Hotel (and Airplane) Crashing: OpenSkies, Le Meridien Etoile

Now that we’ve wined and dined and shopped our way through Paris Poe-style, you might be wondering (or, more realistically, not) how we came to be on this fabulous last-minute trip.

Blame Travelzoo.

My travel-agent-for-life XFE and I are both signed up for Travelzoo’s weekly email deal alerts. And every week we’re tempted beyond belief by last minute deals. I guess it was only a matter of time till we succumbed.

And that’s when we first learned about OpenSkies, a subsidiary of British Airways.

OpenSkies is an all-business-class airline operating non-stop service from Newark and Dulles to Paris-Orly Airport. With only 84 passengers per flight, the 757 aircraft, which typically holds 220 passengers, is roomy and comfortable while providing privacy and personalized service.

The wide, comfortable seats recline almost completely and have extendable foot rests. It was like I was being cradled. I slept both coming and going. They also gave you these little packages with socks, eye masks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, which was very nice. And the leg room? Holy stretched legs, I couldn’t even reach the seat in front of me, which was a problem when I wanted to get one of my magazines, but as my friend Linda would say, “First World Problems.”

The crew provided personal in-flight entertainment systems that had games, TV shows, and lots of new movies and documentaries. Well, new to us since we never go to the movies. We watched The Hangover II on the way over (meh) and Bad Teacher (hilarious – and I’m not even a Cameron Diaz fan) on the way back. I tried to watch Midnight in Paris on the way back as well, but only confirmed my annoyance with all things Woody Allen (seriously, how is he still allowed to make movies?). I fell asleep during that one.

OpenSkies promise “freshly prepared gourmet” meals, which is a bit of a stretch (the breakfast croissant was particularly bad and less-than-fresh, ok, stale is what we’d call that), but it is probably fair to say it’s better than average airplane food, which isn’t exactly a high bar. They also promise wine, champagne and spirits, which was not a stretch and was indeed, available and free.

OpenSkies also provided access to airport lounges where complimentary drinks, snacks and wireless internet was available. Sidenote: The lounge at Orly far surpassed the Dulles lounge in terms of snack choices. For example, they had these individual packets of marinated green olives called Oloves. Single serving, doesn’t need to be refrigerated. GENIUS. I loved them so much. When oh when will we get some of these here??

Anywho, the whole experience on OpenSkies was pretty great. We had weather problems in DC, so unfortunately, we were delayed about an hour and a half, which is unfortunate, but no fault of the airline. They came by with champagne and nuts and kept us up to date on the situation.

On the way over, my personal entertainment thingy wasn’t working, so they brought me a new one. And, my seat wouldn’t recline, but luckily, the flight wasn’t full and we were able to move to two other seats in the back to sleep. Annoying, but not a big deal.

The only glitch on our way back is that the universal plugs kept cutting in and out and XFE’s personal entertainment thingy ran out of battery juice and wouldn’t charge. They brought a new cord, but it really was just a wonky plug. If you pushed the thing in all the way, it turned red; if you left it hanging out, it turned green.

With the October special they’re advertising on their site, it’s a great deal for what you get. I would definitely fly them again.

While in Paris, we rested our weary little heads at Le Meridien Etoile, a Starwood property, naturalement.

It’s located in a nice neighborhood near the Porte Maillot metro stop and across the street from a mall that we never made it to. There were tons of little restaurants all around and the whole area had a great neighborhood vibe. It was also walking distance to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee. And, as we discovered the second night, you could even see the Eiffel Tower from our room.

View from the room.Night view.

We had a very nice room (7056), probably larger than most European hotel rooms. It was nicely decorated, very W like, with crisp white linens, modern chrome and dark sleek wood. And an odd light/art piece thingy.

 

The bathroom was fine, although only a shower and only a half glass partition (no shower curtain). I felt like all the cold air was coming in and all the water was splashing out! Also: the water didn’t get very hot, but admittedly, I like my showers scalding hot, so that’s more of a personal peccadillo. The toiletries were made especially for the hotel, I don’t remember the brand, and they were very pleasant. XFE, of course, brought home a stash of them. But since the only thing he bought himself in Paris was a jar of Dijon mustard, I’m prepared to humor his hotel kleptomania.

