Meet Me in Paris...
Walking Lexington Avenue, I catch a glimpse of Paris, the Brasserie Orsay at 75th Street. With summertime hanging on in Manhattan, every last table on the terrace is occupied. Am I disappointed? Not really, because I'm not a fan of sidewalk dining, at least not in New York where one has to contend with horns honking, sirens shrieking, and grimy sanitation trucks blocking the streets.
You can see from the photo I'm a minority of one. But when dining outdoors, I prefer secluded gardens, like that at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, a hotel in "the golden triangle," a neighborhood home to some of the finest boutiques in the world.
The last time I saw Paris, I nursed a café au lait for an hour in a vertical garden—more like a sculptural installation—unlike any I'd ever seen. Of course, there's the Musée Quai Branley, but that's a public museum with a hanging garden, whereas the space at the George V is sublimely private with an up-from-the-ground vertical garden. Sitting there with no one around that morning, I felt like a goddess. There's something both sexy and chic in the air in Paris, something, je ne sais pas, that makes me feel sexy and chic. More so than I would, say, in New York. And Paris—Paris is a woman's town with flowers in her hair, wrote the poet Henry Van Dyke in "America for Me"—has always had that effect on me. Even when it was nowhere near as beautiful as it is now, in the 60s when the city was still recovering from WW2.
And if the garden wasn't enough, throughout the lobby and in the award-winning restaurant, Le Cinq, there were seven or eight equally exquisite floral arrangements. The magician who creates these displays is Jeff Leatham, an American from Ogden, Utah, the artistic director at the Four Seasons who imports 12,000 blooms each week from Holland. It's a dream job sure to please all the senses.
All of which I mention so you will understand why I'm happy to forego the terrace at Orsay, pretty as it is, happy to turn back the clock and go inside a turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau brasserie with its gleaming dark woods, high ceilings, and a towering floral display. What year is it? 1900.
To complete the illusion, at front of the house is a trim maître d’ in a well-tailored business suit, pale pink shirt and a patterned tie. Nothing's more appealing, more reassuring, than a man who knows how to dress. The current fascination with California casual-wear is unsettling, all the men sporting open neck shirts and chest hairs. What's reassuring is this pot of French butter with homemade bread—bread so fresh it appears to be breathing.
At my request, I'm seated at banquette topped with frosted glass that offers a full view of the restaurant, including a bird's eye glimpse of the terrace and another of a handsome bar off to one side where a lone patron nurses a glass of vin rouge.
Tempting as it is, a glass of wine midday leaves me so relaxed I wont get any work done this afternoon. So, in a restaurant with an award-winning wine list and thousands of bottles napping in the wine cellar, I order an iced-tea along with the Salade tiéde de Poulet (freshly cooked, slightly warm chicken breast) with seasonal greens, roasted peppers and Israeli couscous. Seeing the mound of garden-fresh greens surrounded by slices of chicken, I can’t resist taking a picture. Do you see the slices peeking from under the greens?
By the time I finish, there’s not a green leaf left on my plate. Is this the best-ever chicken salad? Maybe so, and the service is lovely, a gentle genie refilling my glass at every sip. By one o’clock the room is buzzing, the patrons engaging and engaged, the conversation animated. Thanks in good measure to the high ceilings and good spacing between the tables, you can actually have a conversation here, even hear yourself think. A waiter comes by every so often to be sure everything is all right. Bien sûr! Why not? It’s not every day one gets to dine in Paris.
Snooping around, I discover a private dining room with a bar and a fireplace at the top of the stairs, one that might be perfect for hosting a book party, n'est-ce pas? Have you any suggestion for a great space in New York for a book launch? I'm all ears. Let me hear from you. Your comments light my days!
That's all until next Sunday when I'll have the coffee waiting... au revoir mes amis.
PS It's hush-hush but the owners of Orsay are still considering the reopening of their other restaurant, La Goulue, with its world-class cheese souffle. Fingers crossed...That's all for today mes amis. Hope to see you next Sunday, when I'll have the coffee ready... à plus tard.