Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Organ friendly

Feasting with mom continues: Chapter 3

Last night with the stormy, cold weather bringing us right back to winter after the glorious spring weekend, mom, friend + I headed over to the quiet 7th arrondissement to dine at the hearty bistro, Chez L’Ami Jean at 27, rue Malar. We came in out of the cold into a warm and bustling environment. Simple décor of wood tables and chairs, set side-by-side, and a wait staff that was ultra busy and not really concerned about frivolities such as smiling. The open kitchen where six or seven chefs danced around each other, provides non-stop entertainment as well as the pleasure of being able to see all the incredible dishes that fly out of there. We started with three coupes de Champagne to celebrate my friend W’s recent publishing success, and nibbled on the lardons served in a stainless steel bowl.

The menu offers the choice for a 32 euro menu for entrée, plat + dessert or you can order à la carte. It is very organ heavy including many cheeks, kidneys and brains. I almost felt happy, for once, that it was cold out because this is serious winter eating.
W + I settled on the oyster, served warm with a bed of volaille, and a mousse (more foam) of carrot. The plate came warm and each item had a full flavor. As W described it, “it’s like a foamy, briny, meaty morsel.” Delicious, and likely I suspect, a great cure for a hangover. Mom settled on an emulsion of vegetables that was pureed and served over more lardons. It was rich and full of flavor. For dinner two of us selected the Agneau de Lait (baby lamb...oh the guilt) marinated in herbs and olive oil and served with the consistently phenomenal French style of pomme puree, which essentially takes American mashed potatoes to the a whole new, creamy level. For the lamb, the ribs, a leg and some other cut I didn’t make out, were served and I started off by trying to politely cut meat from the bones and soon ended up Fred Flintstone style gnawing away at it to get the goods. It was delicious, but rather bone-heavy. Call me traditional, but I think I prefer the simpler chop or filet. W selected the trifecta of porcelet (pork). Ear, cheek and maybe a slice of the actual flesh came stacked together on top of a bright green Parsley gel which looked like crème-de-menthe. The head chef is from the Basque country and there are certain elements (foam/gel), which veer from being totally French traditional and this is a welcome addition. In my opinion food that has more than one origin is always the most interesting. The bread was fresh, brown, country bread with crisp crust.

We selected a lovely 2004 Cahors to go with the meal. The wine menu is diverse and well priced. The selection ranged from a 20 Euro Gaillac from the South-West to a 400 Euro Pomerol. There is also a nice selection of after dinner drinks- from a 10 Euro glass of Chivas Regal to a 5400 Euro bottle of Armengac from many years ago. We ended the meal with two desserts which continued the layered and robust nature of the main courses. One was a sable Breton (oat-like, butter cookie) served with vanilla ice cream and strawberries and the other was like a rhubarb soup with large chunks of baked rhubarb and more vanilla ice cream. Chez L’Ami Jean is a full-French experience from the décor to food and best experienced with chilly weather so all the more desire to fill yourself with full bodied red wine and full-flavored and meaty based dishes. Don’t expect to be hand-held through your experience. Even when the crowds died down the staff moved at such a pace that you felt you were bothering them even to get the check. But all of that aside, the food is fantastic. Reservations are highly recommended.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

foam, foam, and more foam...