We showered with this lady every day. Ah, the French.

Overall, the hotel public spaces were very modern and hip with low couches and marble tables. We went into the jazz bar our first night for a nightcap and while there was no cover charge to sit at the bar, the drink prices were exorbitant (like 17 euros for a gin, and another 4 or so for the tonic), so we ended up skipping the drink and going up to our room.

Ah, and about going up to our room – the elevator makes weird noises! One morning it was running water that sounded a bit like a toilet overflowing. Other times it was birds or jungle noises. Kinda odd. We giggled every time.

All of the concierge(s? – when plural, is it with an ‘s’?) were wonderful. Very patient and helpful. We even called one when we were standing outside a club that would not let us in. They called the club, but alas, we still weren’t let in. Read my Yelp review for L’Arc for the full story on that. Not the concierge’s fault, but still very annoying. We definitely would definitely stay here again and recommend it to others. The location, staff and rooms were great.

This picture is apropos of nothing. Except the fact that we were walking down the street and I told XFE that we should keep our eyes open for tag art. We had seen Banksy’s documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” a few months ago and so I knew there is a lot of graffiti/tagging art in Paris. Literally, five seconds later, we looked up and saw this piece by Space Invader. Pretty awesome.

Food Porn Paris Part Deux: Where the Salt Meets the Caramel

Oh la la - French breakfast

Sick of hearing me blather and brag about my wonderful weekend in Paris yet? Too bad! You guuuuyyyys, I haven’t even gotten to the best parts yet. Oh wait. I did already write about the shoes, didn’t I? Yeah, those were the best part. But other interesting stuff happened as well, I swear. Just humor me a couple of more days.

When last we left off, this little Poe had eaten her way through a giant Grand Marnier soufflé.

For our second night in Paris, we went to New York uberchef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Market, a very chic and trendy spot in the very chic and trendy 8th Arr.

Vongerichten is probably best known for his New York restaurants, including Spice Market, and this place was very New York. Sleek, beautiful dining room full of sleek, beautiful staff. If only there were as efficient as they were pretty. The service was a bit lackluster. For example, we wanted to enjoy our champagne cocktail and wait to order. This threw everyone for a loop, and several people came over a number of times to see if we were ready to order.

You would have thought that over-attentiveness would seep over into the later dinner service, but non. We sat with empty plates a number of times.

The food was good, but not great, and I thought the pricing was fair—a bit expensive, but not overly so. We started with foie gras with plum and spicy fig. The foie gras was very rich, so accompanying it with a sweet, fruity component was a very good idea.

For mains, I had the steamed sea bass with carrots and XFE had the lamb chops with a mushroom ‘bolognese.’ Again, it was all fine, just not overwhelming. The plating was beautiful (we didn’t take pictures) and everything was cooked to perfection, but the flavors didn’t blow us away.

Then came dessert, which was my favorite dish of the whole entire trip. We ordered a salted peanut and buttered caramel sundae, and holy sweet and salty, it was amazing. Divine. Heavenly, if you will. I can’t remember all the details since I was mostly sitting back with my eyes rolling in my head in ecstasy, but there were a lot of different temperatures and textures (there was even caramel popcorn on the plate) and it was all very, very good. I love any combination of sweet and salty and this dessert hit all my tongue’s happy spots.

For our final night in Paris, we decided to go to the highly recommended and oh so hard to get into, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. It’s not really hard to get into, you just have to be very determined and patient to do so.

I mean, they do have two Michelin stars, and are listed as #14 on the World’s Best Restaurants list. And, more importantly, Running Buddy Amy ate there recently and declared it wonderful. So, that pretty much sealed the deal.

The only reservations they give out are at 6:30 and while we are Old-Country-Time-Buffeters and everything, we knew we didn’t want to eat that early. The other option is to just go and get on the list for one of the 44 seats.

