Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ô Château: Afternoon Delight

Perhaps it’s called “Ô Château” after its adorable and animated sommelier-owner, Olivier Magny. He definitely knows how to please.

We first visited Ô Château several years ago in Olivier’s apartment/tasting room in the 11th arrondissement of Paris where we did the Wine & Cheese Tasting Lunch. He’s moved twice since then. First, to a proper commercial space near the Louvre and again, just recently, into an even bigger location to make room for a wine bar/restaurant.

To evolve like this in Paris, Olivier and his now team are obviously doing something right. Having just visited the new place, I can tell you first-hand what it is: They love what they do and they love sharing it. The friendly service is so refreshing for a moment I actually forgot I was in Paris. I quickly remembered, however, when my food arrived. Lunch was prepared by Chef Tiffany Depardieu, formerly of Jules Vernes. We enjoyed a creamy carrot and parsnip soup followed by a quinoa and smoked duck breast salad. The menu also includes appetizers: cheese and charcuterie plates, escargots, etc.

On the wine side, they boast 40 by the glass (including Pétrus) and 400 by the bottle, which can be enjoyed upstairs at the wine bar or downstairs in the lounge on leather sofas and chairs – also a perfect place to enjoy a digestif.

This is a great place to grab a quick lunch**, meet for a happy hour of wine and cheese, or*** arrange a tasting or private party in one of their two tasting rooms.

Organized Wine Tastings: 30€, 50€, 80€ (for “Grands Crus”); Wine & Cheese Tasting Lunch: 75€; Wine Tasting Dinner: 130€; Champagne Cruise: 45€; Lunch: 14€; Dinner: 28€

68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001 Paris
Métro Louvre -Rivoli (Line 1) or Etienne Marcel (line 4)

Addendum: After posting this piece on The Dish and The Dirt, I received inquiries/comments regarding the prices at Ô Château and what some perceived, including the French paper L'Express, as being too high.  On this point, I do believe the tastings by the glass are a bit pricey.  In fact, we would have been much better off ordering a bottle of wine*** (which seems a bit incompatible since the "theme" of the bar is tastings).  While this is generally the case in most restaurants, it is particularly true at this one. However, the barman told us that the restaurant had only been open a week and that they were considering either lowering the prices of their tastings by the glass or providing larger servings.  I got the impression they're still working on finding the good price point/what the market will bear.  Additionally, if you're a fan of Ô Château on Facebook, you're entitled to 10% off the check - which makes the prices easier to swallow. 

**Please view comment section below. Olivier from Ô Château has provided info on new prices and new hours (no longer open for lunch).

***Second addendum: After receiving Olivier's comments below, I returned to Ô Château to check out the new prices and to see what it would be like at night (opposed to a Saturday lunch, which is when my husband and I had first visited). The bar was nearly full with a nice mix of tourists and locals at 7.30 pm, and was completely full an hour later. Both group tasting rooms were booked, as well. We sat at the bar this time, opposed to a table. Being on the shorter to average side and a former liability attorney, I found the stools a bit unstable/comfortable. However, the employees working the bar were nice and fun and we enjoyed our exchanges with them. We ordered the 24 euro dinner menu, which included a soup, a "tapas" style plate, and a dessert. Once again, I was impressed by the quality of the food, especially for the price. As for the wine, the prices of the glasses had been lowered. We each had a 10 cl. (3.4 oz) glass of Jura (me white, my friend red) at 8.90 euros and a 15 cl. (5 oz) glass for 12.20 euros. I asked to see the wine-by-the-bottle list as my husband had remarked that it was significantly cheaper to buy by the bottle (hence my comment above). I was searching the list for the bottle I had previously seen at 36 euros; it was no longer there. Olivier informed me he had removed the lower priced wines from the list to motivate people to order by the glass. I think the cheapest bottle was about 49 euros ($70.00), but I could be wrong as I flipped through it quickly. After this last visit, I wanted to revise what I said previously about it being a great place to meet for drinks. If you want to hang out and relax with friends in a comfortable environment with the focus being on the company not necessarily the wine, then I'm not sure this would be the right fit.  (And based on certain comments made by Olivier that evening, I get the impression he doesn't want this type of client; I happen to fall into this category, btw).  However, if you are interested in wine tasting and would like to take a course or already know about wine and want to sit at the bar and taste some by the glass (especially some higher-end ones that you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do) then you would probably like Ô Château. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Paris in the Springtime

Finally, spring is here! And I feel like an animal coming out of hibernation (if only I burned body fat during the winter like one).

