Dinner at Le Grand Véfour

There are many astonishing and multi-Michelin starred restaurants at which one may dine in Paris – Taillevant, Guy Savoy, Arpege, Tour D’Argent, Le Cinq and a few others  – but there is one that, for us, tops them all: Le Grand Véfour.

Taken from a brochure that this restaurant places on each table:

“In 1784, with development work at the Palais-Royal complete, Mr. Aubertot, a café-owner by trade, opened the fashionable Café de Chartres on the site currently occupied by Le Grand Véfour. This hotbed of political chatter soon became the place to be seen, as the Palais-Royal was the ideological center of the movement that led to the French Revolution on 1789.

“During the Revolution, the Café de Chartres became a luxurious restaurant and future headquarters for the post-Jacobin extremists who came to power in July, 1794. Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine dined there.

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Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine Beauharnais

“The reputation of Café de Chartres reached its zenith during the Restoration, with the arrival of Jean Véfour, who gave his name to the café and oversaw its transformation into a sumptuous restaurant that had all of fashionable Paris clamoring to get into.

“On February 25, 1830, Victor Hugo and his friends dined at Le Grand Véfour to celebrate the opening night of “The Battle of Hernani”, one of the poet’s plays being staged for the first time at the Comédie Francaise.

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Victor Hugo

“During the Belle Époque, the elite rubbed shoulders with the demimonde at Le Grand Véfour, where La Belle Otéro pirouetted on the pink marble tables under the adoring gaze of her royal lovers.

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La Belle Otéro

“Between 1914 – 1945, the restaurant faded from the limelight. After the Liberation of Paris in 1945, the owner of Maxim’s, Louis Vaudable, purchased Le Grand Véfour and handed it on, in 1948, to Raymond Oliver who reigned there for 36 years and restored the restaurant to its former splendor. Colette and Jean Cocteau made the establishment their restaurant of choice and celebrities from the world of art and literature streamed into Le Grand Véfour including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

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Colette

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Jean Cocteau

“Jean Taittinger acquired this temple of French gastronomy from Raymond Oliver in 1984 and, after a meticulous renovation, restored the luminous decoration.

“Today, Guy Martin has taken on the task of reversing the ravages of time to fully restore Le Grand Véfour – an establishment that has been at the epicenter of Parisian life for over two hundred years.”

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Guy Martin

On Monday evening, AAC and I dined at Le Grand Véfour – for the 4th time. It is the only restaurant in Paris at which we have eaten more than twice. It’s a culinary and sensory experience that deserves to be repeated.

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AAC, CPA arrives at Le Grand Véfour – let the games begin!

The first thing you notice upon entering the restaurant is the jewel-box splendor of the dining room, the sense of history, and the adventure upon which you are about to embark. The service, from the maitre ‘d who escorts you to your table to the men and women who serve you, is understated, classy, casually correct and almost invisible. It all just somehow happens.

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The dining room as seen from the entrance. Our banquette is at the upper right corner.

You are already aware of some of the luminaries who have dined there over the past two centuries. Some of them have been honored by having banquettes named for them: Napoleon, Joséphine, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Colette, at whose banquette we have sat each of the 4 times we have dined at Le Grand Véfour. 

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Colette’s plaque at our banquette.

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The beautiful place setting 

Once seated, we were offered an aperitif to enjoy while perusing the menu, and it seemed appropriate to commence our evening with a glass of Ruinart Rose Champagne.

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Whetting the appetite, as it were.

The menu, while not large, is extremely diverse and offers a mouth-watering selection of entrees and plats.

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The menu cover

In addition to the current menu, there are a few “all-star” choices, referred to as the “classics”. One of our faves is the duck liver ravioli with truffle emulsion cream: exquisitely thin and delicate dumplings filled with the tenderest duck liver and topped with a light truffle cream. It’s not unlike popping a little heaven into your mouth.