 

We knew we were in for a wait, so we didn’t rush down there. I think we strolled up to the restaurant at around 8 pm. We were told we would be seated for dinner at 10 pm. We did what people do when they’re facing a long wait and went to a movie. I kid. We went to the lovely, dark-paneled hotel bar next door. Where I proceeded to eavesdrop on the conversations of everyone else in the hushed little room, and where there might have been a few too many drinks and not enough eating for this little Poe. I was a teensy bit tipsy by the time our 10 pm slot came and went. Another 40 minutes and multiple staff apologies later, we were finally seated at the cool, sushi-style bar. 

The staff were very, very nice and friendly, and spoke excellent English, which it turns out is very necessary since the entire menu was completely in French without even the slightest hints in English to suggest what anything was. We were completely overwhelmed. We could make out that there was a 7 course tasting menu, but decided we wanted to pick just a few things ala carte and share. But where to start?

Luckily, a California couple next to us had just been seated as well and had visited the restaurant numerous times. They helped guide us to a few of their favorites and we picked a few other dishes. But I can’t help but feel that without a complete understanding of all the choices, we might have missed out on some things we would have liked. For example, I’ve read in subsequent reviews about bone marrow, something that I know XFE would have really enjoyed. (Not me. It just seems so completely invasive. You can’t get much further into an animal than to suck on its marrow. Skeeves me out.) I don’t know that marrow was on the menu that night, but I would have liked to know.

We started with a special of sea bream carpaccio that was delicious – light, sparkling, perfectly seasoned. It was wonderful and went beautifully with our champagne.

I can’t quite remember the order of everything, but we also had L’Atelier’s version of macaroni, which came with foie gras and mushrooms on top of a single layer of penne – very rich and satisfying. Another pasta dish, a spaghetti carbonara with smoked Alsatian bacon and crème fraiche was out of this world. So good. And, unlike the other portions of everything, the carbonara was actually a pretty decent size.

And an eggplant dish that was good as well.

We also had baby lamb chops, that were teeny tiny, but cooked to pink perfection and served with the most amazing buttery mash potatoes I’ve ever tasted. They were like a puree of perfection. I could have eaten those all night. They were to die for. Deservedly famous.

For dessert, we had their chocolate heaven, which was delicious and had about five different tastes and textures, including cold, creamy, crunchy and gooey. It was satisfying, but not as showstopping as other deserts we’d had on the trip. L’Atelier also sent us on our way with some salted caramels, which was a very nice touch.

XFE thought the service at L’Atelier was a bit rushed, which it might have been, since we were literally among the last people seated and the place was closing as soon as we were out. The kitchen staff was cleaning the open, theater-like kitchen like a bunch of whirling dervishes while we were having dessert. But overall it was a very nice last meal in Paris.

Food Porn: No Such Thing as Bad Wine in Paris

One of the things I was most looking forward to on our Paris trip was eating. Let me rephrase that slightly, one of the things I most look forward to anytime I take a trip is eating.

But in Paris, this was especially the case. It’s just such a foodie town. And this trip was my do-over.

The last time I was in Paris was when I was a poor college student, so my diet consisted mainly of baguettes with butter, cheese bought at the grocery store, and pastries. I’m even ashamed to admit there might have been a Le Big Mac in the lineup at some point. Not the most varied or sophisticated fare.

Plus, I was fresh out of the trailer parks of West Texas and totally ignorant. Basically, I didn’t know where to go or what to eat. And remember, (since I’m old as dirt) this was pre-Chowhound-TripAdvisor-Yelp days. No guidance what’s-so-ever.

XFE was last in Paris as a high school student, so who knows what he even ate. Actually, I do know, because on day three of our trip, we spent an inordinate amount of time tracking down steamed mussels, which he remembered fondly from his high school adventure abroad.

This time, we both put a lot of thought and research into what we would be eating. Our efforts were a bit thwarted by the fact that we only booked our trip a week before getting there, so reservations were a bit difficult to come by. But we got off the plane with stomachs rumbling and raring to go.

