For my first trip to Burgundy, I longed to soak up all I could of what the region has to offer—both literally and figuratively. Visits to renowned vineyards like Clos de Vougeot in Côte de Nuits, Maison Joseph Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches in Beaune and Domaine Simon Bize et Fils in Savigny les Beaune proved educational, delicious and inspiring. Recommended by a renowned French food critic, the nearby Abbaye de la Bussière proved the ultimate locale to experience and reflect on Bourgogne’s rich beauty, history and peacefulness.
An abbey since the 12th century, relics of monastic life—such as the Cistercian grape presses and the ornate stained glass windows—welcome modern guests, but nothing speaks to the property’s history more than the tranquility of its grounds and its buildings, where a religious quiet still pervades the hospitable and luxurious hotel.
Arriving late in the day, I walked out over the grounds, breathing in the scents of lavender and geranium, pine and earth in the low-slung sunlight. Sculptures by artists such as Paul Day punctuate the manicured lawns that surround the Gothic structure and its serene pond. Inside the abbey, soaring pillars support the vaulted ceilings. In the dining room of Le 1131, the onsite Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by chef Guillaum Royer, I tasted through the menu with wine pairings by their clever sommelier.
With Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Rosé Prestige Champagne, I began with rich, succulent and irresistible local escargots en persillade augmented by a foamy cream broth. Poached Arctic Charwith carrot purée and orange granita and was gorgeously accompanied by a 2011 Vincent Girardin Santenay Le Beauregard Premier Cru, a remarkably graceful and balanced biodynamic selection.
Brazenly rare (and much appreciated for it) heritage beef with young vegetables & onion soubise paired beautifully with Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley Hautes-Côtes de Beaune 2013. Dinner was rounded out with poached huckleberry, with a dusting of chocolate & cheese sorbet, perfect with a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise by Pierre Amadieu 2012.
The accommodations were as regal and voluptuous as Burgundy’s best Grand Crus, and as I pondered the luxury of my environs and let the silence of the ancient estate envelop me, I fell into peaceful dreams of my next visit.
In Paris, as in New York City, my worst nightmare is thinking of the people I love eating poorly when there are so many great options. The thing is, you do have to know where to look. The often repeated phrase that the food is better in Paris is true…and it’s not. My summer of, eh, “research” was a real pleasure, and as I’m inundated with requests for restaurant guidance, it’s time to put that pleasure to good use and put it all in one place.
If you are looking for old school Michelin tasting menus like Le Grand Véfour, La Tour d’Argent and Le Meurice, then this is not your list. There’s an occasional place for that multi-Michelin dining in my world, but while I love the classic, that overly architectural plating and service stodginess is not how I like to eat often. I like to feel satiated but not stuffed after a meal…and most importantly, feel inspired, and for me that means eating where the chefs tend to be younger and more experimental, sourcing locally and serving it up in boisterous informal rooms. If you dig it, map out a plan using the below. Purchase the LeFooding app in case you find yourself hungry in an unfamiliar area and refuse to waste a meal on mediocrity.
But if you have just two days in Paris and you want to eat the way I like to eat, perhaps those four meals should be: Le Chateaubriand, Septime, Bistro Paul Bert, Comptoir du Relais…With oysters and Champagne at Le Dôme before one of those meals…And apèro at La Buvette before the other. Et voila! That’s a good way to know what’s happening in Parisian restaurants maintenant, but also recall what current dining was born out of. I’ll keep this updated as I discover more, so check back before your next trip.
* N.B. Many restaurants are closed on Sundays. Reserve whenever possible. This is not an exhaustive list…but it’s a beginning. XX
THE PERFECT CROISSANT
Pain et des Idées – A boulangerie extraordinaire in the 10th Arrondissement just south of the Canal Saint Martin. Not only are their croissants exceptional, but their loaves and more experimental recipes never disappoint. The shop itself is a jewel box of antique painted glass that will make your mouth water as much as the pretty confections . Hours: 6:45am-8pm; closed Sundays. 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris. T: 01 42 40 44 52
Bistro Paul Bert – This traditional bistro with classic French fare in the 11th arrondissement never disappoints. Prix fixe lunches (19€) feature your choice of an entrée, plat et dessert ou frommage, with seasonal highlights such as sautéed morels with fried eggs, asparagus with langoustines & spring peas, tête de veau with sauce gribiche, calve’s liver and pigeon. It’s just so good. Prix fixe dinner is 34€. Closed Sunday & Monday. Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch (12pm-2pm) and dinner (6:30pm-11pm). 18 rue Paul Bert, 75011. T: 01 43 72 24 01
Le Verre Volé – This is where the food-loving, natural wine-sipping locals go. The owner, Cyril Bordarier, created the notion of a cave à manger fifteen years ago by adding a few tables in the middle of his wine shop. The food has Japanese flair, particularly in the fish dishes, thanks to chef Takao Hinazawa, but with Le VV classic dishes, like the must order blood pudding, it just tastes like Paris now. If you have to wait for a table, do as a Parisian would: buy a bottle of natural wine and sit on the banks of the Canal Saint Martin to drink it while you wait. Everyday, from 12:30pm to 2pm and from 7:30pm to 10:30pm. 67 rue de Lancry, 75010, T: 01 48 03 17 34