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Duck liver ravioli with truffle emulsion cream

To accompany the ravioli, our sommelier recommended a split of Blagny Meursault 2011 produced by Louis Latour, which beautifully supported the delicacy of the pasta and the bite of the duck liver.

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I love the white Burgundies!

To follow the ravioli, AAC, CPA and I went our own and separate ways: he to have the braised filet of sole with crunchy skin, which was beautifully and lovingly prepared to maintain the delicacy of the fish, and I to have the filet of lamb with parsley root in fine puree, accompanied by butternut gnocchi, with Jamaican pepper juice which was, to put it mildly, a taste sensation, verging on sensory overload. Each of our plats were accompanied by a potato puree au jus – creamy, buttery, and substantial.

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AAC, CPA’s braised filet of sole

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And my lamb with butternut gnocchi

For this course, we switched to a Chateau Peyrat Fourthon 2008, which was a delicious counterpart to both the sole and the lamb.

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Our red for the evening

While we were taking a break after our plats, we stopped to appreciate, yet again, the beautiful dining room:

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It truly is like being inside a beautiful jewel box.

Although we had each ordered a dessert, Le Grand Véfour must have a true sugar addiction, because desserts here are served as a multi-course affair. First came a duet of a block of dark chocolate and a cauliflower mousse (I’m not kidding):

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The dessert marathon begins.

These were accompanied by plates of petits-four for each of us:

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A little something to accompany our chocolate and our cauliflower mousse

Oh, and there was a multi-layer citrus-type cream with a meringue topping that showed up as well:

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Kinda tart, but kinda sweet

Also presented at this point were delicious and very fresh grape and orange gelatin candies:

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So sweet and fresh

At this point, I want you to understand that we hadn’t yet received the desserts that we had actually ordered!!

At one of our earlier visits to Le Grand Véfour, we were astonished and delighted to discover that one of the dessert options was an artichoke crème brûlée, with candied vegetables and a bitter almond sherbet. Fortunately, that’s still one of Guy Martin’s classic creations and it was, once again, on the menu:

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The astonishing artichoke crème brûlée

AAC, CPA chose another classics – the Cube “Manjari”, with orange pepper infusion, which I must share with you in the following photographs:

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The Cube “Manjari”, as presented

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Peeking inside the cube

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The cube reveals all of the goodies inside.

You’d think that would be it, right? Not quite so fast, please.

Once these amazing desserts had been consumed, our waiter is back, first with a large platter bearing a variety of chocolate truffles and fresh caramels (you may have as many as you like) and, also, with the traditional yellow angel food cake, which concludes every meal at Le Grand Véfour:

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The end.

You would think that you’d be ready to explode at this point but, in reality, we were beautifully satisfied. Our three-hour dining experience had come to an end, but the evening was a combination of great food and great theatre, memorably served up for our culinary pleasure. 

Your final thought is that, one day, you will return again to sample the magic that is Le Grand Véfour.

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A last peek from the sidewalk

And, speaking of magic, here’s a last image from our Uber ride back to the hotel as we raced past Place Concorde:

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Paris at about 11:30 PM

 

 

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A Night at the Opera

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AAC, CPA; TheCulturedTraveler and Unnamed Guest

So, our Paris adventure continued last night (Christmas) when we attended an opera at the Palais Garnier – Iphigénie en Tauride, by Christoph Willibald Gluck – preceded by dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic opera house. So adjacent, in fact, that you can enter the opera house from inside the restaurant – more about that later.

It had always been intended that there would be a restaurant adjacent to the Palais Garnier. But it took almost 140 years for L’Opera to be opened in 2009. The restaurant is where the original carriage entrance was located and patrons were dropped off to attend performances. While architecturally trendy and modern, L’Opera pays respect to its renowned neighbor. Additionally, due to the fact that the Palais Garnier is a national monument, the restaurant’s structure was forbidden from touching any of the existing wall, pillars or ceiling. The cuisine under the direction of Chef Chihiro Yamazaki is modern, yet classic, with an Asian influence. The menu also features many seasonal ingredients.