After dumping our stuff at Le Meridien Etoile, we headed over to grab lunch at Auberge de la Reine Blanche on the Ile de St. Louis, an absolutely charming neighborhood close to Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter.

It’s an adorable tiny French restaurant, with exposed wooden beams, tiny wooden tables with cane and thrush chairs, a large round wooden bar that reached to the ceiling, and walls covered with dollhouse furniture. Very odd, but somehow, also quaint.

The onion soup was AMAZING as was my main course of some kind of fish, very simply prepared with wonderful fresh herbs. XFE started with (and luckily shared) the most incredible oysters served with a light mignonette sauce. They were large and meaty and salty and just awesome. XFE’s steak with Roquefort sauce was also very, very good if a bit rare for my taste. The house Bordeaux was excellent. It was all very good and very affordable. The service was, well, very French, but no biggie.

 

Later that night, we ate at Josephine “Chez Dumonet” in the Luxembourg neighborhood. This was a place I had called on my own for a reservation. They’re not open on Saturday or Sunday (I was informed), and they were fully booked for that Friday. However, our concierge at Le Meridien Etoile was able to get us a reservation at 7:30. We showed up a few minutes early and were chased away. Apparently, 7:30 MEANS 7:30. No drinking at the bar while waiting for your reservation. We slunked away to a bar on the corner and had 2 euro Bordeaux standing at the bar.

At our appointed time, we dared to enter Chez Dumonet again. We were taken immediately to our seats at the back of the narrow restaurant, near the kitchen. I never mind sitting near a kitchen and this one was no exception. I was transfixed as the staff cooked and foil wrapped a huge haunch of meat for a customer who showed up later in the evening to pick it up and take it away.

 

The whole ambiance of the place was typical old Parisian bistro, nothing fancy, just pure efficiency and great food. I honestly don’t remember much about the décor, but the atmosphere was just perfect.

We started with champagne and an amuse bouche of some cream soup with a drizzle of truffle oil. The bread and butter were, of course, excellent. And then there was the smoked salmon appetizer. Yu. Um. Melted on the tongue.

I had the duck confit which was probably the best I’ve ever had. The skin was so crispy and the potatoes were perfect and garlicky. XFE ordered the chateaubriand, which we both thought, for some reason, would be wrapped in pastry, but we were, of course, wrong. I’m afraid we had our Wellington mixed up with our chateaubriand. What can I say? It had been a long travel day. So, for a second time that day, XFE had steak, this time with béarnaise sauce. He didn’t seem to mind.

 

 

We finished with a shared Grand Marnier soufflé, which was a work of art. Eggy, boozy, and perfectly browned, it towered over the ramekin, but miraculously, it held its shape even when we sunk our spoons into it. Pretty amazing stuff. A woman at a nearby table even applauded when it came out (since we were among the first diners, our dessert was one of the first out of the kitchen.) They also brought us two tiny, thimble-sized glasses of Grand Marnier to accompany the souffle, a very nice touch, I thought. The service, the food, everything was just perfect.

 

Not a bad way to end the first day in Paris.

Shop Till You Drop: Paris

I had a very practical and well-planned editorial calendar in mind for this week’s blog posts: a review of Open Skies airline and Le Meridien Etoile. A food porn post about all the great stuff we ate. Something on our efforts to go to a Parisian club (in one word: frustrating – oh, but I have so, so many more words to say about that experience. Expect an earful sometime this week.)

But I am chucking my plans out the window to focus on what everybody really seems to want to know: What did I buy in Paris?

Well, lots, actually.

But honestly, I could have done a ton more damage. Thank goodness my personal-accountant-for-life XFE was there to 1) help convert euros into dollars (math is the devil’s work.) and 2) ask the super important question of “Yes, that is yet another cute printed top, but is it $200 U.S. cute?” The answer was, invariable, no.