Comptoir du Relais — Chef Yves Camdeborde led the bistronomy movement in Paris with la Regalade, but wanted to create a place with the same rigorous attention to sourcing at a more approachable price point. He did so with Comptoir, where the egalitarian spirit means there are no reservations so there’s always a wait. Lunch can be quicker. The salty butter is as dense and rich and textured as cheese. One of the only places in Paris to get a decent salad, but…don’t skip out on the dishes with foie. Camdeborde’s adoration of the best ingredients is evident in every bite. Brasserie menu €30-50 (lunch), menu €60 (dinner). 9, carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006, T: 01 44 27 07 50
L’Ami Jean — Chef Stephane Jego marries bistronomy and traditional bistro fare in a fantastic, rustic environment, replete with his antics as caricature of crazy French chef, shouting and throwing plates in the kitchen. You’ll need a long walk and a big nap after, so don’t plan much for the afternoon other than a slow tour of the nearby Musée d’Orsay. Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. 27 Rue Malar, 75007. T: +33 1 47 05 86 89
Septime – One of Paris’s finest neo-bistros, Septime has a polished consistency but always surprises in terms of new dishes and ingredients. The ever changing prix fixes make for the most romantic dinner or lovely lunch with a pal. It’s got a Michelin. Lunch Tuesday-Friday: 12:15-2pm; Dinner Monday-Friday: 7:30-10pm. 80 Rue de Charonne. T: +33 1 43 67 38 29
Café Des Musées – If you’re in the Marais and hungry for an authentic but unpretentious lunch, head to this old bistro with unassuming but quintessentially French classics such as Champignons Farci with Escargots, Côte de Boeuf Béarnaise and a Tarte du Jour. It’s not a revelation, but it’s a good standby for hungry visitors. 49 Rue de Turenne, 75003, T: 01 42 72 96 17
Café de Flore – A good place to see and be seen at any time of day or night, this is where Grace Coddington relaxes between shows and Japanese tourists photograph their café crèmes. Even if it’s freezing out, the most coveted tables are the ones outside (they have heat lamps), where the people-watching is at its zenith…et on peut fumer. Not really a place to eat, but if a hangover requires it, an omelette is serviceable. Also, it’s possible to survive on their peppery potato chips and cold white wine. I’ve done it. From 7:30am to 1:30am. 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006, T: +33 1 45 48 55 26
Aux Deux Amis – The story behind this irresistible hangout is as charming as the place is cool. When chef Iñaki Aizpitarte started Le Chateaubriand in 2006, a waiter, David, came with the restaurant (waiters come with leases in France…and it’s impossible to fire anyone, hence the lack of effort for great service). Eventually David opened Aux Deux Amis nearby, and now a former Le Chateaubriand sous is in the kitchen, creating simple yet creative tapas. Their natural wines, enormous wheels of local cheeses, and adorably snooty staff make this place the bees knees. Best in the evenings. From 12:30pm to 2:30pm and from 7:30pm to 10:30pm (snacks served nonstop until midnight). Closed Sunday and Monday. 45 rue Oberkampf, 75011. T: 01 58 30 38 13
Septime la Cave – Buy a bottle of natural wine to take home or stay and enjoy the vibes here while waiting for your table at Clamato across the street. Everyday from 4pm-11pm. 80 Rue de Charonne, 75011.
Le Train Bleu — If you find yourself in need of refuge near Gare du Lyon on a rainy afternoon, take yourself to Le Train Bleu, the Rococo restaurant on the mezzanine of the 19th century station. Built for the World Exposition of 1900, the station retains its fin-de-siecle charm and the beauty of the room is well worth the hardship of oysters and Champagne. Everyday 11:30am-10:45pm. Gare de Lyon, Place Louis-Armand, 75012. T: +33 1 43 43 09 06
Le Mary Celeste — American cocktail impresario Josh Fontaine opened this hub in the Marais where mixed drinks and natural wines are joined by quirky, easy-to-nibble small plates. An ever-buzzing room seven days a week. Everyday, from 6pm to 11:30pm. 1, Rue de Commines, 75003. T: 09 80 72 98 83
La Buvette – Camille Fourmont is a one-woman-show inside this tiny gathering spot in the 11th arrondissement. A veteran of Le Dauphin, Camille brings a sophisticated palate to streamlined dishes, such as Mozzarella di Bufala with a dusting of spices, Smoked Haddock with yuzu caviar pearls and Galician sardines. Camille does everything from prep to plate to pour the natural wines. It’s always crowded there, and for good reason. Closed Mondays; Open Tuesday-Friday 5:30-10pm and Saturday-Sunday 11am-10pm. 67 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011 Paris 11ème, T: 09 83 56 94 11
Le Chateaubriand – Iñaki Aizpitarte’s trailblazing restaurant was the first neo-bistro (an unpretentious restaurant that is at once utterly French but modern in its fare, sourcing and style…you can read my article about it here). For 70€, you’ll enjoy 8 dishes that show off some of France’s most carefully sourced products thanks to Aizpitarte’s playful approach and deft restraint. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7pm-11pm (closed Sundays & Mondays). 129 Avenue Parmentier, 75011, T: +33 1 43 57 45 95
Le Dauphin – Inaki Aizpitarte’s Rem Koolhaus-designed tapas and wine bar next door is as gorgeous as its natural wine and Basque-inspired dishes are delicious. Everything about this place is addictive. If I went to Paris and didn’t stop in here, my trip would feel incomplete. No reservations. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7pm-11pm (closed Sundays & Mondays)131 Avenue Parmentier, 75011. +33 1 55 28 78 88
Papillon – Alain Ducasse alumn Christophe Saintaigne delivers interesting and inspired delicacies at this 17th arrondissement sophisticated spot. The room doesn’t have the same anything-can-happen cool as, say Le Chateaubriand, but the food is lovely enough to be the perfect backdrop when you want to focus more on your date. Open for lunch & dinner, Monday through Friday. 8 rue Meissonier, 75017. T: +33 1 56 79 81 88
