Well, prior to our most recent French foray, Debbie and I received a five-page A-to-Z print out enumerating every detail of our trip, including our first-class TVG train tickets (do not go coach and hold on to your bags with utmost care). In Paris, be certain you know from which track your train will be leaving, as there are three distinct locations for departure and not all are on the same level. It helps to know some French. Debbie and I are OK on what we call our basic restaurant and travel French. (Debbie is better than I am, as there is no way she is going to mess up a French dining experience.) You want your train tickets in advance. As to the bus and subway, it’s also easy to get your tickets in advance. Stops are marked well, and you will have no trouble as you travel around knowing where to disembark.
Pre your Paris trip, familiarize yourself with the concept of the 20 arrondissements (hoods) and Left Bank vs. Right. The two are worlds apart. At the moment, we prefer the Left Bank, but I can see why many might prefer the far more upscale and high-end Right Bank. It is in the Right Bank that you find most of the five-star hotels, including the Ritz Paris, Hotel George V, and De Crillon. We love the buzzy, eclectic Left Bank with its literary poobahs, antique dealers, book stores, bistros and oyster bars, like the very small, very white, and tres cool Huitrerie Regis at 6 Rue Montifaucon. We have eaten oysters from all over the world, and this little French-speaking spot ranks #1 with us. We put down dozens of oysters (sized 0 to 5, with 0 being the biggest) along with chilled Generation X Sancerre. Huitrerie Regis is in the 6th arrondissement, also referred to as St. Germain des-Pres.
On each of our recent trips, we have chosen to stay mainly in the 6th and will once again in September. Debbie and I found the historic four-star Hotel Lutetia to be warm and friendly, with a first-class front desk and concierge staff. Your concierge can be an indispensible ally, especially for hard-to-get-into bistros. At the Lutetia, Xavier is your man. Be certain to re-confirm each of your restaurant reservations with Xavier in advance.Debbie bumped into Jack Fowler, publisher of National Review, in the lobby of Hotel Lutetia. Jack and National Review were hosting a foray in Paris at the Lutetia, followed by a river cruise on the Seine, with the final destination Normandy. Before they took off, we had breakfast with Bing West and his wife, Betsy, who also live in Newport. Bing, of course, was a guest speaker on the NR trip, along with Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, Jay Nordlinger and other like-minded souls. Mr. Nordlinger gave a funny, right-on introduction to Bing, which you can read on Jay’s entertaining “scribbles” about the NR cruise. In an interesting aside, Osama Bin Laden met his demise while the group was together, so it had to have been a pretty jubilant cruise that Tuesday. Much to be envied there, as we, on the other hand, found the silence in Paris deafening. Not a peep about the death of s.o.b-in Laden. Interesting.
The Lutetia is well situated for walking to nearly every place of interest in Paris, and the Metro is conveniently located right across the street, between The Bon Marche and the hotel. Bon Marche, Paris’s oldest department store and the largest on the Left Bank, has over 40 top designer shops. But it is La Grande Epicierie—Bon Marche’s gourmet food market—that is the real jaw-dropper. Epicierie artfully stocks thousands of products from around the world and is full of upscale Parisians shopping for, well… whatever. Around the corner from the hotel is Rue Cherche-Midi, one of Paris’s most quintessentially discreet streets, full of antique stores, designer boutiques, flower stalls, consignment shops and cafes. Don’t miss the famous Poilane bakery at 8 Rue Cherche-Midi or the chic little café next door, which serves Poilane’s famed chewy sourdough. Le Nemrod (brasserie) is 51, rue Cherche-Midi, heading south across Boulevard Raspail. Deb and I had lunch there with David Lebovitz, but had actually found it on our own last fall. You can read more about the ‘Rod at David’s site.
OK then, eating in Paris is a full-scale tour de force, not to be trivialized, so prepare well in advance. Preparation for Debbie and me is another couple of hours with the best restaurant book for Paris, Hungry for Paris by former Paris Gourmet mag correspondent Alex Lobrano, as well as a good going over of David Lebovitz’s excellent blog (davidlebovitz.com). No OK from Alex or David, no go. It’s that simple. Lunch at La Bastide Odeon and Le Timbre and dinner at Josephine Chez Dumonet and Le Ferrandaise (all in the 6th) were their selections supreme.
Apparently, among the two of the hardest dinner reservations in Paris are L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Le Comptoir du Relais. Last fall, we stayed at the Hotel Pont (nice and great location in the 7th) in order to get dinner reservations at L’Atelier. It was certainly good and certainly full of beautiful people, but not the Parisian dining experience for which we were looking. Debbie had just read about Yves Comdeborde and his Le Comptoir in Au Revoir To All That, Michael Steinberger’s fascinating narrative on Michelin stars, agriculture, politics, economics and culture and how they all tie into today’s French cuisine. (You really want to read this.) We stayed at the hotel associated with Yves in order to get reservations for Mr. Comdeborde’s establishment. Jeanette Hermann was able to meet us there on one of our last nights in Paris, but the three of us were not impressed, which, as we all know, can happen anywhere, anytime. After reading more closely between the lines of Alec’s reviews, we better understood why not.
Before moving too far away from the Lutetia, I want to comment positively on the hotel’s high-end dining room, Paris, as well as its Brasserie Lutetia. We also have enjoyed some great jazz groups in the Art Deco Bar Lutetia. Request as big a room as you can afford overlooking the Eiffel Tower. We travel with only carry-ons, and I strongly advise this strategy for you. It makes travel by train a cinch. International travel requires a smaller overhead bag, so rely on the best luggage to suit your needs. We’ve found Tumi luggage to be great.
In closing, contrary to Ben Bernanke’s inflation is under control testimony, it is most certainly not. Due to the cratering value of the dollar, one draft Kronenbourg 1664 beer at our much-favored Nemrod (thanks David, another great, casually Parisian find) ran a pricy $15 US. On another track, as I asked around about French and German attitudes on nuclear, I got a virtually unanimous no thanks on nuclear. The majority of French hate the nuclear experiment, and the Germans are grinding the whole thing to a halt. The nuclear jig, as they say, is up in Germany.
I am just getting rolling with my Paris/Switzerland insider info series and will have much, much more for you in upcoming weeks. My next report will return to more good info about our David Lebovitz gourmet tour and David’s highly acclaimed The Sweet Life in Paris. What a great trip with David we had. Talk about a Paris insider and a real nice and well-organized guy. Great fun!
Debbie & Dick