Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Liz Taylor is embracing Richard Burton to my right. To my left, emerald and diamond jewels are blinding me, almost to the point that I can barely see Lenny Kravitz and his entourage walk by followed by Johnny and Laeticia Hallyday. Then, a few minutes later, Juliette Binoche. Julianne Moore walks by and says to me: “How ARE you? So great to see you again! You look gorgeous!” (Perhaps she was equally blinded by the shining jewels?) A photographer snaps my photo. I pose in my très chic Vanessa Bruno fur vest and skirt and a bejeweled diadem on my head with gorgeous earrings dangling from my ears (courtesy of the lovely Anna Rivka). I find myself in the center of Le Grand Palais in a vast space with a massive black diamond centerpiece. I expect to wake up any minute, but in fact, I’m not dreaming this time. I’m at the opening cocktail for the new “Bulgari: 125 Years of Italian Magnificence” expo at Le Grand Palais.
The colossal Parisian monument was bejeweled with stars from across the globe including (my new best friend) Julianne Moore, Lenny Kravitz and Clive Owen who all took time to make their rounds through the eight galleries that trace the major events in Bulgari’s history from the opening of its first shop on the Via Sistina in 1884 to its modern day influence on global fashion. My favorite aging French rock star Johnny Hallyday, French Vogue Editor Carine Roitfeld, actresses Juliette Binoche and Princess Clotilde Courau and director Claude Lelouch joined the Bulgari family for champagne cocktails and a preview of the vast expo that will run from Dec. 10th through Jan. 12th in the French capital.
The expo is really breathtaking and if you’re in Paris now through Jan 12th, definitely don’t miss it. The massive diamond configuration made of mirrors in the center of the Grand Palais is extraordinary and the gallery devoted exclusively to jewels worn by screen legends of the 1950s and 1960s including Claudia Cardinale, Ingrid Bergman and Sophia Loren is spectacular. And then there’s Elizabeth Taylor… oh là là!
Elizabeth Taylor’s personal collection is on display for all to see and includes the now famous “Grand Duchess Vladimir’s Suite” brooch and necklace with matching earrings, a gift from Richard Burton during their tempestuous love affair. (Come on, did you expect an interesting evening out in Paris without a scandalous love affair involved?) The evening was definitely memorable. Not to mention, the old Italian ladies in their fur coats were just incredible – like the Italian grandmothers I’ve always dreamed of. I wanted to go home with them and have them cook me Pasta all Norma and knit me a sweater. Actually, forget the sweater, I’ll take one of their GIGANTIC diamond rings as a souvenir.
The expo is part of Bulgari’s global 125th birthday celebration. I definitely hope to celebrate MY 125th birthday in a similar way, are you all coming?
…And then Cinderella turns back into a pumpkin. The clothing and jewelry are returned to sender, the sparkling diamonds and emeralds remain in their cases and all I can do now is dream of Bulgari … And I will.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join together Le Baron and Rose Bakery in holy matrimony…” “I DO…” not believe it. Two of my favorite Parisian institutions have wed. Well, sort of. Lionel Bensemoun, of Le Baron fame, has joined forces with Kaori Endo, the culinary artist formerly known as the chef at Rose Bakery Marais for a new spot on 31, rue de Paradis in the 10th arrondissement called… 31, rue de Paradis. OK so I’ll subtract a few points for originality in the title, but 31, “Heaven Street” is a fair moniker. The new restaurant features a mostly organic, varied menu in a spacious, convivial setting.
The daily menu features Franco-Japanese fusion food including the “Bento” of the day with a meat, fish or vegetarian option. Today’s choice was a tofu with miso walnut sauce, chicken with sun dried tomatoes or a balsamic salmon, all served with a quinoa and red rice combo, a pomegranate/apple/cabbage/walnut salad and a broccoli, beet and parmesan salad. The bento is very healthy and well-balanced, delicious, filling and, for the price of just 13 euros, very affordable. Plus, no one in Paris makes tofu like Kaori – I’d been in withdrawal since she left Rose Bakery and now I’m thrilled I can again enjoy her incredible gift for tofu-cooking (yes, it’s a gift, I’ve tried to replicate it many times and have failed).