Semilla – A modern bistro (“neo-bistro”) and great standby if you find yourself in Saint Germain late at night and need a better-than-decent meal. No relation to the Brooklyn restaurant. Everyday, from 12:30pm to 2:30pm (12:30pm to 3pm Sunday) and from 7pm to 11pm (10pm Sunday). 54, rue de Seine, 75006. T: +33 1 43 54 34 50
Le Barratin — This incredible, authentic but also innovative and influential bistro in Belleville is where the chefs go to eat Raquel Carena’s food. Her adroit understatedness and dexterity with classics is evident in dishes such as her bright, cloud-like cervelles (veal brains), her nearly naked crudos and rich stews. From noon to 2:30pm (except Saturday) and from 7:30pm to 11:15pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. 3 Rue Jouye-Rouve, 75020. T: +33 1 43 49 39 70
Clamato – Septime’s little sister, Clamato offers à la carte fish-focussed dishes in a fun, slightly raucous environment. They often sell out of the best dishes mid-service, so come early or accept fewer choices. Dinner Wednesday-Friday: 7pm-11pm; Saturday and Sunday noon to 11pm. 80 Rue de Charonne. T: +33 1 43 72 74 53
Clown Bar – From the same owners and chef as Michelin starred Saturne, Clown Bar is the the more approachable and informal off-shoot. If the jewel box room weren’t enough, the natural wines and creative dishes make this an essential spot to visit if you call yourself a foodie. Book ahead or go for lunch. Just on the border of the 11th and the Marais. From 12pm to 2:30pm and from 7pm to 10:30pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday.114 Rue Amelot, 75011. T: +33 1 43 55 87 35
Yam’tcha – Adeline Grattard’s singular dishes are truly seasonal with a backbone of French technique but also reference the flavors and textures of China, where her husband, Chi Wah, is from. Wah oversees the tea program and pairings, as well as the Yam’tcha tea shop around the corner. Open for lunch Wednesday through Saturday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. 121 rue St. Honoré, 75001. T: +33 1 40 26 08 07
Frenchie – Grégory Marchand worked at Gramercy Tavern in New York before returning to Paris to start his mini-empire in the 2nd arrondissement. He currently has 3 storefronts on Rue de Nil…and they are all always full. A favorite of the fashion pack for its non-intimidating and comforting take on modern French cuisine, Frenchie Bar à Vins is place is a good Sunday night option. Order whatever ravioli he’s serving. Frenchie: 12pm to 2pm (Thursday and Friday) and from 6:30pm to 10pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday. 5 Rue du Nil, 75002. +33 1 40 39 96 19. Frenchie Bar à Vins open everyday.
L’Arpege — Chef Alain Passard has done for France and vegetables what Francis Mallmann has done for South America and meat, which is to say, elevated them and their treatment to divine ecstatic measures. Passard famously removed meat from his haute cuisine menu when he didn’t feel what was available was up to snuff. He’s reincorporated it minimally, when he’s satisfied with the product, but vegetables are the star at Arpège, where they are sourced from one of his three farms. My article about his ethos and Neflix Chef’s Table episode here. Three Michelin stars; prix fixe only. Closed Saturday & Sunday; Open Monday-Friday for lunch & dinner. 84 Rue de Varenne, 75007. T: +33 1 47 05 09 06
Spring — American expat chef Daniel Rose’s beloved Parisian bastion. Full disclosure: I haven’t eaten here, but fell head over heels for his food at Le Coucou in NYC. A prix fixe of 84€ for 7 courses. This is tip top of my must visit list. He also owns “Bourgeois bistro,” La Bourse et La Vie, which is à la carte. Closed Sunday & Monday; Open Tuesday-Saturday for dinner only. 6 Rue Bailleul, 75001 +33 1 45 96 05 72
Achille — Owner Pierre Jancou (of the original Racines & Vivant) has something of a reputation. The word that Parisians often use to describe the principled chef is sauvage, which given his gift for creating restaurants, is a good and very intriguing thing. Jancou was not, however, cooking here when I visited, but rather a lovely mild-mannered Swede, Svante Forstorp, presided over the neo-bistro menu, which felt conceptual and decisive, if hard to follow. The room makes up for pared-down combinations that fall short on the palate: it’s steamy and cozy, with gorgeously curated tableware, tiles and mirror. Still, there is something about the little restaurant that feels wild at heart; Achille seems less obsessed with pleasing and more fixated on being true to itself. Closed Sunday & Monday. 43 Rue Servan, 75011
Racines — Relaxed and joyful. Originally founded by Pierre Jancou, the current iteration of Racines is a cave à manger with a completely seasonal menu and phenomenal, reasonably priced wine choices abound. Located in the Passage de Panoramas in the 2nd, this restaurant’s sister is the Racines on Chambers Street in Manhattan. Noon to 2:30pm and from 8pm to 10:30pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday. 8, pas. des Panoramas, 75002 T: +33 1 40 13 06 41
Poulette — Another jewel box, Poulette, in the 1st arrondissement, is bedecked in its original Art Nouveau tiles and serves beautifully cooked comfort food, perfect for when you’ve had too many tasting menus. The food may not be adventurous, but it’s authentically French and really quite excellent. Charm in spades. Closed Sundays. 3 Rue Étienne Marcel, 75001. T: +33 9 53 62 89 17
I was so inspired by the couple at the center of my story for T Magazine, my first for the New York Times. Virginia Lebermann, arts & culture philanthropist, and chef Rocky Barnette, who created an ancient-inspired tasting menu for their restaurant, The Capri, in Marfa, have harmonizing Southern drawls and insist upon creativity in every realm.