We spent Friday wandering around Marais, which I had read had a lot of good little boutiques, and indeed, they did. We went to the vintage shop, Free ‘P’ Star, which was very good, if a bit crowded and manic. We also hit the large department store, BHV (amazing – they even sell power tools!) and some of the smaller boutique chains like Abou d’Abi Bazaar, Zadig et Voltaire, APC, Maje, Comptois des Cottonieres, and a slew of others I can’t remember, but again, I felt like the prices were a bit high.

Finally, I made my first purchase at a Mango on Rue de Rivoli. I love Mango. I really, really do. I bought a tan sweater-cape-y thing that I absolutely didn’t need but after having gone in and out of about 20 stores, I was starting to get worried that I had forgotten how to use my credit card. Plus, the sweater was just so cozy and soft and seemed like the perfect transition item for fall weekends. Add skinny jeans, boots and a long necklace and you’re done. 

While I was in trying an armload of stuff on at Mango, my personal-stylist-for-ever XFE saw a girl walking by with a Promod bag. We discovered Promod when we went to Milan in March.

During that trip, I hit the Promod pretty hard, picking up a couple of dresses, some tops, and some knee high boots. However, this trip, I wasn’t really feeling their retro 1970s stock. Lots of earth tones and groovy patterns. We didn’t even know that they had Promod in Paris, but XFE looked up the nearest location on his Blackberry, and we were off. I bought this cute polka dot shirt and a heathered white Henley.

There were probably a lot more stores along Rue de Rivoli, but it was getting late and we had to get back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

On Saturday, we went in search of what the French call “stock” stores. These are stores related to some of the major chains we had seen the day before that carry last season’s stock at about 50% off. We went in a lot of them, including Et Vous and the gorgeous Gerard Deral, but again, I didn’t feel like the prices were all that great. But I did get some good deals, including this cute gray leather and metal belt from the NAF NAF stock store on Rue d’Alesia, and an adorable camel and black skirt from some chain store I cannot remember the name of. 

The real winner of the weekend though was Kookai Stock on Rue Réamur. We were there for ages and I was totally overwhelmed by the all the great choices. I settled on this green cowl-neck sweater dress and the #1 best deal of the entire weekend, this black silk and sequin party dress that came out to only about 27 euros. Hands down, the cheapest thing I bought all weekend. And, it makes a delicious little sequine-y, rustling sound when I put it on. That dress is a party waiting to happen.

 

Kookai was a serious test of willpower and pocketbook control. The prices and quality were all over the map, and by this time, I was in the midst of some serious shopping fog-brain. I could no longer tell what was a good value, what was good quality versus what would fall apart, what was unique and unusual. Therefore, I wanted to buy everything. It was the store where XFE had to keep reminding me of the conversion rates.

But least you think that XFE was the voice of reason and frugality the entire trip, behold:

Yes, that’s right. Those are my new Christian Louboutin shoes. Courtesy of XFE. You’ll think I’m lying but I actually had to talk him out of buying a second pair. He acted like it was a Payless BOGO deal in that store. The boy has a shoe problem.

The store on Rue de Grenelle was like a tiny little jewel shop. And, sorta like a club. The door is locked and there’s a door guy/bouncer who plays gatekeeper. He told us that the store was currently full and we had to wait about 10 minutes until some clients had left. Once inside, we didn’t feel pressured at all and took our time making our final selection.

We ended the weekend of shopping frenzy with a trek to Montmartre on Sunday where I was determined to find the elusive APC Surplus, the stock store for the iconic French brand. We found it, but again….the bargains weren’t quite up to my standards. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m the type of girl who will wear a pair of $800 shoes with an $80 dress. Believe me, there were no $80 dresses at APC Surplus. There weren’t even $80 t-shirts there. Everything was about $100 and up.

But, as we were leaving APC empty-handed, XFE noticed a very cute gray short-sleeved dress in a shop window across the street. We went over to Ysasu and were totally charmed by the shopgirl who was so chic yet very nice. I liked the dress, but again, I was on the fence and my shopping compass was totally out of whack by this time. I kept asking myself, “was it really, really special and unique?” XFE thought I was crazy since it was a designer-owned shop, which meant a lot of the stuff was one-offs and none of it was sold in any of the stores we’d been to at this point.

