Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How to Live Like a Princess in Paris (without actually being one)

The Euro-Dollar ratio is increasingly depressing (yes, that freshly squeezed orange juice you just ordered at the Café de Flore will indeed cost you enough to feed a family of five for six weeks in most parts of the world) and prices are rising everywhere, but why let that stop you from living la vie de luxury in one of the world’s most glamorous cities? Here’s your guide to living like a princess even without a crown.

How to live like a Princess in Paris (without royal blood)

Let’s start early. (I usually do.) Breakfast anyone?
While the idea of consuming anything other than coffee is foreign to most French people, le petit déjeuner is my favorite time of day, and a great way to take advantage of the city’s posh locations.
Head to the recently opened Hotel Fouquet’s, next to the eponymous restaurant just next door right off the Champs-Elysées. Walk to the first floor bar/lounge area – you can sit on their lovely terrace if the weather is nice, or choose an inside table where you can plug in your computer and work away for as long as you like. For the small price of a coffee – sorry, I meant for the price of a small coffee (namely, €8) (don’t even try converting that to dollars, it will make you cry), you will be treated to a tray of heavenly viennoiseries (and perhaps even another tray if you flash a few pearly whites.)

And what would a day in Paris be without a trip to the Café de Flore? (pause) No really, I’m asking. What’s it like? I’ve never tried it. Anyway, here’s a little secret – the Café de Flore gets their pastries from la Bonbonnerie de Buci bakery just a few blocks away. So enjoy your €4.50 coffee at Flore, people watch, read the International Herald Tribune, then save yourself a few (ok more like 10) euros and pick up your croissant or delectable millefeuille from la Bonbonnerie just before or after. (or if you’re really coy, put your éclair in your handbag then secretly dip it into your coffee when no one’s looking. Luckily, there’s no exact French translation for “tacky.”)

Later, in between shopping – hey, you’re poor, why are you shopping? If it’s during the sales, okay I’ll forgive you, otherwise put down that pretty dress you’re about to try on, and listen up – stop for lunch at Délicabar, on the first floor of the bon marché department store.

When it’s nice out, you can sit on the cute terrasse outside, or you can opt for an inside view of your favorite (relatively affordable) brands – Marc by Marc Jacobs, Paul & Joe Sister, Zadig & Voltaire, Maje, etc. The scene is très “ladies who lunch.” But not just any ladies – during the week, mostly well-dressed, upper crust ladies from the neighborhood who are probably married to retired French politicians or celebrities plus actual celebrities themselves; last week, I watched Meryl Streep enjoy an asparagus tartelette (also my favorite from the menu, clearly Meryl has excellent taste) and have seen Lou Doillon grab a bite there as well. You’ll feel fashionable, eat well thanks to Sebastien Gaudard’s fashionably delectable creations and all for around €11 for a main course. The menu changes every few months - my current faves are the asparagus and parmesan "tartelette," a mini quiche served with a side salad, or the spinach, corn and cheese variety. I also recommend the predictable but light and delicious "salade verte" with a lovely pistachio dressing, the "chou," a cream puff pastry filled with eggplant, parmesan and a light cream or the "fine feuille," grilled vegetables with parmesan cream served sandwiched between two thin layers of pastry and served with a side salad. And don't forget the wonderful desserts - the lemon tart is tangy and delicious, the millefeuille a perfect balance between pastry and light cream and the fruit salad served with a tasty mint-infused sauce.

If you’re too hungry for mini tartelettes and salads, head to Armani Caffe for a delicious bowl of pasta and orgasmic homemade gelato.

The simple spaghetti with tomato sauce is just €20 and absolutely delicious, and the hazelnut meringue cookies and unlimited biscotti you are given at the end of the meal can be a dessert unto itself. And, if you go on Saturday, you can munch on the chunks of fresh parmesan served when you arrive sandwiched between their amazing breads – delicioso! (and free!) The service is impeccable – ask for the table by the window for a great view of the heart of St-Germain-des-pres (but only if I’m not there that night of course, that’s my table!) You’ll also likely run into PPDA who eats there (almost) as much as me – probably even more now that he’s free at 8PM …

Also in le neighborhood is the Hotel Montalembert, a low-key yet classy spot on the rue du Bac, just next to the Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Have lunch next to the antique shop owners from the neighborhood, Bernard Henri Levy and Arielle Dombasle and enjoy the great food for not very ridiculous prices. Fill up on the bread basket – you can choose from – unlimited! – baguette, fig, olive or whole grain rolls perfectly complemented by the delicious butter served with them. All of the dishes are offered as both smaller “degustation” portions or larger “gourmand” portions – opt for the “degustation” for half the price. Finish the meal off with a coffee and ask for a tray of their delicious madeleines.

