Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How To Procrastinate Writing My Novel While Eating My Way Through Paris

This week, I received two rejection letters from the same journal.  Consistency is a gift.  I rewarded myself with rosé and champagne, then I ate things like oysters with french fries.  Vive la France.

While shoveling homemade caesar salad dressing into my face (Do you have any idea what’s actually in homemade caesar salad dressing? That stuff is crack.), I realized I should probably add some words to the novel I’m constantly babbling about.  After that light bulb dimmed, I decided instead to write a description of my go-to restaurants and bars and bars in Paris.  It’s obligatory, after all, and eventually I was bound to document it.  I mean, everyone asks: “Where do you recommend I eat?” or “What’s your favorite restaurant in Paris?”

If you’ve been to Paris, you already know that’s a rhetorical question.  There are like twelve thousand eateries in this damn tiny town.  But like everyone else, I have some faves in every neighborhood, donc, I’ll share.  Keep in mind I live in the 16th Arrondissement, and before that, in the 17th Arrondissement.  I’m partial to those neighborhoods because I know them (and much of the restaurant staff) quite well.

Voila, my list entitled:  “Best Places To Eat in Paris” (You never saw that title before, didja?) “Where to Eat in Paris Near The…”

Eiffel Tower/7th Arrondissement

129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris, France
The President of France invited the President of the United States to eat with him at this popular bistro on a cool rue in the 7th Arrondissement.  :::: insert Parisian eyeroll here :::: It’s touristy; however, it’s authentic and combines a great atmosphere with excellent service.  The food is very good, and prices are high but not ridiculous.  A memorable meal is found here.  Reservations are absolutely necessary.

The Louvre

8 rue Croix des Petits Champs, 75001 Paris, France
This is a small, family owned, authentic café bistro with homemade French fare.  You’ll be treated well by a friendly staff, and you’ll enjoy food that melts in your mouth, specifically Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon, and Ratatouille. Their Foie Gras is exceptional.  Prices are extremely reasonable.  This is not a tourist spot, despite its close location to the Louvre.  Reservations are helpful, but you can eat here on the fly, too.

13 Rue des Petits Champs, 75001 Paris, France
Every American needs to sit at this bar at least once in their lives and strike up conversations with the other Americans and Anglo tourists sitting beside them.  The wine list is impeccable (and expensive), and you must drop in for just one glass if you can.  It’s all about the atmosphere and a chance to taste some top-notch grapes while speaking the English.
Willi's Wine Bar Paris
The Marais

22 rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris, France
Miznon is *the* spot in the Jewish Quarter for delicious, kosher, middle eastern kabobs and pitas, fresh vegetables, cool music, a very friendly staff, amazing flavors and a fun atmosphere.  Bobos love the place!  This is an authentic and cool experience not to be missed during your time in Paris.  Hint:  Queue up in the front to order your food at the counter, while a member of your party finds and claims a table in the back.  You order and pay first, and a server will bring your food to your table after he yells your name a half dozen times.  If you can’t snag a table, no worries: Take it to go and sit on a curb on Rue des Ecouffes for the best people watching around! (Warning:  Closed Saturdays, and sometimes closed Fridays).

Miznon in Le Marais, Paris
2 rue Hospitalières St Gervais, 75004 Paris, France
Chez Marianne offers authentic Jewish fare served tapas-style, with lots (and lots) of hummus.  It’s a bit touristy when it comes to service, but authentic nonetheless and a great opportunity to try many flavors in one sitting. This is a traditional sit-down café with a wait staff, and it can be difficult to get a seat at dinner, but lunch before 1:00 should be fine.  If you have enough days in your trip to Paris, it’s definitely worth a try, if for nothing else the experience.

Chez Marianne in Le Marais, Paris
9 Rue du Nil, 75002 Paris, France
This is mind-blowing American lunch fare, such as pulled pork sandwiches and corned beef with killer fries and local beers, prepared with nouvelle French artisanship and friendly service.  Yep, it’s Bobo with good music and a fun, fast-paced atmosphere.  Like Miznon above, order and pay at the counter, and someone will bring it to your table.  If no tables are available, take it to go, it’s totally worth it!  (But eat it rather quickly, as your bread will soon be soaked through with sauce).
Frenchie to Go, Paris

Saint-Germain/Latin Quarter

30 Rue Gay Lussac, 75005 Paris, France
This quaint wine shop serves up authentically delicious French fare, especially when you let the chef choose your meal and wine pairing.  At dinnertime Tuesday through Saturday, or at lunchtime on Saturdays, tell your server you want the Fresh Market Menu of the Day, and you will get a starter, main course, cheese, and dessert.  This is a uniquely French experience in a wonderful little atmosphere.  You’ll remember this meal every time you think of Paris!