The designer had some beautiful one-of-a-kind dresses, but they were all cut to sample or runway size and far too small for me. The shopgirl was so cute trying to make me feel better about not fitting a sample size (as if I’ve ever let THAT bring me down). “I tell my boss not everyone is a Barbie doll,” she said in an adorable French accent. He had this one cream and black wide horizontal wavy stripe dress that was a bit longer in the back and just gorgeous.

After much hemming and hawing and convincing from XFE, I bought the damn gray dress (which was not a sample dress, obviously—it came in a bunch of other colors and was sized small to large), and I’m so glad I did. It’s one of my favorite purchases. I can’t wait to wear it with tights, boots, and a long sleeve t-shirt underneath for fall. And when anyone asks where I got it, I can say, “At this tiny little boutique in Paris.”

But, let’s look at the shoes again. YES.

Back from Paris: Le Tired

Bonjour, mes amis! I’m back from four days in Paris, which, as it turns out, is the perfect amount of time. We shopped, we ate, we strolled. And strolled. And strolled. We walked MILES. I’m not sure my feet could have taken another day.

We did make it to the Eiffel tower, but we didn't go up. We found a park bench and just took pictures.

I’ve got plenty of post topics coming up in the days ahead. I’ll go into more detail about what we ate, where we shopped (short answer: every damn minuscule boutique I had ever read about, basically), and how we got there.

But in the meantime, here’s a tiny taste. A list of rules for Parisiennes.

Of course I'm wearing Gallic stripes in Paris. How could you not?

1) If you live in Paris, you must wear a scarf at all times. Men and women. Also: skinny jeans. But especially scarves.

2) Every restaurant in Paris must have duck confit on the menu. It’s the law, I think.

3) Every street musician must play Dean Martin’s “Sway.” Accordian, saxophone, doesn’t matter. If you can play it repeatedly in a metro train with a captive audience and a metallic echo ringing off the walls, all the better.

4) If you have a snooty little French dog and it poops on the sidewalk, as a Parisian, it is your right to ignore it. Don’t pick it up. Let someone else’s shoe do the work for you.

5) When you want steamed mussels and fries, you can never find them.

No problemo, unless you're boyfriend wants moules et frites. Then, you will have problemos.
 
Toonie isn't happy. She didn't get to go to Paris. I brought her a scarf, but she's still pissed.

Occupy Paris: Viva Le Canard!

I work in downtown DC, just a block or two over from K Street, which is where a lot of the lobbying shops are set up. So I’ve been running into some of these guys quite a bit, since they like to march over to K Street everyday around quitting time and yell at the lobbyists.

Down with the man!

I ran smack dab into them the other day on my way towards the metro to go home. They were, naturally, fighting the good fight against the man and capitalism and government and all that jazz, and well, I got inspired.

So I got on one of these fancy things today (only slightly larger):

(side note: I promise that I’m not currently acting like Whitney Houston. I say that for many reasons, but it’s particularly pertinent today:  she got in trouble for throwing a fit on a Delta flight and refusing to buckle her seatbelt. I, on the other hand, am ok with buckling my seatbelt. And the only ‘words’ I’ll be having with the crew are, “I’ll take another glass of champagne when you get a chance.”)

To go here:

And start my own Occupy Paris effort to educate others on the evils of the free market system. Speaking of free markets….I’ll be doing some stuff here…… 

BUT I’ll do it with a sneer of disdain of course, on behalf of my bro-testers back home. I’m really sticking it to the man in the U.S. by shopping in Paris. No American capitalists scumbags are making money off me this weekend. See?

And of course there will be a lot of this:

 

Oh man, my mouth is already watering…..Wait, I forgot what I was saying? Oh, that’s right, sticking it to the man. Well, actually I’m going to Paris tonight with my main man, XFE, sooooo since I’m not really one to bite the hand and all that……sorry, bro-testors. You’re on your own. Fight the power and all that.