Friday, June 26, 2009

R.I.P. Michael Jackson

I spent the day on various France 24 shows commenting on the death of the legendary pop star.
Here are a few clips:

In English:

In French:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

10 Things I Love this Week / June in Paris

1. Frenchie

Cute name. Cute spot. Cute food. And cute chef. What’s not to like? Well, perhaps the limited menu – two appetizers, two main courses and 2 desserts (+ cheese plate) to choose from. But Frenchie, a new petit bistro on a tiny street in the 2nd arrondissement, is almost perfect. Chef owner Gregory Marchand has worked at Gramercy Tavern in NY and with Jamie Olivier in London, before recently settling back into his native country (see: the meaning of “Frenchie”). Marchand changes the menu daily and offers an amazing deal (well, an amazing deal for Paris) of a 19-euro 3-course lunch or a 33-euro 3-course dinner (or 27 euros for two courses). Ask Marchand what he’ll be serving up soon, and even he can’t respond. The chef bases his cuisine on only the freshest market ingredients and adapts his menu to the fruits (and vegetables!) of the season.
On the night I was there, appetizers included an intensely flavorful smoked trout with an avocado sauce, pickled cucumbers, red peppers and dill and a gaspacho, eloquently presented with cherries (yes cherries in a bowl of gaspacho – strange idea at first, but I promise, the flavors just melded together into a gorgeous sweet and savory melody in my mouth), red peppers and croutons which floated to the top when the waiter then poured the soup into the bowl.
Next up was a choice of honey-glazed pork with zucchini flowers and eggplant or a “maigre” fish, a white fish, served with mushrooms and onions in a thick sauce.
Finally, for dessert, a cheese plate, a chocolate tart, and, my pick of course, a panna cotta with blackberry crumble. I have had my share of panna cotta in my day, and this was absolutely the most memorable – light yet incredibly creamy, with just a hint of basil infusion.
You can peek your head in and watch Marchand at work – a “Ratatouille” moment in a très French kitchen, complemented by Marchand’s Anglo-Saxon savvy.
Definitely a must-visit if you’re in Paris – allez y ! (But please don’t take my seat, it’s a small venue and I want to be sure to get a reservation!)

2. Orson Hodge, Dr. Addison Montgomery and Aunt Becky

I spent my week with Orson Hodge, Dr. Addison Montgomery, Jack Shephard and Melinda Gordon… not to mention the Prince of Monaco (see below). I schmoozed with my favorite small-screen stars at the 49th Annual Monte-Carlo TV Festival, including talent from “Desperate Housewives” (Kyle Maclachlan aka Orson Hodge), « Lost » (Matthew Fox alias Jack), “Private Practice”/ “Grey’s Anatomy” (Kate Walsh aka Dr. Addison Montgomery) and “Ghost Whisperer” (Jennifer Love Hewitt aka Melinda Gordon).
OK, so admittedly, Monte-Carlo isn’t the most exciting city in the world (I’d say the average age is about 97 and the average wealth about €10.6 million ?) but TV stars came out for the occasion nonetheless. All except for Jessica Szhor of “Gossip Girl” who cancelled last-minute in a very unprofessional, diva-like coup. That’s OK Jessica, nobody likes Vanessa’s character anyway. After years of growing up with “Full House,” I got to meet “Aunt Becky” aka Lori Loughlin who is now starring in “90210” opposite Rob Estes, who was also in town to promote the series. Both Loughlin and Estes were charming, and didn’t hold back in interviews. “Any time any one is talking about my penis, I’m happy,” Estes said of one scene in “90210” where said body part is mentioned in conversation. The best part was when another journalist asked about the rumored tension on set between Shannen Dougherty and Jennie Garth. The response:
Lori Loughlin: “They were cordial.”
Rob Estes: “They don’t like each other. It was uncomfortable.”
LL: “But they do their work and they’re fine.”
RE: “But they don’t like each other.”

