New York: HSH

Many years since I was here,
on the street I was passin’ my time away
to the left and to the right,
buildings towering to the sky
it’s outta sight
in the dead of night

Here I am, and in this city, with a fistful of dollars
And baby, you’d better believe it

I’m back, back in the new york groove
I’m back, back in the new york groove
I’m back, back in the new york groove
Back in the new york groove, in the new york groove

In the back of my cadillac
A wicked lady, sittin’ by my side, sayin where are we?
Stop at third and forty-three, exit to the night
It’s gonna be ecstasy, this place was meant for me

Feels so good tonight, who cares about tomorrow
So baby, you’d better believe

I’m back, back in the new york groove…

–Ace Frehely

Paris blogging: victoire a vendredi

We won! And thank goodness, because the only thing that could salvage the horrendous faux pas of scheduling a dinner during a France World Cup game would be the guys pulling out the requisite win. And not just winning the game, but scoring the two points needed to advance to the next round. Jubilation! R tipped the waiter to give us updates, and the food took a little longer because the game was on in the kitchen as well. I breathed a sigh of relief when the Bouillabaisse was pronounced “good”. It always takes some chutzpah to invite someone out to taste their own native cuisine. Of course, the flip-side is that NAM is now ruined for the N orth AM erican version (our guests were shocked and appalled to hear that it often contains shell-fish, which is just wrong). As for me, I’m almost satisfied just munching on those fantastic croutes and aioli. Le Dôme, btw, is great. Go there when you’re here. Roger and out.

Roma blogging: mercoledi — cena, or “Trampin-in-Trastavere”

il Gelato di San CrispinoWe begin the evening with more superlatives. By all accounts, the best gelato in Rome is to be found at il Gelato di San Crispino. We almost miss the little hole-in-the-wall joint. Expecting to encounter a huge line, having arrived at 18:00, we find the place empty. Told by a sign to take a number, we decide to be anarchists and just walk up and order. My cup is filled with cocoa maringue and the signature “il Gelato di San Crispino”. The latter is a simple, but beautiful blend of honey, arbutus berry and vanilla ice cream. It’s good. NAM partakes of the pistaccio and Crema all’Armagnac. Enjoying the sumptuous ice cream, we slowly amble over to the Trevi and again marvel at its Bob Guccione-like overthetopitude. Followers of Audrey Hepburn are supposed to enjoy their gelato on the Spanish Steps, but we’re too mesmersized to bother finding them at the moment.

From there, it’s on to the best coffee in Rome, which everyone agrees is served by Sant’ Eustachio il Cafe. We take a seat in the piazza and order two of the Gran Caffe Speciale. That’s some good coffee. What makes it special isn’t so much the coffee itself as the opulent mousse resting on top. It’s luscious and at least a centimetre thick. The sugar and caffeine buzz was just what we needed to get us going for the next step.

Trastevere is, as its name implies, just across the Fiume Tevere. And, we found out, it’s where the cool kids at. Finally! Civilisation, instead of ancient civilisation. We arrived at about 9ish and the narrow streets, full of bars restaurants and cafes, were already filling up with the euro-hipsters and their navel-baring gfs. Wandered around a bit before settling on Paris, which features Roman and Jewish food. The latter was represented by the carciofi alla giuda that we shared along with fiori di zuccha. The artichokes were flattened and fried to a crispy diet-damning goodness. The fried zucchini flowers were also rather calorie-laden and even better. Each flower is stuff with a single anchovy, some mozzarella, battered and fried. Wow! Next moved on to some some grilled langostine-type critters and tuna for NAM. So-so. Not so for the wine, however. The place had a great list feauturing many 97 (the vintage of the century?) Tuscans. After some consultation, we settled on the col D’orcia Poggio Al Vento 1997 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. Winespectator rates this one a 95 and writes “A fantastic, powerful wine with incredible richness of berry, plum and roasted fruit. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and a long finish. A real treat to taste a beautiful 1997 Brunello now. Drink now. 1,500 cases made. (JS)” Nothing really more you can have after a wine like that, so we just strolled along the Tevere for a while, hopped on a bus without paying, and headed back to the Flora.

Sant' Eustachio il Caffe

Roma blogging: martedi — cena

After the requisite siesta, sorry, don’t know if that’s Italian or not and too tired right now to look it up, we went directly across the street to Harry’s Bar. What a fantastic bar and what a shame it attracts such a lame clientelle these days. If tonight was representative at all, that is. The opening gambit is a Manhattan for me, a Gibson for her. The Gibson seems fine by all accounts, although the number of onions is a bit overdone. I think any more than one is too much, but that’s me. The Manhattan is definitely of the sweet variety, and made with Seagrams VO, no less! This momentary lapse was more than made up for by the little crevette canapes they brought out for us. Deciding to let bygones be bygones, I moved on to a Negroni (on the rocks) while she sampled the Bellini, which is good, but not George V good. The bitterness of the Negroni more than compensates for the previous round.