Feasting in Paris with mom continues…
At le Chateaubriand on Friday night the culinary revolution started by Spanish chef Fernan Adria which, among many things, made foamed food a must have dining experience, was in full effect. I thought this culinary treat (depending on your tastes) had come and gone like platform shoes but apparently I was mistaken. The chef, Inaki Aizpitarte, which is a Basque (Northern Spain) name, may even perhaps have been a student of Adria’s, but that is pure speculation. In 2007 Le Chteaubriand was ‘le resto Parisien’ for media and culture types aged 25-50. The place is still going strong as evidinced by the full house with people waiting out the door for a coveted space. The vibe of the place was pretty low-key and low attitude (happily), with a very open space, contemporary brassierie style with white tiles and wood bar. The integrity and endurance of the restaurant (it is not always easy to maintain a reputation as they have had), must stem comes from the fact that the waiters are all part owners so there is real drive to be a success. .
But back to the foam. The menu was a chef’s menu that included five courses for 40 Euros- a very decent price. The first three dishes were foam heavy. The first was a small ramakin-type dish that held foam essence of petit pois (green peas) with a nice sized oyster hidden within. It was an earthy dish which for some at the table was pleasurable but for me a bit cringy. I remembered that I am not really a lover of green peas and recalled my childhood of dinneres spent scooping them onto the floor for my dog to eat, presumably without getting caught. But the oyster was big and delicious. Next: A deconstrcuted bouillabase made cold and foamy with slices of perfectly cooked veal and small sprouts of herbs. This sounded totally weired and if you took away an expectation for warm bouilliabase à la Marseille then all went fine. En suite: the most phallic of our course was the large white asperagus laying next to a rolled up filet of lieu jaune, a flat white fish. They looked like two fraternal twins as a foamed essence of seasme rested upon them with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. It was an all-white food experience but full of flavors that melted in your mouth. The final savory course was charcuterie. In past experiences I have not done well with this Norman dish, however at Chateaubriand the elements were refined, lightend up and fantastic. A small chunk of sausisson de strasbourg with its eerily red skin was accompagnied with stacked pate de campagne type elements with some light saurkraut and fresh cabbage. It was a great combination of salty and crunchy and fresh. The dessert course was a choice between a cheese plate which had a selection of a chevre, a type of blue, young cantal and tome de savioe, or fresh rhubarb ice cream set among juicy strawberries. All the wine here is biologique and we we shared two fabulous bottles of white whose names escape me right now, and were given a lovely digestive at the end which was a lovely mixture of anais and grenadine. Bon App.
Le Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier. 75011. Metro Goncourt.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Urbane Kitchen

Urbane- A restaurant in the 10th

When mom comes to town eating is always high on the agenda. Of course we all know Paris is full of great food options, but finding that unique, stand out, and off the beaten path dining experience is always a delight, in whatever city you may be visiting. I skimmed through the new stash of articles she brought over from US magazines about Paris, but it was the recent Bon Appetite article about Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate + Zucchini fame who recommended a handful of right bank food stops that grabbed the most attention. Included in this was Urbane, a smallish restaurant owned by a French-Irish couple, and located near the border of the 10th + 11th arrondissements, on a quiet street just off of Avenue Parmentier. As we arrived a bit before 8:00pm we were the first or second people in the space but by the time we left after 10:00 it was packed, which is a pretty good sign for a neighborhood place on Wednesday night. The vibe is casual, table cloths are white paper with printed black abstract imagery. There are about 25-30 tables and the artwork changes monthly, usually with a small opening for the local artist who is showing. It’s clear you have settled on something special the moment you are greeted, seated and soon brought an amuse-bouche, in this case a salmon won-ton type morsel that melts in your mouth.

For entrées we ordered a Tain de crabe that was crab, avocado and herbs mixed and molded into a nice stack, topped with sliced, skin off, tomatoes and surrounded, you will think oddly, with a homemade tomato ketchup, but it worked because the tomatoes were fresh and the flavors all came together. The other entree was sliced foie gras de canard topped with a light onion-poppy seed type cracker and dabs of raspberry syrup on the side. Bread, always a real indicator of an establishment regardless of the anti-carbohydrate phase we are in, was fresh and delicious- white country and whole wheat with seeds. Moving into plats: On one side we had Noix de Veau that was perfectly cooked and seasoned and surrounded by a circle of cantaloupe-a perfect accompaniment along with the morsels of parsley filled homemade gnocchi. On the other side we had filets de St. Pierre, a flaky white fish that was set next to an “ecrase des petit pois,” or flattened bed of spring peas. The wine selection was diverse, well priced and not too lengthy nor too short, with more reds then whites.
Onto dessert where we shared chupa chups (yes like the trendy lollipops), of moist fig surrounded by a light flaky crust. It just melted in your mouth. On the side of this was a refreshing green apple sorbet which was perfectly and lightly sweetened, probably only naturally. The other dessert was a rhubarb cheesecake that was a circle of soft fromage blanc on a bed of graham cracker like crust and surrounded by lightly cooked and spiced rhubarb slices. It was hard to stop eating it. Finally, with the bill they bring a few chocolate chip cookies-that recall those of childhood days. The prices are very reasonable. For dinner the menu with entrée, plat, + dessert was 30 Euros (I think), and entrée + plat or plat + dessert was around 24-25 Euros (I guess you can tell that mom paid).