Images by the one and only, Nicole Franzen.
In one of those impossible-to-predict confluences of events, a story I wrote six months ago corresponds completely to my current life in my new old apartment. So much of what I learned and love about food & wine began here.
This little story was sitting inside me for 30 years, waiting for an excuse to be told on paper. When Cherry Bombe co-founder, Kerry Diamond, told me the theme for Issue 8 was “Feast Your Eyes,” I knew it was time to share my artichoke secrets.
Merci, Merci, for all your thistle wisdom. There are many lessons to be had in it. I wonder who taught you to eat an artichoke…I wonder who I may teach.
Delighted to be a contributor to Prince Street Podcast and to write for their clever food-focused site. Find my story about the birth of salons, exorcizing the ghosts of apartments past and the recipe for chef Angelo Romano’s Rice with Chicken Fat, young ginger & amino acid egg yolk here and below.
My first non-food or travel-focused story came out this November in WSJ. Magazine’s Innovators’ Issue on the one-of-a-kind T.J. Brown, a master craftsman at Savoir Beds atelier in London. He only wears vintage or clothing he makes himself; he dreams of making a bed for Obama and he played keyboards for Desmond Dekker’s Israelites.
We’re kindred spirits and this was the most fun. Turns out I may just love a good character who is committed to their craft!
For most of my life, I have been trying to leave the New York apartment in which I grew up–the apartment that was my dad’s bachelor pad in the early ’70s, my folks’ matrimonial nest after that, and then, post 1980, where I learned to walk, talk, and eventually about the pleasures of food and wine.
As soon as I was old enough to be trusted with a platter, I started cater-waitering my parents’ dinner parties. “May I take your coat?” I’d ask guests upon arrival, then I’d carry them into my parents’ bedroom and add them to the pile. It was the early Eighties and there were often several furs. Sometimes I quickly lay atop the decadent hides and wriggled around when no one was looking! I was a sybarite from the start, but I also knew well my job. “Would you care for an hors d’oeuvre? It’s an endive leaf with Boursin” or “it’s a prosciutto-wrapped date,” I’d offer and explain, while extending a stack of starched cocktail napkins with my other hand. Between courses my mother would knock on my bedroom door and sing, “Tarajia, I need you,” and I’d carry plates from the dining table to the kitchen where she’d rinse them and load them into the dishwasher (I was still too petite to reach the faucets).
In an apartment meant for a couple in which my bedroom was fashioned out of a closet, it was a singularly New York upbringing. We had little privacy from each other, and could all hear each others’ murmurs, guffaws, snores and kitchen ticks from one end of the home to the other….but my father refused to leave. Because of his devotion to the apartment, I would be an only child (“There’s no place to put anyone else,” my mother explained when I asked whether I might have a sibling).
As a kid, I ached to move to the countryside to commune with farm animals. As a teenager, I begged to go to boarding school where my single dorm rooms were actually bigger than my one at home. As a collegiate at Barnard, I decamped to Chelsea to see if I could dig up any remaining Warholian magic–any departure or rebellion to feel like I was moving away from the family roost with its dreadlocks of tangled speaker cables in corners and behind cupboard doors; its floor-to-ceiling covered walls of wine-themed poster art; and the ever present sound of TV or opera at full volume.
So the irony is not lost on me that I now call this place home, that in one of those unbelievable New York City real estate paradoxes, I find myself back where I started, in what was once my dad’s bachelor pad and is now ostensibly mine…at least until I fly the coop again.
I didn’t sleep for the first month. It’s predictably weird, there’s just no way around it. Many nights I lay awake wondering if there’s something wrong with me for returning to the den–whether I’ve made no progress at all over my many little lifetimes. But then it occurs to me that, no, it’s because of the progress that I can return, that I can revisit the origin on my own terms, that it was a choice to move back into the mothership and that it doesn’t have to be forever.
Having lived in a studio for most of my adult life, it turns out it’s fun to have walls and rooms and closets, not to mention outdoor space in this concrete jungle. The strange thing is that whereas we felt constantly on top of each other during my childhood here (my kiddie loft bed was built literally above where my parents heads were when they slept), now the place feels enormous! I’ve been rather rattling around.
What’s the sense of having all this space if we don’t share it? And what better way to share it than the way it’s always been shared–as a wine-centric haven with six-course meals coming out of the galley kitchen? What’s the point of the terrace grill without some sausage on it? The river view without folks to admire it? Once I start asking these questions, quickly I begin to wonder why we have drawers full of sterling silverware and cupboards full of Limoges plates and eccentric stemware if it’s not going to be employed. What was all of this material collecting done for if not to be enjoyed with great food and drink?
Gone is the television. Unknotted and organized are the speaker cables, but the wine posters remain on every mango and papaya-colored wall. Voluptuous women holding coupes of Michaud and Royal-Eclair stare down at me, and my guests, of whom I’ve decided there will be many.
I’ve started a little monthly endeavor here that I am calling Morrell Salon, where my cronies and peers can hopefully experience some of the entertaining-at-home magic in which I grew up, where they can learn about food and wine the way I did, within the same walls and with the same enthusiasm, sense of occasion and above all with merrymaking as a guide. I am back at the starting point, but how different the vista now is: it’s uniquely my own. If you’d like to join me in the learning from a place of pleasure, just get in touch, I’d love to have you.