I spoke with Eric Close who, like me, was very disappointed to learn that “Without a Trace,” on of the best shows on TV, was recently cancelled by CBS.
Jennifer Love Hewitt couldn’t let go of new beau Jamie Kennedy’s arm for more than .004 seconds. And what is this about calling her “fat”? She was teeny tiny (well her waist at least, I can’t say the same for her bosom) – confirmed. Kim Kardashian stood out like a sore thumb in her itsy bitsy, booty-hugging dresses. And Matthew Fox won the award for least well-behaved. The actor was vague and looked bored during the press conference, refused to answer any questions about the series he was there specifically to promote (“Lost”), and even insisted on conducting one interview lying down on a couch. The actor also forced the entire Europe1 radio crew to bring all of their equipment down a flight of stairs and completely change their recording studio around because Fox refused to walk up just a few steps to their HQ for the interview. I’d say he’s “lost” his manners, wouldn’t you?
Kyle Maclachlan (aka Orson Hodge) (aka Trey from “Sex & The City”) had a great sense of humor. When asked about how “Desperate Housewives” has changed his life, he responded in jest: “I’m very happy, and I used to be very depressed.”
He also mentioned how working on such female-dominated shows has been beneficial. “It has been mindblowing. I know things about women now…”
Kate Walsh, aka “Addison” from both “Grey’s Anatomy” and her new spinoff show “Private Practice,” was lovely. She’s not only tall and lithe and well-spoken, but also got to be married to DR MCDREAMY !!! Does it get any better than that ? Well, maybe McSteamy … I’d take him too.
Huge thank you to the Fairmont Monte-Carlo for a wonderful stay. With a special high five to the omelet lady at the INCREDIBLE breakfast buffet. The buffet was served every morning on the 7th floor with an insane view of the ocean, under the sun, and with a fabulous selection of breads, pastries, fresh fruit, yogurts, cheeses, pancakes and omelets. Really – is there anything better than an amazing buffet breakfast under the sun with the view of the ocean … and a prince not far away ?
Her Royal Highness Princess Rebecca Leffler of Monaco (has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?)

3. The Prince of Monaco

The Prince of Monaco, aka His Serene Highness Prince Albert is officially stalking me. Not only does he follow me to dinner twice a year (once for the “Monaco Forum of Cinema and Literature” and once for the closing night of the Monte-Carlo TV Festival), but he even followed me to lunch on the last day of the Festival at MY hotel, the Fairmont. The view from L’Horizon restaurant on the 7th floor is divine (see photo of me hard at work there) – a panoramic view of clear blue ocean water and boats gliding past in the distance. The prince had an even better view – of me ! Lucky guy. When I met him later that night at the dinner, we talked for a bit. I said: “Hello, Your Serene Highness…” He said: “You can call me Aaaaaaal” (No, he didn’t but how great would that have been? Prince Albert singing Paul Simon in the middle of a gala dinner.) I told him how I enjoy my twice-yearly stays in Monaco, and he said he is happy to have me. I mentioned we’d both had lunch at the Fairmont earlier in the day. He said, “It’s nice there, isn’t it?” And I responded – to a PRINCE mind you – “Well, if it’s good enough for the Prince of Monaco, it’s good enough for me!” Cue to the red face and thought bubble: “OMG I just said that to the PRINCE!” Luckily, Al is très cool and laughed and continued the conversation.

4. Nathalie Dubois’ Monte-Carlo TV Festival Gift Suite at the Hotel de Paris

Check out this video of my tour of Dubois’ fabulous gift suite !

5. Top Chef Masters

Just when I thought Top Chef was the ONLY reality TV show I’d ever watch (and like), Top Chef Masters comes around. It’s my guilty pleasure du jour. Not only can each episode stand on its own, but every time, we’re introduced to the crème-de-la-crème of international chefs and different themes each time. I mean, where else can you watch a famous chef make a risotto in a dorm room or serve up wild boar 3 ways ? My current life dream is to be a guest judge on Top Chef Masters. Or Top Chef, let’s start with that. Are you listening, Tom Colicchio?

6. Le Grand Journal’s compilation CD aka “Le Grand B.O. du Grand Journal”

Feeling like a hobo, like a rolling stone? Nothing’s gonna stop you … from buying the new compilation mix CD from France’s BEST nightly TV show “Le Grand Journal”. The CD features the music from the opening credits of the show, including Charlie Winston’s “Like a Hobo.” Other fabulous singles include Sliimy’s “Wake Up” (see: my obsession with this song in previous blog posting below), Ladyhawke’s “Paris is Burning” and Q-Tip’s “Move.” It’s a great mix of popular songs from all genres – everything from Lily Allen’s catchy “The Fear” to Oasis’ “I’m Outta Time” and Franz Ferdinand’s “Ulysses.” Listen to Reverend and the Makers’ “He Said He Loved Me” while you’re taking a shower (I do) or MGMT’s “Kids” while cooking dinner or Empire of the Sun’s “Walking on a Dream” when you’re getting ready for bed. If I had a car in Paris, this would be the perfect driving mix – so buy the CD, then come over and pick me up so we can go for a spin ok ? I said, “Tonight”! (Yuksek’s song, also on the CD) “Oh Yeah!” (Housse de Racket) (OK I think you get the idea…)

