Troy Hightower

Paris Update

We ended a recent European jaunt with a few days in Paris—home base a classy and spacious apartment on rue Geugnegaud in the 6th—high ceilinged, elegantly furnished and light filled with a wall of windows onto the street. Geugnegaud appears on the map to be a short quiet street, but is actually a busy through way, so there is some traffic noise. We learn from the midweek Brazilian femme de ménage that the apartment is owned by a woman from Rio who visits Paris a couple of times per year and lets the flat through Paris for Rent other times.

This was not a structured, culture, two-museum-a-day visit, but more of a "live in the hood" stay, with time spent wandering the streets, window shopping boutiques, galleries and antiquaires, and checking out the food scene. Rues Mazarin, Seine, Jacob, Lille, Universite, Saints Pere, and place Furstenberg are crammed with art, sculpture, antiques, and collectibles.

Sunday midday finds us out Rue de l’ Universite’ at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. A dramatic spotlit space in red and black, with just two dozen seats at a counter that winds around the open kitchen, Robuchon has no Michelin stars, but we think it one of the best restaurants in Paris. Black-clad waiters and chefs dance around each other, and provide smooth, efficient and friendly service. The menu has a dozen and a half ‘tasting’ portions, and larger starters and main courses as well, all astronomically priced. But the food is exquisite. A chef’s amuse of ginger/carrot emulsion starts the meal. We order six different tasting dishes in three courses: standouts are the sea-bream crudo in lime, thyme and fragrant olive oil and cubed bone marrow with a bit of grain mustard on toast. They are unfortunately out of my favorite pied de cochon, but the chicken gyosa in an Asian-‘perfumed’ jus are great, and the ris de veau on a veal reduction incredible. And of course, tiny cast-iron pots of Robuchon’s signature puree’ de pomme, said to be fully half butter, provide an unctuous accompaniment. For "afters" we have a chocolate-caramel confection called "Sphere" and is it rich! We sample four different wines by the glass, including a Sancerre and Vin Jaune, and I finish with an astonishingly fragrant Corsican eau de vie clementine from Brana. The bill for lunch for two comes to €384.

A block away from our apartment is the legendary cafe La Palette, always packed, which dates to the 30’s and was frequented in turn by Picasso, Cézanne, Braque and Hemingway. We manage an outdoor seat one evening for a Martini rouge and are intrigued by a series of three tiny tables at the end of the window, with a reserved sign, and a group of five venerable fellows whom we surmise are daily regulars, with their own corner.  The next evening, we find a seat (not easy either) at the Bistro Mazarin at our corner and are at first put off by a harried and surly waiter, who is curiously named Fred, but who turns friendly when he learns we are from north of San Francisco, and immediately whips out his phone to show us photos of his Harley trip to California last year, with a short selfie clip of his helmeted visage riding across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Adjacent to our doorway the gallery owned by natty Frenchman Jean Pierre Arnoux shows a 30th anniversary exhibition of French abstract painters from the 50's, that contains some very interesting pieces, including an artist previously unknown to us—Wladyslaw Luposzniak. Nearby in Rue Jacques Callot is Galerie Severin Maly, where we find a happy small oil sketch of a crowded restaurant scene by the gallery owner's 92-year-old father Michel Maly—it’s very evocative of haunts like Coupole or Deux Magots in the day. Nearby, Isabelle Subra Woolworth's shop displays some striking large format gold and colored stone jewelry, and Galerie Grillon in Rue de L’ Echaude displays a pair of impressive wrought bronze candelabra.

Wandering up Rue Jacob, we eye the splendid display of Italian picture-stone of Claude Boullé. We’ve visited and bought small pieces before, but only this trip learn that he digs sizable blocks of the stone from the earth in Tuscany himself, and slices and polishes them in his workshop. Apparently, there is no way of knowing if there is a “picture” inside until they are sliced and partially polished. Many have the look of a Tuscan landscape. Looking through several slices of stone, Troy selects a vertical format that she feels represents Valletta, Malta where we just spent a week. Further up the street, Troy takes time for site inspections of the renovated Hotel Millesieme, Hotel Le Sainte, and the Montalambert.

