Paris Picks: Coffee Shops

In the last few years, a new coffee culture has made its way to Paris. Once upon a time you could only order a mediocre café noisette (espresso with hot milk) at a bistro counter, or for a little extra, sit on a terrace nursing a scalding café crème (the French version of a latte). Thankfully for us coffee connoisseurs, things have changed and a good coffee is not so hard to find, due to expat baristas brewing top roasts. But you must know where to look. Here is a list of my favorite coffee shops all over Paris, some of which are conveniently located in my North Marais neighborhood. (Café date, anyone?) In addition to stellar coffee, most offer free WiFi.

Télescope: 5 Rue Villedo, 75001 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5 / Saturday 9:30-6:30 / Sunday Closed

Café Kitsuné:  51 Galerie Montpensier, 75001 / Monday-Friday 10-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6:30

Matamata: 58 Rue d’Argout, 75002 / Monday-Friday 8-5 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-5:30

Café Loustic: 40 Rue Chapon, 75003 / Monday-Friday 8:30-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6

Fragments: 76 Rue des Tournelles, 75003 / Monday-Friday 8-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6

The Broken Arm: 12 Rue Perrée, 75003 / Tuesday-Saturday 9-6 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Boot Café: 19 Rue du Pont aux Choux, 75003 / Monday-Sunday 10-6

La Caféothèque: 52 Rue de l’Hôtel de ville, 75004 / Monday-Friday 8:30-7:30 / Saturday-Sunday 10-7:30

Le Peloton Café: 17 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 75004 / Monday-Friday 9:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-6:30 / Closed Wednesday

Coutume Café: 47 Rue de Babylone, 75007 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6

Honor Cafe: 54 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 / Monday-Friday 9-6 / Saturday 10-6 / Sunday Closed

KB Café Shop: 53 Avenue Trudaine, 75009 / Monday-Friday 7:45-6:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6:30

Republique of Coffee: Boulevard Saint-Martin, 75010 / Monday-Friday 8-7:30 / Saturday 9-7:30 / Sunday 10-7

Blackburn Coffee: 52 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 / Monday-Friday 9-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-7

Peonies Café: 81 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 / Tuesday-Saturday 9-8 / Sunday 10-4 / Monday Closed

Ten Belles: 10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010 / Monday-Friday 8-5 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6

Folks and Sparrows: 14 Rue Saint-Sébastien, 75011 / Tuesday-Saturday 10-6 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Café Oberkampf: 3 Rue Neuve Popincourt, 75011 / Monday, Thursday-Friday 8:30-4:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-4:30 / Tuesday-Wednesday Closed

Passager: 107 Avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75011 / Tuesday-Saturday 8:30-6:30 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Hardware Société: 10 Rue Lamarck, 75018 / Monday, Wednesday-Friday 9-4 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-4:30 / Tuesday Closed

Lomi: 3 ter Rue Marcadet, 75018 / Monday-Sunday 10-7

CREAM: 50 Rue de Belleville, 75020 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-5:30

Gluten-Free Paris

In the last few years, Paris has gone on a health kick, adding dozens of natural grocery stores and bio cafes to its wellness roster. It’s easier than ever to find a freshly pressed juice or vegan burger. But what about those restricted to a gluten-free diet? This is where one of my friends & fellow expats comes in. I first met Chiara before moving to Paris, when we were both working in advertising. Last year our paths reconnected, and since then this soulful Italian has taught me much about the art of gluten-free eating. Chiara is the expert, after all.

To help others with similar dietary restrictions discover the ever expanding gluten-free side of Paris, Chiara started a blog, Baci di Dama Living Gluten Free. Here she writes about the best sans gluten restaurants, bakeries and cafes in the City of Lights, anything and everything gluten-free. Her photos alone will make you salivate. She even sells pasta and other gluten-free products on her site, and is perfecting her very own bread. (Italians do love their bread!) You can also find an array of recipes on her website, and prepare your own gluten-free feast. There’s no reason not to indulge in the French (or Italian) way of life! Chiara even shares the stories of those behind the gluten-free worlds of Paris, Rome, London, Berlin, Madrid, Brussels and beyond.

Did I mention that she offers custom Gluten-Free Tours? She also collaborates with Airbnb and has designed the above bag in one of my workshops. (Photos by Nicole Flack.) On a recent morning, I asked Chiara to take me along on her food tour, curious to know if these desserts she raves about really do compare with traditional gluten-filled patisseries.  We started the day at an eatery I didn’t know but quickly grew to love, Lula in the 10th. I’ve never tasted something as delicous (and healthy) as their acai bowl. (I’ve since been back several times for their fresh juices and salads.) From there we stopped by an Italian epicerie to look into their gluten-free selection, and then it was time for lunch. And dessert.

Chiara chose the newly opened Sitron in the fashionable 2nd. Not only is this a charming lunch spot where we feasted on delicious wraps, but the skilled pâtissier creates some of the most exquisite cakes I’ve ever seen, and tasted. I opted for the caramel concoction and loved every gluten-free bite! With or without gluten, life in Paris is certainly a sweet one. Where to next, Chiara? Follow her adventures via Instagram and Facebook.

Cook’n With Class

Often when I go out to eat and love a particular dish I wonder, “Could I make this at home?” I usually never end up trying, not knowing the chef’s tricks in the kitchen, afraid my attempts will fall short. I could certainly read my friends’ cookbooks and learn their unique recipes, but what about being taught by the chefs themselves? And what about wine pairings? I know which wines I like, but when to drink them, and with what dish? That’s when I discovered Montmartre based cooking school Cook’n With Class Paris. As well as many classes in cooking and baking, they offer a French Food and Wine Pairing, perfect! Let the food and wine education begin.

I sat at the table overlooking the kitchen with six dinner companions from around the world, many of whom were regulars. I quickly learned that the chef owned and ran a successful French restaurant for many years in the US, evident in his skillful movements. As he cooked the meal, he described the dishes and how to prepare them, answering any questions we had. And all we had to do was watch. Following an appetizer and champagne, the first course was split pea velouté and buttered croutons. While he served the dish, our expert sommelier came over to explain his choice of wine and the region from where it came.

While I savored every bite and learned about wines I knew little about, and how best to pair them, I was intrigued with the preparation. This master chef explained why plates are kept hot in the best restaurants, and took every care in the presentation of each dish.

The next dish of seared scallops with crunchy celery, rocquefort dressing and candied orange peels was my favorite, and I made sure to take notes on the preparation, asking the chef questions during the plating. How lucky I felt to have a seasoned French chef cooking right before my eyes!

The main dish of black legs chicken fricassée with creamy leek risotto was delicious, as was the wine it was paired with. In the French dining tradition, a cheese plate followed, along with a lesson on cheese. The meal ended with a heavenly tarte tatin paired with just the right sweet wine. Not only did I dine like a queen, I learned quite a bit about food and wine that would serve me in my own kitchen.

I’m already planning on heading south to visit their second school Cook’n With Class Uzes, and learn the tricks of the trade by chef Eric Fraudeau. Stay tuned!

Cooking with Friends

This year I vow to spend more time in the kitchen, enhancing my creativity not only in my designing but in my cooking. Lucky for me, I know quite a few culinary masters and food writers and have collected their Paris inspired cookbooks. Having them within close contact should I need any help gives me all the more reason to whip up their recipes. So who are these chefs I’m lucky enough to call friends? Allow me to introduce them.

David Lebovitz doesn’t need much of an introduction. Many already read his well-known food blog and follow him in his Parisian adventures of the last 10+ years. In addition to running into David at local flea markets, I more recently caught up with him at a brunch at Treize Bakery, where he signed copies of his new book My Paris Kitchen, of which I snagged a copy. In this, his latest cookbook, David remasters the French classics in 100 sweet and savory recipes. I think I’ll try my hand at Coq au vin…

One of my favorite cookbook authors is Toronto based Laura Calder, who’s quite the culinary star in her home country, having had her own cooking show.  We met at a girls’ lunch several years ago and have remained good friends ever since. I even helped Laura design the table setting for one of her many Parisian dinner parties. (She doesn’t believe in paper napkins.) The latest of her cookbooks that I’ve added to my collection is Paris Express. I’m sure I’ll be able to handle a few of these quick, modern recipes and make both Laura and myself proud.

I met California born Emily Dilling through the expat network. Her blog Paris Paysanne is dedicated to Paris produce markets and the people behind them. Her passion for artisanal and craft food grew into her book, My Paris Market Cookbook. Not only does she share her market recipes, but the book is filled with farm-to-table restaurants, natural wine bars, organic breweries and urban gardens. The perfect handbook for food lovers!