Bistroy Les Papilles in Saint-Germaine, Paris
184 rue Saint Jacques, 75005 Paris, France
You can’t actually eat here.  But you can bring your own food (there’s plenty of take-out nearby).  Then sit down and enjoy great beer, fun conversation, and tons of sports broadcast on their live screen TVs, all the while knowing you are tucked away on an ancient, tiny street in the Latin Quarter of Paris.  During American Football season, WOS becomes a Green Bay Packers Fan Bar, complete with flags and jerseys and a whole ton of fun!

Bastille, Republiqué, and Canal St. Martin

19 rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010 Paris, France
Pancakes in Paris?  Heck yeah!  Best known for their amazing brunch, but also serving a fantastic lunch, Holybelly is tres popular with the Anglo crowd and with French 20-somethings who are craving runny eggs, fluffy pancakes, and crispy bacon.  This isn’t your average American style diner though!  Everything here is served fresh from the market and cooked with care in front of your very eyes.  Its unique layers of tastes and flavors will have you craving more, proven by their regulars, who eat here at least once a week.  Warning: Holybelly is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and they don’t take reservations.
Pancakes at Holybelly Paris
Holybelly Paris
52 rue de Saintonge, 75003  Paris, France
So you’re craving Mexican, but you’re like, Wait I’m in Paris, I should be eating Foie Gras and Beef Bourgignon and baguettes and other fancy creamy buttery stuff.  No worries.  This is authentically Mexican, and somehow maintains the upper echelon of French ingredients, cooking, and food snobbery.  Beats me how the seating works, but basically show up during the day to sit at the Taqueria, where they’ll prepare your food right in front of you, then slap it down next to your authentically Mexican margarita.  Or queue up shorty before 6 PM (usually, the time alternates, Vive la France) jammed behind those already sitting at the Taqueria enjoying their bite sized burritos and enchiladas with imported Mexican tequila.  At 6 (or thereabouts), the secret door to the “exclusive” nighttime bar opens, and you’ll grab a cozy seat, along with an amazing waiter who will painstakingly explain to you all the many Mexican tequilas available at your disposal.  Not sure what to drink?  Order a flight.  Beware: These are sippers, people.  No mixers, no ice.  C’est délicieux (if you can handle it)!  Candelaria is an experience unique to Paris… even though the proprietors also own popular spots such as Le Mary Celeste and Glass (one of my faves for evening cocktails).
Margaritas and Guacamole at Candelaria Paris 
 9 Rue Jacques Cœur, 75004 Paris, France
When I think about The Grilled Cheese Factory, I immediately slip into a food coma.  France does three things really, really well:  Cheese, Bread, and Butter.  Now add to that ingredients like fresh, homemade tomato sauce, bacon, caramelized onions, pastrami, sweet chili, and don’t even get me started on the macaroni and cheese (yes, within a grilled cheese sandwich).  Many thanks to my friend, madamelooloo for introducing me to this foodie gem and to my next kilo ;)

The Grilled Cheese Factory, Paris

Montmartre and South Pigalle

2 Rue de l'Abreuvoir, 75018 Paris, France
Pink is the first thing you’ll notice about this authentic café bistro, tucked away off the tourist trail, yet still very friendly to tourists.  Its exterior pink walls and green shutters have been the inspiration for many Montmartre photographs and paintings.  The food is very good, but not excellent; however, it has an awesome ambiance, especially if you sit outside on the terrace.  The wait staff is kind and welcoming.  I eat here often.

La Maison Rose, Montmartre, Paris
4 Place du Calvaire, 75018 Paris, France
Tucked just behind the Place du Tertre, nestled between the Dali Museum and a scenic Montmartre staircase, this quaint outdoor bistro caters to tourists who don’t sit at the very first café table they find amidst the hustle and bustle of crazy-town.  Here, the atmosphere is quiet, warm, and way more authentic than its location deserves.  The food is excellent and plentiful.  Prices are reasonable.  You’ll forget that a throng of tourists is invading the cobblestones just around the corner, and you’ll relax under vine covered arbors.  I eat here often, too.