7. Grom

It might be a terrible idea to spread around this left-bank find since the line at this gelateria is still relatively quick compared to Amorino’s queue around the corner, but I just couldn’t post a blog in summer without talking about my favorite part of sunny sky days … namely, Grom gelato. The originally Italian, all natural ice cream line is already the biggest warm weather hit in NY, and is now in Paris. The little shop on the rue de Seine serves up organic, original flavors that melt in your mouth (literally. It’s gelato. That’s what it’s made for.) My favorites include Nocciola (hazelnut), Torroncino (with fresh chunks of nougat) and the simple Vaniglia (vanilla). But for you chocolate lovers out there, there’s also a dark chocolate sorbet, a dark chocolate ice cream and a Stracciatella with chocolate chips. Or, for a lighter mix on a hot day, the milky coconut sorbet coupled with a scoop of melon, strawberry, raspberry or peach sorbet is just perfect. Flavors change depending on the season, as does the length of the line outside. Insider info: If you don’t feel like waiting on line or walking with a cone, you can sit at Da Rosa across the street and, while you’ll pay twice as much for the same gelato, you can eat it in a cup at a table as you people-watch on the bustling rue de Seine.

8. Whatever Works

Woody Allen + Larry David. Do I need to say more?

…. Well no, but I will of course. I just can’t curb my enthusiasm for Woody Allen’s latest film. It’s definitely the most Woody Allenesque in years – pure neurotic Jewish guy in NY humor. The mismatched love affair between David and Evan Rachel Wood somehow works. Despite mediocre reviews across the board, I recommend the film. It’s far from Allen’s best, but it’s entertaining, darkly funny and speckled with an all-star cast that also includes Ed Begley Jr., Patricia Clarkson and the très cute British actor Henry Cavill. David’s Boris Yelnikoff is sort of an exaggerated, less Hollywood version of David’s character on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but David fans and Allen fans won’t be (too) disappointed. Whatever.

9. Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp is simply uber-cool in Michael Mann’s gangster flick “Public Enemies.” While I’m not a huge fan of the genre, Depp is silky smooth in the bank robber story also featuring Billy Crudup, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard. It’s bang bang boom boom gunshots all around, but there’s a moving story lying somewhere in between all of the blood and darkness. There’s a lot of DEPPth if you will…

10. The ridiculous idea of Carla Bruni in a Woody Allen movie

“"I'm sure she would be wonderful. She's got charisma, she's already acted so she's not unknown to an audience. There are a lot of ways I could use her though I don't have a story for her at the moment," Allen said of the French first lady in an interview with France’s RTL radio, adding: "But I'll certainly talk to her about it and I'll ask her if she's interested." If she’s not, Woody, my number is 06 …