Yoga always seems to create positive connections in my life. One of them is Lora Krulak, a nutritionist, chef and fellow New Yorker. I was impressed by all her knowledge on health and wellness, and quickly she became my (and many others) nutritional muse. Her blog provides sage advice about eating and living well. In her book Veggies for Carnivores, Lora demonstrates how easy and exciting it is to cook with vegetables, while taking us on her around-the-world travels.

Rebecca Leffler and I met years ago at a Parisian soirée and became fast friends. In the last few years, this east coast expat has created quite a name for herself in what she calls the “Green & Glam” movement. Her blog La Fleur Paris NY shares her discoveries, recipes, events and food demos in both Paris and New York. Rebecca’s most recent contribution to green living is a collection of 150 recipes in her book Green, Glam & Gourmande (in French) and Très Green, Très Clean, Très Chic, the English version. Warning: uncontrollable laughter may ensue.

I met Ann Mah at one of her book signings at the American Library in Paris after reading her first book, Kitchen Chinese. I was interested to learn more about this woman who writes so engagingly about food and travel. Her blog is a collection of tales from Paris and New York, as told by cooking. Her latest book Mastering the Art of French Eating, documents Ann’s journey around France while discovering the truth behind the country’s regional dishes, recipes included. Rumor has it she’s finishing her third book…

I could very well relate to Kristen Beddard when we first me. An ambitious New Yorker ready to plant seeds in Paris, but how? Over time she settled in to her new life, found her path, and planted her kale seeds. Through her blog The Kale Project, this “Kale Crusader” as The New York Times coined her, succeeded in bringing this forgotten superfood back to the French capital. In her memoir Bonjour Kale, she endearingly articulates her story of life and love in Paris, while sharing her fondness for kale through recipes collected since childhood.

Hope these inspiring friends will help you hone your skills in the kitchen, and keep you healthy and well fed. Follow along as I share my culinary adventures on Instagram.

 

Paris by Thierry Marx

A morning discovering favorite local haunts of one of Paris’ star chefs and bakers? Mais oui! Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of doing exactly that, with two star Michelin chef Thierry Marx. Our day began at his new bakery and cafe in the 8th arrondissement, La Boulangerie. After tasting a few of Marx’ many sweet specialties, I had a tour of the kitchen where I met the crew and watched them at work, learning a few tricks along the way.

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I then hopped into my vintage Citroën 2CV and my beret clad driver navigated his way to our next stop Cafés Verlet, where Marx often drinks (and buys) his coffee. It was there where I tasted various intoxicating brews, both hot and cold, and learned exactly how specialized this family business, originating in the 20th century, really is. It was in 1965 that grandson Pierre Verlet began roasting coffees from all over the world. I even caught a glimpse of his son’s roasting method in their nearby coffee mill.

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The next stop was a hidden gallery in Saint-Germain, another of Marx’ favorite haunts. Pause for a little visual stimulation. The last discovery before lunch was gastronomic bouquiniste Alain Suchet, his bookstand on display along the banks of the Seine. It is here where Thierry Marx acquires vintage cookbooks to add to his collection. With so many to choose from, I could have spent all afternoon browsing!

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For lunch I dined haute couture style at the Mandarin Oriental’s Sur Measure. It is here at Thierry Marx’ two Michelin star restaurant, where he “blends the technical and emotional aspects of cooking with sight, sound and taste.” What an experience, from the amuse bouche to the dessert. Emotional to say the least!

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To find out more about Thierry Marx’ favorite spots to shop, dine and explore in the French capital, pick up a copy of Paris Marx Saveurs Capitale (in French). If you’re planning a trip to Paris, you can experience ‘Paris by Marx’ with a stay at the Mandarin Oriental. Find out more in my feature in France Today.

Insider’s Guide to Monterosso

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I first encountered Monterosso during my around-the-world journey in October of 2007. On a whim, I took the train from Santa Margherita and immediately became enamored with this soulful village set upon the Mediterranean. I spent five blissful days swimming in the sea; exploring the old town and tasting its culinary specialities; hiking from Riomaggiore to Vernazza, awed by the views. As I wrote in my travel blog, “I had discovered paradise.” As chance would have it, the handsome Italian I serendipitously met on the streets of Soho, NY in 2009, comes from this very land. Monterosso has since become a place I know and love well, through its people, culture and traditions. It was the scene of our wedding in 2011 and every summer we live ‘la dolce vita’. I feel grateful to call this part of the Italian Riviera my home, and to share it with those dear to me. As a Monterosso insider, I’m often asked where to dine, sleep, etc. Hence, I’ve decided to put together this Insider’s Guide to Monterosso.

TRAIN TRAVEL. Arriving to Monterosso al Mare from Pisa or Genoa takes about 1.5 hours via Trenitalia. From Milan allow for 3 hours. I would not recommend driving as aside from taxis and delivery vehicles, the village is car-free, and parking is sparse. Stepping out of the train you are in Fegina, the newer part of the village. Exiting the tunnel on the left will bring you to Monterosso, the old town, and what I consider the most charming.

WHEN TO VISIT. The Cinque Terre is composed of five vibrant villages, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, built upon cliffs and once upon a time accessible only by sea or train. The region didn’t become a major international tourist destination until the 1990’s, thanks in part to Rick Steves who fell in love with the five lands, making his home in Vernazza. Now these villages, some with populations as small as 250, are bustling with tourists during the summer season, mainly due to day tripping visitors and those arriving to La Spezia by cruise ship. My advice is to visit during the quieter yet equally sunny months of April, May, September or October. The season is long and it’s always best to book accommodations in advance, especially for the summer months.

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WHERE TO SLEEP. There are numerous hotels and B&B’s in both Fegina and Monterosso. Here are my recommendations in the old town, all family run and filled with charm, rooms ranging in price from 100€-200€/night.

La Casa di Andrea: Five tastefully decorated double rooms with a garden and views of the village. Well worth the many steps up!

Bellambra: Four comfortable double rooms and one family apartment located in the heart of the old town, overlooking the main street.

Il Timone: Three cozy double rooms classically decorated, with sea views from the breakfast terrace. 100+ steps up from the village.

Il Maestrale: Several double rooms including a superior duplex room, all with views to the street below. Beautifully restored building from the 18th Century.

Hotel La Colonnina: Many double rooms including family rooms, some with terraces and views of the village. (Ask for a renovated room.) Lovely rooftop terrace with sea views.

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WHERE TO DRINK. The aperitivo is an integral part of life in Italy. Just before dinner, it’s a time to meet friends and engage in the life of the village. You’ll always be served a small snack to complement the drink.

Enoteca Eliseo: Follow the classical music to find this upscale wine bar in the heart of the village. With a wide selection of wines to choose from, including a Cinque Terre selection. I suggest the Lemon Spritz, a concoction they created in recent years. (Closed Tuesdays)

Eldorado: Want to mingle with the locals? Head to this pre-dinner or late night hotspot for one of their many cocktails or my latest favorite, the Saint-Germain Spritz.

Bar Alga: Before sunset, make your way to this beachside bar for a fresh Pina Colada served in a pineapple.

Bar Eden: Located right on the beach in Fegina, the sea views don’t get much better. If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, ask for an affogato al caffe, a coffee with ice cream.

Hotel Porto Roca: For the best aperitivo views of Monterosso from above, climb the path leading to Vernazza and you’ll arrive to this 4-star hotel with an outdoor terrace.

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WHERE TO DINE. With so many restaurants serving similar dishes that look equally appetizing, it’s hard to know where to dine. I can’t say that I’ve tried them all, but I do have my favorites that continue to top the list, year after year. During the busy season reservations are a must!

Ristorante Ciak: Opened in 1974, the owner and chef Ciak will usually be found in the open kitchen wearing his signature sailors uniform. Ample space to dine both inside and out. Make sure to try his famous seafood risotto! (Closed Wednesdays +39 018 781 7014)

Il Casello: Situated seaside, this picturesque dining spot for both lunch and dinner serves local specialties including trofie al pesto and fresh anchovies. The owner Bacco will be happy to suggest a dish and might even share the recipe with you. (+39 333 492 7629)

L’Ancora della Tortuga: Located inside a cliff on the path between Monterosso and Fegina, this restaurant is one not to miss. During the summer months you can dine al fresco, away from the crowds of the village. Ask for their divine seafood antipasto misto, you’ll thank me! (Closed Mondays +39 187 800 065)

Ristorante Miky: This elegant family run restaurant opened in 1980, was once a pizzeria, and has since evolved into the destination for ‘haute cuisine’ dining in Fegina. The presentation alone will impress you, not to mention the cooking. I’m a great fan of the constantly changing antipasti and grilled calamari, or try the tuna, or the seafood risotto. Honestly, you can’t go wrong. (+39 0187 817608)

La Cantina di Miky: If you’re looking for something more casual in Fegina, the Miky family more recently opened another restaurant with both seaside seats and a spacious cantina. Their dishes are a creative take on the classics, with a wide selection of local wines to choose from. If you run into the owner’s wife Christine, she’ll be happy to advise you. (+39 018 780 2525)

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LOCAL SPECIALTIES. All twenty regions of Italy boast local products and dishes. Which ones are the Cinque Terre known for? Here are the must try specialties in Monterosso. I tried to keep it short, as you could easily spend all day eating!