Last Sunday at 9pm, the text came in. “Darling, it’s Belle. Are you coming tomorrow?” I was just about to sit down to watch what promised to be a grotesque debate, but the text distracted me completely. It could only mean one thing: that the following day was the Channing Daughters’ harvest party…and I was caught unaware, upstate, six hours away from Bridgehampton.
“We need you,” Betsy wrote. “You must come,” Marina asserted. It’s rare for adult friends to pressure quite like this, now that we’re in our mature decades of rationality and responsibility.
“It’s a bit crazy,” my sensible friend said when I told her I was considering it–taking a 6:58am train to an 9:15am Jitney, in order to get to the festivities. But then, she’s never been to the almost annual harvest party that takes place in a field at the base of Walter Channing’s vineyards, anchored by his sculptures of upside down trees rooting into the heavens and forests of 10-foot high asparagus; she’s never wound her way through the tables covered in wood slabs of fire-grilled sweet breads, morcilla and bloody skirt steak next to bowls of chimichurri and parmesan; she’s never seen Jaime, Emily and Antonia through a crowd of autumn revelers and ran open-armed and gaping-mouthed for a full body embrace. I have.
The Channing Daughters harvest party is more like a wedding than an annual feast. Everyone who is lucky enough to be included understands. You don’t miss it. If there’s any feasible way for you to be there–to celebrate the patriarch, Walter, who oversees us now from the wide skies; to drink the farm wine that’s more elegant than any other local tipple; to bask in the awe-inspiring and unequivocal love of those four daughters, Francesca, Isabella, Sylvia & Nina, who grow more gracious and gorgeous with each year, more sure of their place in the world that they make better by being in it–you go.
So I went. And by the time I’d arrived the asado fires were up and the meat had been splayed, thanks to Chris and Catherine and Marcelo, Belle’s exceptional Uruguayan groom (the guy who gave me a new lease on life by hiring me as his #CevicheGirl in José Ignacio). I’m rambling, sure, but this is what the day is like: rambling through a sun-soaked field with a glass of wine in your hand; rambling from one great friend to the next; resting your head on their knee for a moment while dogs nuzzle your sausage-scented cheeks. I could measure my life by these parties. No love. Young love. Big love. Brutal love. Self love. We, the girls who haven’t settled down yet, laugh about the boys that have been visitors at our harvest fires. Each boy an age line in a tree trunk, a scar on a shin, a haircut that we loved but outgrew.
We nestle together when the Channings invite us. Jon opens his doors to our motley crew. Molly Channing in head-to-toe ecru. We drink sparkling rosé, dance and laugh and usually cry for a moment, hands clasped at the beauty Walter made, the land beauty, the girl beauty. There’s always a circle, whether there are drums or not. There’s always a fire. And this year, there was a new baby, a new Channing, a new daughter to complete the circle, to dance by the fire.
And, you Channing girls, make us always feel we are a part of something greater. And for you, we are so grateful.
The next day our hair still smells of fire. We move slowly. We meet around the kitchen island laughing and nibbling. It’s like being a teenager again and having a sleepover with all of your favorite people, except that it’s not. There are no riffs or cliques. We are old enough to know how precious these moments are. We are not afraid to say that we love each other. We all know how important it is to tell the people we love while we can.
As we drive through Southampton to return to the city, Marina, peaked from drink and cheeks hurting from such wide smiles, says she doesn’t feel so well. Rick, a new friend who feels like he will stick, offers to stop and get her some food. “I can wait,” Marina says. “But, Marina,” I say from the backseat, “It’s the last chance for something delicious for a while.” After all, it might be. We have to grab the good stuff while we can.
Thank you Molly, Francesca, Isabella, Sylvia & Nina. Thank you so much. All my love, T.
People say that it takes three times for our brains to register something that we hear or read about, however, when two chefs friends with soaring standards tell me that I should visit a restaurant, it goes straight to the top of the list, underlined and in bold.
La Grenouillère, chef Alexandre Gauthier’s Michelin starred restaurant and hotel in Madeleine-sous-Montreuil, surpassed even my teetering expectations. Gauthier grew up there, and his obvious connection to the locale is apparent in every detail, both edible and aesthetic.
We begin in the low-ceilinged old tavern dining room, home to the original La Grenouillère, helmed by the chef’s father, where disarming frog tchotchkes rest on every sill and mantel. Champagne and amuse-bouches of cod liver & radish skewers, quail eggs rolled in herbs resting in a nest of local seaweed, carrelet tapioca & sundry other one-bite delights set the mood. Then we are ushered into an adjacent modernist tent-shaped dining room, where every object, from the knife rests and the hand-hewn ceramic plates, to the graceful tables and natural leather chairs, speak to Gauthier’s precise visual principles.
The inventive dishes sing of the nearby sea: a salad of mellow marshmallow (yes, marshmallow, though homemade and not too sweet) with cucumber, watercress and an emulsified anchovy-tripes de poissons vinaigrette is surprising and brilliant. His knack for uniting unexpected elements also proved adept in a combination of langoustine & watermelon in a rich, fragrant broth dotted with pearls of langoustine-infused chili oil.
The fish-focused food is the jumping off point, but there’s balanced brightness across the board. Grilled broccoli with mullet roe; just-seared duck breast with wilted arugula and gnocchi; and an audaciously sensual single ravioli that exploded with artichoke purée and vanilla-infused liquid butter as we gulped it.
After lunch, we meet Gauthier and he walks us through the gardens, which are delightfully untamed: un-pruned wild flowers and grasses bordering more manicured paths. This juxtaposition of nature’s savage strength and man’s creative dexterity is a continuation of the edible themes, where Gauthier unites flavors and local produce in astonishing ways.