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AAC, CPA arrives for pre-opera dinner

We were immediately shown to a lovely table and looked over the menu, as we snacked on a delicious amuse bouche, a truffled mushroom mousse. Here’s what we had for dinner:

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Smoked salmon, black radish, red currant, pomegranate and lemony cream for me

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Duck fois gras, apple and arugula jelly, gingerbread for AAC, CPA

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Miso-marinated black cod, kohlrabi with saffron, daikon turnip for me

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Beef tataki, small grenaille potatoes with lemon and thyme for AAC, CPA

Every bite was a taste sensation, generously portioned, very fresh ingredients, beautifully prepared, as you can see.

We opted to skip dessert, as we didn’t need a sugar rush before the opera, if you know what I mean. The cost of the above, with a large bottle of Evian, was just 100 EUR which, we felt, was a bit of a bargain.

CUISINE TIP: L’Opera Restaurant

From there, we went through a black door, down a corridor and, somehow, we were inside the opera house. What’s most interesting – although I probably shouldn’t share it with you – is that we somehow ended up beyond the point at which our tickets should have been scanned for admittance. I hope that no one will take advantage of this information – you know who you are!

Although we had been inside the Palais Garnier many times – in the old days, one could wander around unattended on non-performance days – we hadn’t been inside the building in about 12 years. As we had some time before the performance, we wanted to revisit this amazing building.

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The world famous, Palais Garnier, home of the Opéra National de Paris

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AAC, CPA somehow gets in without having to show his ticket

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AAC, CPA in the grand foyer by the Christmas tree

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The grand foyer and Christmas tree at the far end

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The grand stairway leading to the main floor of the auditorium

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AAC, CPA overlooking the grand staircase.

We had wonderful seats on the main floor, 8th row center.

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AAC, CPA seated and waiting for the show to begin

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The mylar show curtain, which reflected the auditorium.

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The auditorium behind where we were sitting

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More of the auditorium

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The sensational Chagall chandelier

The Krzysztof Warlikowski production of Iphigénie en Tauride was a revival originally presented in 2006. It was a pretty wild affair, presented as a memory play as the now elderly Iphigénie recalls the events of the opera, which was a bit confusing if you weren’t familiar with the story, but never mind. It was very theatrical and entertaining in its unusual way. The performance was sensitively conducted by Bertrand de Billy, who we’ve previously seen at the Met in New York.

While the performance – the last of its current run – was warmly received, there were a very few unhappy attendees who felt it necessary to boo. I rarely approve of booing, but can sometimes understand it if the director and the production are so misconceived that showing displeasure should be encouraged but, in this case, it was unacceptable. I mean you don’t boo the chorus under any circumstances – they’re simply doing their job. There was no ambiguity regarding the principals, all of whom received deserved ovations.

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Curtain call

CULTURE TIP: National Opéra de Paris

And, so, our magical evening at the Paris Opera came to an end. We retrieved our overcoats from L’Opera and called for our Uber. Upon entering our car, we glanced over our shoulders for one last look at the Palais Garnier as we headed back home to the Peninsula.

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Christmas in Paris

Bon jour, mes amis! I hope that Santa was good to each and every one of you. I, myself, felt very blessed today. I woke up next to AAC, CPA and am in the beautiful city of Paris. As Ira once lyricized, who can ask for anything more?

When last I left you, we were about to prepare for our Christmas Eve festivities, starting with a cocktail downstairs at Le Bar Kléber, which was doing a brisk business when we arrived at about 7:00 PM. The barman was very talented and delivered our cocktails with great flourish and enthusiasm.

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The view from our barstools

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Christmas Eve Negronis, mais sur.