Rumor has it the spring rolls – today a chicken or veggie option – are also great and the “matcha-banana-nondairy milk smoothie” is also a must-try on a future visit. While Le Baron’s influence can’t be ignored – Lionel himself was there the day I popped in, and the place is teeming with hipsters – I found the ambiance surprisingly low-key and relaxed. It’s far from just “Le Baron nightclub at 1 PM” – it’s a very down-to-earth, zen spot with an eclectic clientele. Plus, the space is so vast that it’s a nice breath of fresh air from most of Paris’ teeny tiny, cozy spots where you’re eating elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors. It’s a great place to go for lunch with friends or even for a workday meal.
And, for those busy days, the takeout corner is absolutely perfect. In 5 minutes, one (namely, me) can walk out with a protein-carb-veggie-filled hearty meal and head back to the office with a smile. Well, I can’t personally guarantee the smile, but perhaps a dessert will do the trick? The matcha green tea-white chocolate- raspberry cake is literally a taste of “Heaven” and the chocolate cake had rave reviews too. Their smoothie and tea list is impressive and our mint and ginger infusion was perfect for a cold winter’s day. As of the beginning of 2011, 31, rue de Paradis will be open every day and certain weeknights for dinner. Just another reason to celebrate the new year. Now, let’s nickname it “Paradis” or “Heaven,” is open from 9 am – 6 pm Monday through Wednesday, from 9 am through midnight on Thursdays and Fridays (limited menu for now) and then Saturday from noon until midnight.
Friday, December 10, 2010
“We’ll always have … OPI”
“We’ll always have Paris.” It’s true, Humphrey Bogart, we will. But can we have a decent MANICURE in Paris? That’s another story entirely. In America, one out of every two women have properly manicured hands, 98% percent of whom have gotten them professionally polished. (Statistics courtesy of Rebecca Leffler’s Hypothesis, inc.) In Paris? Much fewer and far between. 12% ? (source: My Wild Imagination). Manicures here not only cost a fortune, but just finding a place to get one is a task in itself. In NY, every street corner has a nail salon. (It’s right between Starbucks and the gym, see it now?) In Paris, pas du tout! Enter… OPI! The famous nail polish brand now boasts five nail bars in Paris for pampering from hand to toe. A polish change is just 5 euros and a full SPA Manicure 35 euros and classic manicure 20 Euros (which, if you live in America, will think is exorbitantly high, but if you live in Paris will think is a great deal!) The manicure features Avoplex oil and lotion, plus OPI nail care products like Nail Envy in all its forms. My favorite part? They are big on their puns and all of their colors boast clever names. My new favorite color for winter is called “We’ll Always Have Paris” – how perfect! Their “Swiss” winter collection also features some fabulous colors (with even more fabulous names) like “I’m Suzi and I’m a Chocoholic” or “Ski Teal We Drop” or even “Diva of Geneva.” Next up for 2011? An All-American “Texas” collection of colors including “Dou Think I’m Texy,” “San-Tan-Tonio” and “Too Hot Pink to Hold’em.” Special thanks to Barbara at the rue de Turbigo location for a beautiful manicure ! (OP)I LOVE OPI!
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Saturday, December 04, 2010
Watch our movie reviews of the week on the "Crash Test" on "Le Grand Journal" !
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
1. Le Klay
I just returned from a place I never dreamed possible. A place into which that no one else would have ever dreamed that I, moi, Rebecca Leffler, would step foot. The French fat lady has sung (an ironic metaphor when you read what’s to follow). French pigs have flown. I – are you sitting down for this? (another ironic metaphor in fact) – just got back from … the gym. In Paris, France.
I know, it’s the craziest news to hit France since terrorist warnings and a President marrying a supermodel. But oui oui, mes amis, it’s true: I’ve joined a Parisian gym. First of all, let me point out that “Parisian” and “gym” are not indeed antonyms. Parisian gyms do exist. Mostly under the “Club Med” moniker and mostly filled with smelly, sweaty people crowding for treadmills, but there are, more recently, a new generation of trendy workout spots invading Paris.