28 rue Henry Monnier, 75009 Paris, France
This brunch and lunch cantina is a fave for Anglos living in Paris.  Located in the cool Bobo neighborhood called Sopi (South Pigalle), expect homemade comfort foods, like a killer Croque Madame, Coq au Vin, Mussels, and the day’s special, such as the Avocado Toast served in June, worthy of a standing ovation.  The atmosphere is warm, lively, and inviting.  Service is adorable, because and the first language spoken is English.  They also have a location in New York City if you’re the comparative type.  (A special Thank You goes to Philatravelgirl, who discovered Buvette with me for the first time a few months back.  Come back to Paris, you, so we can eat here again)!

Buvette in Sopi Paris
10 rue Frochot and 7 rue Frochot, 75009 Paris, France
These two evening cocktail bars are located directly across the street from one another.  Someone is going to beat me up for this (Go ahead, make my day).  Both Dirty Dick and Glass are known for their cocktails, not food.  And they are not the same place.  However, if you go to one, please by all means, take time to try the other, as well.  They are both extremely fun with great nighttime atmospheres, and friendly to Anglos, so there.  If you’re a sophisticated drinker stumbling through Sopi after 10 PM, stop at both.  You won’t regret it.

96 Boulevard de Clichy, 75018 Paris, France
I’ve never actually eaten here, so I can’t recommend the food.  However, I’ve frequented this establishment so often that it would be a crying shame not to mention it.  The Station is located just a few doors from The Moulin Rouge.  So while you watch all the tourists queuing up to get inside the famous nude review next-door, you can sit back with a beer or cocktail, and a friendly bar staff, while enjoying live music on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.  Careful:  From time to time, the zinc bar goes up in flames (thanks to the awesome guys who pour your drinks), but as far as I know, no one has ever been killed.

The Station, Pigalle, Paris
The Station, Pigalle, Paris
Downtown / St. Michel / Notre Dame

25 quai des Grands Augustins, 75006 Paris, France
This is a must-stop pub for every American who visits Paris.  They have a real bar - with stools and everything, even bartenders who talk to you!  Despite its downtown location and throngs of tourists, the food is quite excellent, particularly their burgers, pulled pork, and fries.  There are plenty of TVs for your sports viewing pleasure, as well as hearty laughter, conversations, and new friends to be made.

15 quai des Grands Augustins, 75006 Paris, France
L’Ecluse has five fabulous locations around Paris, but this one is nice because it’s in the heart of the city and has an old-school feel about it.  They specialize in Bordeaux wines paired with seasonal cuisine, as well as good service and an authentic atmosphere.  This is a great place to drop in for a nibble and a sip.

Victor Hugo / 16th Arrondissment

8 Place Victor Hugo, 75116 Paris, France
In nice weather, sit outside on the terrace for a casual, sunny atmosphere.  You’ll enjoy authentic French cooking with an Italian flare.  Simply delicious!  Here, the staff is very friendly, and service is excellent.  Prices are reasonable but can swing to the expensive side and can add up.  This is not a tourist spot, but plenty of English spoken here, and many Americans live nearby.  I eat here, like, way too often.

Eclair at Le Scossa, Place Victor Hugo, 16e Paris

Trocadero / 16th Arrondissement

22 rue Scheffer, 75016 Paris, France
Le Scheffer is authentically French in every way, right down to the red and white checkered tablecloths and lace curtains.  This family owned brasserie provides excellent service, and the food is outstanding!  If you find yourself in the Trocadero neighborhood, skip the tourist cafés and head straight for Le Scheffer!

Porte Maillot / 17th Arrondissement

71 boulevard Gouvion Saint Cyr, 75017 Paris, France
The James Joyce Pub near the landmark Hyatt Regency and Palais des Congress is under new ownership since early 2015, so ignore all reviews you find online written before the management changes.  This cool hangout is now a premier gastropub and craft beer bar, featuring live music several nights per week.  The new owner, a Canadian eh, takes great pride in offering delicious food, friendly service, a clean atmosphere, and good beer.  Most of his craft beers are served in bottles: just ask your bartender, and she’ll recommend the (somewhat secret) stash of local beers hidden in the refrigerator behind the bar.  Their burgers and pulled pork sandwiches are among the best in Paris.  The buffalo wings are among the best in the world.
James Joyce Pub - Best Buffalo Wings in Paris

8th Arrondissement

33 Rue de Constantinople, 75008 Paris, France
Quite simply, Publisher serves the best cheeseburger in Paris.  The freshest meat plus the most amazing bun and Guinness cheese, served with incredible fries equal heaven in my mouth.  Their Fish and Chips is equally as amazing.  The adorable owner is almost always on site; the wait staff is super friendly; and the beers are plentiful.  This clean and inviting atmosphere is perfect for socializing, watching live sports, and occasionally live music.  This is truly a neighborhood spot, where everyone knows your name, and strangers are welcome too.  A personal fave for me in Paris!

