La rentrée est arrivée! The return to work or school life for the French after the famous August month of vacation has arrived. With it comes the anticipation of new books, new theatre, autumn shopping, and dining. For some fortunate French Heritage Society members, there will be a glorious trip to the sparkling towns of Marseille and Aix in mid-October.
For those of you lucky enough to be in Paris, I would like to propose some special places that have brought me great pleasure, or to which I look forward in la rentrée, as well as a book for all seasons.
Chairman, French Heritage Society
I feel on top of the world at the Mini Palais. First of all because it is a soaring space located in a wing of the gorgeous Grand Palais, erected in 1897 for the Grand Exposition of that year, and today, a national monument housing the musée du Grand Palais. But, make no mistake, this is not a museum restaurant; in fact, you cannot even enter it from the museum.
From its corner entrance, facing the Seine, on avenue Winston-Churchill, the Mini Palais occupies a huge vaulted space that opens onto a superb terrace with majestic columns facing the Petit Palais. It is always a favorite spot during the September Bienalle de Antiquaires, and this year was no exception. However, it continues to be a sought out spot in October when Paris often experiences its own Indian Summer.
The Mini Palais always seems en fête. With large tables filled with families or lifelong pals to couples having a tête en tête, there is always an animation in this convivial place; nonetheless, due to the high ceilings, there is never any deafening noise. Among the perpetually good looking crowd, I feel happy and lucky to be in Paris.
The other reason that I love the Mini Palais is one can drop in (with a reservation!) from 10 in the morning until midnight, every day of the week. I love brunch on a Sunday or supper at 11pm after the theatre. At any time of the day, one eats well. The cuisine is overseen by Eric Frechon, the three star chef of the Hotel Le Bristol, who is a great friend of French Heritage Society. Every November, he prepares a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for FHS at Le Bristol.
At the Mini Palais, his menu features bistrot food, with starters of charcuterie, prosciutto, sardines, or a Caesar salad followed by a superb choice of pasta, Mediterranean fish, poulet de Bresse, or French beef, each accompanied by the freshest vegetables of the season. As soon as one sits down, a waiter will offer you a warm popover. I often wonder what the French think of the concept of popovers, but these are among the lightest and best that I have ever eaten!
End your meal with a giant baba au rhum for two, or chose a superb cheese plate. I hope that you will enjoy the Mini Palais as much as I always do. However, a word of caution: service can be slow, so just sit back and savor this special place.
3 avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris
01 42 56 42 42
My favorite antique shop in Paris is that of Sylvain Levy-Alban who has the knack of selecting objects of great personality, whimsy and beauty. Beginning his career at the Marché aux Puces, and later installed in a boutique of enormous style on the rue de Beaune, Sylvain is now ensconced in a shop overlooking the Seine on the quai Voltaire just a few steps from where the great 18th century writer and philosopher lived.
At Sylvain Levy-Alban, there is always an eclectic choice for every taste; one can acquire an 18th-century French fauteuil, a 17th-century Spanish chandelier, as well as being tempted by 18th-century Venetian mirrors or a set of 19th-century English stone ware. There are desk size objects that could be carried home in your hand luggage or large paintings to be shipped.
In terms of price, one can find what might be called affordable pieces versus museum quality antiques for collectors for which price is no object. However, whether one goes to Sylvain Levy-Alban simply to look and enjoy, or to purchase, Sylvain could not be more welcoming. Educated in England, he is completely bilingual and genuinely charming.
His shop is a favored destination for leading decorators such as Brian McCarthy, Penny Baird, Jacques Garcia and Odile de Schietère. I never fail to visit Sylvain Levy-Alban when I am in Paris. Over the years, I have been lucky to purchase chairs and mirrors and commodes for my Paris apartment and my Brooklyn penthouse. Today I go just for the delight of talking about antiques and style with Sylvain. Please pay him a visit. You will be in for a treat.
33 quai Voltaire, 75007 Paris
01 42 61 25 42
Not only does Le Flore en l'Ile serve the best brunch in Paris, it also offers a stunning view of the cathedral of Notre Dame from its panoramic picture windows at the tip of the Ile St. Louis. The menu features all sorts of selections of eggs from fried to scrambled to soft boiled, with or without bacon, garnished with salmon or plain, plus delicious buttery, flaky croissants, and delectable petit pains au chocolat.
