Sunday, March 31, 2013


John Baker and Jean-Francois at the Portland Airport just before we begin our awfully big adventure. 

Finally pushed myself out of bed this morning for the long trip ahead to Paris. It's 1:30 AM and I've woken up every hour on the hour since going to bed at 8:30 PM the night before. So it's off to Paris to celebrate Jean-Francois' 70th birthday. Jean-Francois and I have been friends since 1975 when we were both young and callow youths in New York.  Jean-Francois, as many of you know, lives in Portland and it was his residency here that helped contribute to my decision to move to Portland, now nearly four years ago.  We're with John Baker, Jean-Francois former partner and good friend. Jean-Francois has organized the trip in a very precise and complete way. We've barely any free time. We'll be in Paris for two days and then go to his apartment in Provence (the town is called Sanaray) for three days, returning to Paris for the final few days, which will include a big party at a restaurant in the city next Saturday. I fly home on Wednesday.

John Baker needs to brush up on his packing skills!

Archie is being well-cared-for at my friend, Sara's home. She's a fabulous dog lover, and will take very good care of my wonderful pup. Bit is staying in the house, and my friend Carol will look in on him every other day, collect mail, and water the plants. Ironically the weather in Portland is glorious. It was due to get up to 70 degrees F today--unheard of in rainy Portland. John Baker picked me up at 3:15 for the trip to the airport. It's a much longer flight from Portland to Paris then it was in New York.  We'll arrive in Paris at 7:30 AM and will have to wait until about 12:00 noon to get into our hotel rooms. The flight into Newark was very turbulent and I got nauseous as we landed. That never happened before.

It doesn't matter that we arrived early in Newark, the plane is delayed and we wait more than four hours for our connecting flight to Paris. It's a long ride and we arrive exhausted and ready to sleep. Paris is very cold--28 degrees F. We arrive at the hotel at about 9:30, but the rooms are not ready yet. Off to breakfast and I'm kicking myself for not bringing a scarf or gloves. My jacket is just a bit too light.

Around the corner we go for a restorative caffe and croissant. The first bite and you know you are in Paris. Nowhere else can you get such a tender pastry--flaky, slightly warm, buttery and addictive. Back at the hotel we sit down and fall asleep in the lobby waiting for our rooms. Finally at near 1:00 PM, we are cleared to take possession of our rooms. I fall into bed for deep sleep of two hours. Mustn't sleep more than that. I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night.

This makes for a different pizza topping!

At 70, Jean-Francois is fit and thin and a life-long walker. John and I, however, are portly and slow and stairs become something to be endured with grim set faces. Jean-Francois speed walks us through four Arrondissements and my camera goes crazy. We find ourselves on the ancient Rue Mouffetard, a narrow, cobble-stoned street packed with many restaurants, charcuterie, boulangerie, fromagerie, creperie, and other food shops. I pass something called Speed Rabbit Pizza and fortunately it was closed. I would have been tempted to give it a try. The next thing you know we're near the Luxembourg Gardens, and on to Blvd. St. Michel. I didn't realize the three famous restaurants on the blvd. St. Michel--Brasserie Lipp, Cafe de Flores and Les Deux Magots are close to each other. Still packing them in more than 80s years after they were first sought out by Hemingway and other artists of his time, these cafes are now a big destination for Parisians out walking, and they also attract tourists. Today is Easter and anything that is open is packed. Naturally we can't get into them, and instead, settle for Cafe Bonaparte just down the street.

Brasserie Lipp

Les Deux Magots

Cafe de Flore

We now have been past the Pantheon, the Sorbonne, St. German des Pres, the Odeon, and other famous landmarks. It's beautiful--all of it. A glass of wine, and some tzatziki and grilled toast, and we're ready to find a Metro and head towards home. The Paris Metro is very efficient--cars arrive promptly every few minutes, even on an Easter Sunday schedule, but the up and down stairs are tough on this old body, and I emerged completely out of breath. Now I understand why older people prefer taking the bus. Jean-Francois has carefully looked for restaurants opened on Easter. Paris spent its Easter holiday at the cafes, walking around, and enjoying the cool, but still sunny weather. Monday is still the Easter holiday with offices closed and that means most of the shops will also be closed.  Tonight we'll go over to the Right Bank in the 13th Arrondissement for dinner 