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

From Le Bar Kléber, we Uber’ed over to Bistro de L’Oulette, a charming restaurant on the Rue des Tournelles near the Place des Vosges. We’d eaten there a few years ago and have always wanted to return. It’s a tiny little place, probably no more than 12 tables, and has a very friendly and welcoming staff.

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Once we were seated, the maitre ‘d approached with a plate of amuse bouche and offered us an aperitif, and we each opted for a glass of champagne. All were delicious.

As it was a holiday, the restaurant was featuring a 3-course pri-fixe for a very reasonable 52 EUR. The restaurant also has a delightful wine list at excellent prices and a wonderful variety of choices.

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Our table was decorated for the holiday.

Four our mains, AAC CPA had medallions of monkfish with a shrimp risotto, and I had medallions of lamp with a parsley crust, accompanied by crisp sauteed potatoes and mushrooms. Both were mouth-wateringly delicious.

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AAC CPA’s monkfish

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My lamb

Oh, and did i mention that we split a split of Joseph Drouhin Aloxe-Corton 2013 which perfectly complimented our entrees. Every bite was a taste sensation.

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A beautiful pairing for our entrees, AAC CPA hides behind the wine.

CUISINE TIP: Bistro de L’Oulette

Following dinner, it was back into the Uber and a quick return to the hotel. By that point, we were pretty tired. We struggled to stay up for awhile and finally gave up the ghost around midnight.

And then we blissfully slept for over 9 hours. It was heaven.

This morning, we went down to Le Lobby, for breakfast. It’s a beautiful room, with a beautiful staff, providing beautiful service.

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The entrance to Le Lobby

AAC CPA went for the 45 EUR continental breakfast which could, in fact, feed us both. I opted for eggs and then I poached some of his goodies.

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A very happy AAC CPA checking out his continental breakfast

While we were eating, we noticed that a guitarist and vocalist were setting up shop right next to our table. We were at first concerned, because we noticed the amplification that accompanied them. However, once they started to perform, it was totally delightful. Their repertoire was a combination of holiday music and American Songbook. It was a really nice touch to provide live entertainment for us.

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Live music 6 feet away from us!

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

After breakfast, we decided to take a little constitutional, as the weather is mild today. We decided to check out the competition’s holiday decorations at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel George V. We’ve stayed there on occasion and have always been wowed by the floral arrangements in their lobby. Here’s what we saw today:

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Meanwhile, out in their courtyard:

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Ice blue penguins!!!

LODGING TIP: Four Seasons Hotel George V

‘Tis the season to be jolly, indeed!

And now, it’s time to great ready, once again, to prepare for our 2nd evening out in this enchanted city. The bill of fare: dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, where we have tickets to see Iphigénie en Tauride.

More to follow!

 

 

 

Bonjour Paris!!

Greetings, Ladies and Germs – we made it!

As it’s now Christmas Eve and, as we got a lot of livin’ to do, I’m going to make this a brief entry with some photos of the past 24 hours, starting at JFK last evening before our magic carpet ride (courtesy of OpenSkies) to the City of Light:

When you’re flying overnight on either British Airways or OpenSkies, there’s an option available where you can eat on the ground before you board the plane, so that you can go right to sleep – good idea, huh?

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I wasn’t kidding!

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And here’s AAC CPA, chowing down on his pre-flight supper

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At the gate, just a few minutes later

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A little preflight Rose Champagne

The flight offered dinner service, but AAC CPA and I opted to have our beds made up and – as the flight time was just a little over 6 hours – decided to get some shuteye. As it turned out there was a lot of bump and grind for a few hours but, thanks to my pharmaceuticals, I was blissfully unaware.

About an hour before landing, I had a little continental breakfast:

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There’s turkey and Swiss cheese inside that croissant, folks!

Once on the ground, we picked up our luggage and Uber’ed into town. It was a pretty great deal and, perhaps, even less than the cost of a taxi.