17th Arrondissement

130 bd. Malesherbes, 75017 Paris, France
When I first moved to Paris, this restaurant had just opened across the street from my first apartment.  It has been run by the same attentive and friendly staff ever since, and even though I now live a complicated metro ride away, I still return with my family at least once a month.  These classic Italian dishes are served with a modern French flare.  The Italian wine list is impressive.  The meats are outstanding.  The cheeses are top notch.  The pizzas are delicious.  This is comfort food on crack.  It’s not worthy of any Michelin stars, people, but I like it.  Voila.

Baba Rhum at Fratelli Paris 17th Arrondissement

Champs Elysées:  For Something Extra Special

17 avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 75008 Paris, France
Lasserre is truly exquisite, providing a truly gourmet menu, for a truly fat wallet.  Expect impeccable, white-glove service and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere with a retractable ceiling that opens and closes several times per hour, so you can have a view of France’s (usually cloudy) sky while you dine.  Your courses will include many layers of fabulous flavors, so sit back and enjoy the presentation.  Hint:  To save some money while enjoying the daytime sky, use the Lasserre website to pre-order the lunch gift pack for two people.  Call or e-mail the restaurant to make your lunch reservation (well in advance), and let them know you’re ordering the lunch gift pack certificate.  Be sure to tell them you want to be seated where you can see the retractable roof.  Also remember to bring a printed copy of your certificate with you on the day of your lunch.  This experience will not disappoint.  It is fabulously Parisian!
Restaurant Lasserre Paris

at The Grand Palais avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris, France
Great food, amazing atmosphere, reservations are a requirement!  Expensive (yes, it’s expensive) but not ridiculous.  Parisian businesspeople and politicians love to “lunch” here, so if you can nab a lunchtime table, the people watching is great.

And there you have it.  Obviously, I’ve eaten at many (many!) more spots than these.  My thigh diameter currently proves it.  But these are my tried and true, the ones I keep going back to.  Everyone has their own favorite eateries in Paris.  To agree is to disagree.  In a town with over 12,000 places to stuff your face, the “Top Ten Places to Eat in Paris” lists could go on and on and on (and they do).  But for what it’s worth, these are my picks, and because of these, I’m only one-fifth of the way through a novel that I should have finished months ago and I weigh 5 pounds more than I did when I started writing it a year and a half ago.

P.S.  Happy Bastille Day, ya'll.  I mean, if you're into that sorta thing.

Happy Bastille Day from France!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Thing About Expat Friends

I met my BEST FRIEND (that’s capital letters, bitches) when we were in second grade.  There’s no one else in the entire world who understands me the way she does.  And there never will be.  She’s my oldest friend.  Before I moved to France, my newest friend had been around since my college days.

I’m 44.

The Louvre, Paris

In my lifetime, I’ve enjoyed dozens of beautiful, platonic, sympathetic understandings.  Work colleagues, school moms, neighbors, husband’s best friends’ wives.  They’ve all been good experiences.  But honest-to-goodness, in-the-trenches meilleures amies like The Bestie?  I recognize the tremendous luck bestowed upon me the day she wandered up to me in the lavatory line and decided the new girl was worthy of a conversation.

When I moved to Paris a year and a half ago, I had hoped I’d meet some ladies to gather into a posse.  I imagined a few, eventually, would become a regular part of my life.  But there’s a thing about friends when you get to be my age.  You don’t expect to be making them anymore.  I mean, good ones.  Life drags us into many situations, and we meet people we enjoy, and we get to know them, and we’re glad to have them.  But can they ever live up to… ::::: flashing neon pink glittery font goes here ::::: The Bestie???

She's Marion Cotillard's Twin, Tell Me I'm Not Right

Since she’s reading this, let me start with a disclaimer.  No, they can’t.

Disclaimer Numero Deux:  Yes, I recognize I’m becoming French.  Get over it.  Their culture isn’t all that bad, I mean, other than those pouty faces.  With cigarettes.  And Pffffttttssss.

But.  Today I had lunch with the first friend I ever made in Paris, just two or three short weeks after I moved here.  She happened to relocate here with her husband, also on an expat reassignment, the same exact day that I landed in this God-forsaken town with a chip on my shoulder and a bounce in my step.  She’s a simple midwest gal who has lived her entire adult life in Texas, and she couldn’t be cuter or more authentic or more mature than any friend I could invent in my wildest dreams.

