February 2023 Newsletter
France is a country where people are known for being hesitant to change. (Although they do appreciate this kind of change.) It’s what many people admire about France, and they often tell me that they think that their country should emulate it. I’m not sure people would appreciate folks smoking next to them at a café while they were having lunch, and my phone is often still on the 3G network, even as other countries in Europe and elsewhere have phased it out completely. But people—myself included, are happy to be surrounded by great bakeries and French cheeses, as well as free-flowing wine and a health care system that is accessible to all, widely considered to be one of the best in the world.
Right now, France is experiencing a series of strikes and demonstrations over an initiative to change the retirement age, gradually increasing it from 62 to 64. (The retirement age in Italy and Denmark is 67, it’s 65 in Belgium and Romania, and 61 in Sweden.) We had two major strike days in January, with perturbations fortes, and more are expected. So if you’re planning to travel to France, check with airlines and transit authorities to see if your plans will be affected.
But the world does change, whether we like it or not. (Well, except for our sluggish 3G service…and I’m 64 and no one has given me the green light to retire.) When I moved to France 20 years ago, many here were shocked that I wanted internet access at home. “It will steal your soul!” a few told me, and in retrospect, they possibly were right. 🤷
In the past year a lot happened, namely we moved within Paris. Paris is a great place to wander, and even though we’re in the same arrondissement—the 11th is huge, spanning from the Place de la République all the way to Père Lachaise. Paris is essentially a city full of small villages, and I’m enjoying discovering new places in mine.
The onzième is one of the neighborhoods that’s known for being en bouge, or “on the move.” In recent years, there’s been an explosion of new restaurants and energy, which has brought us small shops selling fruits and vegetables from regional producers, a slew of natural wine bars, and wonderful bakeries. It’s been amazing to watch.
When I moved into my previous neighborhood back in 2011, there were five bakeries nearby, and they were all—I hate to say—terrible. Since then, they’ve been replaced by excellent boulangeries: Chambelland, Maison Landemaine, Graine, The French Bastards, and Fermentation Générale. I miss them (and the people who worked there, who’d rifle through the basket of baguettes, looking for a bien cuite, or well-cooked, extra-crispy, one for me), but I am now a regular at Terroirs d’Avenir, Tapisserie, and La Pâtisserie, and I get a nice greeting when I go in.
I’m a big fan of bread, but bakeries in Paris tend to be extra generous with the bread more so than the fillings. (One exception is Le Petit Vendôme, which also comes with a generous helping of old-fashioned French charm.) When I walked by Le Zingham, I did a triple take when I saw the sandwiches piled up in the window, which was enough to get me inside to pick one up. (Shown at the top of this post.) And I was glad I did. It wasn’t overstuffed, comme d’habitute, but the bread was slender and crispy, and the filling of Basque ham, sheep milk cheese, a point (pinch) of dried chile powder, and outrageously good butter, put le sandwich in the category of one of the best things I’ve eaten in Paris this year. And the year is just beginning!
January is the most challenging month in Paris as there’s rarely a day of sunshine and the weather can go from icky to very icky; it’s cold and damp and puts everyone in a similar mood. The upside is that we’re all in this together, and somehow, we get through it every year, and the days are getting longer as we head toward spring.
One thing that lifted my spirits was this generous board of cheese that French cheese and wine expert Jennifer Greco brought over when we talked about French cheeses on my podcast. If those cheeses look good to you, she’s now doing French cheese and wine tours and tastings in Paris, so you can taste them too.
Toward the end of January, I took a quick trip to Lyon to visit a dear friend who moved there a few years ago. The chilly weather gave us the perfect chance to dine for lunch in a cozy bouchon, Le Garet. With a characteristically gruff welcome (not meant to be mean, but to let you know who’s in charge😉), we had a pot of Fleury to accompany a terrific slab of chicken pâté en croûte, before diving into a Lyonnais classic, quenelle de brochet (pike dumpling) with crayfish sauce, along with a platter of tête de veau, potatoes done two ways, an oozing St. Marcellin cheese, finishing up with cassis (black currant) sorbet for dessert, which the waiter doused with a shot of marc brandy, letting me know when to stop.
In Lyon, we also visited the wonderful Alma bakery, Sibilia charcuterie (the Croix-Rousse branch and the one in Les Halles are recommended by my friend as they have a larger selection than the small outlet on Avenue Maréchal de Saxe), and had dinner at a bistro (which shall remain nameless) that served me a salade Lyonnaise on a bed of baby greens, rather than the traditional sturdy frisée, which the salad absolutely needs to stand up to the bacon, softly cooked egg, and assertive mustardy dressing.