We got to the spectacular Hotel Peninsula – a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe – in just about 20 minutes and our beautiful room was waiting for us – more about that in a later post. We dropped off our stuff and headed out for a little walk to shake off the jet lag.

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AAC CPA enjoying the sights

Of course, AAC immediately felt peckish, so we headed over to one of our favorite establishments in Paris for the elegant quick bite: Ladurée.

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Yummy, yummy, yummy

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A happy AAC CPA, who knows that lunch is about to be served

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The absolu-delish Club Ladurée

After lunch, our very satisfied AAC CPA and I made our way back to the hotel. And along the way, we stumbled upon this amazing and always surprising sight:

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Is that an amazing photograph or what?

And then, when we got back into our room, here’s what was waiting for each of us:

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And, yeah, there were some goodies inside!

And now, dear friends, it’s time for me to get changed and head downstairs to Le Bar Kléber for a lovely cocktail before we head out for our Christmas Eve dinner.

I’ll be back soon to report on our Paris adventures. In the meantime – whether you’ve been naughty or nice – I wish you a very Joyeux Noël de Paris!

Let’s Spend the Holidays in Paris!

“New York has neon, Berlin has bars,
But ah! Paree!”

Follies, 1971

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Fifi D’Orsay extols the virtues of Paris in Follies

Greetings from a frigid (27° but feels like 18°) but brilliantly sunny afternoon in New York City, where the weather of late has been totally schizoid. We had weather in the teens a few days ago and, yesterday, it was pushing 60°. It makes a person lose faith in weather prognosticators!

But, we don’t despair – we pack. On Friday, we’ll be winging our way to the City of Light, a/k/a/ Paris, for a week of holiday cheer. You may recall, from a former post, that we were originally planning to be in Hong Kong for the holidays. But then there was that hip replacement and cancellation of a trip to Amsterdam. Because we didn’t want to forfeit the Amsterdam airfare (on British Airways), we had to come up with an alternative plan. Et donc – Paris!

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The Champs Elysee all gussied up for the holidays – December, 2014

BA has a subsidiary airline – Open Skies – and that’s how we’ll make our way to and from Paris. We’ve flown them on a couple of other occasions and, if you plan ahead, you can obtain a competitive fare (not now, of course, at the last minute). They have a good business class cabin (referred to, by them, as “Biz Bed”), which gives you a seat that fully reclines so you can get some shuteye on the flight over. Open Skies has a fleet of mostly 757s, and the cabin interiors are acceptable, but could use a redo. However, it’s a way to snag a good fare and fly nonstop to Orly.

Another thing to note is that, since these are evening flights, meal service onboard is minimal, as passengers mostly want to get some sleep. For those passengers in Biz Bed, there is a full meal service on the ground at JFK called “Sleeper Service”, which is available in the Terraces Lounge.

 

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Our Open Skies chariot awaits

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The “Biz Bed” Cabin

And as an added treat, Open Skies currently has a promotion that entitles us to a complimentary Uber to and from JFK, so we’ll start our trip off on the right foot.

TRAVEL TIP: Open Skies

So what, you ask, will we be up to in Paris? For starters, we somehow scored the deal of the century at the Peninsula Paris. It’s a new property, under 2 years old, and it’s sensational. Located on Avenue Kleber within 5 minutes of the Arch de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees, it a very convenient base of operations. When we booked last August, the hotel had a promotion wherein you paid for 2 nights and the 3rd night was complimentary; as we’re staying 6 nights, we ended up with 2 free nights. The rates were so low, in fact, that I booked directly rather than reserve through the AmEx FHR program (which features all kinds of giveaways and benefits), as it was still less expensive to book through the hotel.

