travel notes: paris

At the end of August, I took an impromptu trip to Paris, Geneva and Franche-Comté. I couldn't be more grateful for this francophile trip, and I've been eager to share my new finds - from a zany barbie artist in the Parisian puces, to an old-timey Besançon patisserie that serves up one hell of a chocolate/meringue bomb. First things first? Paris.

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EAT Comme à Lisbonne: A tiny boutique specializing in Portugeuse pastels de nata. I first tried these flaky, flan-filled tarts in their hometown (Belem, Lisbon - near the breathtaking Jeronimos Monastery) and was delighted by the Parisian reproduction. Moreover, the accompanying espresso was top-notch, a true find in the notoriously coffee-challenged city of lights.

Chez Jeanette: A very hip, low-key bistro with impeccably fresh cuisine. The saumon en cocotte blew me away, and I also loved their just-rich-enough nutella tiramisu.

Neva: Neva may be in one of the less-traveled neighborhoods of Paris, but it merits the detour. It was my "splurge" this trip, but the prices were more than reasonable, considering the exquisitely balanced flavors and textures of each carefully crafted dish. I was especially impressed with the ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) and the meringue-topped lemon tart, but every dish was outstanding.

Les Petits PlatsThis unassuming, lovely bistro is a favorite among locals, and it's easy to see why. With charming service, vibrant flavors and beautiful presentation, it's a close contender for my favorite lunch spot in the city.

DRINK Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis: A strip of bars where patrons spill onto the sidewalks, drinks in hand. It was a bit of a gritty scene, with lanky, attractive bobo boys abreast seedier sorts. I loved the relaxed, pro-mingling vibe, and the bars themselves were actually somewhat charming, should you prefer to drink indoors.

BarbershopA French interpretation of a "Brooklyn bar"...which looks a lot like a Brooklynite's version of a Parisian bar. Clustered seating, a solid wine list and decent cocktails. Basically, it a was a hipster hangout and became a victim of its own trendiness as the night went on. (The solitary bartender served both diners and late-night drinkers, which meant by 11pm, you were literally waiting a half hour to get a drink.)

Grazie: An open, industrial pizza joint/cocktail bar. The kitchen closes late-nights, but I did enjoy an earthy, walnut-infused negroni.

VISIT Puces de Vanves: I had previously biked through this noteworthy flea market, but never really stopped to look. Among the piles of curiosities, I fell upon the aforementioned "zany Barbie artist" (apparently, the president of the market). He doesn't sell his imaginative works for profit, but rather, hopes they attract further visitors to the market. I applaud his efforts and urge you to go, if only to check out his sculptures for yourself.

Chez Chartier: A self-consciously touristy spot, this restaurant is far from the best in Paris. That said, the historic interior merits a look, and the crème chantilly (whipped cream) at Chartier is utterly addictive, so I'd recommend stopping in for dessert.

Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor: I discovered this footbridge by accident, as a study abroad student, and did not revisit it until this last trip. For the most exciting views, enter on the lower level from the Tuileries. Then climb to the upper arch, where you will find far more "love locks" than on the nearby (and better known) Pont des Arts.

Saint Sulpice: This has always been among my favorite churches in Paris, but for the first time, I got to see its facade fully restored. Enjoy the lovely plaza, then head inside - not for the Delacroix paintings, but to see the gorgeous, undulating statue of Mary in the chapel behind the main altar.

For more of my favorite spots in Paris, click here.

catch of the day: soulmate

Back in December, I was raving about a travel start-up called Nectar & Pulse. Rather than reinventing the all-inclusive travel book, N&P founders Carina & Tanja have created an exceptionally curated and designed line of city guides based on a simple concept: soulmates. The "soulmate" taps into an age-old travel fantasy. You arrive in a strange city where you know no one, but somehow bump into an engaging, charismatic local who eagerly offers to "show you around".

For those of us who have lived this dream, we cannot imagine traveling any other way. And now, with Nectar & Pulse, you don't have to - because they've lined up a bevy of interesting, creative, enthusiastic locals from across the globe to show you around. Including me.

