A favorite staycation getaway for me is the sleepy but incredibly beautiful and demure Montecito, just south of her louder and more narcissistic sister, Santa Barbara. While I can’t say that the food scene here is anything to marvel about, you get to have that food with some of the most impressive views in Southern California. When you need a break from padding Ty Warner’s pockets, the perfect place to arrange an impromptu picnic lunch on sunny (hopefully) butterfly beach is Pierre Lafond Market & Deli. Start upstairs for the charming selection of culinary and serving ware, books, and unique European scented products. All of it is completely unnecessary but I defy you to come away without purchasing something. The shop has a small but interesting supply of hard-to-find cooking supplies: pastas, olive oils, vinegars, cheeses, and spices. Finally, order a sandwich or choose from the impressive selection of ready-made deli items and voila! Instant romantic get-away from LA.
Pierre Lafond Market & Deli
516 San Ysidro Road, Montecito (805) 565-1504
Long gone is the Wolfgang Puck restaurant that inhabited the space where R&D now sits on Montana Ave. in Santa Monica. But I remember if fondly: The servers who knew us by name and remembered our favorite wines, the lovely manager who occasionally showed us racy photos of herself for a laugh, and the pizzas. Always perfectly crispy, masterfully made, divinely delicious. Of course you can still find a close facsimile to those pies at the Wolfgang Puck Express in the 3rd Street Promenade or at Gelson’s, but the lack of human interaction at assembly line-styled restaurants does not re-create the experience. How pleasantly surprised I was to discover, on a recent lay-over, the Wolfgang Puck Express at the Minneapolis Airport and its wise-cracking server, Jackie. Jackie’s deadpan jokes and “You think you got problems” sense of humor was comedy gold and kept us thoroughly entertained in the otherwise unremarkable airport. How nice to be reminded, in this unusual place, how memorable dinner can be when the right combination of good food and good people come together. Hats off to you and the others, Jackie. Oh, and the pizzas were as good as I remember.
Right around the corner from Poilane at 19 rue de Sèvres, sits an outpost of the venerable La Maison Du Chocolat. For those in the know, this is the grand high temple of French chocolate. In Paris, where finding the latest superhip chocolate boutique is a full-time job, La Maison du Chocolat remains refreshingly stalwart in their committment to offering simply the best chocolate. They offer a variety of chocolates, pralines, truffles, and even pastries, but if you want the purest expression of chocolate decadence, I suggest you dive into the ganaches. The quito ganache is an excellent example of what they do best. It is rich, dark, slightly smokey, and intensely chocolatey. And I always bring back bars of their baking chocolate to make the most velvety souffles and desserts. No plans on going to Paris anytime soon? Then check out http://www.lamaisonduchocolat.us/, they’ll ship.
No visit to Paris is complete without stopping by the venerable bakery, Poilâne on rue Cherche-Midi in the Saint- Germain des Prés district. They have been baking their world-renowned bread in wood-fired ovens since 1932 using only four carefully sourced ingredients: stone-ground flour, salt from Guérande, water, and the sourdough starter from previous batches of bread. The results are sheer perfection; moist earthy interior with a delicate crumb and a crunchy, malty crust. They also make a fine array of cookies and pastries. Their petit pain au chocolate is one of the best in Paris. Poilâne’s dedication to perfection and French tradition make it the perfect place to secure a loaf for your picnic by the Seine, or just to pick up supplies. I returned with their amazing flour, knives, bread-making book, and boxes of cookies as gifts. If you’re desperate to sample the famous bread but have no plans on travel to Paris, you can find Poilâne in London, order a loaf sent to you via their website, or locally, stop by the Cafe in Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. They used to use Poilâne for their sandwiches, but it’s been a while since I’ve been in so I’m not certain they have continued the practice.
Poilâne Paris – Cherche-Midi bakery
If you are unable or unwilling to make the trek to the steamy and dusty Marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen – Porte de Clignancourt in Paris (The best place to poke around for antique kitchen ware) and desperately want to bring home some French culinary antiques, then try Au Petit Bonheur La Chance. They have a small, but carefully chosen selection of antique and mid-century French cookware, bowls, linens, utensils, and kitsch. Maria-Pia Varnier, the owner combs France for such treasures. Additionally the street on which it sits, Rue St. Paul on the Right Bank on the Seine near Notre Dame, has a number of other antique shops featuring housewares. Don’t miss a peak in the window of Thanksgiving, across the street from Au Petit Bonheur La Chance. The boutique features iconic American foods, including a window display featuring Lucky Charms cereal.
Au Petit Bonheur La Chance
Village St. Paul – 13, Rue St. Paul – 75004 Paris
Phone 01 42 74 36 38 www.aupetitbonheurlachance.fr
Open Thurs – Mon from 11:00 to 1:00 and from 2:30 to 6:30
My favorite hotel bar on earth has got to be Bar 228 at hotel Le Meurice in Paris. Named for the address of the famous hotel on rue de Rivoli, Bar 228 is Paris as it should be: elegant, well-heeled, familiar, and comfortable. The decor is classic yet playful (redone by Philippe Stark) with dark wood walls, trompe l’oeil ceiling, and soft leather furniture. The staff are uncharacteristically friendly for France. And as you sink into your cozy chair after an exhausting day of shopping and site-seeing, listen to the lilting jazz from the piano, and sip your minerally white wine, I’ll bet you can’t help but mutter to yourself, “La vie Parisenne est tres belle.”
Bar 228 at Le Meurice
228 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
The Puck empire continues to grow! On Saturday night, Toddrickallen caught up with a ridiculously busy Wolfgang Puck at Cut in Beverly Hills. The last time I spoke with him, he told me he was opening a Cut in London (See previous post http://wp.me/pIwAN-1k), so naturally I asked him how it was coming along. Well, turns out it’s still a year away before opening. More interestingly though, he was excited about his newest Cut opening late June/early July at the Sands hotel in Singapore! Does the man never sleep?