Focaccia: The best can be found at Il Massimo de la Focaccia in Fegina.

Anchovies: Fried, stuffed, salted, with lemon, in pasta… try them in all their preparations.

Farinata: Head to Il Frantoio in Monterosso’s old town to try this chick pea delicacy.

Pan Frito con Formaggio: Fried bread with cheese? Yes please! Also found at Il Frantoio.

Pesto: One of Liguria’s  healthiest specialities, a must try is the pasta dish ‘trofie al pesto’.

Rice Cakes: A perfect option for lunch. Go to Midi Bar in Monterosso for a taste.

Sciacchetrà: A delicious local sweet wine. Read all about how it’s made here.

Cannoli: The Northern Italian version of heaven, the best can be found at Pasticceria Laura.

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BEST OF. I couldn’t put together a list of favorites without including my ‘best of’, could I?

Focaccia: Il Massimo de la Focaccia has ‘right out of the oven’ focaccia in many varieties. Perfect for lunch.

Pizza: Il Fornaio is a focacceria in Fegina that recently added pizza to its menu, made with all natural local ingredients.

Gelato: Midi Bar in the old town makes its own artisanal flavors, while Slurp in Fegina will awaken your taste buds with flavors including lemon and fig. Why not have two?

Pastries: Pasticceria Laura is THE spot for anything sweet. Must tries are the aforementioned cannoli and the torta Monterossina. Freshly baked by Laura herself every morning.

Cappuccino: It’s hard to find a bad cappuccino in Italy. Midi Bar and Bar Eden are two of my favorites.

Souvenirs: You can certainly take home jars of pesto and a lemon or two, but what about ceramic anchovies? These and other pottery, all handmade in Monterosso, can be found at Fabric d’Arte‘s two locations in the old town. I already have quite a collection!

Of course you’ll want to explore the rest of Cinque Terre too. You can take a train, boat or hike to the neighboring villages. Definitely worth a visit! If you’re already familiar with the five lands, I suggest a train to the less touristic and charming villages of Camogli or Sestri Levante. By boat you can visit historic Portovenere or Portofino. More information on day trips and hikes can be found here.

In case you need help planning your trip, my friends at Bella Vita Travels will be happy to assist. Buon viaggio and enjoy my home in Italy!

PARIS PICKS : Italian eats part I

Massara

The French love pizza. All Italian food in fact. And you’ll easily find Italian restaurants and pizzerias all over the city. But how good is la pizza in Paris? Depends on if you’ve been to the BEST pizzeria in the city where pizza originated, Naples, Italy. (Luckily I have, twice even. Here’s my guide for those planning a trip.) L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele certainly takes the cake, or should I say pie, when it comes to simple and absolutely delicious pizza. Started in 1870 and passed on through five generations, their secret is “using natural ingredients and an old, traditional, time-tested method of leavening the pizza dough.” In case you can’t make it to Naples, there are a few places I’d recommend that almost make you feel like you’re in Italy. Keep in mind that I’m a tough critic, married to an Italian after all. And since I’m currently in Italy indulging in my share of pizza, where you can follow me on instagram, twitter and snapchat, I thought the timing was fitting. Here they are in no particular order, all scattered around the right bank. Reason enough to venture to my side of Paris.

Recommended by trusted Italians, we quickly grew to love Ciacco, located on a quiet street in the evolving 10th. With simple decor and staff who remember us upon entering, it almost feels like dining with family. Many great traditional pizza options and they also do take away.

Ciacco // 9 rue Rene Boulanger 75010 // Tues-Sat 12-2:30, 7:30-11 // 01 42 06 38 07

With a spacious outdoor terrace and two floors of seating, la Massara is at once inviting and intimate. Run by a friendly Italian staff, you have plenty of pizza options to choose from, some with buffalo mozzarella and an assortment of white pizzas. They also have another location in Nice.

la Massara // 70 rue de Turbigo 75003 // Daily 12-2:30, 7:15-11 // 01 42 74 13 94

For expertly mixed cocktails and hearty pizza in a variety of tastes (including one with lardo, read all about my discovery of this delicacy here) head to Grazie where you’ll be welcomed with a “buona serra.” This trendy spot near the Marais is perfect for a girls (or boys) night, just be sure to reserve and arrive early to claim the coveted window seats.

Grazie // 91 Boulevard Beaumarchais 75003 // Mon-Fri 12:30–2:307:30–11, Sat/Sun 12:30-11:30 // 01 42 78 11 96

One of the latest Italian restaurants to open it’s doors is Ober Mamma. This trendy hotspot serves a traditional Milanese aperitivo with every cocktail order, perfect for the often lengthy wait. They don’t take reservations so be sure to arrive early and enjoy the convivial atmosphere. Rumor has it that one of the pizza makers comes from da Michele.

Ober Mamma // 107 boulevard Richard Lenoir 75011 // Daily 12:15-2:15/3:30, 6/7-1AM // 01 43 41 32 15

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For pizza that doesn’t try to be Italian but is worthy in its own right, head to Pink Flamingo, now with four locations in Paris, in the 3rd, 10th, 12th and 18th. (Also with outposts in Valencia, Spain and Amsterdam.) You’ll find flavors including fig and chevre and a daily pizza du jour. They also do take away and delivery.

I’ll be sure to include any other worthy pizza that I discover during my eating adventures in Paris. And if you have any favorites, please let me know! Coming soon will be favorite Italian restaurants, we still have a few to try… until then buon appetito!

Coquillade Village

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Arriving to Coquillade Village feels like arriving to a majestic Tuscan villa, welcomed by cypress trees, only this 100 acre Relais & Châteaux property is located in the heart of the Luberon in Provence, with views of the Vaucluse Mountains and Mont Ventoux. It’s location was historically the site for migrating birds, including the crested lark (Couquihado in Provençal), hence the name. Surrounded by vineyards and fields of lavender, this complex of 63 rooms and suites dates back to the 11th century, with most of it augmented and restored in recent years. Very eagerly we settled into our new home, ready to take in the views and its many luxuries.

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It was hard to leave our Luxury Suite as we relaxed on the terrace, tasting the local rosé grown in their 89 acres of vineyards. I made a mental note to take a tour and arrange a tasting session during our stay. Back to the room… did I mention we had our own jacuzzi and sauna? More reason not to leave. No attention to detail or comfort was spared! While my Italian went for a run through the vines, I made sure to visit the Coquillade SPA, 1500m2 of serenity for both mind and body, created in 2015. It was hard to leave the eucalyptus hammam! But I was eager to explore the premises and discover exactly what lay within the walls of this “village”.

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What I discovered were charming Provençal villas discreetly scattered throughout the property, all revealing private rooms with terraces. There were three restaurants on the premises, Gourmet run by two Gault & Millau head chefs, Ristorante, an Italian establishment, and Bistro with a Mediterranean inspired menu. The latter of these is where we opted to dine al fresco, our backdrop a pastel colored sunset beyond the vineyards. Chef Christophe Renaud certainly left an impression, not to mention pastry Chef René Solnon with his masterful desserts. I’ve always had a weakness for sweets.

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Following a visit to nearby Roussillon (more on that later), we spent a sunny afternoon lounging by one of the two heated swimming pools. I envisioned a game of tennis or perhaps the beloved French game of pétanque, but time was limited. We eagerly visited the “BMC Cycling Center” with ambitious goals to ride to a neighboring town, I planned to test out an electric bike, but we chose instead to relax within the charm of Coquillade, followed by a driving tour. We were on holiday after all.

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It was certainly hard to bid farewell to Coquillade Village with its friendly staff and luxurious amenities. But we were in the Luberon after all and had come to explore. Where to next? Stay tuned…

 

Paris staycation

Last weekend my Italian and I took a staycation in Paris, crossing the river from rive droite’s trendy 3rd to rive gauche’s chic 7th arrondissement. Why not vacation in your own city? My home was one of Paris Perfect‘s luxurious apartments, and my neighbor was none other than Madame Eiffel herself. Right away I felt welcomed.

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Needless to say, I couldn’t stop staring at the iron lady. Whether I sat on the balcony, lay in bed, or sank into a warm bath, there she was. I daresay the Chambertin apartment has quite the view, not to mention charm.

