Sunday, August 26, 2018

Paris in August

Trip date: August 2017

After my week long holiday in the Southwest of France, I stayed with Forest and Thibault for another quick two days before flying home. But I can do a lot in two days!

Day One, Forest and I set out for a very special exhibit at The Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 70 Years of Dior was an amazing collection of over 300 gowns from all the designers who have led the haute couture house; Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Additionally, there were displays of shoes, handbags, jewelry, perfume. And an amazing collection of photos and ad campaigns, as well as magazine covers.
They even had a mini atelier set up and showed how they go about making patterns. It was really an event that overwhelmed my senses in a great way.  We spent a couple of hours going through everything, marveling at the craftsmanship, the elegance, and the style. It was awesome to be able to see so much of the House's work.
We discussed it all in detail over a wonderful lunch at Ellsworth after. We each took the 3-course menu; I chose the roasted marrow bones for my starter which were absolutely the best I have ever had!
While walking from the restaurant enroute to our next stop, we passed a cute little boutique hotel called The Drawing Hotel and had a quick drink on their small back terrace. It seemed to be a very nice 4-star hotel, with a great location in the 1st, if you are looking to stay in that area.

Our actual destination however was the Crillon Hotel, which had just reopened after a 4-year renovation, and their bar, Les Ambassadeurs. The hotel is located at Place du Concorde and its facade was originally commissioned in 1755 by King Louis XV. A mansion was finally built behind the facade and the Count of Crillon purchased it in 1788. In 1906 it was sold and turned into a hotel. That's some pedigree!
It's swanky as hell and the service was very proper but not stuffy. I just loved it! There is also a beautiful looking bistro with interior courtyard seating adjacent. The hotel is worth a stop, even to check out the amazing floral displays in the lobby. But if you're there anyway, why not a glass of champagne in the bar?  And by the way, if you book a room here, you get your very own butler. So call me and I'll drop by!

We had another new spot to check out, over at the Palais Tokyo, where Les Grand Verres had recently been opened by the team behind Candalaria. The space is very industrial chic, and the drink menu focuses on being sustainable and creating minimal waste. Drinks and snacks were great, and you can't beat the location, right on the Seine!

That evening we met Thibault and a few other friends at Duc Lombards, one of the main jazz clubs in the city. We had an absolutely great time sitting up in the balcony, listening to jazz, and sharing many bottles of wine!

Day Two, Forest and I had a delicious lunch at the one-Michelin starred Neige d'ete in the 15th arrondissement. For €76 we had 4 courses with wine pairings and amuses to start.
I chose to add Sevruga caviar to my Whitefish beignet (as you do) for another €25 and we shared a cheese course before dessert for another €12.

The wine pairings were all excellent, as was the service. It's a beautiful space, done in barely-there greys and whites. I'd highly recommend it.
After lunch we did a little shopping, stopping into the Maison de l'Escargot (just down the street) and then over to the 7th to the Maison du Whisky. Shopping completed I was looking forward to a glass of wine at L'avant Comptoir (one of my most fave spots in Paris) but they were having electrical issues and had to close.

We headed to Montparnasse and decided to do a crawl of the grande dame bistros. First stop was Le Dome, which is absolutely gorgeous inside. Multiple rooms, as well as a glassed-in terrace, are decked out lavishly. I could only imagine it back in its heyday.

Across the street we had a drink at Le Rotonde, where art and mirrors line the walls and the red and amber lighting gives a theatrical feel to the space.
We finished up at Le Select, outside on their patio. It's so fun to imagine the various celebrities (and celebrity wannabes) who ate and drank at these old haunts. The year before we did a big lunch at La Coupole and drinks after at La Closerie des Lilas. Next time I'm in the area I'll try to hit Rosebud. So much fun!

Thibault met up with us for dinner at near by Les Fauves, a super cute and bustling restaurant with really good food.
And then it was home to pack :(

My American flight left CdG at noon, and I was lucky with the 3-seat row all to myself. I had a small layover in Chicago where I chowed down on some queso fundido and a margarita! Love France, but a girl needs her Mexican too!

All photos of Paris here.

Previous post on this trip:
Summer in Southwest France

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Summer in Southwest France

Trip date: August 2017

Tuesday 6am, leave for airport. American Premium seat from Seattle to Philly. No seat back entertainment, no electricity, no complimentary drink or snack, 5 1/2 hour flight. American Premium, Philly to CDG Paris, aisle seat in a middle four configuration with the two center free, 7 hours.

Arrived in Paris at 8am Wednesday. 10am, train from CDG to Montpellier, 4 hours. Train from Montpellier to Narbonne, 1 hour. Train from Narbonne to Avignonet, 1 hour. Desperately fought to stay awake.

12 1/2 hours of flights & 6+ hours of train rides later I arrived in a tiny town about 45 mins south of Toulouse, France. I exited the train in a field of sunflowers and pulled my suitcase along a dirt path to the main road where friends Luke and Spencer drove up and loaded me in the car. I was done!

