Discover more from David Lebovitz Newsletter
October 2023 newsletter
Paris restaurant news, new cookbooks and memoirs, and more!
Fall is here, and so am I. I missed writing my September newsletter as I was taking a “hard break.” For years, plane and train rides were times when I’ve often been writing a story or an article, or working on another project: One “vacation” I spent in a room in Sicily proofreading a book manuscript that was on deadline while my friends were out-and-about eating and exploring. In the grand scheme of things, I think eating pasta and gelato are more important than apostrophes and its vs. it’s, but a deadline is a deadline, and you don’t want to tell people that its okay to mix the batter by hand rather then by stand mixer. (Typos on purpose!)
On the other hand, it’s nice to write on planes and trains as there are no distractions and I get tons done. But living in France isn’t about getting a lot of things done (for better or worse…), so after 20 years, I decided to put the brakes on and put up the Do Not Disturb sign, and take real time off.
I wasn’t entirely successful, but one thing you learn in France is that Non doesn’t mean you’re a jerk. It just means that you’re carving out your time for something else, like going to the beach, drinking rosé, and eating buttery pastries in Brittany. Salaried workers in France get a minimum five weeks of vacation a year, and some get up to 10 or 11 weeks, and there’s a new initiative out there to cut the 35-hour workweek down to 32 hours (which is also being pondered in the U.S.), and work four days a week, which I’m all for. Now I just need to find a job with those hours!
Unfortunately, we hadn’t carved out anything concrete for vacation this summer, since we were both pretty beat from a year of renovating…and making decisions, which is harder when both of you have strong opinions. We’re trying to buy a couch now as Romain keeps complaining about my ‘70s sofa (I keep telling him it’s vintage…and he doesn’t care), but grousing about finding a sofa is like complaining about how hard it is to get back home after a two-month vacation, which I’m promising to never complain about if it ever happens to me.
My ideal vacation is to go somewhere and stay there for a week or two, doing nothing but swimming, sunning, reading, sipping wine, and eating, which we did in the south of France during the last week of August through early September.
We did take trips to Jerusalem, Brittany, and Burgundy, although I’ve learned to say Non when the group wants to go hiking or take a drive to some monument or cathedral, when what really makes me happy is to sit in a comfy chair with a good book. Or find a great pastry shop, of which there are many in Brittany.
So we’re now home, and it’s October, and there are no more heatwaves in our forecast, and the weather in Paris has gotten cooler. No one is sadder than me to see the end of plum season, so I picked up a few at the market this week, which were a little mealy, meaning it’s time to finally say goodbye to them until next year.
Last year our fig tree was loaded with figs, which was a gift from nature. This year our figuier (fig tree) was picked clean by birds. People offered up solutions, from tying shiny aluminum strips to the branches to dangling old CDs from them. But the birds in Paris have been around the block, and then some, and they’re not scared of a dangling strip of metal.
So this year I’ve been buying figs at the markets, although those are almost gone too.
I also had to take a little forced break as I had some minor surgery to rectify some of the effects of spending a lot of my life standing in restaurant kitchens, that ended well, but left me unable to walk or move around much.
So I stayed home in my temporary office and got caught up on some writing projects that I was behind on. Or at least trying to…until I discovered that there’s a streaming channel in the U.S. that only features episodes of The Love Boat 24/7—which I got cut off from mid-episode when they detected that I was in another country, so my plans were dashed for recuperating lying down on the vintage ‘70s couch, watching back-to-back episodes of La croisière s’amuse.
(Before I got cut off by Paramount+, I caught one Love Boat episode that had a fashion show that featured appearances by Halston, Gloria Vanderbilt, Geoffrey Beene, and Bob Mackie, who made even beige sound glamorous, calling the color of one slinky négligée “Paradise beige.” It’s amazing who appeared on that show in other episodes, from Tom Hanks and Janet Jackson to Shelley Winters and Andy Warhol. Yikes…all those names are making me feel as old as my sofa. I hope Romain doesn’t want to get rid of me too!)