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What I quickly learned is that Paris Perfect excels in hospitality and services. A few other guests and I took a traditional French cooking class at the glamorous Margaux apartment, learning to make gougère among other specialties, our meal ending with saffron cream and a lesson in champagne and wine pairing. Parfait!

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I was sorry to leave this new home, but alas, every holiday has to come to an end, even one in your own city.

high tea time

As the days turn shorter and winter begins to make its presence known, I turn towards the sweet side of life in Paris. Having sipped chai in nearly all of the five star tea salons, each one is an experience in itself. France does excel in its pastries after all, and having a sweet tooth, I’ll try any sugary concoction whipped up by a respected pâtissier. My most recent experience in l’heure du goûter, as the French call snack time, was by the skillful hand of Pastry Chef Cédric Grolet at Le Meurice, with world renowned Alain Ducasse at the helm.

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Joined by two gourmand friends, we sat in the elegant restaurant Le Dalí, and started our high tea with a glass of bubbly, French style. What I immediately noticed were Christophe Robin’s Little Indulgences, warm finger sandwiches prepared to order. How divine! And I hadn’t even brought my attention to the sweet portion yet.

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The trays were stacked high with homemade sweets and scones with cream, each more delicious than the next.

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As an unexpected bonus, the most delicious madeleines were served to us, fresh out of the oven. But what took the cake was the Hazelnut, a rich and chocolaty dessert that must be tasted to be truly understood.

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The afternoon was long and luxurious! Leah Walker, fellow traveler, donned her new rive droite tote in high style. Along with writer Mary Winston Nicklin, we indulged in a tea time to remember. Until next time, ladies!

around the world in a day

One week after the opening of the World Expo 2015, Feeding the Planet, we traveled to Milan to see what all the talk was about, the expo being a topic of much controversy.

In brief, Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, hosts from May 1 to October 31, 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan becomes a global showcase where more than 140 participating countries show the best of their technology that offers a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium. In addition to the exhibitor nations, the Expo also involves international organizations, and expects to welcome over 20 million visitors to its 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area.

Both my Italian and I were curious to see, learn, and taste, starting with the Sudan pavilion.

IMG_0817IMG_1070I felt at home in Poland, watching a film about my country’s history, and meeting a local.

IMG_0934_2IMG_1065 IMG_1060 IMG_1049One of the most impressive pavilions was Oman, a place I hadn’t experienced, until now.

IMG_1026 IMG_1017 IMG_1016_2Turkmenistan was elaborately designed, as was Turkey, unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit either pavilion. One day was simply not enough to take it all in.

IMG_1008_2IMG_1067_2IMG_1006Loyal to the US & France, we visited both pavilions, the latter filled with wine and cheese.

IMG_0965_2IMG_0883_2We were most impressed with China, where we feasted on peking duck and dumplings.

IMG_0904 IMG_0884 IMG_0871IMG_1108_2In Italy we tasted fine wines and caroused Eataly, exhibiting foods from all twenty regions.

IMG_0849 IMG_1113IMG_1084Our day ended with the Tree of Life, agreeing that the experience was one to remember.

first class dining

I don’t often write about dining, but this meal was one to remember! Last week I had the pleasure of joining France Today website editor, a site and magazine for which I write, for a decadent lunch at Le Cinq. Five-courses. Two Michelin stars. New chef Christian Le Squer, (who himself holds three stars). Does it get much better than this? Actually, it does. We had the privilege of touring the famed wine cellar. Now, that is a something to write about.

IMG_6768I couldn’t wait to try Le Squer’s menu, this “creator of savors and composer of tastes.

IMG_6764 The amusebouches were incredible! Each a unique melange of flavors to fill the palate.

IMG_6775The meal started with a sweet onion filled with oysters and carmelized onions.

IMG_6776 Next, Mont Blanc as Egg Soufflé with black truffle. Heavenly!

IMG_6783My main dish was wild sea bass with caviar in ‘fermented milk from my childhood’.

IMG_6791A little cheese before dessert? My choices included soft truffled brie and Mont d’Or.

IMG_6799This sweet caramel concoction was simply divine!

IMG_6805My dessert was an original work of art, and truly had to be tasted to be understood.

IMG_6813Breton specialty Kouing-Amann to end the meal on a sweet note.

IMG_6850Having tasted a variety of wines with our meal, each carefully selected to complement the dishes, it was a privilege to tour the cave. Built during WWII, Four Seasons George V‘s wine cellar is hidden 14 metres (45 feet) below the ground. With nearly 50,000 bottles, it’s filled with vintage treasures, including over 2,800 French and international wines.

IMG_6843Here’s one I wouldn’t mind tasting! (The magnum Petrus 1964 is valued at 40,000 euros.)

IMG_6828The oldest bottle in the collection is a 1792 Madeira. Impressive!

IMG_6891Every time I pass by hotel George V, I will fondly recall this first class culinary experience.

Adventures in Andalucia : Seville

This year we decided to embark on an adventure in celebration of one year ending and another beginning. Where better than beneath the Spanish sun? Our journey began in Seville. Home became Hotel Casa 1800, a historic palace-house turned boutique hotel, located in the heart of the Santa Cruz barrio. The views of our new city were breathtaking!
IMG_3045Neighboring our hotel sat the Cathedral de Seville, the largest Gothic cathedral and third largest church in the world. Within this noble space Christopher Columbus was laid to rest.IMG_3068The views from the Giralda, the bell tower originally built as a minaret, were incredible!

IMG_3732Our most memorable day was spent at the Alcázar of Seville. Once a Moorish fort, this palace, known to be the most beautiful in Spain, is the oldest still in use in Europe.
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IMG_3179 Walking through it’s many chambers and courtyards, we were well impressed. I became enamored with the Muslim architecture and colorful tile mosaics. (New bag collection?)IMG_3331 The Alcazar’s gardens were uniquely magical. We spent hours walking their paths beneath the Spanish sun, hidden within a palatial world, walled in the center of a charming city. IMG_3386Our wanderings took us to the Plaza de España, located in the Parque de María Luisa and built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, now mainly government buildings.

IMG_3583Much of the reason I love to travel, is to try the regional specialities. For dinner and lunch, we opted for tapas, and many conversations centered around food. Where were our favorite spots? Here is a list of our top three tapas restaurants in Seville. And we tried many! In no particular order, La Brunilda, El Pasaje & Vineria San Telmo. Buen provecho!IMG_3816Soon it was time to leave Seville for Córdoba. Adventures in Andalucia continue…

sweets of Sicily

Aside from the rich history and varied architecture, it was Sicily’s sweets that remain most in my memory. Being a sweet tooth, we made it a point to find and taste the best of the region. In Noto, we discovered what’s considered one of the best gelateria’s in Sicily, Caffé Sicilia. Here we stopped for lunch, and decided to make it a sweet one, starting with ice-cream, which was indeed delicious!

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From there we moved on to the second course, and what became my favorite dessert in Sicily, the cassata, a cake covered with almond paste and candied fruit, and filled with ricotta cheese. Incredible! We accompanied this decadent cake with coffee and a glass of almond milk, Sicily being the land of almonds. For the third course (yes, there’s more), we tried the almond granita, an icy concoction of almond milk. WOW!

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After the sugar high faded and we returned to a healthy meal of pasta and fish, we ventured to Modica’s famous confectionery, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest (and considered the best) chocolate factory in Sicily. Their chocolate, a legacy of their Spanish history, contains only cocoa beans and sugar. I tried many of their varied flavors, including the most famous, vanilla and cinnamon. But what really blew us away were the cannoli’s. They filled them on the spot, hazelnut and pistachio, the latter being the best Sicilian cannoli I’ve ever tasted!

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A well-known tradition in Sicily is an almond paste known as pasta reale, made with ground almonds, sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice. These fruit shaped sweets almost look too beautiful to eat. This too is one of my favorite sweets, having grown up eating marzipan.

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Considering how much I love these sweets of Sicily, I can’t wait to return. Until then, detox.

13-a baker’s dozen

Last Sunday I attended, assisted and feasted at a grand brunch for 25, with David Lebovitz as the guest of honor. The hostess was Laurel of 13-a baker’s dozen, one of my favorite lunch spots in Saint Germain, with home cooked specialties. Also, my first choice for coffee and dessert (specifically Laurel’s famous carrot cake). This too is one of the locales where I hold my bag painting workshops.

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Friends uniting over food and conversation. An ideal Sunday.

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I’ve met David on several occasions and couldn’t wait to read My Paris Kitchen.

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What could be better than tasting recipes from David’s new book?

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Have I mentioned the carrot cake?

photo 8Melissa of Prête-Moi Paris and I took photos and helped to make everyone feel at home, and of course we dined like queens! I’m already looking forward to the next brunch… at David’s?

high tea for two

One reason I love when my mom comes to Paris to visit is that I get to spoil her. I spend months in preparation, planning all sorts of events, exhibitions, eating experiences, etc. This year I thought I’d surprise her with a mother/daughter high tea. Where better than at the Four Seasons George V?