Prices are sky high in the restaurants and cafes of Paris. A large glass of rose for John and me, a large espresso, my little Greek snack and frozen dessert for Jean-Francois cost 47.60 Euro! L'Apprenti is an attractive brasserie on the Avenue Daumesnil. It's cozy with lots of wood paneling, and reasonably spaced tables. The food is conventionally Parisian--a bit old-fashioned, but well made. Jean-Francois and I both ordered the same thing--a bowl full of saffron-infused broth with lots of seafood such as tuna, mussels and cod with lots of chopped chives for garnish, while John began with escalops of fois gras with a mesclun salad and a sweet compote of red berries.  Both were fine dishes, though the soup could have been warmer. The dish was pretty and satisfying. The fois gras was rich with the fruit cutting some that richness.  

Jean and I also ordered grilled veal hangar steak over potatoes Dauphinois, with a rich, cream sauce on the side. A bit overkill but still I liked the steak--the veal tasted less beefy. John tried the lamb noisette with a mirepoix of eggplant, and onions. It too was excellent. We chose a modest bottle of Pinot Noir. Still this was a pricey meal at about $216. for the three of us.  

Rue Mouffetard

Tomorrow we hit our first museum, the Musee Rodin--my first visit to admire the sculpture. More tourist photos here:  

The Pantheon--lots of impressive names from the Republic are buried here!

I seem to recall passing many churches with familiar names yesterday. For the life of me, 
I can't remember this one's name!

A Louis Vuitton outpost--one of several in Paris. 

The planners of Paris have been very smart to keep the skyscrapers outside of the center of the city. This lone building, erected in the 60s is an exception, standing out against the tradition architecture of the city.

I don't think anyone can argue that Paris is the most beautiful city in the world!

Monday, March 11, 2013


So overdue on finishing up my San Francisco trip.  I'm going to Paris in three weeks. Must catch up!

One of the joys of this particular trip was being able to spend some time with my good friends, Joan and Fritz Hottenstein and their amazing daughters. Lily is quiet and reflective. She's been very sad of late over the loss of the family beloved dog, Ruby, and while I was there, Lily created this amazing tribute to her favorite companion. Find a large, empty box in the family's garage, Lily covered it with photos of Ruby, had an appreciation envelope for those who knew Ruby to write their favorite memories, and other memorabilia. Quite an amazing creation from the mind of a seven-and-half-year-old. Then there's Quinn, who at five-and-a-half, is as outgoing and socially fearless as her sister is shy and quiet. Quinn fairly blasts out of bed each day in search of adventure and fun. She's a very engaged little girl, who can't stop singing, tumbling, and being totally adorable. These girls live with their parents in Mill Valley, California, a very beautiful, entitled, prosperous to the point of rich, town a few miles off the Golden Gate Bridge. That these young girls have their feet planted firmly on the ground is a testament to their parent's refusal to spoil them. They attend public schools, in a town where most simply ship them off to private education.

I arrived to their hilly and very beautiful arts and crafts home on Friday and Joan took me into town for a walk and to look around. Tyler Florence lives nearby and has opened a rather grand kitchen shop with lots of vintage items such as canister sets and has his own line of sauces. It's a gorgeous store and worth your time. We met Fritz for simple lunch at a local spot. Later on we picked up Lily at school and met Quinn to take her to her gymnastic class at a local training gym. Quinn was right in the center of about twelve young girls of various ages up to young teens learning how to tumble, walk on a balance beam, swing on a bar, and cartwheel. Friday nights at the Hottensteins usually means dinner out at a popular local Italian restaurant. Vasco is a very good family-owned Italo-American restaurant, serving mostly comfort food--pizzas, pasta, simple roast and sautéed meats, fish, salads and deserts in a handsomely modern and bustling dining room. Service is friendly and it's a great place to go to welcome the weekend in while trying to shed the tensions and stresses of the previous week.

Saturday the great weather continued and off Joan and I went Healdsburg where Joan had some wine she wanted to collect at a winery up there. Traffic was practically non-existence once we sped our way along 101 through the rest of Marin and into Sonoma, Santa Rosa, and up to Healdsburg. What a handsome town this is with a huge center square, an a busy streets filled with attractive shops, some hotels, and restaurants. We settled down to a leisurely lunch on the patio of a seafood restaurant and afterwards explored the shops, going into bookstores, and a fascinating store specializing in affordable, and creative imported gifts from all over the world. We headed back home in preparation for a dinner out.  Joan told me she and her husband had been one of a group of people who invested in a local restaurant called Mill Valley Beerworks. Joan and Fritz planned dinner here for Saturday night and she told me I would be very excited about the food.  How right she was.