In the middle of one block of Rue de Seine, just off Buci, a mini restaurant empire run by jovial owners Drew Harré and Juan Sanchez include the modern French Semilla, seafood-oriented Fish-la Boisseniere, Freddy’s, and Cosi...with iconic wine shop La Derneire Goutte a block away in Rue de l'Abbaye. Semilla offers such treats as ricotta-lemon ravioli, haricots verte with nectarines, and onion tartlets with Comte and confit egg yolk.  Freddy’s is really a French Izakaya....our first night dinner there crammed on a couple of metal stools at a minuscule counter surrounding the open two-butt kitchen we watch the grill chef cook multiple skewers over Japanese bintochan charcoal.....all are tiny plates, unaccompanied and mostly ungarnished....if you want veg, you order a veg course. We bite into superb small beignets of zucchini with a tartar sauce to start, then move on to baby eggplant with ricotta and tapenade. From the grill we sample rare pigeon fermier, sauce salmis and just-charred raw Bonito with a diced ratatouille. Freddy’s is packed, noisy, bustling, frenetic and delicious. Cosi, next door, is a mostly takeout sandwich shop featuring the most incredible wood-oven focaccia....crusty, puffy, chewy, and full of holes....that is served at the other restaurants, and which we buy to-go for a couple of dinners in the apartment.

Fish la Boissonnerie is situated in and old fish shop, with an elegant arched tile seascape mural on the facade...they modified the ‘P’ of Poissonnerie to a ‘B’ to create the name. Perched at the bar there one night we begin a meal with asparagus & snap peas with feta, and an unctuous grilled Tete de Cochon on a bright green pea purée with toast gribiche. The house made tagliatelle with girolle, asparagus and savagnin foam that follows is delicious, but the pasta a bit too al dente.....a carafe of Tempier Bandol rosé is a great accompaniment.

The area is crammed with patisseries, chocolatiers, boulangeries, cremeries and other gourmet shops. In rue Jacques-Callot artisan patisierre Meert bakes the most delicious brioche loaf, studded with raisins and topped with crystal sugar, which makes a quite fantastic breakfast toast. Two blocks away on St Germaine just off Rue d’ L’Ancienne Comedie, Georges Larnicol, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, creates kouign amman, the iconic Breton pastry—the name, pronounced "queen-yaman" comes from the Breton language and translates to “butter cake”.  Chef-writer and Paris resident David Lebovitz says Larnicol’s are the best in Paris, stating "he brought Brittany to the city".

Just past the Odeon metro stop we hop on the 63 bus for a journey through Carrefour de l'Odéon, past twin-turreted Saint-Sulpice Church and the elegant shops of Rue de Sèvres, hence along the seine and across the Pont de l' Alma. We alight on the rive droit and head to Avenue Marceau to visit the Musée Yves St Laurent, housed in the elegant hôtel particulier which was the headquarters of the fashion house for decades. This is an interesting small museum of fashion displaying hundreds of his creations from the 70's through 2002. But of greater interest than the gowns and outfits themselves, are the illustrative displays, photographs and videos that chronicle the process of couture design, creation, exhibition and sale. His small design studio on the top floor is preserved much as it was when he sketched, watched models twirl in the mock-up toiles, and called for subtle changes before the final design went to the seamstresses’ ateliers for creation.