Nic and Luke had kindly invited me to be their guest for the next week so I was hanging out with an incredibly fun and great group of friends in a big farmhouse called Domaine Marandou in the Southwest of France. Labastide-d'Anjou is a hamlet in the Languedoc-Roussillon region about 80 miles north of the border of Spain. 

10 adults, 5 kids ranging in age from 5 to 16, and a few drop in guests over 7 days. So. Much. Fun. Most days were spent playing in the pool, lounging by the pool, and relaxing with pool drinks.
Most evenings Luke would grill something for dinner, we'd all pitch in making drinks and sides. Plates of cheese would come out after. Then we'd keep opening more and more bottles of wine while playing games until late. So. Much. Fun.

One day Nic, Jennifer, Forest, Mel and I set out on a girl's adventure. Our first stop was l'Oulibo, an olive oil and olive product cooperative in Bize. Olive growers can bring their fruit here for pressing and can also sell their finished products. We left with a lot of oil and tapenade!

From here we drove a short way to Homps and had a wonderful lunch at En Bonne Compagnie. The restaurant sits right on the Canal du Midi, which runs from Toulouse to the Mediterranean. I had a lovely whole roasted fish with vegetables and a spicy aioli. And lots of rosé!

After lunch we made a brief stop at the Dolmen des Fados. This 5000 year old tomb is also the largest in the South of France. And unlike the dolmen that Forest and I so persistently searched for in the Loire, this one was hard to miss!
Our final stop of the afternoon was at Domaine de Gourgazaud in La Liviniere for some wine tasting. The manager was busy with some product issues so she just set out all her wines and left us in the cellar to taste our way through! As with most of France, the wine in this region is ridiculously inexpensive!
When we arrived back home Alain and Anna and two teenagers had arrived from Paris. We had a big table for dinner that night at the restaurant Relais de Riquet, also on the Canal du Midi, but the part of it that goes through our town.

Each time I've come with these friends to one of their August holidays, Luke always does a huge market shop at least once a week. This time I got up early and joined him, Mel, and Charlotte for the market day in near-by Revel. The Saturday market here takes over the entire town square!

Of course there are all sorts of fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese. But this market also had some vendors selling prepared food like paella, steamed mussels, and aligote!
Luke filled the minivan full of flats of produce while Mel, Charlotte, and I bought bags of pain au chocolate and wedges of cheese. Being a market lover, it was well worth getting up early for!

This part of France is known for cassoulet; a hearty dish of beans, sausage, and duck confit normally eaten in the fall and winter. However as we were in the same town as one of the most highly regarded cassoulets in the country, the six of us girls headed to Hostellerie Etienne so that this American could eat cassoulet in the middle of summer.
We weren't the only ones, the outdoor terrace was full of French folks eating this amazing dish. Sounds so simple, right? It's anything but. Forest was nice enough to share this with me. It's also the first time I'd seen an actual "cassole" the clay v-shaped dish with a special notch in the side for a spoon.  And in case you happen to be in this region, the restaurant sells bake-at-home versions! I grew up with take-and-bake pizza. Not-the-same.

After many bottles of wine, one of the guys came and picked us up (honestly don't remember which one!) and we went back to the house and had cheese for dinner. As you do.

I was so taken with those cassoles that I just had to buy one! Jennifer led Forest and I to Pottery Naurouze in neighboring Montferrand. I bought a small one that serves 4-6 for 7 Euros!!!
mine at use at home!
I love that on these vacations everyone pitches in. One night the boys grilled up a bunch of sausages and ribs and Mel and Naoise made a cake for dessert.

One morning, before we all hit the pool for the day, Forest made bloody mary's with meat straws I had brought from Seattle, while Anna made a huge brunch of truffled soft scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes.

Thibault made delicious gyoza for lunch one afternoon, while Forest made Pad Thai for 13!
I took my turn and made tacos, beans, and slaw one night, using tortillas, black beans, and canned chilis I had brought from home (they don't sell that stuff in France!).

Of course there were always pool drinks that everyone took turns doing!

And one day Spencer removed an absolutely gigantic spider from the ceiling of my bedroom. Jesus!

On one of our last nights us girls had a big, fun, drunk dance/singing party out by the hot tub, under the amazing Milky Way. I think we broke some furniture. It's fuzzy. But I know it was fun! And there were so many stars!
The last night we had worn ourselves out and we were all in bed pretty early. It was such a wonderful week, spent laughing, singing, eating, and drinking with people I feel lucky to know and don't see often enough.
The next day Thibault, Forest, Jennifer, and I drove to Toulouse and caught the train to Paris. It was a high-speed train and travelled 300+km/hour through fields of sunflowers, corn, lavender, and the wine country of Bordeaux. A lovely end to an absolutely wonderful vacation. Merci mon amis.

All photos from Southwest France here.

Part two of this trip:
Paris in August

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