There I was, walking across what is arguably the most
magnificent bridge in Paris, -- le Pont Alexandre III -- enjoying one
of this planet's most fetching spectacles.
Strolling straight towards Les Invalides, feeling like a million bucks ...
when I hit the brick wall of an uncomfortable truth.
The research, the reading, the serious study of french culture,
history, art, -- the reverence for all things Paris....
Is it all just an excuse for my biggest weakness -- mon amour fou?
It was an aha moment, an ultimate truth -- realizing that more than any
museum, work of art or fabulous architectural wonder -- I just wanted lunch.
And I wanted it in a big way.
It's true, I had looked forward to a delightful déjeuner all morning,
planning my visit to the Petit Palais early so I could strategically boogie
over to Les Invalides quartier for a "date" with a famous chef.
My come-to-Jesus moment recognized a hunger -- and a thirst....
And perhaps a bit of shame.
I felt like a fraud.
But wait a minute, maybe this self-judgment is a tad too harsh.
As the good people of France will tell you,
a hunger for french cuisine comes as naturally as breathing.
In reality, dining IS a noble pursuit -- as respectable as exploring
the most iconic Paris landmarks.
As a matter of fact, french cuisine IS one of France's greatest treasures,
a pleasure defined by inclusion on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
As I continued my petite promenade, my eureka moment
turned into a second revelation.
All this fabulous Paris beauty, nobility and refinement makes a traveler hungry.
So there you go.
No need to overthink this, c'est pas ma faute -- pas tragique.
My emotional tug-of-war is not the least bit bit vulgar, just
a little harmless lust for the wonders of fine french cuisine.
Perhaps not as honorable as touring a fine french chateau
or heeding the higher call of a fine museum, but certainly as essential
to the Paris experience as seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre .
Enlightenment, scholarship, cultivation -- whatever you want to call it --
goes hand-in-hand with eating well in Paris.
Enjoying every nano-second of this Paris perfect walk, I wondered about
the historic bridge that would deliver me to the promised land.
The Pont Alexandre III was built in 1900 to celebrate the diplomatic alliance
between France and Russia -- sort of....
In truth, the strategic alliance and the big bold bridge were really
just a slap at Great Britain
as the super-powers fought over British influence in Eastern Africa.
It seems that politics were as petty and vindictive as they are today.
But hey, we got a gorgeous bridge out of all this imperialistic bickering.
Lamp posts dripping in gold, delightful sculptures and people dotting the way...
They really showed them, didn't they?
"Peace begins with a smile."
Les Cocottes de Christian Constant is a sleek and shining, slightly mischievous bistro that perfectly sums up today's fresh approach to french cuisine.
Superb cooking in a fun, no-reservations atmosphere,
Les Cocottes presents the classics with a twist.
As I seated myself at the long bar, I was immediately caught up
in the youthful energy and welcoming food that surrounded me.
It was brisk and easy-going, much like an American lunch counter -- except
here, healthy servings of comfort food come with classic sophisticated french flair.
Chef Christian Constant is well known throughout France,
notably as a judge on the popular t.v. show "Top Chef France".
He practically "owns" rue Saint-Dominique, running three respected establishments, including the sophisticated Michelin starred Violon de Ingrès
and classic Café Constant just a few doors down.
Hailing from the heartland of french gastronomical magic, Constant has
an impressive resume of distinguished cooking
including stints at Les Ambassadeurs and The Ritz.
Les Cocottes is hip, casual, enthusiastic and up to the minute in every detail.
The food is memorable, in part for the presentation -- often served in
little cocottes -- individual Staub Dutch casseroles -- that
define many of his standards.
From crème de lentil to sea bass en cocotte, you can't go wrong
by dining here -- ultra fresh, extra good.
His salads are a marvel, adding unique little touches to classic recipes.
The relatively small space buzzed as diners seated at high tables
merrily chewed and chatted.
I'm betting that locals in this arrondissement -- the highest priced district in
Paris -- often make Les Cocottes de Christian Constant their home away from home.
traveled -- you'll practically bump into Les Invalides, the Champs de Mars
and rue Cler -- my heart belongs to the more residential vibe of the street
as it heads east toward Boulevard St. Germain and Raspail.
You'll amaze to the spectacle of addresses dripping in luxury, power and history.
Named after a 16th century monastery that once stood nearby, this classic
Paris street is home to extravagant mansions of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Napoleon's mom once resided on this block and to this day, you can
picture the Little Emperor paying his mum an obligatory visit.
Alexander Dumas, Sarah Bernhardt, and James Fenimore Cooper are
just a few of history's honored residents of the exclusive quartier.
Two more boulevards -- Grenelle and Varenne -- run parallel, nearly equal in
star power -- admirable mansions, embassies, breathtaking doors
and fashionable residents who live behind them.
It's a lovely way to spend the afternoon, parading up and down
this reflection of the Paris you dream about -- perhaps dropping by
the Musée Maillol at 61 rue de Grenelle for a your daily dose of art.
Perhaps tomorrow, a return visit to Eric Frechon's brasserie Lazare in the 12th*...
I love any excuse to go to the 12th and of course,
it's strikingly different from the powerhouse 7th.
The choices are endless -- the Marché Aligre, Le Baron Rouge wine bar,
Promenade Plantée, Picpus Cemetery, even a museum I haven't yet met....
It's an honest-to-goodness working class neighborhood that
offers a peek into the lives of regular Parisians.
And then there's my restaurant choice of the day.
Lazare is a neo-brasserie, stylish and bustling, offering delicious
french menus that feel both traditional and modern in the same bite.
A large space tempts diners who come to admire the tiled floors,
traditional blackboard, long bar, stocked shelves and celebrated cuisine.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in an atmosphere that's always hopping. Although a table d'hote (communal table) is on offer,
It's best to make a reservation a day or two in advance.
The reason for all the hubbub is the superstar chef -- Eric Fréchon,
a unique talent whose long list of accomplishments have earned his
nation's top honor -- Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (akin to being knighted).
Awarded 3 Michelin stars for his restaurant across town -- Le Bristol -- he also operates a third respectable restaurant -- Le Mini Palais -- with outstanding reviews. Chef Fréchon earned his big name by cooking in some of the most elite restaurants in the city -- including long-time icons Taillevent and La Tour d'Argent.
Lazare, located in the forecourt of the Gare St. Lazare, has a
wonderful and varied menu with dishes that spark your appetite
as well as your sense of aesthetics.
Starters like cauliflower cream soup, avocado, grapefruit & crab salad
and a better-than-average charcuterie plate will point you in the right direction.
You'll be spoiled by the large variety of delicious mains including halibut,
duck, and lamb, served up with both traditional and contemporary elements.
Desserts are stunning and of course the bar is well stocked.
And in the end, it's just a fun place to go.
*Please note, I was obviously hopelessly lost when I wrote this blog because
Lazare is located in the 8th arrondissement, not the 12th.
I confused the Gare de Lyon with the Gare St. Lazare.
Please forgive my confusion -- and take it as an excuse to visit the 12th anyway.
You'll enjoy the adventure!
It relieves us from our standard routines and clears the
useless rubbish that disastrously collects in our heads.
Can you think of any better reason to come to Paris?
When you combine a long and leisurely neighborhood walk
with a dining experience to match, you've done exactly
what makes Paris life so interesting and worthwhile.
Step back and witness what's going on around you.
Enjoy the moment and feel the lift.
And revel in your very own aha moment.