Winding tracks lead to structures that are single hotel rooms: modest on the exterior but sexy and modern within. Here too Gauthier’s appreciation of nature and keen eye for design is apparent in every object. Equal distances from London, Paris and even closer to Belgium, this froggies haven is it’s own little world, where nature and hunger are both celebrated and satisfied.
La Grenouillère, 19 Rue de la Grenouillère, 62170 La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France, P: +33 3 21 06 07 22, LaGrenouillere.com
This summer as I traveled through France, I had the privilege of visiting and writing about several Relais & Chateaux properties for Relais & Chateaux’s Instants Magazine. I am sharing that work here.
Les Pres d’Eugenie, is the fairytale village in a forest named for the empress, where all food is thanks to Michel Guérard, the creator of Cuisine de Santé, or the French version of “health food.”
Indeed on the grounds I felt as though I’d traveled back in time a century, so quiet were the paths. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen a horse drawn carriage with gilded ladies and wigged men coming down the road—the town is a relic of another era. Sculpted hedgerows and ferns that whispered in gentle dusky rain led me to pockets of wild flowers besides little streams and a statue of Venus, on the patio of the hotel and spa.
I met my gang for apero in Loulou’s Lounge, where Old Master paintings and Chinoiserie glowed warm around quiet fires. To our delight, the room shone suddenly brighter as chef Guérard himself—who with his wife Christine has helmed the establishment since 1974—greeted us with contagious joie de vivre (this light was reflected also in his chic and oh-so-French green patent leather Repetto dance shoes—which I have never and will never see another chef wear. I hope are his signature).
Champagne “cocktails” and a trio of amuses-bouches—tomato tartes, quail eggs in mushroom caps & salmon fume with radish & spring pea—appeared before we could make our way to La Ferme aux Grives for dinner. This cozy tavern, with legs of ham hanging from chandeliers and a tableau of vegetables that a still life master would envy, serves the cuisine of Gascogne. Raspberry Gazpacho, Herb-Buttered Snails and Shrimp, Young Grilled Coquerel with spiced gravy and Apple Crustade with Armagnac & Crème would follow, all sourced from the on-premises gardens or purveyors nearby.
It was a meal that certainly defied what I consider of when I think of “diet cuisine,” though admittedly as a food writer, I don’t seek diet food out. It did fit, however, into exactly what I consider to be essential food: sourced locally; cooked carefully; sumptuous; rich in flavor and full of pleasure…which indeed, makes it healthy.
When you’re invited to a friend’s villa in Sicily, you go.
My dearest and oh-too-infrequently seen pals, Stephanie and Lily were descending upon our friend Guillaume’s family home in Marsala for a week of Sicilian sunshine, spaghetti and shenanigans, and somehow I was lucky enough to be included. Guillaume is half French and half Sicilian, and the villa of which I speak, La Favorita, was built in 1840 as a hunting lodge by his great-great-grandad. There Grandpa de Sarzana would disappear with his male cronies to stalk prey by day and for cigar smoky, marsala-soaked nights without the distraction of the fairer sex (no bustles or trailing skirts crossed the threshold here, hence the narrow stone staircase). Nearly two centuries later, the grand sorbet-colored structure is holiday home to Guillaume’s parents, Bernard Giraud and Contessa Elisabetta de Sarzana, who has lovingly restored it with such aplomb that it likely surpasses even its original splendor.
Oval oil paintings of the French royal family (including Marie Antoinette) gaze out from the living room walls, joined also by the countess’s great grandmother, a Louisiana-born beauty in blue, who, due to her husband’s insatiable jealousy, experienced a cloistered end in the family’s former Marsala palazzo. Enormous verdant oil paintings of the family tree grace walls in the living and dining rooms, juxtaposed by luxurious chartreuse-colored sofas and turquoise velvet chairs, respectively. The countess’ aesthetic and color sense are as exceptional and majestic as her heritage.
In a room off of the more masculine study, Elisabetta has created a glowing cabinet of delicate curiosities. Exquisite natural objets from the sea — coral, shells, sponges and velum-covered books — rest safely behind glass beneath a glistening crystal chandelier. It’s a cave of femininity in which to reflect on the beauty of the natural world. The color scheme is in keeping with the vista from the pink salt flats nearby, where blue skies kiss the lilac shallows and flamingos balance brilliantly.
Here one tells the time by meals: leisurely breakfasts; lunches of perfect pasta, like penne Siciliana — with tomato and roasted eggplant — so simple you’d think you could recreate it at home (but in fact one never could compete with chef Daniela’s formidable kitchen feats). Long dinners with little ones — the rascal putto Patrizio and the beguiling Maria Lavinia, Guillaume’s niece and nephew — making us laugh. The food is endless. A vat of steaming, fragrant spaghetti vongole, arrives one evening and our hostess urges us to serve ourselves so that we may all enjoy it when it’s hot hot hot! We all go back for seconds, not realizing that veal piccata and roasted potatoes are still to come…and every night there’s a different gelato for dessert: a tube of refreshing lemon with zest threads atop.
One day Bernard takes us out on La Guapa, his boat, and we make for the islands. We drop anchor off the coast of Isola Favignana and spend our day diving from the boat and swimming to the arid, rocky coast, picnicking on melon and prosciutto, caprese skewers and salty fried veal milanese with lots of cold white wine. Bristly, the most extraordinary miniature wire-haired Dachshund is commandante of the boat, sniffing the air and watching the coast line grow closer as we approach.