Please note that this is by memory so my non-professional food reporting should not be held to intense scrutiny—rather go and experience for yourself. Friday + Saturday nights there is a DJ and reservations are recommended. Urbane, 12, rue Arthur Groussier.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Alec Soth-Jeu de Paume

On view at the Jeu de Paume is an exhibition of photographs by Alec Soth, a New York based photographer, who joined Magnum in 2004. The show is titled "L'espace entre nous," and it presents selected images from recent series of work including "Sleeping by the Mississippi," (2004) "Niagra,"(2006) and selected images from his ongoing "Portraits," which capture the beautiful, sentimental (But not in a kitchy way), honest and colorful face of America. The photographs are documentary-he travels frequently around the country and asks people to take their picture. Other series on view are Dog Days in Bogota,"(2007), an hommage to the Colombian capital for his newly adopted daughter who was born there, and a series of photographs developed in 2007 for Fashion Magazine, which include shots of Karl Lagerfeld and other fashion types. It's an engaging and thoughtful presentation of images.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cherche Midi

On rue de Cherche Midi-between Blvd. Raspail and Blvd. Montparnasse, there is a series of second-hand boutiques called Chercheminippes. Many may already be in the know. I discovered them about a year ago when I took that street towards the subway after my Alliance Française classes. I happened to be in the neighborhood yesterday and once again took pleasure in these stores. Scattered along the lower portion of the street, closer to Montmartre then Raspail are separate boutiques for children, home, men + three for women which more or less include shoes and accessories, designer label, and more casual wear. Today I saw a vintage Gucci valise with the classic red and green strip and brown fabric- asking price 671 Euros but I also saw a great pair of navy Antik Batik pants for 35 Euros and Isabelle Marant top for 65Euros. The men’s store is fantastic-finds include Hugo Boss or Armani dress shirts for 30 Euros. Not everyone gets that thrill of finding a designer skirt or blouse in perfect condition but for a fraction of the price but for some reason I do, and so if you do, I suggest you check out Chercheminippes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Maison Rouge

If you are in the mood to throw your mind and body into fits of paranoia, claustrophobia, instability and perhaps check your gag reflexes
while you are at it (no, this is not about some new designer drug),
head over to the Maison Rouge for a visit through German artist Gregor
Schneider's latest manipulations of space, and a small survey of Spanish artist Pilar Albarracin's,, videos of self-immolation and tests of physical endurance.

As he is known to do, Schneider has here taken up a white cube space and transformed it into a maze of passageways and various rooms that vary between all white with a harsh, dull lighting,cold temperatures, padded aluminium walls, cement spaces with wires and my favorite (now that i am out), the all black, ALL BLACK, space. All of these rooms, by the way, lock after you enter the space thereby giving only
one way out...(I know this for a fact because I tried).

I knew my threshold for small, dark spaces was not high but of course I signed
the release form and entered in alone, because I was alone and the
guard then said that the artist wants people to go in alone. After a
few questions like, "What if I freak out?" and "is it really, really
small in there?" I headed in and immediately said to myself as the door
slammed behind me, "Fuck. Why did I do this?" I quickly walked the first
long passageway and into the labyrinth. I just kept looking for the
door handle and moving forward without contemplation. I felt somewhere between Jennifer Garner in Alias after she has woken up from being drugged in some Eastern European country, and Alice in Wonderland coming down from the bad mushrooms. I thought i was out when i passed into the "cold and semi-dark space," and opened up into the all black space. Several four letter words coursed thru my system
but I knew this had to be the last room so I shuffled in clinging to
the wall which then I somehow left because I thought it would be clever to
start taking pictures for the flash to give me some light--so i ended up
on the far side and realized that this was neither the door out and now
I was more blinded from the flash of light. Somehow i got back to the
entrance door and into the cold room, now attempting to go back the way
I came. I got into one room because another visitor was entering. I
told her I couldn't deal and was getting out, she didn't know whether I
was crazy or follow me. Of course I couldn't go any further because the
rooms were locked going back so I re-entered and asked the girl if we
can do this together..she of course didn't have the paranoia attack that I did and we shuffled along the walls perimeter till we saw the outline of the exit door. phew. I just re-lived it again.