The thing about expat friends is, they leave.

My Texas friend is leaving in a few short weeks.  I want to believe we’ll be friends forever, thick as thieves, copains comme cochons.  No, really, we will.  Someday next year, I’ll call her unexpectedly to say I’m pointed toward Dallas to visit my step-son at TCU, and we’ll plan a quick lunch, and we’ll catch up, and we’ll be so delighted to see one another.  Occasionally over the years, we’ll send emails, or we’ll think of the other when something familiar happens, particularly if it involves French-speaking people and really good wine.  But let’s face it.  You know.

Oddly, when my Texas friend and I sat down to lunch today, at the restaurant exactly between our two apartments where we’ve had lunch countless times over the past eighteen months, a surprising thing happened.  We were seated next to another one of my most important friends here in Paris, whom I already bid adieu (in near-tears) (for the very last time) last week at the school bus stop (while running away and mumbling something over my shoulder about Irish Goodbyes).  (This is weird, like, really weird).  She’s in Paris this week with her husband, packing up their apartment and barking orders at their movers and taking relaxing lunch breaks at the Place Victor Hugo, because everyone knows you’ll never get salmon tartare or pomme frites like the kind you’ll get in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris ever again in your entire life.

There is a two-ton brick compressing my chest right now.  Why the fuck did the waiter have to sit me next to her?  I mean, for Pete’s sakes, couldn’t he see I was already a train wreck?  And I don’t even like her that much?

OK, that’s a total lie.  I’m never a train wreck in public, and that girl (the one I don’t plan on ever offering a proper goodbye, I mean, other than the giant going-away party I threw at my apartment a few weeks ago) has been a ROCK (caps, people) for me here in Paris.  If she stayed, I’m pretty sure my son would have married her daughter.

Scratch that.  I’ve embarrassed him too much already with the train wreck comment.

ANYWAY, after lunch today, and after I consumed a half bottle of Bordeaux (I live in France, ya’ll), and after I sent my buddies, my pals, mes connaissances on their merry ways, I wandered back to my apartment where I stared out of a gigantic French window at a gigantic grey sky and I said to myself, What the fuck?  (Excuse my French).

Well merde, I still have friends here in Paris.  I mean, they’re all home in the USA for the summer, but they’ll be back.  So, yanno, whatevs.

Six months ago, I sat at my computer in my kitchen in my vacation home in New York, and I started this blog with New Year’s Resolutions, focused around my writing goals.  A few days later, I returned to Paris, the inspirational city I currently call home, and I diligently worked toward those goals.

Let’s take a look at how far I’ve come:

I completed and submitted nine new short stories to about thirty different literary journals.  I haven’t been rejected by all of them, but I haven’t been accepted by any of them, either.

I wrote and abandoned another three short stories, able to recognize when something doesn’t work.

I started my novel again, with a fresh outline and a stronger voice, a better understanding of my characters and my plot, and a more complex understanding of what moves an epic tale forward.  It’s been a slow process, with very little progress made in recent months.  That’s frustrating, I’ll admit, but I know I’ll get back to it and I’ll make progress, because I like the story and I’m determined to finish it.  Someday.

I stopped going to my weekly Writer’s Group meetings, and I stopped going to live readings.  I don’t regret this; it was a solid decision.  Six months ago, I thought these two things were helping me.  Initially, I learned a lot.  But as it turns out, they’re not adding much more to my creativity now, so I removed them from my priorities.

Last week, I returned to America for a mini-vacation.  The first thing I did was sit at a bar in Philadelphia with The Bestie and laugh my ass off for three hours straight, until I was so delirious with jet lag that I agreed it was a good idea for us to take selfies.  :::: Where the fuck are my tissues?  Do I really not have any tissues in this entire fucking apartment?  Do you have any idea the way purple French toilet paper starts falling apart before it even leaves your fingertips?? ::::

I finished a new short story on an airplane over the Atlantic Ocean last week.  Some amazing literary journal will pick this thing up someday, and I’ll become a protagonist rock star.  Until then, I have a robust collection of rejection letters to remind me that I’m actually doing something here in Paris, other than lunching, and drinking wine, and taking pics of the Eiffel Tower.

The Seine and The Eiffel Tower, Paris

I still procrastinate with the best of them, and I’m still here.  In Paris.  With friends.  We’re not here forever, but we’re here.