After dinner, if we can summon the strength, we head into Marsala to drink, well, marsala, at the local bar, La Sirena Ubrica (the drunken mermaid) which is owned by Guillaume’s brother’s friend, an illustrious character with a checkered past. As usual, we are the last to leave, and wind up keeping the staff company as they close up and we sip our last glasses of marsala.
We make a pilgrimage to eat at Lido la Pineta for an enormous lunch of spaghetti ai ricci — firm, bright coral-colored local sea urchin that is rich, salty and completely seductive (you know you’ve found your tribe when no one refuses to eat urchin and everyone goes back for seconds). Afterward we stumble the few feet into the sea, and head to the ancient Greek ruins of Selinunte nearby. Still salty from the sea and now also bathed in sweat from the still heat on this side of the island, we dance among the columns and channel the mystics. The temples are remarkably intact and imposing, but thanks to the wine at lunch and the sun, we are all brave and boisterous.
By our last night, I had apparently finally improved on my signature ghostly pallor. Guillaume’s molto tanned pirate brother, Pier Francesco, told me over dinner, “You know, you are almost a normal color.” This was all the encouragement I needed to mentally commit to coming back. La Favorita, de Sarzanas, Sicilia, grazie mille…ti amo.
If you want to experience this gorgeous haven that belongs to one of Sicily’s oldest families, La Favorita is also available to rent through The Thinking Traveler.
A pesto addict since birth, I fell completely in love with Spaghetti alla Trapanese, a Sicilian version that’s made with tomato, garlic and almonds. Here’s a recipe for it:
Spaghetti alla Trapanese (serves 4)
455g / 1lb dried spaghetti
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g / 5 1/2oz almonds, skins on or off
2 clove of garlic
4 large handfuls of fresh basil, leaves picked
extra virgin olive oil
600g / 1lb 6oz tomatoes, halved
6 oz freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Cook your spaghetti in salted boiling water according to the packet instructions. Warm the almonds in a dry pan, then smash them in a pestle and mortar or grind lightly in a food processor until you have a coarse powder consistency. Put them into a bowl. Grind the garlic and basil separately in the mortar and then mix with the almonds, adding a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and really scrunch them with your hands into the almond mixture until they have completely broken up. Loosen with a little extra olive oil and toss with your hot drained pasta. Check the seasoning, divide on to 4 plates, and spoon any sauce that remains in the pan over the top.
N.B. This recipe is traditionally served with Pecorino or Parmesan on the side to add to taste, however it’s not mixed into the pesto.
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About two weeks ago I arrived in Paris. It was a notion that took hold when I was here in February, reporting for WSJ. Magazine on Inaki Aizpitarte’s Le Chateaubriand. From my petite borrowed apartment on l’Ile de France, as I walked through the damp streets and traversed the misted Pont Louis Philippe, as I recovered from meals that were themselves little lives and took baths to cast off the chill and prepare for the next ones, the truth of it seeped around and over me: “This place feels like home.”
Don’t misunderstand me: it felt nothing like New York (apart from its sophistication), but Paris feels to me like a home of my own, a place where the rhythms of my mind and body are aligned with the grey city that stretches out around me like a giant waking cat. And so I planted a seed in my mind that I would move here for a rare pocket of time between projects, to test the alluring waters of being European for a summer, being able to say yes to invitations to weddings and weekends on islands and opportunities to explore my favorite country every day. When asked why I was moving to Paris, my response was most simply conveyed with, “Why not?”
So here I am. In Paris. On a Monday in June. In an apartment at the tippy-top of the city that appeared for me out of the blue, as all things seem to when I am clear about what I need. If you’d told me a year and a half ago, before Uruguay, that I’d have such conviction or faith in it, I’d have laughed. But that experience changed everything.
Did I ever tell you about Isabel–the lady I met on the beach in José Ignacio? I was lying on the sand after the lunch rush at La Susana, and I looked down Playa Mansa past the amber Brazilian bodies with their tushies and the Argentines with their towering platform shoes on the beach. Walking toward me barefoot (bien sûr), hips swaying, white hair flying in the breeze beneath a wide-rimmed straw hat, was a lady in a black strapless one-piece maillot and large sunglasses, and I said to myself, “Well, she’s got it…and she’s obviously French.” She approached me gracefully, pale lips parted to show white teeth smiling often and easily, and sat down beside me on the sand.
“Halo! Tienes un cigarette?” She purred in Spanish as only a French woman can, making a mere phrase into a song. “Non, je n’ai aucune plus,” I responded in French. We began our dialogue there, where so many conversations have begun (and ended), and I will always stand by the fact that I knew at once she was extraordinary.
And 18 months later I find myself in her home in Hossegor, near Biarritz in Les Landes, letting her care for me as I recover from a weekend of epic eating. Begging her to correct my many mistakes in French. Laughing with her about private jokes that we established on another continent over another summer. We pack surfboards into a car and go to the beach. We wade in the water up and down the shore as exercise. We stretch. We smoke rollies. This woman who came out of the ether up to me on a beach…one who was also creating a new reality for herself. She does so again and again by lifting a paint brush or caring for a plant. There are no little projects: there is just one long endeavor to find pleasure in life and health and nature. This is Isabel, a gift from Uruguay who I get to enjoy in France. “Ma soeur,” we call each other. Ma soeur Française. My summer in France.
About a year ago, not long after I returned from Uruguay, my post-adventure malaise and the growing concern for where my next paycheck might come from was interrupted by a call from my old pal Alexander Olch. We met at Russ & Daughters Café on Orchard Street. I ordered a Hendricks martini, cold up and with a twist, and Alex ordered latkes with salmon roe and sour cream. Given that I was melancholic and that Alex keeps kosher, we had a unspoken predetermined agreement that I would get his caviar and crème fraîche to cheer me and with begged for blinis from the kitchen, we embarked on our supper.
