Thursday, July 31, 2014

Paris Plage Part 2

Paris Plages stretches out from the Louvre to Pont Sully as well as around Bassin de la Villette, so you can literally be on the sand in the middle of Paris; they even moved the mini Eiffel Tower made of chairs to a spot near Pont Neuf.
Dances are held during the late afternoons, and the relatively small crowds on the sand are because the crowd is gathered around the music further to the back.
It was a relatively cool day, so people walking by got the fine spray of the misters meant to cool off beach goers on the wooden platforms.
I preferred strolling through the Jardin du Luxembourg with more natural beauty
even if some of the art is man made.
Now that it's August, it seems Parisians have all left for Les Vacances (vacation); it's not a bad thing to have plenty of seats to choose from in the metro :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Royal View

The King of France most Americans can name is Louis XIV, who ruled for 72 years, and who built and lived in Versailles. What most Americans don't know is that he was born in another Château, in St. Germain-en-laye, which is about 8 miles away. St. Germain-en-laye is only 30 minutes from Paris, but it is a very green suburb, boasting a forest that is approximately 14 square miles, and immaculately manicured gardens along the Seine. 

This was the last town my friend saw before her flight back to the US. After all the hustle and bustle of Paris, this was a nice respite, with charming pedestrian streets, friendly English speaking shops used to international visitors (there is an international school in town), and lush lawns with plenty of benches in the shade. If you are visiting for more than a few weeks or you have been to Paris numerous times, you might want to visit during the Sunday Marché when Parisians flock to the town square for the largest open air market in Western Paris.

She spent a day wandering the streets, tasting the pastries, visiting the Château, and peering through the gates of the wealthy residents. I joined her in the evening for dinner at the Brasserie du Theatre. A three course dinner for 30-40 ($40-50US) with a view of the Château and very generous servings makes this a reliable stop, especially if the weather is nice enough to sit outside on the terrace (it was drizzling, so we ate inside). I chose the 30 menu which included a dessert, but since I knew there was no way I would be able to eat three courses, my friend would get her sweet tooth satisfied. I started with oysters, which always make me smile, and segued to a steak in peppercorn sauce. Since I forgot my camera (which happens when you carry a small purse and wear a skirt with no pockets), you'll have to take my word for it that the steak was very large by Parisian standards.

My friend ordered the whole grilled bar (European sea bass) with vegetables. She was shocked that the fish arrived with head and tail intact, but after a little coaching, she enjoyed performing "surgery" to get to the tender filets. I finished up the surgery by switching plates with her and coaxing the last morsels from the bones :)
Dessert was a variation on profiteroles, done with whipped Chantilly cream in a caramel sauce, my friend said she was too full to finish this, but with slowly and surely, she managed to accomplish the task.
Even though they speak English, it was wonderful to be the only English speakers in the restaurant. It seemed that all the other tables were local residents enjoying the pleasure of living with a royal view.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Paris Plages La Villette

It's much more fun to experience an event than to read about it, and I've been reading about Paris Plages since they started in 2001. I lived near the beach or at the beach in Los Angeles and only went when visitors came, so it's not unusual for me to avoid crowded beaches, and somehow I just never came in the summer weeks when it was here, but now that I live here, I finally made it to the beach :) 
I went to the beach by Bassin de La Villette (Metro Stalingrad) with all the nautical amusements (instead of the one by the Louvre/Pont Sully) on a 90 degree weekday morning and it was perfectly peaceful.
There are numerous big boats, some of which offer rides/drinks/tours/meals.
There are small leg powered boats you can rent.
If you prefer to stay on land, plenty of pétanque areas.
Kids can play pirates or ride a carousel (which had a HUGE line).
Adults and kids alike can cool down with misters
or ice cream
and drinking water spouts dot the area so you can refill your water bottles (free).
Most of the chairs and picnic areas were claimed, but you could stroll along the waterfront
and lots of kids were doing that in their matching outfits.
You have numerous options to eat or drink along the water, including restaurants and bars in the Holiday Inn.