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Side entrance to the Peninsula

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The spectacular lobby at the Peninsula

TRAVEL TIP: Peninsula Paris

By now, you’re perfectly aware that I’m intrepid when it comes to planning, so I know you’ll believe me when I say that we have all of our evening meals planned. Whenever we go to Paris, we typically have one blowout, super, over-the-top Michelin meal. This year, we’ll return to one of our favorite restaurants anywhere, Le Grand Vefour, a jewel box of a restaurant, originally opened in 1794 and located in the arcades of the Palais-Royal. We usually don’t return to restaurants in Paris, except on rare occasions where we might go back for a 2nd visit. However, our dinner at Le Grand Vefour next week will mark the 4th time we’ve dined there. It’s that special. One of the charming details of the dining room is that the banquettes are named for notable Frenchmen and women: among them, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau, George Sand, Emile Zola, Joséphine de Beauharnais and, at the adjacent banquette, General Bonaparte. The banquette we always request is named for the noted French author, Colette (né Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette).

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Le Grand Vefour in the arcades at the Palais Royale

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The jewel-box dining room at Le Grand Vefour

CUISINE TIP: Le Grand Vefour 

Other highlights of our week in Paris:

We’ll be going to the famed Palais Garnier on Christmas night to see a performance of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, preceded by dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the opera house. If you’ve never been to the Palais Garnier, it’s a must – think Phantom of the Opera on steroids.

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The spectacular Palais Garnier

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Inside the auditorium with the famed Chagall chandelier

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The grand stairway to the stalls

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The ultra-Rococo grand foyer

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A scene from Iphigénie en Tauride

CULTURE TIP: Palais Garnier

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L’Opera, which is adjacent to Palais Garnier

CUISINE TIP: L’Opera

And, while we’re on the topic of shows, the famed Théâtre du Châtelet has, over the past 10 years, presented over 25 Broadway musicals on its stage. Several years ago, we saw an excellent production of Sweeney Todd and, two years ago, we saw the out-of-town tryout of An American in Paris on Christmas Eve, which opened on Broadway a few months later. This year, the Châtelet is presenting a new production of that old chestnut, 42nd Street – not our favorite show, but a fun way to spend an evening. After all, the show contains these immortal words: “Musical comedy – the most glorious words in the English language!” And the Châtelet always delivers: full (sometimes oversized) orchestra, large casts and it never stints on the glitz and glamour.

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Théâtre du Châtelet

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The gorgeous auditorium at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

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42nd Street at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

CULTURE TIP: Théâtre du Châtelet

Although it’s going to be our 13th or 14th visit to Paris (can’t get enough), we still do a bit of sightseeing on occasion and maybe revisit some favorite places. Because we are Philistines when it comes to art (sad, but true), we decided to avail ourselves of this outfit called Paris Muse, which specializes in private tours in and around Paris. So we’ve booked two excursions: the first will be a 2½ hour Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre and the second will be a 90 minute tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. We’ve been to both places in the past, but not as an immersive experience. I’ll report back to you and let you know how it goes.

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No caption necessary

CULTURE TIP: The Louvre

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Notre Dame Cathedral

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The Cathedral

CULTURE TIP: Notre Dame Cathedral

We also discovered that one of our favorite museums – the Jeu de Paume, located at Place Concorde and on the edge of the Tuilleries – is currently featuring an exhibit entitled Unrest, which is described as “a transdisciplinary exhibition on the theme of collective emotions, political events insofar as they imply crowd movements in conflict: there is talk of social disorders, political agitation, insurrections, revolts, revolutions, vacancies, riots, upheavals of all kinds”.

Seems like an appropriate time for this exhibit, right?

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Musée Jeu de Paume

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume

Otherwise, weather permitting, we hope to walk the streets of Paris until we drop. It’s a city made for strolling and we intend to show off AAC CPA’s new and improved hip as we make our way through the Marais or the Champs Elysee or the Place Madeleine, especially as we’ll be having a lovely lunch at Caviar Kaspia one afternoon.

So that, in a nutshell, will be our Parisian holiday adventure. I’ll fill in more details as they happen.

Restez à l’écoute et de joyeuses fêtes à tous!