I reached out to Carina & Tanja after reading about N&P in The Brander, and was thrilled when they selected me as one of their New York City soulmates. Check out my slideshow and interview about all things NYC on their site, or you can purchase a physical copy of my guide for only 6 euros.

A great thanks to my photographer sister, Lauren DeFilippo. Without her, neither this blog nor my Nectar & Pulse photo spread would be half as beautiful.

And of course - you can always check out my "Manhattan" tab for an extended list of my latest and greatest hotspots in NYC.

tie-one-on: "the tippler"

It's curious how these things happen.  I recently met the editor of a food publication, who asked about my areas of food expertise and ignorance.  Cooking, restaurants, markets, wine - I've got it covered.  But cocktails... well, "I look forward to learning more". For me, cocktails have always, quite literally, been the murky end of the watering hole.  I typically stick to wine  or the occasional Delirium/Chimay Bleue (though I do appreciate a good gin & tonic or mint-packed mojito).  Over the years, my cocktail-obsessed friends have staged several initiations:  The mint julep (I've always loved Ray Charles' "One Mint Julep"), the dark and stormy (when in Bermuda...), my first [dirty] martini (love olives! love gin! we're in Paris!)...they all failed to seduce me.  And don't even get me started on cocktails that don't remotely taste of alcohol (signing that tab is like signing off on the worst hangover of your life).

But in the week since that interview, serendipity's crept in.  First, a Brooklyn nightcap with jazz musicians.  They were sipping Islay Malt, and I was enraptured by the smoke in the air.  Though I could only get down a few sips, unlike other dark liquors I've sampled before, this one held held my interest and made me want to learn to drink it.  The composer and bartender of the group studied me determinedly, ultimately deciding a Campari would be my better companion.  Surprisingly subtle sweetness and the scent of orange rind, followed by the bite of grapefruit bitters...I was hooked.  As I gazed into the crystal ball of my dazzling pink drink, an optimistic cocktail future opened slowly before me.

Cue The Tippler.

Slated to open in May, the Tippler didn't make its sub-Chelsea Market debut until mid-September, but the crowds are already more than trickling in.  Right off the crossroads of the Meatpacking - where 6-inch-stiletto'ed vixens, charming-but-cocky entrepreneurs, and borderline-legal social-climbers come to play - the entrance to the Tippler could be easily missed.  The only sign of their existence, jutting into an otherwise empty alley, is a yellow-bulbed throwback, we're "OPEN".

Once inside, it was clear I was still in the quartier of cool.  The crowd was not quite pre-Boom Boom Room - perhaps more post-Pastis - but the vibe was decidedly "sophisticated, creative, urban professional".  I was running late and - without even batting an eye at the drink menu - grabbed a glass of (very good) vinho verde.  But when I joined my friends at the back table, I sensed that the cocktails spread over the table were not the good ol' classics of Robitussin-y yore.  The raves started at a low rumble, but quickly fixated on a certain "Sea Monkey".  "It feels like drinking celery," someone said, as the tumbler tilted towards my lips.  Sea and celery indeed - but not overly brine-y - and anise, but mellow, like fennel.

Curiosity peaked, I asked the bar-man for another whimsical gin drink.  "Curly & the Turk" : Blue curaçao, gin, lemon, hibiscus, chili pepper - it looked like a snowcone for adults, but the citrus and spice more than balanced the sweet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFxHaUn28-c&feature=player_embedded

From there I met "The Marauder of 15th Street" : tequila, gin, chile, bitters, smoked salt - the layers of flavor unfolded like a beautifully-plated, boozy dish.  A friend chose the bison grass vodka "Derek Smalls" - the unusual herbaceous kick prompting audible expressions of excitement.  In brief, it was if we had landed on the sophisticated, understated set of Charlie & the Cocktail Factory : a bar of "pure imagination".

Before you dismiss my whimsical musings - I should present some of my more serious bar companions.  That night, I rubbed elbows with the likes of cocktail consultants, restaurateurs, and stylistas - veterans of strong drink to say the least.  They too were more than tickled by the Tippler, and with good reason.

Because somewhere beyond the immaturity of binge-drinking and the snobbery of cultivated consumption, there is the possibility to revel in a truly remarkable cocktail.  The Tippler has beautifully hit the bulls-eye, drink after drink.