Wednesday, December 01, 2010
10 Things I Love About Paris This Week
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.