Moving onto Pilar Alabarracin's exhibition, one which I was curious to see because I was always so drawn to her images in magazines and books. I didn't realize the
hard-core, physical element to her work. The first film titled "Lunares," shows the artist dressed as a Spanish flamenco dancer in an all white dress. She takes out a needle with which she begins pricking herself until blood seeps thru the "membrane" of the dress and leaves a silver dollar sized polka-dot. Ouch. The other videos are perhaps a little less gore but none-the-less powerful evocations of early feminist performance with a visual association to the folkloric traditions of Southern Spain. The work is very strong and I do recommend both installations, but now you know.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fruits of Spring-Bada-Bing

The first words that came to my mind yesterday as I strolled through the little Parc de Batignolles yesterday and laid eyes on this blossom tree were, oddly, "bada-bing, bada-bang" a la Tony Soprano. Wow. This gorgeous cherry blossom tree was in full glory as the quickly fading, late afternoon sun danced along its surface. Feeling a little depressed with the cold and earlier gray weather of Paris after sun-filled Barcelona, I was quickly awakend to the beauty of this Parc and of Spring. The sufference of winter is almost bearable if these are the eventual results once it is over. I said almost...

Monday, April 14, 2008


I apologize for the lapse in postings...We were in Barcelona for the last five days and though I meant to report from there, between the sangria, tapas and shopping, I somehow lost track of time... We stayed in the Raval, which is my favorite neighborhood. The mix of cultures, architectures, old and new seems to be charged with so much energy. The quantity of cool bars and restaurants and independent designer shops is growing with each year, fueling this city with a truly cosmopolitan vibe that is built from a real fusion of people and styles. Here are some images...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Go ahead and Touch:

Touch is a design division of the socially sustainable product development firm of Brazilian-born Zoë Melo. Melo, who has worked as a design consultant since the early 2000s for such well-known companies as Artecnica’s Design with Conscience (see earlier blog). The mission of Touch is to collaborate with emerging designers to create hand-made products-thereby decreasing need and pushing people’s choice away from the mass-produced. The products also have an environmentally conscience approach to materials, whether recycled or produced organically. Some of the designers working with Touch include: Domingos Tórtora, an incredible designer, based in Brazil, who practices a design philosophy deeply rooted in the principles of sustainability and renewable organic cycles. His handmade fiber-based objects are produced in a cooperative in Brazil. They are stunning; Estúdio Manus, based in Sao Paulo, are a Brazilian couple, who take great inspiration from travel, collaborate to produce a quirky yet beautiful line of creamy-white porcelain ceramics which often have a touch of gold; La Feliz, an Argentinian designer who trained in industrial design. His unique lamps, stools and objects are made from a plastic wicker and are individually hand woven in his studio. There is no machine or assembly line; and last but not least, jewelry designer, visual artist and poet Mana Bernardes, who lives in Rio de Janeiro. Her line of jewelry is contemporary, sleek and simple forms dominate, and materials, which are typically reused materials, can range from gold, plastic, crystal and the simple bobby pin. Mana works with teenagers in Rio through a community based initiative with the Museum in Rio and the European Design Institute of Sao Paulo, teaching them jewelry making techniques and how to reuse materials in a creative way. All in all Touch is a pretty fantastic initiative and I hope that it continues to develop and promote the work of such amazing designers. Image courtesy of the website.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cao Fei at Le Plateau

An exhibition of work by Cao Fei is on view at Frac Ile-de-France Le Plateau in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. Cao Fei, a thirty-year old artist from China, has been working and exhibiting steadily over the last 5-10 years.

This exhibition brings together about ten videos and a series of photographs dating back to about 2001. Cao Fei’s strength is her ability to portray the contrasts and disparities between the old and new worlds throughout China. She does not do this in any didactic, formal way, rather she takes an approach that brings a fresher, looser reading yet with no less of an impact. The clearest example of this might be with her series of work that involved her own father, a renowned sculptor of traditional statues. Here she presents several of his sculptures, typically commissions in various places in China, including a solider with his hand raised high, mother and child, peasants. At first you are completely thrown by where these sculptures are coming from but then the videos of the artist with her father convey the context. One scenario takes place during the Basel Art Fair where her gallery’s installation was in fact her father making his own work. This was of course totally out of context in Basel, and as such, was a pretty genius idea. Other videos from this work show their daily interactions in Basel, revealing a sense of father-daughter dynamic as well as the competitive, forceful personalities of two successful artists.