IMG_1501Upon entering this ethereal setting, we were taken with Jeff Leatham’s stunning floral compositions.

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My mom and I were in our element, both of us favoring sweet over savory.

IMG_1454We began our indulgent afternoon with one of Lucien Gautier’s fruitful masterpieces.

IMG_1462Is there anything better than French pastries with champagne to compliment?

IMG_1480How happy I was to spend such a memorable afternoon with my mom, and in such sweet splendor!

 

Peninsula paradise

In 1908, at the height of the Belle Époque, one of Paris’s most luxurious hotels opened at 19 Avenue Kléber in the 16ème arrond. Hotel Magestic was among the most elegant addresses in Paris and certainly a place to see and be seen! In the decades to follow, this late 19th century Haussmanian building lost it’s luster as it’s hotel doors closed and instead it housed various organizations.

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It was in 2008 that Katara Hospitality group decided to restore the building and create in it’s grand space the Peninsula Paris. I was lucky enough to be invited to the preview of this, the first Peninsula Hotel in all of Europe, and the 10th in the world.

Kleber EntranceI arrived to a red carpet, jazz musicians and champagne flowing! Following a presentation on the building’s history and the meticulous attention to detail in the restoration and modernization process, we met the highly skilled chefs & pâtissiers in charge of the hotel’s six dining options. Executive Chef Jean-Edern Hurstel’s “farm to table” philosophy is certain to please many a palate.

L'Oiseau Blanc Terrace copyPerhaps my favorite of the restaurants is L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird) situated on the rooftop. Is it here where I met the Marchand brothers, the hotel’s fromagiers, and tasted an exquisite goat’s cheese with a hint of rose. Following this dairy decadence I was served a dessert that I cannot even begin to describe, a creation by award-winning Chef Pâtissier Julien Alvarez. With a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, I could envision the many lavish evenings that were soon to come to life in this new found paradise.

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As I toured the hotel, I took note of the many historic details. Some of France’s finest artisans were hand-picked to restore this grand structure to it’s former glory. Needless to say, what resulted in the 6 years of restoration is the ultimate in French craftsmanship.

Lobby ceiling detail Lobby column detail

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On August 1st the Peninsula Paris will welcome it’s first guests, in regal style. And in the days to follow I will certainly be one of them, at the least sipping a cocktail on a familiar terrace.

eating adventures

During my around the world travels I’ve experienced many eating adventures, from street food in Vietnam to yak in Tibet. And let’s not forget bone marrow in China and lardo in Italy. (Delicious!) But I have to admit, the most fun I’ve ever had eating was in San Sebastián. This foodie mecca is home to two of the best restaurants in the world, but what we were after were the pinxtos, the Basque version of tapas. The old quarter is filled with pinxtos bars, dozens lining every street, all attempting to entice you with an array of these taste bites lining the counters.

IMG_0474On our first night we followed our feelings as my Italian would say, or was it our eyes and mouths. And with each bar a glass of rioja or local cider. In less than 24 hours I was hooked!

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Day two we did a little research and discovered that our feelings, and palates, had led us well. The eating adventures continued as we were determined to try as many pinxtos bars as possible.

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By day three, we had eaten at nearly a dozen pinxtos bars, drank many a glass of local wine, over-indulged in calamari and octopus and I even convinced my Italian to try pigs ears. It being our last day, we decided to return to our favorite bars. For those planning a trip to San Sebastián (which I highly recommend for anyone who loves to eat) here is the list of pinxtos bars that will keep us coming back. I’m already looking forward to the next trip!

Bar Zeruko : most innovative and experimental of the pinxtos bars

Atari Gastroteka : the gastronomic version of pinxtos

Borda Berri + La Cuchara de San Telmo : pinxtos made fresh to order (both run by same owner)

Bar Sport : don’t let the name of lack of ambiance fool you!

La Viña : home to the best cheesecake in the world!

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The only rule to remember when pinxtos bar-hopping, the more napkins on the floor, the better!

epicurean extravaganza

Recently I was invited to what can truly be considered a food lover’s paradise, the inauguration of the brand new La Grande Épicerie de Paris. This uber gourmet food hall located within the Le Bon Marché is the spot for anything indulgent, from everywhere in the world. And indulge we did!

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The night commenced with a presentation by the bakers and butchers, fit for a king. Champagne flowed, accompanied by plentiful platters of fois gras, oysters, and cheeses, France’s finest. It wouldn’t be a party without a selection of fine Italian hams… and a heavenly chocolate fountain!

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The fruits, vegetables and produce were elegantly displayed like works of art.

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I felt grateful to live in a country that celebrates food so ceremoniously!

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The icing on the cake, aside from the many desserts we inhaled (including macarons and freshly dipped ice-cream pops),  was DJ & comedian Ariel Wizman, spinning tunes in chef Jean-Jacques Massé’s new restaurant La Table. This was certainly the epicurian extravaganza of the year!

Read more about the grand new epicerie on France Today.

diner à la française

IMG_4463For those living outside of France, or even for many of those on the inside, what does it really feel like to dine with the vrai français? How do the French dine, what do they serve and with which formalities, what do their homes look like? Personally, I’m lucky to have a few dear French friends who have graciously opened their homes to me. But I still often wonder what secrets are discovered at these French dinners.

By the clever collaboration of Renaud Maigne who often traveled for work and was tired of dining alone, “The thing we remember the most is the personal exchange we’ve had with the locals who tell you about their country and traditions.”, and Matthieu Heslouin who wanted to make the foreign dining experience accessible to all, “Thematic dinners are as numerous as the passions of the hosts. To each his own dinner! Or in French, à chacun son dîner!” Thus VoulezVousDîner was born! Dinner parties for all to attend, all around the world.

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I was eager to attend one of these Paris dinners, and chose Diner Concert Chez Sacha. Gourmet dinner followed by a piano concert? Yes please! My Italian and I arrived first, how very un-French of us, and we became acquainted with our lovely host Sasha and her friend Carl, who generously poured the champagne. Another French couple arrived and we were seated at a table set with plates designed by Sacha herself. Before the food was even served, I was impressed!

Once dinner began we all became well acquainted and shared various musings on life in Paris, both from the perspective of locals and foreigners, while Sacha told us all about her history with cooking and her passion for pottery. Each course was creatively inspired, delicious and plentiful, paired with select wines and ending with dessert… and cheese bien sûr!

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To end the evening, Sacha performed a few piano pieces as we sipped on a digestif. It was certainly a night to remember! Looking forward to my next VoulezVousDîner, in Paris or elsewhere.

stylish eats

One of the reasons I love living in the North Marais, what I call NoMa, is that it’s constantly evolving. Reminiscent of my life in NY’s Lower East Side, new cafes and bars are appearing almost overnight, mixed in with the various ethnic eats. One such neighborhood locale, discreetly hidden in the 3eme, which has quickly become my favorite, is Loustic, “smart ass” as the Breton’s would say.

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What first caught my eye is the decor, given my affinity towards geometric prints and color. With walls covered in Hermès wallpaper, custom tables and cushioned seating, a stylish addition to the neighborhood. Another of the creative endeavors of interior designer Dorothée Meilichzon.

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It is not simply the interior decor that keeps me returning to this local haven. Nor is it the humour and wit of owner Channa Galhenage, though certainly that helps. The food offerings are both sweet and savory, selectively catered by Emperor Norton, and almost daily Kristen of The Kale Project is in house preparing her kale delicacies. And the coffee, without question one of the best in Paris.

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Stop in and have a bite to eat. But do tell them you are from the neighborhood.

40, rue Chapon 75003

last bistro standing

It seems that every day another hotspot is opening up in the Marais. New bars and restaurants around every corner. What about those that remain? Does anyone frequent the old haunts?

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Le Bougnat is a restaurant I walked by almost every day, and often I wondered what when on in there (and who ate there), discreetly positioned on rue de Saintonge just steps away from trendy rue de Bretagne. One night my Italian and I decided to find out.

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Much to our surprise the place was bustling, it was Friday night after all. There were young and old, mingling at the bar, filling up both small dining rooms… In their jovial manner, I could tell many of them were regulars.

IMG_1362IMG_1357Seated next to an elderly French couple, we quickly found out they were regulars. They advised us on what to order, all of the dishes being traditionally French. Somehow through the dinner our tables were pushed together and the next 3 hours were spent in conversation. If felt much like being in a small village far away from Paris. How friendly and hospitable everyone was!

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After dinner we had a digestif with our new friends. Learning that this brasserie had been in Paris for many decades and was quite a hotspot (and still is) to those who knew the Marais before the term bobo was even invented. May it remain there for decades to come!

