Paris: The New Portland

Though Pink Martini was formed in 1994 in our hometown of Portland, Oregon, I believe the first place the band truly enjoyed success was in France, around 1997, after we released a single in French that speaks about not wanting to work, only wanting to forget everything, and smoking.  (In Europe, the song is titled, “Je ne veux pas travailler,” which means, “I don’t want to work,” but elsewhere, its title is “Sympatique.”)  This song was released about the same time France had officially shortened the work week from 40 hours to 35, so the song was a huge hit!!  Of course, the smokers of France, of which there are many, took a liking to the song, too!

So, it is no surprise to me that Paris is home to some of our biggest fans in the world.  This city has embraced us like family, and we love playing here.  Before this trip, we had played at all of the big halls, and numerous small venues in the city, but the one famous hall it seems we’d overlooked was the historic and famous Folies Bergères.  What an incredible, beautiful, over-the-top, wacky place!

Originally opened in 1869 as an opera house, Folies Bergères eventually became, and remains, a caberet music hall, and I was thrilled that I stood on the same stage where Josephine Baker caused a huge sensation for her performances in the scandalous banana skirt in the 1920’s!  The foyer alone is something to behold, with saturated colors of azure blue and lavender, and dripping in gold, but from our vantage point from the stage, the hall is simply stunning!  As some of the crowd, including our friend, Marie-ange Etourneau, crowded onto the stage to dance, I had one of my “moments”—like a Japanese version of being ferklempt–when I’m overcome with emotion by the specialness of an event in my life. This show was definitely something to be remembered.

rsz_folies_bergeres
The historic Folies Bergère, in Paris

However, believe it or not, I’ve never loved Paris.  There, I said it.  To be fair, there are things that I love about the city, but from my perspective, the size of the city is a blessing and a curse.  There are myriad of options to keep yourself entertained, but they can be overwhelming, even for a frequent visitor who speaks the language.  When we’re on tour, we rarely have more than a few hours in a city to explore, so it was a relief yesterday to discover a website that helped me easily navigate the restaurant and bar scene in Paris.

The center of Paris is broken up into 20 Arrondissements (districts) that snake around the city clockwise from the inside-out.  This website, www.ParisByMouth.com, features food- and drink-related recommendations by Arrondissement, which is brilliant, because you can save time by concentrating on great places close to your hotel!! Paris by Mouth is simply a must for any foodie, because, there are not only favorites lists of restaurants and wine bars, but also for specialty food shops, beer shops, and much more! If I had more time, I know I could venture out with confidence, as I spotted several great places on the site I’ve been to before, and liked.  You can find my Paris restaurant and wine bar recommendations (most which are, ironically, featured on ParisByMouth.com) at the end of this post.

For a late lunch the other day, I took the advice of Paris By Mouth, and walked from my hotel in the 9th to a cute little place, Buvette.  The place was bustling at 3:30, but I nestled into a spot at the counter, and immediately there was something so comfortable and familial about the place.  The service was way more down-to-earth, and personable than I’d ever experienced in France, the menu was simple, but delicious, and the wine list was also small, but well-chosen by the knowledgeable staff.  An Alsatian Dry Riesling by Albert Mann was suggested by the server to go with the crisp Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with pecorino and walnuts (8€), and I was very happy!  The Brandade de Morue (salt cod whipped with olive oil and potatoes (10€) was to-die-for when spread atop the perfectly toasted and buttered walnut bread.  The sweetness of the melted butter was like a warm winter coat over the cool salinity of the fish.  As I savored my meal, and glanced around the restaurant, I couldn’t shake a feeling that I also couldn’t place.  After being in Europe for almost four weeks, there was something about Buvette—and later, at Les Fines Gueules and Floquifil–that made me feel so at home.  Then, it hit me!

Buvette Gastrothèque
Buvette Gastrothèque

There seems to be a movement in Paris towards a new-found brand of restaurants that feels very different from that of the past.  It’s the willingness of young chefs to allow the influence of other New-World cultures to infiltrate their artisanal food, and the pride of Paris is not as strictly traditional French as it used to be.  It’s also the ambience, and the fun, light attitude of the service that’s new and refreshing.  Honestly, it feels like Portland. I think I’m beginning to love Paris.

 

Some places in Paris I recommend, with the Arrondissements (districts) included:

Les Fines Gueules (www.lesfinesgueules.fr): Housed in a beautiful 17th century building in the 1st , this bar à vins (wine bar) serves traditional French fare with a refreshing twist, and the super-friendly waiters seem to thrive most when asked for a wine suggestion.

Willi’s Wine Bar (www.williswinebar.com): Though it was opened over 30 years ago (by an Englishman) in the 1st , Willi’s is a Paris stalwart.  I haven’t been here in two years, but the last time I was there, I stepped next door, and had a fancy lunch and Champagne in Willi’s decadent dining room.

Frenchie (www.frenchie-restaurant.com): The restaurant is almost impossible to get a reservation at, so, if you can, book months in advance. The wine bar across the tiny pedestrian street, which doesn’t accept reservations, is about as…Frenchie…as it gets; packed, small, with mostly standing room, old stone walls, incredible wine list, and an interesting menu (you can easily make dinner out of the small menu).  Note that it is difficult to find, in the 2nd, even with Google Maps, so give yourself extra time to get there.

Le Baron Bouge Years ago, my friend Jean-Jacques was living here, and I spent an entire day following him around to his favorite haunts, starting with oysters, shucked out on the sidewalk all day, and Muscadet at Le Baron Bouge, in the 5th Arrondissement.  Even at 11am, it was already completely packed with Francophones having the time of their lives.

21 (21 rue Mazarine 75006; I couldn’t find a web address): A tiny, hard-to-find place in Saint Germain, in the 6th, with a petite open kitchen about the size of ours at Coppia. You will find the most exquisite seafood in the city here. Book at least one week in advance.

Buvette (www.ilovebuvette.com): see body of post above for more info. Buvette is in the 9th Arrondissement.

Floquifil (www.floquifil.fr): A “Floquifil” is a new concept in Paris, with an old-fashioned feel to it.  Somewhere between a cave à vins (wine cellar) and a table d’hote (a place with a small menu), part wine bar, part wine shop, with a creative food menu.  The décor and lighting are warm and inviting, and it feels like you’re in a friend’s home in the 1800’s.  Find this quaint floquifil in the 9th.

Favela Chic (www.favelachic.com): Steps away from Place de la République, in the 11th, Favela Chic is a raucous, lively Brazilian restaurant and club.  With the authentic cuisine and drinks, and spoken Portuguese all around, you will be transported to Brazil.

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