Palais Royal

To celebrate the arrival of the new season, Shannon at Je Ne Sais Quoi invited me to contribute to her piece "Why Paris Bloggers Love Paris in the Springtime."  Here is my two centimes, as well as my favorite picnic spot in the city:

I can find things to love about Paris all year round, but the city is a bit more lovable in spring. Winter isn’t exactly a tough act to follow. Spring offers the beginning of longer days and picnic weather. My favorite picnic spot is Parc Montsouris. With its puppet shows, pony rides, trains, playgrounds and name (which translates to Mice Mountain), I like to think this park was an early inspiration for Disneyland. The large lake in the center—which attracts birds other than city pigeons—and the hidden wooded trails will make you feel like you’re on Tom Sawyer Island. And if you don’t feel like packing a picnic basket, Parc Montsouris has concession stands offering up cotton candy, ice cream and crêpes. There’s even a proper restaurant in the park with a view of the lake, the Pavillon Montsouris.

To read what other Paris bloggers think of spring in Paris, please check out the full article on Girls' Guide to Paris.  Thanks!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Guest Blog - Misadventures with Andi ("A Passion for Paris")

Bonjour, friends! 

I recently wrote a guest post for Misadventures with Andi  for her series "A Passion for Paris."  Andi loves Paris and asked some of her blogger friends to share their stories about their love for Paris too.  Here is mine:

A Passion for Paris . . .

My passion for Paris developed over time – a flicker that grew into a flame opposed to love at first sight. I’d been living in San Francisco for 10 years prior to moving to Paris and already felt like I’d won the-perfect-city-to-live-in lottery. Plus, because I was moving to Paris (most likely) permanently, I think I viewed the city with a critical eye opposed to someone on holiday. It was my new home and I didn’t like that my new home had dog poop everywhere, aggressive commuters, biting weather and short days. I probably should have moved in springtime not winter. In the end, however, I was no match for Paris. She has been stealing American hearts for decades and mine was no exception. Little by little she won me over and I fell in love. Here is how she did it:

1. The Newness

After five years, I can still get lost in Paris. Twenty “arrondissements” equals twenty different places to discover; each has its own monuments, character and story. Today, I explored a new corner of Butte-aux-Cailles in the 13th arrondissement. Last night, I dined at a friend’s place in the 9th arrondissement. The brasseries were straight out of an old French film and some of the store fronts hadn’t been touched in more than a century. Tomorrow, I might stand on a footbridge over the Canal Saint Martin in the 10th arrondissement and watch the water rise as a boat prepares to pass beneath me. Whatever I do, I will not be bored and I’m guaranteed to see or learn something new whether it’s a word “en français,” the name of a historical figure on a street sign, a chateau on a wine bottle, how to convert a cup of flour to grams while making gougères, or random street art.

To read the rest of my story, please visit Andi's blog by clicking here.  Thank you!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Tip on Tipping in France

(I recently posted a piece on the San Francisco food blog The Dish and The Dirt on tipping in France. I've reposted it below in case some of you might find it helpful. Nobody wants to short change the server, but inadvertently over-tipping is annoying too. Thanks for reading!)

Waitressing in California in the early 90s, I’d immediately write off my tip the moment I heard a foreign accent. In France, however, an American accent evokes the opposite response according to my French waiter friends. As many of you know, tipping in France is different than in the States. In France, it’s (pretty much) included in the check and in the U.S. it’s not.

There is a slight distinction regarding terminology that can be confusing. A surcharge of about 15% is included in the check for table service in France which the French refer to as “le service” but what Americans commonly think of as the tip. But, in French, “the tip” or “the gratuity” is called “le pourboire”.

When dining in France, you should consider that a 15% tip is already included in the grand total of the check (“l’addition”), as is the value-added tax (“TVA” = “taxe sur la valeur ajoutée”). There is usually a separate line item before the total indicating the tax, but not one indicating le service. At the bottom of the check you might find written “service compris” or “service inclus” – highlighting that the service is included, but even if this phrase does not appear it’s in there.

For example, if the total on the check is 37€ (and this is an estimate), it means the food price is 30€, the service charge is 5€ and the tax is 2€. You do not have to leave anything more. That being said, it is customary to leave un pourboire if you enjoyed the service. Some like to round up to the next “elegant number” – if the total bill is 86€, leave 90€; some like to add an additional 5% to get the server to 20%. I think it all depends on the type of place you’re in, how long you were there, and the service you received.