In French, the word for “treadmill” is “tapis roulant” or “rolling carpet.” In Paris, the rolling carpet has replaced the red carpet as France’s crème-de-la-crème skip the crème and head to the gym. While the French are known for idly sipping café au lait and smoking cigarettes, Paris’ new generation is embracing American gym culture. And, because the famously chic Gallic capital must always be fashion forward, the city’s new gyms are offering unique exercise opportunities for what have become the city’s new “gym-set” crowd. At l’Usine and at le Ken Club, France’s media and entertainment industry execs mingle with celebs like Marc Jacobs and Lenny Kravitz. In a nearby arrondissement (le 2ème) at Le Klay, Paris’ elite night dwellers converge for post-party-um trapeze workouts or hangover elixirs at the gym’s own in-house restaurant and juice bar. In New York, there’s a gym on every street corner. In Paris, there’s a bakery. However, more and more, the city’s stereotypically idle population are putting out their cigarettes and putting on their workout clothes to hit the gym.
I’ve opted to mold myself out of “Klay” (get it? How clever, those Frenchies - aren’t they?) I must say, everyone is surprisingly très friendly (even the French women actually smile and say hello in the locker rooms - incroyable!) and the machines are impressive. Klay is huge (as my muscles will be shortly, I hope) – it spans four stories including a swimming pool and sauna, boxing room, cardio floor and wide space with a variety of machines and free weights. What’s great is that it never seems to be too crowded and so far I haven’t had to fight anyone for a machine (stop laughing – these are skinny French kids remember, I may actually have a chance this time!) Plus, the locker rooms are totally modern and swank, and the place feels like a luxury hotel. There’s a lobby downstairs complete with internet and the day’s newspapers and even an in-house restaurant – le Depur – that serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner and even post-workout protein powder shakes! Klay is definitely the haute couture of gyms. Klay is so cool it’s even gotten moi motivated to cross the river in the dead of winter (well the dead of winter hasn't quite arrived but based on the sub-Arctic temperatures and SNOW I'd say we're almost there, wouldn't you?). I'll be pumping up le fer (iron, en français) Paris-style all winter long. I haven't yet checked out the many classes Klay offers including yoga, pilates, "total body," pump, freestyle, spinning or "cardio funky" (just saying that in a French accent makes me laugh so much I may not even need another workout), but I do plan to. Plus, Klay has several personal trainers on site who are all totally pro. I really feel at home there and especially commend those working out today circa 11 am for not bursting into hysterics as I attempted a sideways crunch exercise on a large plastic ball and splattered myself into a strange, quite scary bodily contortion. Thanks to my new trainer, the fabulous Adèle Van Damme, currently kicking mes fesses into shape, I may just be a Muscle Mademoiselle soon. Anyone care to join me? OKlay, let’s go!
2. Saturne, my new favorite culinary planet
Anyone living on planet earth – or Paris, France, but isn’t that the center of planet earth? ;) – cannot possibly have missed the multiple rave reviews of new restaurant Saturne. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I finally had dinner there this week. Oh là là, in the galaxy of affordable yet delicious restaurants, Saturne has earned it’s rings. We sat in the “bistro” section in the front of the restaurant, which was casually cool, though next time I will definitely try to sit in the main dining room. We started out with an “amuse-bouche” (one of my favorite French words that literally means a “mouth-entertainer”) which did indeed entertain our mouths – a “beignet de rouget” which is fancy French for a fried ball of fish, but tasted light and refined. Then, our first course – raw scallops with sea urchin and shaved goat cheese. While I’m not the biggest fan of sea urchin (I compare it’s taste to a sautéed version of the villain from “The Little Mermaid”), the scallops were high quality and the shaved goat cheese was incredible. So incredible, that it made its way to pretty much all of the following dishes, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The next course was perhaps my favorite. Described as gnocchi with goat cheese, I expected a plate of heavy bricks soaking in cheese. Instead, fluffy potato pillows arrived on a bed of pesto and fresh herbs and topped with that delectable shaved goat cheese. Incroyable! I never wanted it to end. Then, the next course. A piece of lamb so tender that a knife was unnecessary. I asked for a non-meat version so was presented with a nice piece of St.Pierre (or John Dory- fish with a light cream emulsion and a mussel purée and seasonal vegetables including tiny dark green Brussels sprouts that were absolutely delicious. Then, my sister had the “baba” with calvados and milk ice cream and I, a very interesting combination of apple ice cream with shaved sheep’s milk cheese (yes, my dear goat was replaced with his cousin for the final course, but equally delicious), apple compote and topped with meringues. Then, on a whim, we ordered an infusion to end the meal and were awarded honey madeleines, which were so buttery and delicious they brought back the French childhood I never had and would have made even Proust himself jealous. And to think, the chef (Sven Chartier) is only 23 years old! I’ll definitely be back for more!
