Bonne Anneé! As we begin 2015, I have decided to write my "Coups de Coeur" on a quarterly basis, with two postings in the Winter/Spring followed by an additional two in the Fall. Hopefully, you will enjoy following the seasons with me in this manner. I wish everyone a Happy New Year. Avec tous mes meilleurs voeux,
Chairman, French Heritage Society
Is this the year that you are going to learn French, or vow to improve your French? Why not; travelling in France is much more rewarding if you can speak with the natives. One of the best, and most interesting, ways to learn French to subscribe to TV5 Monde, an international French television station, with everything from cartoons to news to films. Many of the shows have either French subtitles (a big help to reinforce what you are hearing) or English subtitles for many of the movies.
I am hooked on Télématin, with the famous William Leymergie, who has been a fixture on this morning talk show for over 30 years. With quintessential Gallic charm, William leads a team of regulars who each focus on topics such as the daily headlines of a variety of French newspapers, films, current theatre offerings, art exhibitions, and a five-minute interview of a political figure which concludes the program.
With correspondents based in Moscow, Berlin, the Vatican and London, Télématin is as European as it is French. TV5 Monde also presents marvelous cultural shows concerning the architecture and heritage sites of France. In addition, there are daily French films that span the decades, and for sports fans, there is always the "foot". The pleasures are myriad, and it's all in French!
Undoubtedly, with all its enormous publicity, you have seen pictures of the billowing Foundation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry, that opened in the Bois de Boulogne in October of 2014. Whether you deem it exhilarating or startling, it is the talk of the town.
As conceived by Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of the luxury conglomerate, LVMH Moet Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, the Louis Vuitton Foundation will present art exhibitions in its enormous 126,000 square foot space with eleven galleries and a 350-seat auditorium. At present, it is basically empty. The star is the architecture that evokes a futuristic ship sailing through the air with soaring sails made of 145,000 square feet of curved glass panels. It is all about light, views, space and air, much of it captured by a series of outdoor terraces.
I first visited the Foundation at night when it glows. During the daytime, the experience changes depending on sunshine, clouds or rain. It is a spatial experience that varies according to the hour or the weather. For a break, have a meal at "Le Frank", the restaurant that takes its name from starchetect Frank Gehry. With flying fish overhead, this airy restaurant seems to wink at the ocean from which it has just landed in the Jardin d'Acclimation.
Entry tickets to the Foundation Louis Vuitton are available on the internet, and regular shuttle buses depart from the Etoile.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
8 avenue du Mahatma Gandhi
Bois de Boulogne, 75116 Paris
The famed Asian Peninsula Hotel group launched a Parisian outpost this past September on the avenue Kléber. Two giant stone dragons stand guard on its steps for good luck. The Peninsula Paris is located in a former government owned building that has been transformed with glittering new attire. This past September with Indian summer weather, Parisians flocked to the sweeping terraces overlooking avenue Kléber to enjoy drinks and food.
This spring, we can look forward to cocktails on a rooftop terrace with sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower; in the meantime, the L'Oiseau restaurant on the same floor offers year round fine dining. Let me add that Peninsula Paris is resplendent with what the French call Bling Bling – knock you in the eye dazzle. For this girl, I love glitter and glamor, and the Peninsula Paris is full of both.
"The Lobby" is both an entrance to the hotel from the avenue Kléber, and a brasserie restaurant at the same time. Housed in a 19th-century salon full of golden boiserie with sparkling crystal chandeliers, and separated from the entrance gallery by transparent plastic screens, "The Lobby" is a place to both note the goings and comings of the clientele and equally to be seen. It is a lively spot populated with a mix of businessmen, travelers, and ladies who lunch all observing each other while munching on their club sandwiches or classic French fare.
As befits its Asian heritage, the Peninsula Paris also features a Cantonese restaurant, LiLi. With lacquered red walls, lanterns, and a Hollywood take on the décor, the "World of Suzy Orient" would feel right at home. I can't wait to try "LiLi", loving all things red. A dinner here will be just the thing for the "Year of the Ram". I can't vouch for the hotel rooms but the Peninsula Paris is clearly a "palace", with luxury brand boutique shops dotting its lobby.
The Peninsula Paris
19 avenue Kléber
Paris, France, 75116
For years, I have noticed the awning of "Aux Vieux Garçons" as I sped down the Boulevard St. Germain in a taxi or on the fabled #63 bus. It had such an "authentic" look. Finally, this past year, I ventured inside to discover a marvelous surprise. Time had stood still. I was in a 1950s bistrot, straight out of a French film set or a Simonon mystery. Inspector Maigret could have walked in any moment and felt right at home.