Le Bougnat is located at 28 rue de Saintonge and is open only on Friday and Saturday.

urban escape

I am a great fan of weekend escapes, a tranquil setting in which to unwind and simply lose track of time. Though not always possible or so easy to get away. Luckily, I discovered such a place in the heart of Paris, what I can accurately describe as an urban escape, L’échappée.

Behind this door exists a hidden universe of wellness, for mind, body and soul.

First stop, the spa. Upon entering the hammam, the cold, wintry world outside ceased to exist. The dipping pool invited me in to it’s tepid waters and there I remained for countless time, the Paris sky high above, my thoughts floating far beyond it. Experiencing the full spa treatment, I was next summoned to an adjoining room for le gommage, the ritual of cleansing and exfoliating the skin. I was left feeling lighter and rehydrated. Perfect time to escape into the steam room. The next step is my favorite of all, le massage. I chose the Californian technique for utmost relaxation. In a word, bliss. Where am I again? I left this urban paradise hours later in a state of zen and floated home.

Above the spa sits the restaurant. Both industrial chic and intimate, feeling very much comme à la maison. I’ve had the occasion of lunching here several times but it is the weekend brunch that most satisfies my palate. A decadent and plentiful spread of sweet and savory. The best Paris brunch I have discovered to date, and as a New York brunch aficionado that says a lot!

I am already looking forward to my next visit to the spa, the restaurant, or perhaps both, should I need a proper escape. Anyone care to join me?

surprise dining

A surprise dinner? Yes, please! I’ll try almost anything once. (Pigs ears in Spain, bone marrow sucked through a straw in China, Yak in Tibet, lardo in Italy…) Obviously I’m a great fan of adventurous eating. When my equally adventurous Italian recently planned a surprise dinner, telling me it was more of a concept, I was intrigued. Would we be dining in the dark, eating with our hands… I could not make sense of it considering we were in Paris, a culinary capital.

My curiosity grew while we wandered Place de la Madeleine. Until we reached the passage.

Le Passage to be exact. Through the door and up the stairs…

Here we discovered a restaurant with a menu unlike any other. Hidden above the famous gastronomic Senderens restaurant is this experience and experiment in taste. There is no menu, thus no decisions to be made. Here is where the culinary adventure begins. Your dinner is based upon the whim of the chef, whatever he decides to test for the main restaurant, with each table trying different dishes, some of which may end up on the menu. Four courses of unique gastro-dining for less than 40€ (add a good bottle of wine bien sûr) et voilà, surprise dinner is served!

tastings with a view

Every Fall I look forward to the wine harvest in Montmartre, the Fête des Vendanges. An annual event during which I don’t mind braving the crowds surrounding the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, eager to sample the various regional wines, paired with plentiful samples of cheese and fois gras, bien sûr!

This year my friend Sarah was in town from Rome, a wine aficionado as luck would have it, and she too was eager to indulge her palate in the tastes of France.

Amidst all the tastings there was entertainment and we even ran into Lily of Context Travel, toting her custom Kasia Dietz bag, designed exclusively for Context Travel.

 Our last tasting was vin chaud, a perfect grand finale. Now it was time to enjoy the view.

lardo di Colonnata

A trip to the marble mountains wouldn’t be complete without a stop to Colonnata, the ancient village which lies in the midst of marble at the feet of the Apuan Alps.

It is not simply this white stone that the village is know for, but another white delicacy called Lardo di Colonnata, pork fat. Having no intention of tasting this particularity, I went in search of gelato.

Needless to say, in this part of Italy, I was limited to savory, not sweet.

As we explored the village beneath the summer sun, we sought shelter at an enoteca. Very innocently the owner asked us if we’d like a little tasting. Of lardo, of course. Well, just once…

Not only was this buttery delicacy mouth-watering, but we were given a lesson in it’s making. Lardo is created by curing strips of fatback with rosemary and other herbs and spices, where it lies beneath marble for many months. Did we order more, with 2 glasses of wine to compliment? But of course!

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this local specialty. Not something to eat often, but if you’re a meat eater, certainly something to try at least once. It’s worth a trip up to the mountains!

{not just} another day

Little did I know that March 20th would forever remain a day to remember. Not merely because it’s Macaron Day, though this would certainly be reason enough to celebrate. Today marks 3 years since the dinner that started it all, after the meeting just days prior. To celebrate, I spent a memorable Paris weekend with dear friends of almost 20 years, each living their own unique love story, one in Istanbul and one in London. (Last year’s girls’ weekend was in London… next year Istanbul?) As we dined our way through Paris, we reminisced about the journeys that created our multi-cultural lives, and how much of these lives we have experienced with one another. For all of this, as our chapters continue to be written and shared, and winter turns to spring… I am grateful.

Now time to indulge in a few free macarons… I am in Paris after all!

 

date with Jacques

Never trust anyone who doesn’t like chocolate. That’s my theory anyway, and so far some of my closest friends have proven to be fellow chocoholics. Dark, milk, white, now that is a question of personality. And yes, taste. I am very lucky to be living in the land of chocolate. What started in the liquid variety in the form of thick, indulgent chocolat chaud in the 17th century (often used medicinally which makes perfect sense to me) has since been refined into tasty bite-sized morsels made of praliné (my favorite) and almost any flavor imaginable. All of this I learned on last years tour du chocolat.

I am also lucky to be living within minutes of one of Paris’ most revered chocolatiers, Jacques Genin. Sweet expert David Lebovitz is a fan and friend, as is Sweet Freak Amy Thomas who describes her love affair with Jacques and his chocolate in her new book Paris, my Sweet. So I have chosen this luxurious space, filled with scents and visions to arouse the senses, as my ‘happy place’.

Hazelnut millefeuille… melts in your mouth.

Layer upon layer of light and dark chocolate… divine!

And the chocolates… Euphoria on a plate, whichever one you choose to indulge in.

Photos by my accomplice La Belle in France, and yes, we did taste all of the above. Guiltlessly.

Jacques Genin: 133 Rue de Turenne 75003 (exclusively available in Paris)

Paris, My Sweet

“Fantasies do come true. Despite my moments of uncertainty and pangs of loneliness, I was loving life in Paris. I was so smitten with the Gallic city’s grand, plane-tree-lined boulevards and ever-so-slightly crooked side streets, its countless café terraces and the ritual of lingering on them with a single café crème or coupe de champagne.” – Amy Thomas in Paris, My Sweet

photo by Lindsey Tramuta

Amy Thomas. A writer, ad girl and francophile from New York City with a highly refined palate (and appetite) for sweets. A woman after my own heart! As fate would have it, our paths were meant to cross in Paris, where she auspiciously found herself writing ad copy for prestigious client Louis Vuitton. Pas mal! Upon meeting Amy, I immediately sensed an authenticity in her character, natural warmth, and a passion for life. Yes, we would have been friends in New York. Getting to know Amy through our shared experience of Paris, only proved that my instincts were correct. On one of these occasions, during her Croissant Smackdown (a tasting of Paris’ best buttery delicacies), Amy mentioned that she was just awarded a book deal on a project she had been working on. Sweet! I couldn’t wait to read her memoir, as only a true New Yorker in Paris could tell it.

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) is here! In bookstores, on amazon.com and in my personal prized book collection. February 1st Amy Thomas became a published author, not only in the New York Times, but in the world. How proud I am of mon amie!

Needless to say, I inhaled the book, much like I would a box of macarons. Pierre Hermé or Laduree. It felt as though Amy were telling me her story in person, over a chocolat chaud. From nesting in her ‘tree house’ near rue Montorgueil to her many adventures sampling the best of Paris’ pâtisseries, via vélib’ bien sûr, to her endless attempts at finding her way into the core of a fascinating (and often challenging) city and the mind of its people. The tales are both sweet and savory, and worthy of being told, in a language and manner uniquely Amy. A lot of English, a bit of French, and all heart.

Though her experiences of Paris and New York, and often finding herself torn between the two (something I well understand) Amy has proven that you need not choose pleasure or success, beauty or energy, the macaron or the cupcake. You can indeed have it all, or at least taste it all, on either side of the Atlantic. Now then, where to find the best cupcake in Paris and macaron in New York? I believe the answer lies somewhere between chapters two and five…

If you are a fellow sweet freak, or simply adore Paris (who doesn’t?), you too will savor the pages of Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate).

You can also follow Amy via facebook, twitter and on her blogs God, I Love Paris and Sweet Freak.