Mill Valley Beerworks describes themselves as a small berry and restaurant located in downtown Mill Valley. "We focus on brewing balanced and exceptionally unique beers to complement a rotating and locally sourced food menu."  This is simply too modest.  Under the extremely skilled and visionary chef, David Wilcox, who had come up from Los Angeles, here is a restaurant that specializes in small plates and tasty and creative food where vegetables take center stage with protein acting as a supportive player, but an important player. Joan, Fritz and I are all wine centric. Fritz loves beer, but his heart is in the wine, and we drank Pinot Noir from California and ordered a surprising number of small plates. Wilcox's food kicks culinary ass and I was dizzy from the range of flavor, the variety of ingredients all infused with his creative skill.  Here's a list of dishes we consumed:

pickled herring, salad of butter beans & fennel, lemon aioli
grilled pork jowl, fig mostarda, apple relish, pickled cauliflower
toscano kale salad, roasted beets, blood orange, sunflower, smoked tomato vinaigrette
grilled chicories, lardons, khadrawy dates, crushed pecan, bacon vinaigrette
grilled king oyster mushrooms, nettles pistou, preserved lemon
beluga lentils, confit tomato, shallot, cacao nibs, cilantro
braised lamb neck, toasted farro, spiced yogurt, harissa
pan-seared bavette steak, charred broccoli, shallot and smoked tomato butter

The pickled herring was unlike any herring I'd ever eaten before and that includes herring in Amsterdam. None of that white, rubbery texture that comes out of jars, this was silky herring that hadn't been laying it its pickling juices until it hovered between raw and cooked. Mixed with the butter beans and fennel, with lemon aoili, this was a firm-textured fish that tasted fresh. The kale salad was another discovery, the beets working in perfect harmony with the blood orange and vinaigrette with the crunch of sunflower seeds. The king oyster mushrooms were wonderfully chewy with the pistou and preserved lemon adding oomph and tart spikiness. The beluga lentils were truly the size of roe. The tomato and shallots added a conventional note then the cacao nibs gave the dish an unexpected coffee taste. The lamb neck meat was meltingly tender, the farro was pleasantly chewy, with the harissa and spiced yogurt adding a Middle Eastern touch. The pan-seared bavette was a bit undercooked and was the only dish that gave a a slight bit of disappointment--it's flavors didn't meet the superb creativity that had come before it.  I'm taking time to describe this food because there's nothing like it in Portland and it was a surprising pleasure to encounter it in Mill Valley.  The restaurant was packed with a busy bar crowd enjoying their beer and the din was loud, but very happy. Chef Wilcox stopped by to say hello and I made it a point to tell him how exciting his food really is. Anyone reading this and in the vicinity should try to get there, but make a reservation, or go early in the week when it's less busy.

Here's the URL:

The visit also included a wonderful lunch in Mill Valley with my twin brother, Scott, his better half, Bernadette, her daughter, Tia (whom I was meeting for the first time), and my youngest brother, Kevin and his wife, Diana. I often see my brothers, but never as a group. Doug--the middle brother--wasn't there this time, but it did feel good to spend time with them. We're all getting older and getting together with my brothers is important. We're all close in age (14-months apart), and while we don't agree on lots of things (politics, etc.), I've always insisted on being the glue that helps keep us together. I remember a mentor from my teen years who always counseled us to "stick together." It's not always been possible, but I'm glad we keep trying. 

I got to attend the huge farmer's market in San Rafael. This is the biggest farmer's market I've ever seen with what seemed like hundreds of stalls selling everything from organic fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, flowers and jams, soaps, cooked food, and so much more. It's a beautiful market, jammed with customers. We bought superb salmon, with vegetables for dinner, This is definitely worth a visit (we went on a Sunday morning). 


A week or so after returning from my trip, Joan sent me this photo of Moki, their adorable new puppy. The girls are thrilled with the new dog, and while Ruby will never be forgotten, Moki should be able to keep the girls distracted and enchanted for years to come. 

It was a wonderful week, relaxing and rejuvenating.