Over the course of the meal, Alex alluded to his new project: he’d found the space in which he would realize his 6-year dream of opening an independent cinema.
A bit of background: I met Alex on Halloween 2005 at the annual Accompanied Library party in that wonderfully louche back room at the National Arts Club. I was dressed as a 1960s Pill-Popping Housewife (think Mrs. Robinson on painkillers): vintage slip, vintage Pucci housecoat, blonde bob wig and every piece of jewelry I owned. I carried around a martini glass filled with Good & Plenties, which I rattled menacingly and said,”Fetch me another martini!” to pretty much everyone I encountered. Evidently I was his dream girl. I have no recollection of what he was dressed as, except that it involved a necktie and eyeglasses.
Alex was finishing his film, The Windmill Movie, which, at this point, he’d already been working on for 5 years and would be released in 2007. Alex’s life was centered on Mott Street where his editing bay was a few doors down from his apartment (he has a predilection for arranging his affairs so that he never needs to cross a street). When he wasn’t editing and I wasn’t auditioning, we had good times together. Alex came to opening night of a play I was in at the Cherry Lane in which I played a goth lesbian collegiate. He avoided my dear dachshund, Lola, at all costs (difficult in my Chelsea studio apartment), and we carried on as such until my departure in September ’06 for Los Angeles, where I was determined to take my dramatic inclinations to the next level.
Alex finished his film. He’d never showed me a single frame, and when I attended the premiere at MoMA my heart swelled with pride. Unbeknownst to me, Alex had collaborated with programmer Jake Perlin, who distributed the Windmill Movie, and a friendship had blossomed over their shared love of cinema, native New Yorker status, and desire to create a new and different forum for the film-going experience. Just 9 short years later, Metrograph was born.
So returning to last year at Russ & Daughters: as Alex told me reverentially about a few youthful visits to the Ziegfeld and Paris theaters as a child, he explained that he wanted to bring magic back to movie-going. I listened and tried to ask intelligent questions; thanks to Alex’s inspired reverie, my cold gin martini and several mouthfuls of caviar my spirits were soaring. I was imagining myself at the opening of Alex’s cinema, standing akimbo in a Katherine Hepburn-esque white silk gown, flashbulbs popping! No, really I was wondering why Alex had chosen to tell me all this; he’d preemptively warned me that everything he was about to say was strictly confidential, so where was this going?
“In order to do this right,” Alex eventually said, “there needs to be a food aspect to it, and of all my friends, you know the most about food and restaurants.” Aha.
In the months that followed, I would come to understand Alex’s vision for The Metrograph Commissary, named for the restaurants of the same name that resided on Old Hollywood studio lots from the 1920s to 1950s, where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard supped next to a stagehand and a gaffer. The restaurant would be elegant and refined, yet welcoming and relaxed. There would be something for everyone on the menu. There would be simultaneously a sense of occasion and egalitarianism. Like Metrograph as a whole, there would be an eye to service and decorum, but always with a sense of fun. Prestige without pretension.
This was all music to my ears. I hail from a long line of ladies who politely said Good afternoon to each person they cross paths with after 12pm; my mother believes in wearing one’s best clothes on airplanes; and few things put me in a better mood than getting gussied up and toeing the line. In other words, I am a throwback and this would be my kind of place, and, in fact, an historic endeavor that would give back enormously to our community of cinephiles and New Yorkers.
In the 13 months that followed, my role as a consultant evolved. I helped to create the menu, which then got re-written, and re-written again (as menus do), but which, thanks to a group effort with chef Dennis Spina eventually became the concise collection of classic dishes with thoughtful sourcing and creative accents that it was always meant to be. I learned more about fire inspections than I ever expected to know. Need a plate engraved? I’ve got just the guy for you. Want to put your entire bar offerings into Revel? I’m your gal. 300 glasses need washing? No sweat. Having not hostessed since I was in college, I was reminded of what a thankless job it is as I sat guests for our Friends & Family dinners…and how far I’ve come. Teaching new servers how to be great servers, no problem. Being a great server myself, no thank you. I’ve waitressed enough tables and am quite happy to have graduated.
The Metrograph Commissary has been open a month now. We’re finding our rhythm. We’re about to launch brunch. I am preparing for my next adventure, one that surely demands its own dedicated post. But as I scramble to pack and try to leave my baby in the best possible stead, I realize how much I shall miss this place that in some small way, I helped to build. I’ve long joked that I like to get baby restaurants born; I like to care for them and coddle them–there’s nothing I won’t do for them when they are babies, but then I like to ween them and let them have their own, hopefully long, lives. I’m a governess, there to clean scraped knees and keep peace in the nursery, but ultimately to teach them how to thrive on their own. There’s no exact title for this role, but like many of the most interesting and rewarding jobs, the prerequisite is love.
When I was a teenager I was an avid ceramicist (I even won an award!). In the pottery studio at Middlesex, my concerns about trigonometry, whether I’d be asked to the prom and the complete blank of what the future might hold fell away from me as I worked a mound of clay into something resembling a teapot on the wheel.
Chef-restaurateur Fernando Aciar also turned to clay for therapeutic contemplation. And quickly he’s proved that there are a lot of similarities between making food and making plates: consistency and care; a love of making that which is edible beautiful. I wrote about Fernando and Fefo Studio for Saveur here.