Other work on view includes her latest investigations of the online community Second Life where she has recently been selling real estate and at Le Plateau viewers are given an opportunity to explore this world. Other works include young Chinese rapping onstage as part of a staged spectacle and in front of a live audience, and a video showing young Chinese in costumes of their favorite manga or cartoon superhero character, acting out fights, walking through the city apparently unnoticed, holding a scythe, and at other times sitting at home next to their father who reads the paper or eats soup. It is an odd, almost surreal juxtaposition of images that works quite well.
Cao Fei is on view at Le Plateau through May 25th.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

O-Eco Textiles

O Ecotextiles, is a luxury brand business that works only with eco
friendly/ environmentally responsible textile companies. Founded by two
sisters, one being Leigh Anne, who got the idea for the company when
she tried to find good fabrics to re-upholster her sofa and came to
realize that though there are innumerable fantastic fabrics, very few
are environmentally aware, and Patti, who has an MBA from MIT and knew
a thing or two about start-up businesses. The textile industry,
particularly with dyeing and bleaching, is a notorious environmental
disaster, which breaks my heart because I love textiles. But the level
of pollutants involved in processing a simple cotton fabric are
numerous and often go unrealized by the average consumer.

are several companies who in the last years have begun to produce
fabrics for furniture and interiors as well as fashion, who incorporate
the cradle-to-cradle philosophy of production. On theoecotextile
website they provide detailed descriptions of the fibers used, the
production methods, the amount and type of chemicals used, the
standards they have met for each of the collections they work with.
Many come from South American and the USA. OEcotextiles is represented in several cities in the US and in London for sales. For now online ordering is not available.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Discovered: Ptolemy Mann

Thanks to the wonderful blog, I learned about the beautiful work of Ptolemy Mann, a textile/fiber artist based in London. Mann studied at the Central Saint Martins school in the mid-1990s and has been working on commissions and projects steadily since. As her statement reads, all pieces are hand-dyed and woven on a loom called a Dobby Loom, then removed and stretched onto wood frames to give the work a three-dimensional/sculptural quality. An image of one work is like a Donald Judd wrapped in eye popping woven threads. Her approach with this medium, like Shelia Hicks, is taking it to the next level. It's a seamless blend between art/craft/weaving/sculpture/painting. It's inpiring and original. Great discovery. She also runs a color consultancy business. Take a look:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chez le Coiffeur

I have never been a big fan going to get my hair cut. Until a few years ago when I found Stephane, of Coiffeur in lower Manhattan, a friend and the husband of a friend, and a fabulous stylist (and French by the way), I always dreaded the interminable sitting and staring at myself in the mirror. I always looked hung-over or really tired and pale and having to face that for an hour was not fun. Also, I never really knew what to say. Did I have to even say anything? The awkward chats about the latest celebrity gossip or the nightlife with often stereotypical seeming characters was fine and fun, but I generally kept my hair really long so that I could go twice a year for a trim and let it be. Always it seemed I would also just go in for a cut and end up 2 hours later with someone removing foils for the highlights I told myself I wouldn’t get. Recently however I cut my hair short, which requires maintenance and as I won’t be heading to NYC soon enough to visit Stephane, I had to bite the bullet and find a coiffeur in Paris.

Through I friend I was recommended Renato, who has his own, salon in the 11th. So I booked the appointment and went. I was nervous. I cannot even explain how I want my hair in English. It’s like a mental block for me to comprehend hairstyles, (sad, I know). I tried thinking of various phrases, like keep it simple, nothing dramatic. I wondered, what if he is some total Parisian snob and is aghast to have an American in his barber chair and charges me double?

Well of course, that was not the case. I arrived early on the scene and Renato came out soon after. He asked what I wanted and sputtered out a few phrases to explain no hair dryers, just wash, product and go. Un peu simple et messy (in a French accent), not coiffed, as it were. Ok, he said, I think I understand. We started the uncertain conversation. He asked if I go out at night and suddenly feeling totally old and lame tried to cough up a few places I had checked out. He smiled and probably feeling sorry for me, said, well Paris nightlife is not like New York I imagine. Reassurance took over and I felt confident with Renato. Plus the head massage during shampooing was phenomenal. Of course I ended up getting the highlights (it was soon my birthday after all, so why not?) He didn’t charge me double and in fact for a cut and color it came to under 100 Euros. Pas mal. I feel relieved and even a bit more Parisian now that I can claim to also have a coiffeur in Paris. Renato Baldi, 48, rue Folie Mericourt.