Well…I’ve managed to cover everything from Jerusalem to Halston in a few short paragraphs, which I guess means I’m all caught up on everything that’s been going on around here. Below, I’ve written about a few things I’ve been meaning to write about, including the new pre-authorization some will need to travel to Europe, the arrival of electronic payment platform machines in restaurants in Paris, and some books coming out that I’m looking forward to this fall that perhaps you’ll be interested in too. (And I know of a ‘70s vintage sofa that may be up for sale soon, as well.)
PS: I can’t help but sharing a few food-related addresses in Paris that opened recently, that you might want to check out if you’re in town. The team at Chanceux opened a second address (63 rue de Gallande) in the thick of the 5th arrondissement, with a slightly different concept than their other address.
I had a fantastic bowl of ramen at George Black’s pop-up at Mokoloco. (Open Wednesday to Sunday. Check their Instagram page for hours and reservation info.) And pastry chef Christophe Louis finally opened his own bakery in the upper Marais, featuring his excellent panettone, which I reserve every year for the holidays. His Flan with Madagascar vanilla and hazelnut praline looks really (really) good, too. When I’m up and at ‘em, I’m heading over there.
I had a lovely lunch with Brian Hart Hoffman, editor of Bake From Scratch magazine, at Brasserie Martin, an affordable bistro (that’s part of a local chain) that sometimes tries a little too hard to adhere to something formulaic. But the young servers are earnest and friendly, and the food is fresh and well-prepared.
I was just rebounding from surgery and Brian’s effervescent humor will cheer anyone up. We split a coupe of very good cod tarama (fish roe spread) and classic œufs mayo (€2!) I had a Salade Café de Paris with chicken, egg, croutons, tomatoes and anchovies, and we toasted the end of summer with a bottle of Château Estoublan rosé…and afterward, we split a black sesame cookie from nearby @unrêve bakery, because that’s what bakers do. We love to share.
A Few France Travel Notes
ETIAS IS COMING!
I’ve seen posts going around with lots of hand-wringing in the comments over the new European “visa” that will be necessary to travel to 30 European countries.
First up, ETIAS is not a visa. (Which is a good thing since the current visa process is now a problem.) ETIAS is pre-authorization to travel to Europe, similar to the ESTA that has been required for visitors who want to visit the USA since 2009.
Europe is now catching up. Their reasoning is:
The EES (Entry/Exit system)…makes it easier to identify travelers who have no right to enter or who have stayed in the European countries using the EES for too long. It makes it easier to detect travelers using fake identities or passports. Finally, the EES helps to prevent, detect and investigate terrorist offenses or other serious criminal offenses.
The exact date the program will start hasn’t been announced, but it will start sometime in early 2024. You’ll need to fill out an online form and pay a small fee. You can read more about it in their FAQs here.
They aren’t taking applications yet, but I’ve helped European friends with the American ESTA application several times, which is very simple, and approval has been rapid, usually with a positive response by the next day. According to the ETIAS website, applicants should get a response within 96 hours, and the fee will be €7. As always, only use the official website to apply for travel authorizations and beware of unofficial websites.
Last month I was biking through the Place du Palais Royal at around 9:30 Sunday morning and noticed groups of young women pushing petitions to sign in front of some flustered tourists. I slowed my bike and circled, watching to make sure no one’s hands were going in anyone’s purse or backpack. Almost immediately, another woman seemed to come out of nowhere and started blocking my view, circling with me as I circled around the activity.
The young couple started opening their wallets and backpacks, and I kept hovering to make sure they weren’t getting pickpocketed, making sure the petition carriers (and their watchdog) knew I was watching. The group of young women with phony petitions on clipboards finally walked away, and I went to my appointment.
Paris is generally a safe city, but in certain areas, especially where visitors congregate (and on the métro), it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings and watch your belongings.
Here are a few tips:
-The only people who are authorized to ask you to sign petitions are approved organizations, such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. Those people will be in major squares, like the Bastille or Opéra, and will be wearing T-shirts from those organizations to signify they are not scammers.
The unofficial petitioners can be quite persistent, and tourists will give them money just to go away and not to appear rude. (They don’t approach locals as they know to avoid them.) So if they do come toward you, just walk away. If you see them coming, walk in a different direction and keep a good distance between you and them. They don’t want to cause attention to themselves, so they might say something to you or scowl, but just keep walking away.