For those who "eat healthy", there is fresh squeezed orange juice and fresh fruits. Although I prefer a strong French double espresso, you can order a café Americain if you prefer an American cup of coffee in Paris. With a brunch as good as this, why not splurge and order a coupe de champagne? Toast the splendid view of Notre Dame and enjoy the dark chocolate truffles that will arrive at the end of your meal.
P.S. Lunch, tea, and dinners are equally pleasant at this Ile St. Louis institution. I always order the quiche "du jour" at lunchtime. Throughout the day, one can just order a scoop or two of the famous Bertillon ice cream in a myriad of flavors. Although there is a very popular terrace, I strongly advise the interior where you can relax and linger with a newspaper or your laptop for hours on end.
Le Flore en l'Ile
42 quai Orléans, 75004 Paris
01 43 29 88 27
This is my favorite book about France. I consult it regularly in order to learn more about a region or a certain piece of history. With her lively and opinionated voice, Ina Caro leads one "through history in France" in a chronological order of time. She begins in Roman Provence, continues through the chateaux of the Loire, and finally arrives at the Ile de France where she regales us with the Age of Louis XIV. It is a merry romp written in an anecdotal style that makes history lively and memorable.
Along the route, the author provides vivid descriptions of regional places, towns, and the countryside, as well as tips about food, meals, and hotels. With this book, you never have to leave home to discover diverse regions of France with their myriad charms. However, for me, this book makes me yearn to actually return to the routes nationales and smaller départmentales routes of rural France.
Time and again, I dip into this book to refresh my memory about countless events in French history: the Hundred Years' War, the Pilgrimage Churches of Conques and Rocamadour, or the story of the construction of Val-de-Grace (which was built to thank God for the birth of Louis XIV).
With a Masters in medieval history, and years as the sole researcher on the acclaimed biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson written by her husband Robert A. Caro, Ina Caro displays a precision for research in a scintillating style as we travel through France in "The Road from the Past". This is a "must read" for any Francophile.
For those of you who might be in Paris this autumn, I hear by the grapevine that the musical adaptation of the legendary Academy Award 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, with a score by George and Ira Gershwin, which will open in Paris in December at the Théâtre du Châtelet, and be in November previews, is thought to be a winner.
It is scheduled to open on Broadway in the spring of 2015, but Paris beats New Haven as a preview city! For Americans, "An American in Paris" is almost a synonym for the City of Light. Who could ever forget Gene Kelly dancing along the quais of Paris. In its current reincarnation, "An American in Paris" will have a fresh new life with a book by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize nominee Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza, Prelude to a Kiss) and Tony Award winning Bartlett Sher (South Pacific).
In recent years, the Châtelet has revived several American musicals such as A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd and The Sound of Music. This will be the first time that an American musical will premiere at a Paris theatre before a Broadway opening. It will be directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. Tickets can be purchased on the internet. Enjoy!
Théâtre du Châtelet
1 place du Châtelet, 75001 Paris
01 40 28 28 28
Hidden behind the haute cuisine “La Pré Catelan” in the Bois de Boulogne, the Auberge du Bonheur is a delightful half-timbered hunting lodge with a huge terrace amid leafy trees that is lit at night by lanterns.
It is simple, informal, and, to me, it makes you feel as if you are playing hooky from the world. Rumor has it that this was where the chauffeurs ate when their clientele dined at the Pré Catelan; today you might spot a celebrity or a comtesse.
Carrefour de Longchamp
Bois de Boulogne
01 42 24 10 17
To reach this charming Napoleon III pavilion on an island in the Bois de Boulogne, you will have to take a flat-bottomed boat that whisks you away to an enchanted setting overlooking the lake and surrounded by pine trees.
From the terrace or balcony of this pavilion, you will feel as if you have stepped back to the 19th Century. Let time stand still in this fairytale setting, and enjoy a delightful meal.