Re-boarding the 63 to return, we hop off at Saint-Germaine, and stroll down Rue du Bac to pick up a bottle of the Brana clementine eau de vie at Joel Robuchon's cave, ‘72 Armagnac at Rhys Dupeyron and nose around the immense larder that is La Grand Epicerie de Paris—the food halls of Le Bon Marché. Bac is also more and more a center of sweets, with venerable Dalloyau, newish fancy pâtisseries des Gateaux du Pain and des Rêves, and luxe chocolates at Chapon and Jacques Genin. (Some say that the mille feuille was created in the mid 1800's in the street). There is a sweet little pocket-park called Square des Missions Etrangères where one can take the load off on a bench for a few beats. Heading across to Rue de Sevres, we marvel that the renovation of the Lutetia, the only 5-star hotel on the left bank, is not completed after several years—we had hoped to take a cocktail at the re-vamped bar, but alas. Hermès, adjacent to the hotel, has the most marvelous interior, as it was fashioned out of the old indoor swimming pool of the hotel, and features delightful tessellated floors and wrought iron railings winding around the surrounding balcony levels. The fashion streets of the 6th Arrondissement are here....Vieux Colombier, Grenelle, du Dragon, Cherche Midi....(of course, the high fashion is on the right bank around Faubourge St-Honoré).

The next morning, we experience a new a metro phenomenon--we descend several levels at the Carrefour de l'Odéon entrance, to find there are no ticket machines! Troy has to climb out and search another entrance, that leads to a place to actually buy tickets. I guess they are "incenting" use of the metro card. We take the 4 line, change to the 3 line and emerge at the Rue Saint Maur stop in the 11th. A few block walk brings us to the new Atelier des Lumières located in a former foundry--sort of a digital museum of sound and light--a huge space with sophisticated "surround" projection equipment intended to produce a completely immersive experience. The initiating main show is Klimt, and the "pre-show" is Hundertwasser, both fabulous. Accompanied by original scores, animated images from the artists' various works rotate around all four walls and blossom flower-like across the ceilings and floors of the darkened space. It's really quite magical. 

That afternoon we go passage searching in the 6th. Paris still has several covered and non covered passages—narrow foot streets that combine commerce, cafes and bars—most are on the right bank, but from Rue Mazarin we enter Passage Dauphine, which connects to Rue Christine, at the corner of which sits the Hotel d’ Aubusson. We’ve stayed in the past but take a short tour to check the renovations they’ve done to the lobby and courtyard. Just up the street is another luxe historic courtyard hotel, Relais Christine, which has also undergone recent extensive upgrades.  Cours de Commerce St Andre, a narrow uneven cobbled passage lined with small shops and cafes, and the venerable restaurant Procope, connects Rue St Andre des Arts and Boulevard Saint-Germaine.  We meander from there around Rue Lobineau, through the Marché Couvert Saint-Germain, and find Chez Julien-Lou Pescadou for a simple lunch of a delicious terrine faites-maison and salad de ecrevisse. Then along Saint-Sulpice for a bit of fashion shopping, and up Rue Bonaparte and across Rue du Four window gazing. Maison du Whisky in Carrefour de l'Odéon has an amazing selection of Calvados, Armagnac, and eau de vie, and we pick up a bottle of cherished abricot to take home as a gift for an old friend, and a bottle of Domaine de L' Hortus Pic Saint Loup for our final dinner chez nous. Barthelemy in Rue Grenelle, with aging cellars below, is our favorite cheese shop in Paris, and has tomme de brebis, crottin de chavignol, and chestnut leaf-wrapped Banon to go with wine and the lovely focaccia from Cosi.

We take a final wander up to the Seine and back around the quartier to the traiteur/boucher in Buci to buy half a poulet roti. The galleries are all open for evening vernissage, patrons spilling out into the streets, wine or champagne in hand. In the apartment, we see a large glamorous party filled with beautifully dressed young people on the balconies and throughout a huge apartment across the street. It’s D-day—June 6th. The party can’t be in honor of that....the partygoers are three, maybe four generations beyond War II, and no doubt have no inkling. If we had the International NYT, formerly the Herald Trib, no doubt we would find the iconic Peanuts cartoon of Snoopy in a helmet looking grim but determined, swimming through the hedgehog-barrier strewn surf of Omaha beach.

Two weeks from the longest day of the year, and Paris is light until eleven, only then getting towards Magritte's crepesuliere inky sky. We look down at the partygoers, they look up, we lift glasses and give thumbs up. C' est Paris......