Voulez Vous Coucher à Paris?

Paris is expensive….hellishly expensive!

Particularly its hotels. And especially the five-star properties. Sure, if you stay at the Hotel de Crillon or the Ritz, you’ll enjoy a superior location, super-attentive staff (including, on certain floors, a private butler), as well as a well-appointed (though not necessarily large) room – but you’ll pay upwards of a thousand bucks a night!

We dabbled in this arena several years ago when our Parasole Culinary Team spent a couple of weeks in Paris and SPLURGED by staying at the HOTEL PLAZA ATHENEE (the rooms were much less at the time, and we got a group discount). It was a lovely property, with all the aforementioned attributes (but, still, a standard room for two was tiny by American standards – barely big enough for a bed, sitting chair and armoire). Of course, there was the bonus of having the world-acclaimed RESTAURANT ALAIN DUCASSE just off the lobby. Not only did we have the privilege of dining there, we also were treated to a personal and private tour of the kitchen, including lengthy conversations with the cooks and chefs.

(Alain Ducasse, of course, wasn’t there – he has an empire to run. But for those occasions when he is in residence, the hotel had constructed a glass-walled office/dining room for him adjacent to the kitchen, where he could watch his team work by looking up at a bank of wall-mounted CCTV’s.)

But here’s the deal: Joanne and I have been able to smoke out hotels in major European markets that share many of the attributes of the 5-star joints at a fraction of the price, while offering a more personal and engaging experience. Probably our favorite find is the HOTEL SAINT GREGOIRE in the heart of the 6th Arrondisement on Paris’ Left Bank.

More about the hotel in a moment…

First, the location: You’re just a few minutes’ walk from some of the most interesting and fun venues Paris has to offer.

On nice days, we love to while away a few hours strolling, sitting, reading and eating in the LUXEMBOURG GARDENS, the peaceful and spacious (61 acres of spacious) park famous for its manicured combination of French gardens and English gardens (which is sort of odd in that both were designed by Marie di Medici and supposedly inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence).

Kids can be engaged for hours here – riding ponies, sailing miniature sailboats on the pond, riding the carousel. And, at the end of the day, they can indulge in sweet treats by sitting outside at ANGELINA, one of the city’s premier chocolatiers. You’ll want to get the “little darlings” wired up on sugar, so in addition to a pastry treat, be SURE to order a cup of Angelina’s signature HOT CHOCOLATE. The best I’ve ever had in my life!!!

Another bonus of the location: You’re just two blocks from THE BON MARCHÉ department store – the best in the city (you heard me, Galeries Lafayette!). On every visit, I spend hours wandering its ground-floor FOOD HALLS.

Also, if you’re a fan of the writer, Dan Brown – author of The Da Vinci Code – then you’ll be compelled to visit the CHURCH OF SAINT-SULPICE, just a ten-minute walk from the St. Gregoire. There you’ll find “The Rose Line” that Silas the monk used as a reference point in his quest to find the Holy Grail. A small opening in the south transept allows the bright sunlight to illuminate the brass rose line embedded in the floor of the cathedral. Not familiar with the significance of “The Rose Line?” Well, read the book.

The Saint Gregoire is an 18th century mansion that has been re-purposed as a guest house-style boutique property by the designer David Hicks. The hotel resides on a quiet street a few blocks from the metro station, SAINT-PLACIDE. Not only are the rooms sound-proof, English is fluently spoken by the lovely and professional receptionist, Alice.

The best part of staying at the Saint Gregoire: Descending into the basement and entering the medieval “stone-arched cave” breakfast room every morning for freshly squeezed juice, buttery warm croissants, orange marmalade, yogurt, and more. Along with pots of hot coffee for you, there’s hot chocolate for the kiddies. A continental breakfast is always included in the room rate.

And now for the pièce de résistance – Get ready! – the room rates on our recent stay hovered around $250 a night, which is REMARKABLE for the hotel’s quality, style, and location. In a city of $500-$1,000/night hotel rooms. This is a “FIND”!!!!

Je vous en prie!