3. My new snood made by my new French grandmother
“Huh?” I’m reading your mind, aren’t I? You’re thinking “What’s a snood?” or perhaps you’re thinking more along the lines of “You have a French grandmother?” Let me explain. A “snood” is that ubiquitous, usually wool object, you are probably seeing on the necks of girls everywhere that’s a cross between a scarf and a turtleneck. And my French grandmother knit me my very own! And you can have your very own French grandmother AND Snood too! There’s a brand called Golden Hook that offers personalized, hand-made scarves, hats and other knits all made by real French grandmothers. You can go to their website
(http://www.goldenhook.fr/), choose your French grandmother then pick your scarf or hat style and color, and your grandmother will knit it for you. I’m currently obsessed with my Snood – it hasn’t come off my neck yet this winter and, seeing as how Mother Nature has decided to punish France with severe hypothermic conditions this year, might not until May. You might say I’m “hooked” ! Their tag line on their website? “Pick one of our awesome grannies. Say bye-bye to cold.” So, in sum, a French grandmother AND comfort from the cold? It’s snood good to be true! And, this just in, Golden Hook is on display at the Palais de Tokyo’s Black Block store from Dec. 2nd through the 16th so make sure to check it out as you gaze at the modern art around you.
We all have our Achilles heel. I happen to have two, and they literally are the heels of my feet. Enter, Camper! After years of having to choose between fashion and function, finally my feet can have both. Camper shoes literally make my feet feel like they’re walking on air, but, unlike most comfortable shoes, they’re actually quite stylish. Camper’s black lace-up “Mamba” shoe took me through an entire Cannes Film Festival this year, and are still my favorites. The recent additions to my Camper collection include a pair of purple curvy shoes and a black leather calf boot with blue and grey detailing (see both below). Dear Camper, I love you so much, it – DOESN’T – hurt. Sincerely, Rebecca’s feet
5. « Patidou » Squash
In English, it’s called “sweet dumpling squash” (totally not as cool as “Patidou,” right?) These small, plump squash are ubiquitous at the French fresh food markets these (very cold) days and are absolutely delicious. Try slicing and broiling with some maple syrup or roasting with sage and parmesan or, my current favorite, stuffing with risotto or quinoa.
The sweet and savory mélange of flavor lends the patidou to many different culinary creations. Plus, the skin is edible! The patidou is sort of a mix between a sweet potato and a butternut squash in texture and flavor – I’d say the most similar is the delicata squash, which is equally delicious. So what are you patidouing with your winter squash this season?
6. Anna Rivka jewelry
After around 8 million (approximately) trips up and down the rue Vieille du Temple, I recently stumbled across Anna Rivka jewelry’s fabulous shop. (My Hebrew name is Rivka, may I add.) Her handmade jewelry is simple, but elegant and features semi-precious stones and metals. The style is funky and urban, but at the same time, classic and antique. I’ve been wearing my double-flower “Les Fleurs” rings and another Fleur around my neck since I stopped in. Everything is gorgeous in the shop – I literally want to buy everything in the store. It’s definitely worth a trip if you’re in the neighborhood. Or, if you’re not: http://www.annarivka.fr. J’adore Anna Rivka! Love, Rivka
7. The goat cheese at Raspail market – not baaaaaaaa-d
I have a confession. I never really liked goat cheese. The goat cheese I grew up with in the US usually resembles cream cheese, which I’m not such a fan of and yes, there are indeed other things to top bagels with, thank you very much. And then, I discovered… le fromage de chèvre français. For years, I contented myself with pretty much any chèvre thrown my way (the cheese, that is – no one has thrown a goat at me to date). And then, I discovered… the goat cheese at the Raspail market (first cheese stand to the left if you're coming from the rue de Rennes side). Their fresh goat cheese, in both “ficelle” or slightly salted “crottin” or “pyramide” form is so fresh from the goat you can still almost hear it baaaaa-ing if you listen closely. The ficelle with turmeric and some pumpkin seed oil, a recipe courtesy of my favorite Viennese-Parisian chef Babsie Steger, is absolutely delicious in any season (http://babsiesteger.blogspot.com/2010/05/chevre-tres-tres-frais-hile-de-courge.html) and their crottin spread on toast with a bit of honey is a sweet treat any time of day. So “buck” up and get over to the market for the best cheese of your life. It’s much ado about mutton.