Instead of an American brand, I chose this place :)
The canal was my view on one side, and on the other this colorful artwork.
There is an association called Tous A Table which is founded on the principles of providing good food to those who may not normally be able to afford it, allowing them to pay only 10% of the cost of a meal, so they may have a good dining experience. This year they are here at Paris Plages, so I was very happy to support them; as you can see the menu is very inexpensive and basic, but there are options for vegans and meat eaters.
After you order, you are given a pager which alerts you to go upstairs to pick up your meal. In my case it was a can of sardines in excellent olive oil with a small salad and delectable butter on the side. I had some wine with my snack and my bill was still less than 12 € ($15 US).
The views of the water
have a cooling effect
no matter how hot and humid life is in the city :)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Versailles to Verjus

When I lived in Los Angeles, all the people who came to visit wanted to go to the same places; Hollywood Blvd, Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach, Malibu, and depending on whether they had children, Disneyland or Universal Studios. Now that I live in Paris, the list of landmarks may have changed, but everyone has the same list of sights they want to visit; Notre Dame, Louvre, Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triumph, Versailles, and of course the Eiffel Tower.

After four days of walking an average of 7 hours per day, the cobblestones at Versailles would have crippled me, so I dropped off my sightseer and meet her several hours later :) By the time she was ready to leave, it was time for a late afternoon snack, so we walked over to a Pizza Via Venetto. I was not expecting much from a touristy place on a pedestrian street near the rail and bus stations, but when I took a sip of my kir, I smiled and said, "This is great!"
Their salads were also great, with servings that could easily have been shared or been mistaken for a plate served in Los Angeles! Since my friend had spent hours walking, she opted for a chicken salad with potatoes, cheese, eggs, and tomatoes. She finished the plate only because she hadn't eaten all day and because I warned her that there is no such thing as doggie bags in France:)
I chose the more classic ham and cheese salad, and even though I had eaten, I still finished my plate just because it was so good. Considering that both gigantic salads were less than 15 € ($20 US) and they actually used decent wine in my kir, this place is definitely worth a stop if you are sightseeing in Versailles and hungry. The waiter was very personable, even joking with us when he took our picture, so this is definitely not a bad place to recuperate after navigating cobblestones.
An even better place to recuperate if you are spending the day at the Louvre is Verjus*. Once again I dropped off my friend and instead of just picking her up, I actually previewed Verjus with a wonderful glass of Bourgogne and steak tartare. The wines vary and are fairly priced for the quality, but they are pricey for Paris (my glass was 8 € or $12 US).
The steak tartare was one of the best I've eaten, with hand cut meat, complimentary textures, and perky flavors.
When I picked up my friend from the Louvre, she was hungry, so we ordered the creamy burrata mozzarella with pine nuts, salad & cured meat, which was much better than the fuzzy photo. She had never eaten fresh burrata and was instantly enamored, and I was very happy with the cured meat.
This stuffed zucchini blossom on a bed of arugula was incredibly tender and crisp, done to perfection.
The duck meatballs were a nice twist on classic meatballs, very filling and hearty.
Somehow my friend found room for dessert (I don't know where). I honestly can't remember what this was since I was in a food coma by then and I didn't taste it, but she loved it and cleaned the plate! All the plates were under 15 € or $20 US and quite generous portions, so depending on your appetite, this is a moderately priced place to savor some unusual and tasty bites. Everyone spoke English from the staff to the clients, so if you are looking for a comfortable casual place where speaking French is not necessary, this is a great spot. With the Palais Royal literally across the street, you can stroll your meal off in a royal garden!
*Note that the gate from Richelieu closes at night so you may have to enter around the block.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sweets To Start A Sunny Day

Any day in Paris that begins with blue skies is a reason to celebrate, what better way to inaugurate a good omen than with sweets from La Durée? Of course they are famous for their macarons, and my friend is still raving about the orange blossom one she had (her first), but I had to start my day with something more substantial and a bit breakfast oriented. My friend devoured her macarons as her breakfast appetizer, then had a Bostock, which is an almond pastry. I went with the classic pain au raisin, which was healthier because it had raisins :)

It was a great way to get breakfast on the go when we had many sights to squeeze in on a short visit. The sweetest surprise of the morning was a gentleman who told one of the many beggars who came up to us to leave us alone (coming out of La Durée with bags of pastries automatically makes you a target for people asking you for money). 