 

art of the macaron

As the debate continues between which side of Paris reigns supreme, rive droite or rive gauche, so too does the question of ‘who makes the best macaron?’. The Paris pâtissier preference most often between the two macaron greats: Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. Who do I prefer? That is a matter of macaron, as each chef certainly does excel in particular flavors. I had quickly become a macaron fanatic upon moving to Paris and upon several dozen tastings, had accepted to adore (and indulge) in both. What I was really after was how exactly do you make these tiny tastes of heaven?

And so last Saturday my curiosity in the art of the macaron was satisfied. I signed up for a class at the reputable cooking school La Cuisine Pariset voilà! There I was ready to take on the challenge, filled with eager bakers (including my sweet confidant Delphine) and our pastry chef, trained with none other than Pierre Hermé himself.

With nary a moment to admire the glorious view of the Seine, we split into teams and got right to work. Sifting, measuring, mixing, boiling… Once in a while I did peek outside reminded that I was indeed in the heart of Paris learning to make the city’s most prized delicacy.

Our next step, and perhaps my favorite of all once I learned the technique, was actually making the perfectly round, just the right size, macaron shells. Not as easy as it looks!

Once the shells were formed and baked to perfection, each one was paired with it’s matching half.

From that point on it was all about filling our candy colored shells. The filling which I could have easily inhaled by the spoonful. We had made two very distinct and rich flavors, white chocolate mixed with a touch of espelette, a type of French chili pepper, and a classic praline. Délicieux!

And there they were. Our macaron masterpieces! Ready to be cooled and savoured, ideally the following day. I felt accomplished and though no easy task, I was even eager to try this at home. But until then, I will never again question the price of pleasure when it comes to the macaron.

La Cuisine Paris offers year-round macaron classes in both English and French as well as many other sweet and savory culinary adventures. I’m already looking forward to the next one…

If you live in Paris (or will be in town on February 10th) enter to win a free macaron class! Winners selected on January 31st. Bonne chance!

table for ten

A dinner organized by a host you don’t know, accompanied by guests who have never met, held at a mystery location somewhere in Paris. This sounds like my kind of dinner party.

An old friend recently mentioned the New Friends Table, a secret eating and meeting club new on the Paris scene. I had also read about it on the reputable HiP Paris blog. When two seats became available, I didn’t think twice. Somehow I knew I was in for a treat, without knowing much at all. The dining adventure began. My unassuming Italian and I were warmly welcomed by our gracious English hostess, the scene decoratively set. We immediately felt at home. The mingling began and toasts were made, as the guests continued to arrive. Each one of us a pawn in this mystery dinner game, creating a uniquely diverse yet equally open-minded dynamic. A table set by destiny.

The curious cast of characters spanned the globe including London, New York, Los Angeles and of course Paris. The hostess seated us according to her intuitive whim and the dinner began. The four hours to follow included divine compositions of the freshest cheeses, meats and seafood… each plate complimented not only by a glass of wine, but with a story from the engaging (and very witty) hostess and cuisinier. With each course we became better acquainted and shared stories of our own. And in this way, over a perfectly set table for ten, new friends were made. I’ve had many a mystery dinner thus far in my Paris life, this one by far being the most memorable.

For a seat at the table contact: newfriendstable@gmail.com and make sure to book well in advance… the secret is out!

morning marketing

Ever since I moved to Paris, we’ve had the very French idea to go ‘marketing’ on Sunday morning. Particularly the Marché d’Aligre in the 12th, one of the largest markets with the widest array of fresh produce. Our plan was to buy all of our fruits and vegetables for the week, fresh fish for an evening feast and perhaps even mingle with the locals. How enticing! In theory. Come Sunday we were so happy to have time to rest and enjoy a long and leisurely brunch at home, we simply never made it to the market, which closed at the absurdly early hour of 1:30pm. Exactly the time we were enjoying our second cup of coffee. (Fortunately, Marche des Enfants Rouge is just around the corner.)

Recently I was invited to join well reputed Context Paris for a Sunday morning market walk led by docent, foodie and writer Meg Zimbeck, who I was eager to meet, where else but at the Marché d’Aligre. (How did they know?) Finally a morning at the market with my Italian, and a guide!

It turned out to be a morning well worth sacrificing our Sunday ritual, even though the temperature made for quite a chilly stroll. We explored the length of the market, both indoor and out, tasted of delicacies I hadn’t dreamt of sampling so early on a Sunday, and ended the tour with a seasonal (and very savory) cheese tasting. Perfect.

My Italian and I left feeling both educated on the history of this part of our city and fully indulged in the tastes of France. An added bonus was sharing the tour with Raquel, a lovely travel consultant with a grand appetite for Paris.

How are we spending next Sunday? Marketing of course. Thanks for the inspiration Context & Meg!

tour du chocolat

One of my great loves is chocolate. As a child I would eat nestle crunch bars by the dozen and have since moved on to more sophisticated international chocolates (ie. jars of nutella). Thankfully I have been blessed with a fast metabolism. Though I must admit that I consume chocolate in small (daily) doses, and indulge in mostly dark varieties, having rationalized those as the most healthy.

When a friend proposed a chocolate tour I was initially reluctant. Could I not eat my way through Paris’ chocolatiers without a guide? Surely! But my curiosity kicked in and I thought a tour could be fun, especially one involving friends and lots of French chocolate. I might even learn a thing of two. 

The Chocolate Walk began at the Louvre, once home to Louis XIII. It was there that liquid chocolate was first given as a gift to King Louis in 1615 from Anne of Austria. That began the French love affair with chocolate. The first chocolate shop was strategically located around the corner, at what is now a restaurant on rue de l’Arbre Sec.

In addition to being enlightened on the many scandals that took place behind royal doors, I learned that hot chocolate was a delicacy, drunk only by the royalty. In the beginning of the 18th century the chocolate was mixed with milk (rather than water and spices), and there were questions raised as to its purpose. Food, drink, medicine or love potion? (The latter, bien sûr!)

We continued along the right bank, stopping in select chocolatiers. I promised my tour guide I would not give away all of her dark secrets, but will share my two favorite chocolate shops and the crème de la crème of chocolates from each.

There are three Côte de France in Paris. This one was on 25 Avenue de l’Opera, and yes, I did feel like I had entered the royal hall of chocolate. Surrounded by the look and smell, I could barely pay attention to the explanations of the many chocolate varieties. I was ready and eager to taste!

Before the tasting begins, a quick lesson in French chocolate. There are two distinguished types: praliné, which consists of roasted nuts (most commonly almonds), and ganache, chocolate mixed with cream, originally called ‘Idiots chocolate’ as it was made by accident. Imagine?

Here we tried one of the signature chocolates, praliné mixed with small pieced of crushed cookie. Strong, dark and rich. Does is get much better?

Michel Cluizel, on 201 rue Saint Honoré, is another must in the gourmet world of French chocolate. 

It was the praliné des aïeux, a mixture of grilled almonds and hazelnuts covered in dark chocolate, that left me wondering if this is what heaven might taste like. Pure decadence!

For those gourmands equally as enamored with chocolate, this week (Oct 28-Nov 1) marks the annual Salon du Chocolat. I will soon find out just how many hours can be spent tasting chocolate…

If you crave more sweet stories, check out friend and fellow chocoholic Amy, aka Sweet Freak.

sharing the {blog} love

It is almost one year since I began a life of love in Paris, and Love in the City of Lights was born. What a journey it has been! Little did I know what I would learn and who I would encounter along the way, and all the friends I would make in between.

Through the experience of sharing my life with fellow expats and even a few hopeful romantics, I have come to know Paris, its culture and its people more intimately. I still struggle to understand (and accept) the many French cultural nuances, but I feel much more at home and much less an outsider. For these fellow bloggers (and many others not mentioned), and my dear readers, I am very grateful. I share this love with fellow bloggers, francophiles around the world, and Paris expats.

One of my first virtual friendships was with Andi of Misadventures with Andi, who blogs about many of my favorite subjects including travel, culture, love and of course Paris, always keeping the conversation varied and interesting. I hope to meet in person on her next trip to Paris! 

On the topic of life in Paris, so many I love! Beth Arnold I have come to know and admire for her sophisticated and unprecedented Letter From Paris. Lindsey, of Lost in Cheeseland shares many an anecdote on life as an expat, often with humor and always with candor. For the latest in goings on in the City of Lights, Kim inspires with I Heart Paris. Many secrets and cultural happenings are revealed by Heather in Secrets of Paris. The stories and visual poetry by Nichole of little brown pen, living between Paris and NJ, always cause me to feel lucky to live surrounded by so much beauty. Though many don’t realize it until living here, Paris is indeed imperfect and Sion brings this to light in Paris (Im)perfect. Marjorie, who is neither French nor has ever lived in France, writes my inner French girl, describing the French art of living. That undeniable je ne sais quoi that is so inherently French!