-Pickpockets often work in groups and while it’s sometimes younger women or men, it’s sometimes well-dressed couples…or even people posing as tourists. Someone I know had the wallet lifted out of her purse in the hotel breakfast room by a woman who “stumbled” next to them while she and her husband were having breakfast.
Another friend of mine, who lives here, had a man sit next to her at a restaurant booth, only to decide a few moments later he’d rather dine elsewhere. Fortunately, a waitress came by to tell her the man had stolen her wallet, which she fortunately found outside on the sidewalk, minus the cash. In cafés, keep handbags and backpacks on your lap and don’t leave your phone on the table, even if you see others doing it.
(Thieves often steal the cash and ditch the wallet since if they’re caught with cash, it’s hard to arrest them whereas if they have a wallet that’s not theirs, it’s obvious they’ve been up to no good. Some people do find their swiped wallets in a garbage can in the métro station, which have had the cash taken out, so if it happens to you, it’s good to check there.)
-Areas where pickpockets flourish are generally around museums and monuments, such as Montparnasse, Champs-Elysées, the Eiffel Tower, and bridges. Crowded métros are also places you should be extra alert. If a métro is too crowded, they come every three minutes or so, so you might want to wait for the next one.
-If someone gets too close to you and you feel uncomfortable, such as a young woman asking you to sign a petition or grabbing your arm, step way back from them and walk away quickly. You don’t need to say “Sorry!” or “No, thank you.” Just move as far away from them as possible and keep going. They don’t prey on locals because they would yell at them.
-Other scams are people tying a string bracelet around your wrist or finding a gold ring on the ground in front of you, then they try to sell it to you. If someone grabs your arm to tie a bracelet around it, pull your arm away and keep walking. If someone holds up a ring they found in front of you on the sidewalk, just keep walking, please. Once again, no need to apologize, which sometimes makes you seem more sympathetic.
-Avoid using outside ATMs. Thieves will sometimes spring out of nowhere once you’ve punched in your number, right as the money is coming out. This happened to me on a busy shopping street in the Marais. I backfisted the guy, and a little old lady started screaming at him and his cohort as well, threatening them with her umbrella. Now I only use ATMs inside of banks.
-If you are robbed, feel free to make a loud commotion and noises. Thieves don’t like attention and will generally flee, and others may come to your aid, like the little old lady did for me.
-When I travel, I leave my passport in the hotel safe and carry around only an official ID card. (Which, in the U.S., is often a driver’s license.) Unless you get yourself into trouble, you probably won’t need your passport while you’re out and about, but check with your embassy or consulate on what you need to carry with you.
The majority of people who come to Paris don’t have any issues, so there’s no reason not to come. Just be aware of a few of the scams, and if you find yourself in a “situation,” walk away quickly and get back to enjoying your vacation.
A few websites with Paris travel safety tips:
The Paris Pickpocket: How to Recognize and Avoid Them (Bonjour Paris)
Do Yourself a Favor: Be Prepared for Pickpockets (Secrets of Paris)
How to Avoid Pickpockets and Scams in Paris (Corporate Safety Travel)
TIPPING IN RESTAURANTS
Always a challenge for visitors to Paris is what to tip in restaurants.
First up, in France, service is always included in the price at restaurants, and gratuities are at the discretion of the diner. A tip in France is a gesture to the serveur that you’ve been happy with the service.
(As an aside, people associate tipping with America, but it’s widely credited to be a custom that originated in England/Europe, and people were opposed to it when it arrived in U.S. in the 1850s and 1860s as it was aristocratic & classist; Serveur=serf=servitude.)
Servers in France make a standard salary, like other workers in France, and get paid vacations and health care, unlike in the U.S. where they’re sometimes paid substantially less than minimum wage and depend on tips to make a decent wage; some employees in the States make $2.13 an hour, with tips expected to make up the shortfall.