8. Les Belges
I’ve always identified with Belgians. As a New Jerseyan, I’ve had to suffer incessant mockery from New Yorkers (and pretty much everyone in the United States). After years of “what exit?” and references to “the armpit of the United States,” I moved to Paris (where most people don’t know you’re supposed to make fun of people hailing from the magnificent Garden State) and met… Belgians. While mostly known in the USA for their waffle-making abilities (which I sincerely thank them for but wonder why the amazing concept of frozen waffles for breakfast hasn’t hit France yet?), the Belgians are also – and quite unfortunately – famous for being the butt of many French jokes. Enter Dany Boon’s latest film “Rien à Déclarer,” (or “Nothing to Declare”) his follow-up to the box office record-breaker “Welcome to the Sticks.” In the film, a French customs officer and his Belgian counterpart must learn to work together in peace. While the film is far from Oscar or César-worthy, it’s a fun romp across the Franco-Belgian border and is, to my surprise, actually very funny at times. It’s a film designed to be a national – and international (Belgium, bien sûr) – hit so the humor is rather puerile and the story quite mundane and predictable yet the time passes quickly and it’s a very enjoyable film. The cast is fantastic – Benoit Poelvoorde is less annoying than usual and Boon is in his element. Karin Viard, aka the funniest woman in France, plays a small yet hysterical role alongside the always fabulous Francois Damiens. I have “nothing to declare” other than, definitely don’t miss this film if you’re in France in February!
9. My Cuisinart
The latest addition to my life is an American import in France that makes great food and fits perfectly in my apartment. No, I haven’t started dating an expat chef (though, that does sound tempting) – I’m talking about my new Cuisinart food processor. It’s changed my (culinary) life. ‘Tis the season for purées and my Cuisinart miraculously turns potatoes and pumpkins and squash or whatever winter vegetable I throw its way into a creamy delight. Not to mention, it makes delicious pesto sauces – or rather, the Cuisinart makes the pesto sauces and I make them delicious, but our teamwork is extraordinary. I just add the ingredients, hold down a button and – voilà! Dinner is served… Je vous aime, Cuisinart!
10. Gwyneth Paltrow’s rendition of Cee-Lo’s “F—k You” on “Glee.”
OK so maybe this doesn’t qualify as something technically IN Paris, but I have been singing this song over and over again (many times, out loud) throughout the streets of Paris, so does that count? Like much of the world, I’m a bit obsessed with “Glee” and Gwyneth Paltrow rocked last week’s episode. If you haven’t heard the “Glee” – and PG ! – version of the song – it’s now “Forget You,” download away. It’s unfortunately extremely addictive and I fear I have scared many French people recently belting it out on the streets, on the bus and in public places. “I see you driving 'round town With the girl i love and i'm like…forget youuuuu….” Fantastic.
I’ve spent the past three days (well, almost) with Paul Haggis in Paris to promote his latest film “The Next Three Days.” The film is an adaptation of Fred Cavayé’s French movie “Pour Elle” and stars Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks. I took to the stage on Monday night to translate a Master Class with the director, then worked as a translator at the press junket on Tuesday and finally hosted the Paris premiere of the film on Tuesday evening. It was so incredible to hear such a talented writer and filmmaker (and producer!) talk about his rise to success. “It’s a ridiculous business. You need to believe in the impossible,” Haggis said. He added: “Russell Crowe’s character in the film is right when he says that if you follow logic, you’ll never succeed. You need to believe, even when all of the odds are against you and you need to work ten times harder than everyone else.” He then said during a press interview that “You need to be mad to accomplish anything great in this world. That’s why we’re all sitting here today. Otherwise, we’d all be accountants.” Russell Crowe is fabulous as usual in the film, and, though long, I like how Haggis strayed from traditional Hollywood thrillers by allowing the characters to develop before giving us a fast-paced, intriguing and thought-provoking finale. The film hits French theaters next Wednesday so enjoy the next three days before you enjoy “The Next Three Days”!