At "Aux Vieux Garçons", the walls are still mustard, the floor tiled, a brass railing rings the moleskin banquets, and there is even an authentic old phone booth with Bab 06. 57 (for the former telephone exchange Babylone) written on its door. Heaven! At lunch, this bistrot is filled with Parisian neighborhood locals and business people jammed together in a bustling ambiance. A harried waiter sprints from table to table serving bourgeois specialties, many from the Pays Basque, as well as saucisses sèches from the Cantal.
The emphasis is on fresh local products. One eats well but, as Arletty said in "Hotel du Nord", it's all about atmosphere. At "Aux Vieux Garçons", atmosphere and food blend beautifully.
Aux Vieux Garçons
213 boulevard St. Germain
01 42 22 06 57
Last year I went to L'Assiette for the first time with Elaine Scholino who had written it up in one of her columns for The New York Times. Elaine raved about David Rathgeber who holds forth as chef in this restaurant in the 14th arrondissement. The night we went, Chef Rathgeber was gregarious and welcoming and the menu of traditional classics, terrine de canard, cassoulet maison, quenelles sauce nantua, côte de boeuf, gibier de saison, was both hearty and refined, no doubt due to Rathegeber's training at the school of Alain Ducasse. The cuisine was fresh and up to the moment, and we had a delightful bistrot evening.
What I did not know at that time was that "L'Assiette" was a legendary place. Upon recently mentioning the name of this restaurant to a Parisian friend, her astonished response was "Is Lulu still there?" Apparently "tout Paris" flocked to Lulu. In consulting a 2003 copy of "Le Pudlo", the Paris food guide, I discovered that Lulu wore round glasses and sported a beret on her head all the while cooking old-fashioned specialties such as sole meunière and petit salé de canard. The political right and "la gauche chic", together with a dash of the fashion and socialite world, all rubbed shoulders happily at L'Assiette.
Lulu may not still be in the kitchen, but her menu lives on in the gifted hands of David Rathgeber. On an amusing note, I have observed that the main front room is populated by a 50+ clientele (who most probably have fond souvenirs of Lulu) while the adjacent back room is only full of under 30 year olds. Today, classic French home cooking is back in style for all generations. Note: L'Assiette is open on Sunday.
181 rue du Château
01 43 22 64 86
Rech was founded in 1925 along with many other fabled seafood restaurants established by Alsatians coming to Paris to promote their local Sylvaner and Reisling wines that were perfect to accompany fish. Adrien Rech first opened a grocery store that soon began serving oysters from all over France and soon Restaurant Rech was born.
Today, a marvelous fresh black and white art deco décor sets the enduring 1920s mood, with beautiful Lalique inspired etched panels. This is a classic fine restaurant where everything is starched and gleaming, with impeccable service. From the moment you arrive and maître d'hotel Eric Nercier greats you effusively, you realize that an evening of pampered attention awaits you.
In 2007, Alain Ducasse took over the direction of the kitchen at Rech, and the seafood that is served today is superb, perhaps sublime. The oysters, in great variety, are still on the menu, but inventive combinations, such as a carpaccio of scallops with sea urchins, abound. I recently ordered a turbot with tiny Parisian mushrooms in a heavenly sauce that was nothing short of ethereal. To conclude, there is a signature aged Camembert that holds its own against all the elaborate desserts that seafood restaurants always offer – but then, a baba au rhum is hard to resist!
62 avenue des Ternes
01 45 72 29 47
As we approach Thanksgiving, I would like to wish everyone a very happy holiday with family and friends. Once again, I will be lucky to be with the Paris Chapter of French Heritage Society at their very festive and delicious pre-Thanksgiving feast at the Hôtel Le Bristol. Enjoy this beloved American holiday wherever you might be!
Chairman, French Heritage Society
Having recently returned from a marvelous trip to Marseille and Aix-en-Provence with the Chairman's Circle of FHS in October, I would like to share more of the stunning architecture of Rudy Ricciotti with you. In 2013, in conjunction with the city of Marseille being named the European Capital of Culture for that year, the Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM) was officially opened.