Then, put on your favorite new dress (which I hope you bought during les soldes, which start today and run through end of July) and head down the rue du Faubourg St. Honore. No charge for spraying a Chanel perfume (or deux) and testing out this season’s collection of Hermès scarves.

Stop in la Durée on the rue Royale for a – yes just one, at more then one euro each it’s all you can afford until you can genetically prove that you are indeed the third Hilton sister – macaron. Better yet, if you are brave enough to stand on the long line outside of Pierre Herme on the rue Bonaparte in the 6th, buy the best macaron that has ever touched your lips, then smile at the guy serving you, tell him the macaron you just ate while you were waiting to pay for it was the best thing you’ve ever had ever in life, and he will give you another one – for free! (okay, so it happened to me ONCE, but not impossible! Give it a go. I recommend the classic “infiniment vanille” (“infinitely vanilla”) or rose flavors, or be bold and try the new summer flavor “Isaphan” filled with litchi and rose-flavored cream and raspberry jelly – it’s a sugar-coated orgasm in your mouth.)

Want a scene at night? Hit up la terrasse of the Hotel Costes, bien sur.

Where else can you eat overpriced – but always acceptable – food with Roman Polanski to your right, that girl on the cover of Vogue to your left and, if you go during fashion week, surely an Olsen twin or deux strolling past ? I recommend: eat before, order the €20 penne marinara or the €24 “burrata legumes grilles” (grilled veggies with fresh bufala mozzarella), maybe splurge for a glass of wine and €30ish later, you have the Costes experience, but maybe even be able to afford a taxi to get you home (if you can find one that is.) Also new to this season's menu is a grilled tuna served over a Niçoise salad with eggs, tomatoes, lettuce cups, artichokes and anchovies (but just two dropped on top, easily removed for those of you not big fans of our hairy friends from the sea). Opt for the red fruits sorbet for just €8 served with a huge almond cookie.

Then there’s le bar at the Park Hyatt hotel, place Vendôme. Usually spotted with rich businessmen, the fashion crowd during fashion week and French celebs looking for a quiet place where they can have a drink without papa razzi or a “scene.” The cocktails are delicious, Chablis 1er cru is divine and their mini-cheeseburgers a fabulous snack. However, if you make under $1 million a year, you probably can’t afford said beverages and fingerfood, so I recommend grabbing a spot in the lobby lounge, ordering the €8 coffee (complete with a tray of rich chocolate truffles) and watching the VIPs and VRPs (very rich persons) walk to and from le famous bar. You can even read the day’s newspapers – USA Today, International Herald Tribune, Le Monde, etc – for the price of your café.

Restaurant du jour: LES COCOTTES

Unfortunately, my new “find” is actually not much of a find, but more of a “someone else found it and I’m joining the parade.” Les Cocottes is a charming spot located on “Christian Constant Street” aka la rue Saint Dominique in the 7th arrondissement. Famous for their eponymous “cocottes,” namely fish or meat cooked in ceramic pots, les Cocottes also offers delicious salads (including a mean Caesar) and a delectable dish of slices of steak “à la plancha” with, as our waitress rightfully described them “to die for” potatoes and a small green salad. All the seating is on tall stools, most of which are at a long countertop, but the lighting and modern décor make the experience quite comfortable. Don’t be coquette, head to Les Cocottes for a delicious – and deliciously affordable! – meal.

Pastry du jour: White chocolate brioche from Eric Kayser

Honey, I shrunk the Viennoiserie! While Eric Kayser’s white chocolate brioche has been one of my favorite items at my favorite boulangerie for some time now, the Odeon location has not only revamped its interior décor (yes, they CLOSED for over one month for said renovations – it was the longest month of my life), but they’ve also made some welcome changes to their baked goods, most importantly the addition of mini white chocolate brioche. Ok, so they’re not quite mini, but they’re single-serving sized – just enough to give you the satisfaction that comes from the mélange of light brioche pastry with sprinklings of white chocolate chips. The large size is enough to feed eight people in the morning, but the new smaller version is the perfect snack, breakfast on the go or addition to a complete breakfast – I recommend spreading apricot or strawberry jelly on top, it’s amazing. Vive le Kayser!

French idiom du jour: Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.
“Don’t sell the bear skin before you’ve killed the bear.” In English, we say “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” It means don’t get your hopes up only to be disappointed in the end.