Of the mommy club which I am not yet a part, but have several expat friends who are, Barbara writes a very real and witty blog about the experience of living and raising children in a foreign country in International Mama. As a super Mama and freelance writer, she also writes The Expat Freelancer to help expat writers find their voice and use it. Another saavy American mama with many a story to tell to aspiring expat mothers is La Mom.

On the topic of food, everyone knows (or should know) David Lebovitz for his appetizing site about all things food related and author of The Sweet Life. I met David at a sexy book signing and hope to cross paths again over crepes at Breizh Cafe. For those with a sweet tooth, Cat, otherwise known as Little Miss Cupcake, creates the most delectable cupcakes! About where and what to eat (as the amount of dining options can be daunting) a wonderful new site recently launched, aptly titled Paris By Mouth. Food porn anyone? Through a good friend I met Cynthia, a writer and adventurous foodie from LA who writes about exactly that in Adventure Eating. All that eating but where to drink? Forest keeps a detailed account of the tastiest cocktails and happiest happy hours in 52 Martinis

On the topic of travel, one of my favorites, there’s a blog I simply love which bridges the gap between France and Italy, both of which I now consider my homes. Robin, a travel consultant and writer with great travel taste, captures the essence of two of the most beautiful countries in My Melange. I am also a fervent follower of the travels of  Granturismo, Lara and Terence, as they travel for 12 months in 24 destinations. Instant nostalgia for my 2007 travels, 13 months in 32 destinations.

New York City will always remain home to me (considering I now have 3, and counting). To keep myself connected to this dynamic city I begin my mornings with a café creme and a cup of Jo, much loved blog by fashionista and new mommy, Joanna Goddard. There are many more NYC blogs I read, including the inspiring and design saavy my turtleneck by Catherine Mangosing of Brooklyn.

I’m looking forward to discovering many more blogs, meeting many more bloggers and fellow expats, and continued adventures and musings on life and love in Paris in year two!

the sexy city

I lived in NYC for 12 years, though barely can I consider the life I led to be that of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda or Samantha of Sex and the City, contrary to what anyone might believe, my Italian included. Perhaps a mix of Carrie and Charlotte on the best of days? Though Miranda, with her pioneering spirit lived only a block away from me in the Lower East Side, in the film that is. And don’t we all fantasize about  Samantha’s escapades, even just a little? I must admit, I did enjoy living vicariously through these stories while living my own more tame versions, all the while never succumbing to carousing the NYC streets in a pair of Louboutins. I’m proud of that, I might add.

Where Carrie’s love story concluded in the first film, my story began. Thus, Love in the City of Lights was born. 

Now, as Sex and the City 2 is due to premiere in Paris, I am curious to follow these ladies on their adventures continue. I cannot even begin to imagine how the story unfolds, this uniquely tangled web of love, lust and laughter, perhaps proving yet again that friendship (if nothing else) is forever. It appears that the entire world is curious as well. Here in Paris the ‘hot-spot’ Café Etienne Marcel (34 rue Etienne Marcel, in the 2nd) has been transformed into an even more sultry ‘Café Sex and the City’I could hardly believe it! Are Parisians such die-hard fans of this fab four? And do they really believe that is how we women live in NYC? Perhaps that’s why most Parisian girls (or any girls for that matter) swoon when I mention NYC. Ah yes, the stories I could tell…

What really provoked my interest to venture to this cafe was not the NYC-style cosmopolitans and the trendy ambiance, but three of my favorite ex-pat authors. WH Smith, the English language bookstore in Paris, haven to many fellow ex-pats, was recently hosting an event as part of the launch of Sex and the City 2, creating their own ‘Foodies in Naughty Paris’ event. 

I was excited and honored to meet this trio, David Lebovitz, Alexander Lobrano, and Heather Stimmler-Hall, all in one room, with books to sign and stories to tell, and at such a ‘sexy’ venue! Ex-pat writers who followed their own unique paths, stars of their own Parisian dramas, in David Lebovitz’s case, often a comedy. I was hesitant to buy any more guide books on Paris as I regularly read these authors websites, and still have many Paris themed books at home yet to peruse, but I could not resist. Especially after speaking with each author and getting to know them on a more personal level. 

My growing collection of books now includes David’s heartfelt and humorous tales in The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City, Alexander’s thorough guide to tastefully eating his way through this delicious city in Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants, and a ‘reference’ book every woman must own, Heather’s Naughty Paris: A Lady’s Guide to the Sexy City. 

As soon as I can put the books down and take a break from my own romantic escapades, I will venture to the cinema for a rendezvous with the NYC gals.

a hidden paradise

Before moving to Paris I could not get enough of the Parisian bistros found on nearly every corner. To sit and imagine my life as a French girl. These days, I no longer need to imagine as I sink further into my mostly blissful reality as an expat in France. I still revel in the cafe culture and often find myself sitting at a cozy cafe with every intention of studying French but much too preoccupied with studying faces and street style of the passersby.

Recently, on my way to such a cafe I discovered a doorway leading into a hidden paradise. A place to hide from the world and that could quite honestly be anywhere in the world (apart from the fact that there are floor to ceiling shelves of used French books lining the walls, a minor detail). This is my new haven. A place of tranquility and refuge in my beloved neighborhood of the Marais. A place to study, meet a friend or make a new one, peruse a French comic book (that’s about my level these days), splurge on coffee and cake, or simply dream. And should you need a new designer shirt, a Liberty mug, a dining table to put it on, or a lightbulb, voila! To the creators of this conceptual one-stop wonderland all I can say is Merci!

Passing the Fiat Cinquecento and stepping into the 3-story loft space that creates Merci, you feel like you are entering someone’s dream, if not your own. In fact, Merci is the realized dream of Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, the founders of the famous children’s clothing line Bonpoint. What makes this store so unique and even more highly venerated is that that all of it’s proceeds are donated to a co-op for young women in Madagascar. Thus, it’s impossible to feel any guilt while shopping! Not to mention that much of the unique, fashion-forward men’s, women’s and children’s clothing has been designed exclusively for this space and cause.


I’m wondering if they would mind if I moved in…

Merci, 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, Paris 75003 http://www.merci-merci.com

la baguette

The baguette symbolizes France. It is universally recognized as a staple of the French diet, regarded as a simple and essential part of the complex food culture. The baguette is derived from the bread first baked in Vienna in the middle of the 19th century. Steam ovens had begun to be used, enabling loaves to be baked with a crisp crust and the white center. In 1920 a law was passed preventing bakers from working before 4am, making it impossible to bake the traditional loaf in time. Thus, the longer, thinner baguette was created, in time for the customers’ breakfasts. Voilà!

Ah, to sit beneath the Eiffel tower with a fresh baguette in hand, accompanied by a creamy camembert and a bottle of Bordeaux. (Cliché is a French word after all!) I prefer to indulge in this tradition of bread, sitting on the Seine accompanied by the light of an early spring evening, a fresh chevre and fig confit. Or simply walking down the street chewing on the end of a baguette, French style. These days I have weaned myself off of the ‘one baguette a day’ rule, not so easy for my Italian I must say! We are having quite a delectable adventure exploring the over 28 various baked delights found in close to 1,260 boulangeries lining the streets of Paris. Thus far I have tasted of 27…

un café s’il vous plaît

A large part of the Parisian culture involves sitting in cafés. This ‘art of café and observation’ has become one of my most revered past times, allowing me access to an interior world of secret encounters and animated conversations, and an exterior world much akin to innocent voyeurism. From a strategic yet secluded position I observe the dexterous formation of the lips when words are spoken, the vivacious gestures of the body, the smiles expressed by both eyes and lips. It is here, in the confines of a neighborhood café that the French come to life. A contradiction to the formality found in passing on the street. It is from here too, where the greatest show takes place, upon the surrounding streets. For the mere cost of a cup of coffee you can sit for hours and observe the acts of time.

Whilst sitting in cafés I have learned much about coffee, namely the variations so common to the French. A café is essentially an espresso: short, strong and sincere. A café au lait is a coffee that has been popularized in America, simply a coffee served with a separate pot of steamed milk, not so French in fact. A very common type of coffee is the café creme, a large coffee served with hot cream. Café noisette is a favorite of mine, espresso with a dash of cream. Perhaps the name particularly appeals as it technically means hazelnut, hinting at a coffee delicacy. Café leger is espresso with double the water, bringing us closer to the café Americain, simply put, filtered coffee. Less than appealing after indulging in dozens of French style cafés. A cappuccino does actually exist in Paris, though it should not. The French, much like any nation other than Italy, cannot create a proper cappuccino. Not to mention this inaccurate version of a café au lait costs upwards of 5 euros.

Needless to say, as the days pass I feel a growing urge for a large seemingly bottomless cup of coffee served in a classy paper cup marked ‘Grande Caramel Skim Latte’. Thankfully, this is found all over the world.