Before heading to the train station to go home, we stopped by to say hi to Lucy Vanel of Plum Lyon cooking school, who is gearing up for spring students. If you’re looking for cooking classes in Lyon, check her schedule of classes and culinary tours. Lucy got her professional pastry certification in France and is a pro in the kitchen.
Pro tip: I took the new high-speed Trenitalia Italian train to Lyon, which was less than half the price of the TGV: I went business class, which was €39 each way and included Illy coffee, beverages, and snacks, and I selected a seat in the quiet car where people keep their voices down and aren’t supposed to talk on the phone. If you want to stick with the TGV but save some money, the OUIGO trains offer no-frills fares, meaning there isn’t a café car, so be sure to pick up food before you get on a longer train ride. And luggage, outlets, and seat assignments are add-on options. (These trains adopted the things people dislike about low-cost airlines, but the tickets are cheap.) Some seats are arranged three across, so like on the airplane, you may get a dreaded middle seat if you don’t reserve. And the bright pink and turquoise motif can be a little hard on the eyes.
Lastly, although nobody asked me, the NYT recently featured an article, American Expatriates in Paris Wish Emily Cooper Would Go Home (article unlocked), which attempted to answer one of our era’s most pressing issues: What to do about Emily Cooper?
The poor girl has been having three seasons’ worth of trouble over the same two guys. And while her French is improving, it’s hard not to blame her for the rash of Emily in Paris tours that have sprung up in Paris, as well as people taking selfies at the show’s hot spots. One tour lists a visit to Emily’s apartment and Gabriel’s restaurant (which in reality, doesn’t serve French food), but if it was up to me, I’d rather visit Gabriel’s apartment - sans the tour group. (And sans Emily, so we could have some time alone, to work on my um…French.) Although to be honest, I think it’d be more fun to hang out with Mindy or Sylvie.
Another podcast guest this month, Sarah Donnelly (aka Jessica Ashley Michelle), offers up her take on the much commented on NYT story:
I’m not sure I could top that, which is fine because I don’t own a beret. I did threaten to put one on Romain, for an Instagram Live, but he wasn’t having any of that. And since we’re at the final phase of our apartment renovation, and we’ve made it this far, I’m doing what I can to hold onto him. Plus, the project for my memoirs (sorry, Sarah!) to hit the small screen may be back on track, so I’m holding off on taking any potshots at Emily & Co.—because I may be next!
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A Night With Phil Rosenthal in Paris (and me!)
When he was starting out, Phil Rosenthal invited me to be his guest on one of the first episodes of his new television show, which would be filming in Paris. Now in his sixth season, Somebody Feed Phil has become a fan phenomenon on Netflix. I’ll be in conversation with Phil and doing a Q+A with him when he returns to Paris on Feb 8th at the Alhambra Théâtre. If you’re in town, you’re welcome to join us!
Links I’m Liking…
Make room next to that Instant Pot…and yogurt maker…as bread machines make a come-back. (NYT/Unlocked)
Why am I just learning about rice-rinsing bowls?! (AmazonUS/World MarketUS/ReishungerUK/Milk Street)
The fascinating story of how Barnes & Noble bounced back. (via)
Love these French stainless steel clothespins. (Pincinox)
Ever wonder what’s the difference between shrimp and prawns? (What’s The Diff)
Why you’re wrong about white chocolate. (Taste)
I chatted Forest Collins about Paris drinking culture and French spirits. (52 Martinis podcast)
There’s more to gentian liqueurs than Suze. (Punch)
What it’s like to stage in a French pastry shop? (Lesley Chesterman at)
Brush up on your French café slang. (Guide Resto Paris)
I’m gearing up for making Lemon Curd with lemons from our new Meyer lemon tree. (Davidlebovitz.com)
I always get a kick out of the vintage ads for Le Parisien newspaper…
(Sorry, for some reason, the last one gets cut off. But this one is another favorite.)
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I took that same train a few years back and it broke down right outside Paris. It was supposed to arrive in Milan at 6 am, instead it was 2 pm. Made me not want to every take an Italian train. The service was nice and they gave us food until they ran out the next day. I think they made an emergency stop in Switzerland to bring on more baguettes!
I just love this newsletter. It’s the best thing I ever paid for to read. One day I’ll make it to Paris. So many things to do!! Thank you David!!