Le Chalet des Iles
Lac inférieur du Bois de Boulogne, 16th
01 42 88 04 69
The Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne is famed for the lush beauty of its profusion of roses that bloom in mid-June. One is awestruck by the myriad of colorful varieties that dazzle one’s senses. To stroll through these gardens on a sunny June day is sheer heaven.
In addition, one can view the charming Chateau de Bagatelle which the Comte d’Artois, Louis XVI’s brother, had built by the classic architect Francois-Joseph BéLanger in 1777 in the record time of just sixty-three days. “Bagatelle” is derived from the Italian word for “a trifle”.
The Chateau de Bagatelle is a “maison de plaisance” where the pleasure of life is what counts. Meandering through the paths of the Chateau de Bagatelle cannot fail to delight you as much as it did for the aristocrats of the 18th Century.
Nearby, in the Parc de Bagatelle, a charming restaurant that is reminiscent of a Monet painting, is the perfect stop for lunch. “Les Jardins de Bagatelle” is often the setting for a celebration lunch for a christening or anniversary, but with its multicolored umbrellas and air of festivity and insouciance, it is a lively and happy place for a pleasant lunch during an excursion to the Parc de Bagatelle.
Les Jardins de Bagatelle
Parc de Bagatelle
42 Route de Sèvres, (Pont de Neuilly)
PLEASE NOTE: It may be very difficult to find a public taxi to pick you up from these places in the interior of the Bois de Boulogne. Please assure transportation in advance through a taxi service or through your hotel.
In the far south of Paris in the 14th arrondissement, the Parc Montsoursis is a haven for joggers and walkers alike. Abutting the parc on the rue Garzan is the charming Pavillion Montsoursis where one can dine amid the greenery of the park on a lovely terrace, or, on a more inclement day, in a glass pavillon overlooking the park.
At lunch, one often sees Parisian mothers with perfectly mannered children whereas at night the crowd seems to be much more sophisticated. This is a favorite spot for true Parisians, and in the know visitors.
20 rue Garzan (Porte d’Orleans), 14th
01 43 13 29 00
Having heard rave reports of this epic novel set in Paris that spans the centuries through the eyes of six families from different classes of society, this will be my number one summer book, even if it is over 800 pages long!
Throughout, the places, streets, and monuments of Paris are mentioned by name which makes the history of the city of lights memorable in an anecdotal fashion as Rutherford connects these families from Montmartre to Notre Dame to the Grands Boulevards of the 19th Century.
This is my favorite book about France. Ina Caro leads the reader through the history of France by visiting historic places in a chronological fashion as a modern day tourist. One begins in Roman Provence with delightful descriptions of Orange, Nimes that are full of historical references. The Middle Ages comes alive in Languedoc with visits to Carcassonne and Albi.
The journey continues with the Hundred Years’ War in the Dordogne, the Renaissance in the chateaux of the Loire Valley and concludes in the Ile de France in the age of Louis XIV. It is an ideal travel book whether you are actually visiting a specific area of France or simply daydreaming at the beach or in your armchair of future trips to France. You can dip in and out according to either century or geographical area. Ina Caro has a delightful voice and renders history clear and memorable.
Joan DeJean has written a scholarly work on the evolution of Paris as a modern city showing that much of its city planning, including both transportation and street lighting, pre-dated the 19th-century transformation of Paris by Baron Haussman. As Ms. DeJean has shown in previous books on French style and culture, the subject matter, although thoroughly researched and documented, is lively and entertaining.
In addition, the text is amply illustrated with engravings, drawings and maps, which render the material even more fascinating. Ms. DeJean is a well-known speaker at FHS chapter events and I would like to congratulate her on her latest work in her body of over 10 books on French literature, history and culture.
The linens, towels, and table settings at Noël are exquisite. Every June there is a month long sale. Whether you are tempted by a set of towels decorated with colorful butterflies, or those with a more masculine bold maroon design, or a set of place mats with filigree etching, or even just an apron or a simple but gorgeous tee-shirt, head to Noël, and, with its summer sale, especially go there in June!
Noël – Linge de Maison
1 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, Place d’Iéna, 75116 Paris