Conceived by Rudy Ricciotti together with architect Roland Carta, this lacy structure appears to defy gravity. Riccioiti designed MuCEM as an ethereal building inspired by “stone, water and wind”. It is a square latticework shell of fiber reinforced concrete that allows the brilliant light of Marseille to permeate the museum. At the same time, the pre-stressed concrete cuts the wind of this port city bringing the Mediterranean water and light into fanciful play with the concrete filigree of the exterior. On our visit, we were fortunate to have architect Roland Carta with us to explain the feats of construction and the strength of the fiber-reinforced concrete that allowed this triumph of construction.
The MuCEM is joined by a slender bridge to the 17th-century historic Fort Saint Jean overlooking the spectacular bay of Marseille. It has a magical setting that offers panoramic views from its rooftop restaurant featuring the cuisine of celebrated chef Gerard Passedat. MuCEM is worth a special visit.
Rudy Ricciotti has also worked his magic on another recently opened museum on the Mediterranean. In 2011, the Jean Cocteau/Séverin Wunderman Collection was inaugurated in the town of Menton, on the Côte d'Azur close to the Italian border. It is much bolder and heavier in appearance than the MuCEM but it features the same play on light entering the building with shadows and reflections. It evokes the black and white of many of Cocteau's designs, and appears to be a giant spider posed on the promenade of Menton.
The Séverin Wunderman Collection of the works of Cocteau is extensive and also includes photographs and videos of Cocteau's life and theatrical and film productions. With the charm of the 19th-century atmosphere of Menton, a favorite winter destination of the Victorian English, this is another destination that is “vaut le voyage”.
In April of this year, I wrote about the Ricciotti designed along with architect Mario Bellini Department of Islamic Art at the Louvre Museum that was opened in 2012. The Cour Visconti has been covered by a Ricciotti-conceived flying lace carpet of a ceiling with walls filtering the light of the courtyard, in his signature style. This is a beautiful space that houses an exceptional collection of Islamic art.
Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée
7 promenade Robert Laffont, 13002 Marseille, France
Located in the heart of St. Germain-des-Près, near the Ecole des Beaux Arts, art galleries, cafes and boutiques, L'Hôtel is pure fantasy. Oscar Wilde stayed there and you can still feel his presence! The rooms of the hotel are all theme based and inspired by legendary figures of the literary and artistic world. But you do not have to stay here to have a momentary escape from reality. For a bit of fun and fantasy, have a drink at the bar of L'Hôtel.
Renovated by Jacques Garcia, this cocoon setting features leopard print carpets, Italian marble columns, black cocktail tables and grey velvet banquettes. With a jazz lounge soundtrack, sink into one of these banquettes and enjoy one of the variety of champagne cocktails, or a spirit of your choice. This is a favorite of Parisian locals of the left bank as well as celebrities. It has “a very French” ambiance. It is a secret spot that, to me, comes with the thrill of being slightly naughty.
Drinks are served until 1am, and for those who prefer a meal, the adjoining “Le Restaurant”, overlooking a small patio, is a favorite neighborhood spot with an excellent one star cuisine.
The Bar at L'Hôtel
13 rue des Beaux Arts, 75006 Paris
“Americans in Paris” by British writer Charles Glass is one of my very favorite books on Paris. No, this is not about “the lost generation” of American writers who flocked to Paris in the 1920s. It is about a variety of quite different Americans who were living in Paris during the German invasion of the City of Light in June 1940. Against all the advice of the American government, these expatriates stubbornly chose to stay because of their fierce love of France and Paris. The chapters alternate between these people and their personal stories during those extremely difficult and trying times.
The ostensible hero of the book is Dr. Summer Jackson, the director of the American Hospital, and his wife Touquette and 15-year-old son Phillip. Each of them fight for the French Resistance as they live their everyday lives. The American Hospital as well as the American Library were presided over by the French aristocrat Count Aldebert de Chambrun (who was a descendent of the Marquis de Lafayette) and his American wife, Clara Longworth (a Cincinnati heiress), who was a cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Their son René de Chambrun was married to Josée, the daughter of the Vichy government's Prime Minister, Pierre Laval. This eventual compromising alliance actually allowed the hospital and library to continue to remain open even after Hitler's declaration of war on the United States in December of 1941.
Other characters include a seemingly louche businessman Charles Bedaux, an American of French birth who continued to entertain high society in great style at the same time that he exploited all sides to his best advantage. The literary figure of Sylvia Beach, the famous owner of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore, is also a major character in this book who remained in France despite her American relatives desire for her to leave her beloved France.
The description of daily life in Paris and France during these fraught times is gripping. As the portraits of both heroes and traitors emerge from these pages, it is clear that nothing in those ambiguous times was clear at all. This is a thought-provoking book that you cannot put down.