Quote du jour:

“Just as Carla charmed the Queen of England and Princes Charles and Philip with her demure French schoolgirl look, she charmed George and Laura Bush on their visit, inviting Laura 30 minutes early for a girls’ tête-à-tête, and then sitting next to the American president and keeping him entertained with a spirited conversation in English, one of her three languages and sort of his one language.” –Maureen Dowd on Carla Bruni

Mean French person moment du jour: Circa midnight, Saturday, la fête de la musique. A friend and I leave dinner and see a taxi with it’s light on pass by. We simply attempt to hail said taxi and, instead of stopping to pick us up and take us to our next destination, said taxi chose to drive by and give us the finger (the middle one, that is.)

Festival du Jour: I recently returned from The Land Where Time Stopped, aka Monte-Carlo.

This year’s 48th annual Monte-Carlo TV Fest brought US TV stars, European journalists and Kim Kardashian’s large derriere to the seaside Monaco town for a five-day of small screen schmoozefest. I roughed it at the Fairmont Monte-Carlo – I woke up every morning to a fabulous breakfast buffet on the 7th floor terrace, with a breathtaking view of the ocean – then interviewed a hodgepodge of interesting characters including “Desperate Housewives” leading lady Katherine Mayfair (aka real-life actress Dana Delaney), “Cashmere Mafia” starlette Miranda Otto, “October Road”s Bryan Greenberg (otherwise known as that nice jewish boy from Nebraska who won over Uma Thurman’s heart in “Prime”), Tate Donovan from “Damages” (and for those of you who remember, Rachel’s Joshua – pronounced Joshuuuuaaaa – from “Friends”) and “Law & Order” mastermind Dick Wolf.
A few morsels from Monaco: Tate Donovan is a Jersey boy! Yes, in addition to famous faces Bruce Springsteen, Tom Cruise, Christina Ricci, Kirsten Dunst and Rebecca Leffler (just making sure you’re awake), Tatie D also hails from the lovely Garden State. Tate and I shared some Jerseylove at TF1’s buffet dinner….

…where I learned that “CSI: Miami” actor Adam Rodriguez does NOT have a sense of humor. Rodriguez squeezed past my chair on the way back to his table carrying a tray of mussels. I said to him: “Damn, check out those mussels.” He looked at me like I was either hitting on him or insane (or perhaps insane for hitting on him) and totally missed the (brilliant) pun despite the large plate of crustaceans attached to his arm.
Kim Kardashian and her fellow tight neon-dress-wearing brood stuck out like sore thumbs. Every cosmetics store in Monaco was probably sold out by the time KK and co. left town – all of the makeup in the constitutional monarchy appeared to have been deposited on the Kardashian family. As most of the stars hung out casually at the Grimaldi forum, enjoying the buffet lunch and doing TV and radio interviews, Kardashian and co traveled in a pack and sported tights, florescent orange and yellow dresses and high heels. Kardashian’s buttox battled the sun for title of brightest, most blinding object on the pier.

Prince Albert is the coolest. Big Al hosted the lavish closing night dinner at the Sporting Club d’Ete and greeted his guests with friendly handshakes, telling them “You can call me Al” – no, I kid, but he really was quite friendly and approachable for a Prince. We all waited patiently – read: I was about to eat my arm – for His Royal Highness to arrive, pick up his fork and declare the meal ready to be eaten. Then, after the meal, singing and dancing performers took to the stage to sing Broadway showtunes for what seemed like hours. The Al-ster was dancing up a storm, clapping his hands and shakin’ what his momma (Grace, of course) gave him.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in town to accept his prize for Best Actor in a Drama Series for "The Tudors,” opened the door to the main hall just as I was entering, as if fate had brought us together at that very moment. (Turns out, he was just looking for the bathroom and opened the wrong door, but I felt we totally connected in those .004 seconds of looking into each other’s eyes.)
Eric Close is literally “Without a Trace…” … of imperfection. The CBS drama’s leading man is – how can I say this in a classy enough way to fit in with Monagesque elegance? – HOT. I was at the swanky Hotel de Paris for a cocktail when Close walked in, all dapper in a beige suit and blue shirt. He was totally “FBI-ing” me as he walked by the old men smoking cigars and women decked to the nines standing in the lobby. He is truly the “missing person” in my life…

Suburban housewives, a former US President and missing children were honored Thursday night when the Festival wrapped at Monaco's Grimaldi Forum.
ABC/Disney's "Desperate Housewives" won the prize for top drama series. The popular show amassed the highest ratings worldwide for a drama series with more than 61.5 million viewers in 2007, beating runners up "Monk" and "Ugly Betty." "Housewives'" Dana Delaney accepted the award at the lavish ceremony, telling the crowd: "All the other housewives wanted to be here tonight, but as the newest bitch on the block, I told them it was next week."