An Oasis in Paris

Sometimes when Joanne and I are in Paris, we just don’t want to be culinarily challenged. By the 5th or 6th day of seeking out very special restaurants that somehow could have a culinary relationship with our PARASOLE restaurants, we simply want a DAY OFF…a time to just chill.

But Paris being Paris, even the places you expect to be predictable have the capacity to surprise. Consider PAVILLON ÉLYSÉES LENÔTRE…..or simply LENÔTRE, a little gem of a restaurant southeast of the Arc de Triomphe toward Place de Concorde, right on the Champs. You’ll see it nestled perfectly in a park across the street from the Palais Royale amongst the trees.

This place is the soul of consistency. It consistently earns solid rankings for its food, and its service and décor don’t disappoint either. It’s a “safe” choice – that’s what we like about it – but damned if I don’t come away from every meal with an idea or two.

More often than not, I come away with a kitchen gadget or two as well, because the space is made up of three components – the restaurant, a cooking school, and a very well-curated culinary boutique with appliances, books, dishware and the like, as well as an assortment of small electronics and appliances for the kitchen.

By the way, if it’s a nice day, YOU MUST sit outside.

Regardless of where you sit, be prepared for some adventure, because amidst the comfort food and familiar pastries are dishes featuring smart, attractive and sometimes witty plating. You won’t be overwhelmed; you’ll simply be delighted as you kick back with a bottle of wine (or perhaps two).

Our appetizers have included smoked salmon with blini and horseradish cream and a crunchy salad, foie gras encased in cranberry “fruit leather”, and a quail breast with pumpkin in Jerusalem artichoke foam. But this is also the place for a simple, deliciously creamy quiche Lorraine. And our granddaughter was in hog heaven with her spaghetti tossed in butter and sprinkled with a little Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Steak Frites? Of course, and they’re just as you’d expect, except on occasion they add a few snails. But what about a special of Beef Cheeks with Chorizo? Expecting that? I don’t think so. I’ve enjoyed countless hanger steaks, but never a VEAL hanger steak as I’ve had here. It’s as though they try to sneak it by you. Same with the Shepherd’s Pie – also made with veal. By the way, they call this dish Veal Parmentier, but it’s really just a Shepherd’s Pie. And a delicious one at that.

Twice Joanne has had the Monkfish “Bouillabaisse” with white beans. She could easily be a slave to that dish (just like me and Bao Buns). And speaking of Asian treats, Lenôtre isn’t bashful about going there. Witness the grilled shrimp alongside spring rolls with sweet and sour dipping sauce and a bowl of Thai fried rice. Finally, my favorite: Hazelnut Crusted Cod on a bed of Chanterelle Mushrooms.

Over one of our frequent lunches here, we concluded that Lenôtre (and a bevy of other Parisian spots) were too good to waste on us. We needed to bring over the PARASOLE CULINARY TEAM. So we did.

After that decision, Joanne and I dove into the pastries – tarts, cakes, Baba Rhums and Charlottes. Check ‘em out.

The Parasole Culinary Team arrived not long afterward, and here they are at the Eiffel Tower and, of course, Lenôtre.

GO THERE. You’re gonna like this place – as much for how engaging it is as how relaxed you’ll be as you wile away an afternoon on the Champs-Élysées.



Cock ‘o the Walk for Chicken Lovers

I love chicken…LOVE IT!!!

And I’ve been fortunate enough to eat it all over the world – from street food stalls in Bangkok…to Kansas City for STROUD’S cast iron skillet chicken deep fried in lard ……or the Central American sensation, POLLO CAMPERO’s grilled chicken, so coveted by Los Angelenos that prior to its U.S. opening they smuggled it in their suitcases on planes arriving from Guatemala City.
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The food world is full of connoisseurs – steak fans, oyster mavens, cheese authorities, whisky and wine snobs, even soup Nazis. But have you ever once met a chicken aficionado?

For a long time, I felt there really wasn’t a whole lot of difference between one roasted chicken and another. They all seemed pretty good to me – kind of like pizza (“The worst pizza I’ve ever had was pretty darn good.”).

Occasionally I tried roasting a better bird – organic, pasture-raised, “walking about” birds, etc. They were twice the price and marginally better than the garden variety supermarket industrial chicken.
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