That said, it’s become fairly common to leave a little extra if the server was friendly or helpful, such as rounding up an €18 check by leaving €20 or leaving some centime coins after you’ve had a coffee at the bar. A recent addition to the Paris restaurant scene is payment touchscreens that include an option for a tip, displayed prominently. I recently ate out, and when I was presented with a touchscreen, the default amount requested (or suggested) was 10%, which is the high end for a gratuity in France.
So feel free to tip, but don’t feel obliged to leave what the touchscreen tells you to do. (The mayor of San Tropez called out some restaurants that were refusing to give people reservations because they didn’t tip enough.) When I was in Israel, a local told me 5% was nice to leave, and if you leave 10% if you’re very happy with the service, you’re going to be profusely thanked, which was true. The French aren’t quite as effusive as Israelis, but you can use that as a guideline.
The bottom line: A tip in France is not an obligation nor is it required, but can be added—and is appreciated—as a gesture for good service.
New Books I’m Looking Forward To…
I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying Izakaya cooking at Sylvan Mishima Brackett’s excellent Rintaro Izakaya in San Francisco. Trained in Japan, and having worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, he shares recipes from the restaurant in Rintaro, which is always on my list when I head to San Francisco.
Rosa Jackson breathes new life into cooking from the sun-drenched south of France in Niçoise. Rosa has a cooking school in Nice, Les Petits Farcis, and I got a preview of the book and was happy to see all my favorites in there, from Panisses (chickpea fries) to a recipe for making the vrai (true) Salade niçoise. I nudged her to write the book, and she did a great job.
The NYT named Jake Cohen a “modern mensch,” and his second book, I Could Nosh!, revisits Jewish cooking and includes Everything Bagel Panzanella and crispy Persian rice, infused with his punchy, lively personality.
Voilà Vegan explores the vegan sweet side of Paris with Amanda Bankert, founder of Boneshaker Donuts. Amanda’s humor shines through in the recipes, and her donuts, which Parisians devour.
Explore the secret life of vegetables, and how to get the best from them, in Veg-Table by biologist and curious cook and award-winning author.
Adeena Sussman explores “recipes and rituals” in Shabbat, a celebration of food from her kitchen in Tel Aviv. I loved her book Sababa and can’t wait to dive into this one.
I’m in the middle of reading an advanced copy of The Paris Novel by Ruth Reichl, a poignant tale set in the 1980s of a young woman who inherits a one-way ticket to Paris, where she eats her way around the city, and doesn’t want to look back.
Cocktail and spirits expertshares his encyclopedic knowledge in…yup, The Encyclopedia of Cocktails. I’ve tipped a few back with Robert, and he truly is a font of wisdom when it comes to libations. I loved his single-subject books, which include Three-Ingredient Cocktails and The Martini Cocktail. Who knew there were so many Martinis? (That book was a revelation.)
Pal Jane Bertch of La Cuisine shares her story of opening a cooking school in Paris, including the trials and tribulations—such as strikes, terrorist attacks, a global pandemic, and Gilets jaunes demonstrations—and if we’re lucky, the Frenchmen that she’s met along the way (she’s going to kill me for saying that…but, hey—inquiring minds want to know…), in her upcoming memoir, The French Ingredient. I have an advance copy on my next-up reading list and I can’t wait to dive in.
I had the pleasure of meeting Nichole Accettola of San Francisco’s excellent Kantine bakery and recording a podcast with her (below). In her fantastic new book, Scandinavian From Scratch, she shares recipes from her beloved bakery.
And a bit of news from our garden: They said that peppers don’t grow well in Paris, but my plants have proved them wrong. I grew jalapeños from seed and got a good half-dozen peppers. Here are two beauties:
Cherry tomatoes were a flop this year — I planted Sweet 100s and Sungolds, which I guess aren’t suitable to the climate in Paris. A friend told us our kiwi tree needs a male tree to help her kiwifruits reach their full potential; they’re about the size of marbles when ripe, and I figured they were just mini kiwis. But nope.
And yes, the birds got the bulk of our figs this year, which was too bad since I had a whole bunch of fig recipes lined up that I was planning to make, so no Fig-Pineapple Jam for me…or for my friends and neighbors. As they say, nature always wins, as well as sharing is caring. I just wish the birds were caring enough to share with us. Maybe next year… - dl
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