After several photo stops (Arc de Triumph, Place de la Concorde, and the Opéra), we were ready for lunch at the very unParisian hour of noon, so since our last stop was the Opéra, I steered us to the Grand Café des Capucines. It's open 24/7 seven days a week, so if you are ever stuck for a place to go on a Sunday, this is a safe bet for decent food if you are starving and your flight just landed at midnight.
The interior is classically art deco and it's been renovated, so it looks a bit fresher. I've been coming here almost as long as I've been coming to Paris. It's not my favorite restaurant, but I always take people who have never been to Paris here just to soak in the atmosphere. The food is not spectacular, but it is good, and the prices are reasonable, with menus of two courses for less than 25 Euros ($30 US). 
The gazpacho with espelette pepper was a refreshingly cool way to whet our appetites, with a touch of heat from the pepper that gave the soup a nice zing. I could have had two bowls of this with some baguette and been perfectly happy.
This may look like salmon, but it is actually rose colored trout over couscous which had accents of apricots, green onions, pine nuts, and raisins in a buerre blanc sauce. I found the accompaniments a bit sweet and the sauce a bit lackluster, but the fish was good and service was excellent. We walked in without a reservation, but if you are eating during regular Parisian meal times or want to sit on the patio during a sunny day, it's best to reserve either online or with a phone call.
After all that food we needed to walk, and not just somewhere touristy, so we headed to the Luxembourg Gardens. We were too big (or old) to climb in the jungle gym, but it was almost as fun to watch the kids.
I suppose we could have sailed some boats, but they were having a race,
 so we contented ourselves with a stroll around the flowers :)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Le Flor en L'Ile & Café des Musée

Le Flore en L'Ile is one of the first places you'll see as you walk or drive to Ile St. Louis on the Quai Orléans, and like every place on the island, they serve Berthillon ice cream. If the line to Berthillon is too long, or it's after 8pm, you can enjoy your cone or cup on this lovely terrace with a view of the Seine. The line on the right was for scoops to go and the line was almost as long as the one at Berthillon.
If you are lucky enough to get a warm sunny day in Paris, take advantage of your treasure and spend some time soaking in the living street theater of life at a café like this one. Since this is a prime location, prices will be higher than places tucked away on a side street, but remember that you can sit all day for the price you pay and some people looked like they had spent the entire afternoon sipping their wine or coffee.
My friend had never been to Paris, so we had to order a quintessential French dish; a ham quiche with salad. She declared it the lightest tastiest quiche she had ever tasted, and loved the simple vinaigrette on the salad. It was a very generous portion and we split it since we just wanted a snack, not dinner.
We came to the island for her to taste Berthillon ice cream, so she got 2 scoops with a caramel sauce, a tuile almond crisp, and whipped cream. This dessert cost 12€ ($16 US), which was more than our quiche, but she declared it was worth every Euro.
Just north of Ile St. Louis is the Marais neighborhood and I decided to introduce her to classic bistro at the Café des Musées. I loved their lamb, but after eating a substantial "snack" earlier, my friend and I both opted for the special fish of the day, a St. Pierre, simply grilled on a plancha, with cauliflower and watercress, served on a bed of tomatoes for 23€ ($28 US). It was a perfect summer dinner, and I drank a lovely generous glass of Chablis for under 6 € ($8 US).
My friend is a dessert lover, so she savored the thick rich chocolate terrine with two sauces for dessert, while I ordered another glass of wine for my dessert. 
Sweet travel tip : a great way spend your first day in Paris is eating at least two desserts upon arrival:)