And now for the main event. Is the best pizza in Rome, by default, the best pizza in the world? That’s what we set out to discover. Da Baffetto is just off the Piazza Navona and just down the street from where we had had the lovely lunch at Cul de Sac. Just like Grimaldi’s, there’s always a long line out front. (Party of swank, dressed-down-to-the-hilt bicoastals in line in front of us. I’d have to guess entertainment lawyer for the guy who seemed to be the leader.) And if there’s any other contender for the world’s best pizza, Grimaldi’s would have to be it. But here’s why I’m calling it for Da Baffetto. First off, everything else. A rocket salad that just rocked. Bruschetta that was beyond simple and rustic, just thick slices of great tomato on some toasted bread with olive oil. I though that for 13 �, the large Chianti would be a big glass or small pichet, but no, it was a whole bottle. Does-not-compute! It wasn’t bad, either. Quaffable pizza wine. But now for the pies themselves. Thin crust indeed! They make John’s or Grimaldi’s seem like deep dish in comparison. These are truly wafer thin. We went for two classics: a napoletana (always my fave) and a mushroom & onion. What to say? This is pizza.

Finished the evening having a nightcap on the Pizza della Rotonda, having a heated discussion on the nature of evil. My basic argument is that since humans have a concept of good and evil, but, in the aggregate choose the latter, they ain’t the former. For evidence, see the 20th century. Sitting in front of the Pantheon getting price-gouged at a tourist-trap terrace (but worth it for the mise en scene) is the perfect setting to have this conversation. But by the time we again pass the Trevi fountain, we’re too engaged to enjoy its marked stupidity. The fountain’s, that is.

Roma blogging: mercoledi — pranzo

(Backwards blogging until I get caught up.)

When Elizabeth and Richard were in town in 1963 filming Cleopatra, they used to eat often at Taverna Flavia. Good enough reason to try it out? Not really, but we wanted something in the hood that wasn’t lousy with Americans. This place fit the bill perfectly. Not a word of English in sight. NAM’s Elizabeth salad–buffalo mozarrella, shrimp, cherrry tomatoes (the kind with flavour, which is generally what they have in Roma) on a bed of arugala–was good, as was my swordfish & rocket. The swordfish was smoked and sliced thinly, (just like yesterday’s smoked tuna at Cul de Sac, but you’ll have to wait to hear about that. The Vermentino I ordered turned out to be gone, so we made do with a nice Collio Chardonnay instead. For primi, NAM had rigatoni with pesto and tomatoes, and I had a kick-ass cacio e peppe (which I have not yet had at the New York restaurant of the same name, but which I will now have to try). Fruit, coffee, perfetto. Back into the 31C furnace.

Paris Blogging: Samedi — Marchons!

Breakfast included the normal stuff, but also a couple of fougasses, something I’d never tried before. Fougasse is like a French version of focaccia, these two were folded over and stuffed, one with chevre and one with tuna and tomato sauce. R&K get theirs from their favourite boulangerie, which makes baguettes (see below, not the magic ones) throughout the day. They put even the Pain Quotidien baguettes to shame. Then we all headed out for a long trek, which began along the
Rue de la Gaité, on which sex shops alternate with good Japanese restaurants. The sexy Parisiens don’t seem to mind their sex shops at all. Most are in sleazier quartiers, but the Gaité is in the middle of a respectable, if fun, neighborhood. The death march continued appropriately with a diversion in the Cimetière du Montparnasse. We stopped to visit a few of the more famous inhabitants, including Serge Gainsbourg, and of course Samuel Beckett. MW asked us to bring back two things from our trip, a stone from Paris and a stone from Rome. The Paris stone we decided on was sitting on Beckett’s tomb. Hope he likes it.

From there, we continued along the Boulevard de Montparnasse, passing by familiar joints like La Coupole, La Rotonde, and the Montparnasse temple of Bouillabaisse, Le Dôme. La Rotonde is a great place for a Montparnasse nightcap. If you don’t want to splurge at Le Dôme, there’s Le Bar à Huîtres right across the street. There are a few of these in Paris and they’re all serviceable and fun. (C’est vrai, SP?)

Continuing through Les Jardins du Luxembourg, one of my all-time favourite Paris spots, we gradually wound our way towards le Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, in search of a couple of things: an olive-wood spice grinder and one of these beautiful Laguiole cheese knives. Found some, but ended up not buying anything. From there, passed through Le Marais, stopped for a drink, saw some silly baguettes (see below), then, gripping our wallets and bags tightly, got on the metro at Chatelet.

Our destination was Bercy Village, or, more specifically, Cour St. Emilion. We had asked R&K to show us more of the Parisen’s Paris, and this place fits the bill. It’s where the train used to pull up into the wine warehouses. After having been abandoned for some time, the old warehouses now house little shops and bistros. We stopped and enjoyed a nice little Margaux at Alice Cafe. Not sure why, but this beautiful chanson by Josquin des Prez was going through my head that afternoon:

Cueurs desolez par toutes nations,
Assembles doeul et lamentation
Pour moy de ceste peine dejetter,
Car nuyt et jour je ne puis reposer,
Mais tousjours suys en tribulation.