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Star-spangled Dinner

Star-spangled Dinner
Dinner with the Obamas in Paris
Barack Obama followed me to dinner last night. Seriously. Out of all of the restaurants in Paris, I chose to make a reservation on Saturday night at Les Fables de la Fontaine, a Christian Constant bistro on the rue Saint Dominique, restaurant-filled street in the 7th arrondissement. After arriving almost ½ hour late thanks to our deviated taxi route due to the fact that nearly every street was blocked off to traffic because of the Obamas’ arrival, we strolled up to the rue Saint Dominique only to be greeted by a huge crowd of people, US secret service men in suits with earphones and pins and what I imagine constituted at least 30% of the national French police force. Policemen yelled out orders and forced the curious Parisians and nearby tourists to move to the sidewalk to accommodate Obama’s arrival. With high security outside, Obama’s entourage of cars arrived in front of La Fontaine de Mars, a casual French bistro, as he was escorted inside. After waiting outside, unable to walk down the street to our restaurant for more than one hour, I finally began to start intense negotiations with every Secret Service man and French policeman I could find, and was constantly calling the restaurant to figure out how we might be able to get inside to dine. Finally, the restaurant manager calls to tell me “There are American Secret Service men on their way to get you.” I laughed – “yeah right, of course they are.” Then, all of a sudden, a French policeman in full body armor, comes running towards us, points to me, pulls me out of the crowd and under the barricade with the two friends I was with (shout out to Judy and Karen, the adventuresome duo in question) and escorted us personally to the restaurant, as the crowd watched in awe. We sat down in the cute bistro – it was like we’d entered the Twilight Zone, everything was calm, we sat and had a very delicious, enjoyable meal, while the Obamas ate next door and police and soldiers lined the streets as the helicopter circled above. You’d think that since I not only voted for him, but also pay US taxes which took the Obama family to France, he’d call and say “hey, come on over and join us for dessert” right ? In fact, Obama wanted desperately to come and speak to me, but, with all of the Secret Service men and French police guarding me, he wasn’t able to (poor guy). Don’t worry, Barack, just be sure to call me next time you’re here. And please, can you perhaps just accept Sarkozy’s invitation and dine with Carla and him someplace private? Your “laid-back intimate family dinner” turned the entire city upside down! However, Mr. O, I’d like to thank you. For the first time in quite some time, I was very proud to be an American. I even sang the star-spangled banner as your entourage of cars rode by. As one American woman nearby said of the swarms of people waiting outside, “If it were Bush eating in there, nobody would be here.” I especially enjoyed when everyone in Les Fables walked outside to try and catch a glimpse of the Obamas leaving dinner and a French police officer came over and said “Monsieur, Le Président would like you to please go back inside.” Amazing. How often do I get asked to do something by “Monsieur, le Président” ? (not often, contrary to popular belief). So I’d like to thank my President, the US Secret Service, the French Police Nationale, the lovely staff of Les Fables de la Fontaine … and the (very cute, mind you) French police officer that pulled me out of the crowd and escorted us to our table. G-d Bless America ! (Land that I sometimes forget I love.)

In honor of last night, I’ve composed my own version of the US national anthem.
The Star-Spangled Dinner
Oh, say! can you see by the Obama’s early light 

What so annoying we waited for while his 400-car entourage swept through the city so he and Michelle and his kids could catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower gleaming…
Whose broad Secret Service men and bright bodyguards, made us perilously fight
To walk down the street to our restaurant, while the crowds outside were so gallantly screaming,
And the mean old French manager of the restaurant next door’s red glare,
the Obama-copter circling in the air, 

Gave proof through the night that I still do care (about America): Oh, say! does that star-spangled banner yet wave 

O'er the land of the French and the home of the Rebecca Leffler…
In Les Fables de la Fontaine, dimly seen through the mists of the deep rue Saint Dominique,
Where the fish is cooked deliciously, 

What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep of la Fontaine de Mars, 

'Tis the Obamas ! Oh, long may they wave (to me from across the street)
O'er the land of the French and the home of the Rebecca Leffler… 
And this be our motto: "In Obama is our trust": 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave 

O'er the land of the French and the home of the Rebecca Leffler…. 

The Restaurant of the day award goes not to la Fontaine de Mars (I don’t think they’ll be needing my publicity anymore seeing as the President of the United States just had dinner there, that’s definitely a better ad than paying thousands for Superbowl spot, way to go Fontaine), but to Les Fables de la Fontaine. Owned by Christian Constant, the French chef who pretty much runs every restaurant on the rue Saint Dominique – from his famed, more fancy and pricey le Violon d’Ingres to the more casual Café Constant or even more casual Les Cocottes (my favorite steak and potatoes meal on the left bank – eat that, l’Entrecôte!), Constant has a restaurant for everyone. Les Fables is a tiny place – I think the room can fit a maximum of 22 people – with a big heart. The staff are all warm and welcoming and one literally feels like one is dining in someone’s home (on a typical night that is, I can’t say the secret service and helicopters typically encircle my Parisian apartment on the average night). Les Fables specializes in seafood and offers a mostly fish-based menu, with a few options for pure carnivores as well. We started with an amuse-bouche of a parmesan cream with a red pepper coulis and croutons – divine. Since it was late (see: waiting outside for more than an hour just to walk down the street, merci Obama and co.), we skipped right to the main courses, though I must say the crispy Langoustines I had the last time I was there, still on the menu, are delicious. I had a grilled sea bass in a cream of pea sauce with grilled artichokes, a tuna sauce and parmesan cheese – incredible, especially wiped clean with the amazing mini-baguettes served to accompany the meal. Dessert was a vanilla cream custard crème-brûlée style on top of sugar biscuits with a pistachio sauce, followed by a fabulous hazelnut macaron. While I hesitate to share this spot (make sure you don’t take my seat if I want a reservation!), it is definitely one of the better and reasonably priced restaurants in Paris. Bon appétit !