for the evening. Happy to say, the mood is better than I’d feared.

Workmen building some elaborate Christmas decoration in a courtyard off Place de Vosges.

Workmen building some elaborate Christmas decoration in a courtyard off Place de Vosges.

 

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The thing to keep in mind about Paris…

At last a sensible response to the press gang:

Why the media’s apocalyptic response should be making you nervous¬†(from Salon.com)

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Timefly is heading for Paris

This probably is not the best time to visit the City of Light, but then again, is there a bad time? ¬†Meanwhile, I’m getting a good lesson in patience with a 5 hour layover in Toronto Pearson airport.

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