Here are some random examples:

- In a café if I ordered a coffee that cost 2.80€, I’d leave 3€. If the coffee cost 2.50€ and I didn’t feel like waiting for change I’d leave 3€. If the coffee cost 3€ and I had exact change and no small coins, I might leave nothing. (But I’d probably feel guilty. Having been a waitress I can’t fight the compulsion to leave a little something. Although many French people are completely fine with leaving nothing.)

- If I ordered lunch and my total bill was 18.50€, I might leave 20€. If I lunched with a friend and it was 38.50€, we might leave 40€, i.e., 1.50€ extra in both cases.

- We recently dined with another couple and the bill was a bit over 300€. We paid by credit card (and in France you can’t leave a tip on a credit card unless you ask the server to add it into the total, and I’m not sure that’s always possible) and then left a 10€ bill – not 5%, but the server seemed pleased with the amount.
It seems there's an art to everything in France, even tipping!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Abusing the “I” in iPhone!

Remember when the most annoying thing in the restaurant was the screaming child next to you?  Now, thanks to technology many adults can act like children too.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a parent there to take them outside and reprimand them for their obnoxious behavior.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my cell phone as much as the next person, but I don't love having my dining experience interrupted by ringing phones and having to listen to people have extended conversations like they’re sitting in their living rooms.  What is so important that it can’t wait an hour or less?  And, if it is that important, shouldn’t you be rushing to the hospital to check on the accident victim - not laughing your way through dessert with a spoon in one hand and your cell in the other?  If you really can’t live one hour without your phone, put it on vibrate and leave it in your lap or back pocket or on the table if you must.  And then go outside or in the bathroom to answer it.  Or better yet, eat at home.  I’ve seen a few restaurants and beauty salons that have a “no cell phone” policy.  I hope this trend catches on.  Considering France only banned cigarettes in restaurants a few years ago, I’m thinking I might be the one eating at home more often.  Thank god for Picard!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Project: Happily Ever After
saving your marriage when the fairytale falters
by Alisa Bowman

Shortly before Christmas, I was invited to participate in a virtual book tour for the recently released “Project: Happily Ever After - Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters” written by Alisa Bowman. I've never finished a self-help book in my life (which probably explains a lot) so I was fairly proud of myself for finishing this one in just three days. The fact that my in-laws were staying with us at the time might have helped. Being a holiday weekend in France, there weren’t many entertainment options open and it was too cold to spend long periods of time outside strolling around the city. The risk of catching cabin fever in our smallish Parisian apartment was high. Going to my room to read "in order to meet a deadline” offered the perfect reason to excuse myself from the group when I got tired of speaking French or simply tired of listening to my mother-in-law speak. (I’m not sure my last comment would be Happily-Ever-After approved).

In reality, Alisa deserves the large majority of credit for me finishing my first self-help book. I think it's because this book doesn't really seem like one. She offers tips throughout the book and "bullet points" at the end of each chapter summarizing the main ideas, but the text itself isn't preachy and the advice doesn't involve standing in front of a mirror repeating positive phrases. She shares her story and details what worked for her. In fact, I felt like I was reading a boy-meets-girl (and everything that comes after) story or a series of letters written by a girlfriend. The book held my interest and I wanted to know how their love story would end – or not end as the case may be.

However, because I consider myself happily married – and lucky, I wasn’t sure that I would find this book anything more than entertaining. I was surprised then to find myself randomly thinking of it after I had finished it and placed it on my bookshelf. There are parts of the book - the section on forgiveness, for example - that I think apply to relationships with friends and family, as well. The book also serves as a reminder for happy couples that they shouldn’t assume just because they are happy today that they will be tomorrow.  Marriages and people change.

In sum, with honesty and humor, Alisa describes how she went from being in a marriage so miserable that she dreamt of planning her husband’s funeral to eventually renewing her wedding vows. She did so by reading a stack of marital improvement books (as an added bonus she provides “CliffsNotes” on portions of some of these books), interviewing happily married friends, and rekindling her sex life with the help of "The Martini", a sexy bikini wax.

To learn more about Alisa, the Project, and her book, you can visit her blog: Project Happily Ever After.  You can also see a video of Alisa and her husband and read a sample chapter from her book here: video and sample chapter