R&K are very uneasy about my blogging the fantastic little restaurant where we had a late dinner: Giufelli. This place is the real thing, and the three-course prix fix is 22 Euros! Little wonder that we all slept until noon the next day.

Paris Blogging: Vendredi

The sun is back and the heat, too. Late morning, we headed over to rue Mouffetard, where NAM bought these beautiful raspberries, which we then enjoyed in the Jardin des Plantes. We headed back to Montmartre to take care of unfinished business at Les Deux Moulins. Actually had a decent lunch there, but also had one of those great “Parisiens are friendly” experiences that no one ever believes. If you recall from Le Fabuleux destin d’Am�lie Poulain, there’s a phone booth in the back of the cafe. I went there to make a call, opened the cabinet and found some wires hanging out. Looks like it hasn’t been a phone for years. Asked our waitress about it and she offered me her mobile phone to use. How nice is that? Told our Parisien friends, who are as convinced as anyone that Parisiens are rude, unfriendly people, about it, and they were astonished! Headed up to Sacre Coeur once again to enjoy the views in the sunshine.

Spending the weekend in the 14th with the fabuleux R&K. Dinner in was the usual extravaganza. Not going to say how many bottles of Champagne (K’s home town) we had–the 2002 Joseph Drouhin Vosne-Romanee was nice too. Have you ever had farmer’s radishes with butter and salt?

Paris Blogging: Jeudi Part Deux

I have a confession to make. After a few days of eating French dinners, I need to do something else. Once, during a working trip, I had to fast completely by Wednesday. It hadn’t quite gotten to that point yet, but we clearly needed a change of pace. So after more tramping about the 1st and 8th, we headed back to the hotel to plan the next step. Already 22:00h and still light out. This is actually on the late side for dining in Paris, so as the minutes ticked by, our options began dwindling. Found the perfect choice in a great Thai place: Baan Boran, on rue de Montpensier, right next to the Palais Royal. Asked for everything tres, tres epicees and got it! Actually the green papaya salad was a bit over the top, even for me. Never had spicy food in Paris before.

On the way over to the restaurant, we spotted a very cute little cocktail bar and made a mental note. Stumbled across several of these over the years. Had a funny experience at a little place near Place des Vosges. Sitting there sipping a whiskey, we were approached by a young UCC brat, who was earnestly sharing his dream of escaping to Paris to be a writer. I think he showed us some samples too. The best part was at 1:00 am when his father stormed in, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him out, not saying a word. There’s also a very cute one on rue M. Le Prince in the 6th.

Back to rue de Montpensier. The bar we settled into after dinner is called Caveau Montpensier. It really is a cave-like set of small, comfy rooms and had the just right combination of tunes and couples making out. One of those situations is which after conversing for a while in primative French, you realize that everyone in the room is English. Now apparently owned by a guy from Boston. The place is also frequented by this pooch by the name of Bleu.

Paris Blogging: Mercredi

Drizzly day tramping around Montmartre, and the drizzle only adds to the effect. Were headed towards Les Deux Moulins for a Celluloid Pantry photo shoot (you’ll just have to wait until next Tuesday to see what the movie is), but, as we still needed some lunch, postponed that. I might as well just come out and say that I sometimes struggle with the concept of lunch in Paris. In a French restaurant, you go from haute cuisine to “Croque Monsiuer sans jambon” (and get a “wtf?” look from the server) with little in between. Not being meat-eaters, 90% of bistrot food is off limits. So, Italian is always a good choice. Pizza Napoletana two days in a row? Well, like the Ramones, I can eat pizza every day. Especially when it’s good, like at La Rughetta:

Always packed with the young crowd and celebrities from the neighborhood, this lively Montmartre trattoria serves very good pizza and pasta that are redolent of Rome; so what if the personnel is not always nice and the decor is minimal? the terrace is really cool in the summer.

I had noticed this place on previous trips to Rue Lepic, and yes, it’s always packed. And, for the record, the Italian woman looking after us was nice.

So, I told NAM last night that the Manufacture des Gobelins was where gobelins, or gargoyles were made. I was only partially correct, which is to say completely wrong, it was a tapestry and furniture factory for the royals. But Gobelin really does mean goblin in French, honest! Right around the corner from the manufacture is a crazy, way old-school Sud Ouest restaurant called Auberge Etchegorry. There we dined with the inimitable SP, a Sud-ener himself. SP strikes up lively, long conversations with waiters and such everywhere we go. He somehow finds long-lost chums or people who know his aunt, or something along those lines. We had some wonderful Jurancon, Madiran, and good Basque food to along with it. We took it easy on SP and only went to one place afterwards (in every arrondissemnt, there is at least one bar where he’s greeted by name–he thinks this is an exaggeration, but I don’t). So we topped the night off at Carr’s, an Irish pub which happens to be right across the street from our Hotel. What a coincidence!