Notes from a Friend Stranded in Paris by the Volcano
“Things could have been worse—a lot worse. We might have been stranded in Strasbourg, detained in Adu Dhabi or on vacation in Reykjavik. But we got lucky. While thousands of Americans were scrambling around Europe desperate to find a way home after the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland held up air travel for days last April, the worst situation in aviation history, my husband and I decided, uncharacteristically, to kick back and enjoy our time in the world’s most beautiful city: Paris.
We’d been there before, together and separately, but never without a tight program to follow. What began as three days turned into nine. What’s more, it was April in Paris. Often early spring in Europe can be chilly and rainy. Instead it was just like the famous song: “chestnuts in blossom, holiday tables under the tree,” and warm besides. For a change, we saw friends more than once, sometimes three times, for lunch or dinner.
A favorite find was L’Ardoise on the Right Bank, near the Place de la Concorde,a teensy bistro, well-priced, crowded and with delicious food (the poulet de Bresse aux morilles was the best I have ever had). The name means “blackboard” because there is no menu. Instead, the oversized board is brought to every table. You decide there and then what to eat. I found a review of L’Ardoise some months again in the Financial Times so thank you FT for the tip.
Other good meals: Thoumieux on the Left Bank on rue Saint Dominique, one of the Costes restaurants, which we liked a whole lot better than their chic-er La Société. At La Société, the crowd was fashionable; the food was disappointing (my escalope de veau was tough and tasteless). The staff was more pleasant at Thoumieux. At la Societe, the waitresses are taller and prettier (my husband said, “they must hire them by height”), but not as on the ball or as considerate of the clientele. We assiduously avoided the two- and three-star eateries and stuck to simpler places.
One of the splurges—and it has no stars at all—was dinner at Ralph’s, the new restaurant in the just-opened flagship Ralph Lauren store on Boulevard St. Germain. Yearning for some good old American beef? You will find it, grass-fed and from Lauren’s ranch in Telluride, Colorado.Try the cheeseburger. It puts McDonald’s to shame (that wouldn’t be that hard, would it?). The New England clam chowder is as creamy and good as it gets. Right now, there is a month-wait for a reservation so book. Now.
The store itself, a historic reconverted mansion is fast becoming a tourist sight on the Left Bank, just because it is so well done. I know, it sounds crazy to go all the way to Paris to shop in a Ralph Lauren boutiques but you don’t have to buy anything…just see it.
Two exhibitions not to miss: the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective through August 29 at the Petit Palais (try to get tickets through your hotel’s concierge) and the Lalanne show of sculpture and furniture at the Musée des Art Decoratifs (through July 4). Both are exceptional. And the YSL is not for women only; the wall of “smokings” are especially impressive. If you like jewelry, take a look at the display at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs…dazzling.
While we were well taken care of at the Bristol during our extended stay—and I must say it is so much better run these days (you can always judge a top hotel when there is a crisis and the Bristol shone brightly when we were there)—we took a peek at the small hotel Les Beauchamps, run by Grace Leo. It is steps away from the Champs Elysées, well priced and well done. There are only eight-nine rooms but it is worth seeking out.
One night we went to Au Bon Acceuil, a favorite bistro of food writer Patricia Wells (full disclosure: we went with her). After having had a delectable meal, we walked out and there was the Eiffel Tower all lit up and literally towering above us. Talk about a spectacular dessert!
Chocolate lovers alert: on Rue du Bac, Chapon not only sells high-end, handmade chocolates, it offers a variety of mousses served in a paper coupe, just like ice cream—only so much better.
All in all, our three-into-nine days in Paris turned out to be the gift that kept on giving.