eating through paris, rome, tuscany + biarritz: a comprehensive round-up

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Many of you have asked for a list of all the places where I chowed down, wept and snapped photos. Below are links to all my favorite {and approved for dining} spots. Feel free to also search the site for country + city keywords to find my choice picks in Cambodia, Chicago, Toronto, New York, Thailand, Provence, Denmark, California, Texas, and Bali.

Paris: (this list includes spots covered during my September trip, as well!): Sweet: Meert, Poilâne, La Cure Gourmade, Comme La Lisbonne, Carette, Breizh Cáfe (also savory), La Crêperie Bretonne, Maison Georges Larnicol, Maison Colette, Rose Bakery Tea Room (also savory), Chocolat Chapon, Pozzetto, Popelini, Sébastien Gaudard, Eric Kayser, L’ Eclair de Génie, Mamie Gâteaux (also savory), Patrick Roger, Odette, Le Loir Dans La Théière (also savory)

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Savory: Le Chat Bossu, Bread and Roses, Le Petit Italien, La Briciola, Maria Luisa, Colorova (also sweet), Cafe Pinson (also sweet + vegan), Cafe Boboli

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Food Spots + Markets: Rue Montorgueil-Les Halles, Batignolles Biologique Market | Coffee: Telescope, Ten Belles

Terrific Blogs I Adore (I searched the archives of these blogs over the past year, and they proved incredibly helpful in providing exciting places to eat in Paris): Paris in Four Months, Lost in Cheeseland, David Lebovitz, Little Pieces of Light, Paris by Mouth, and Expat Edna

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Rome: Savory: di qua, Pierluigi, Ciampini (also sweet), RJ Numbs Campo De Fiori

Terrific Blogs I Adore: Arlene Gibbs and Erica Firpo

Florence: Sweet: La Carraria, Venchi, Coronas Cafe, Migone | Savory: Trattoria 4Leoni, Gusto Pizza, Trattoria Sostanza, Caffe Pitti, Botteghina, All’Antico Vinaio | Markets: Il Mercarto Dei Sapori

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Tuscany/Cinque Terre: Savory: Barabba Bianca,

Biarritz: Sweet: Real Chocolate, Maison Adam, Le Secret des Pain, Miremont | Savory: Il Giardino, Al Dente, Taco Mex

a home not my own: lodgings in france + italy reviewed

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To say that my holidays are researched would be a grand understatement. My investigations are on the level of a CIA operative. We’re talking Jason Bourne, a Harrison Ford or Richard Gere affair. I review pages of reviews, and then analyze (and over-analyze) the reviews. Often, I read other reviews the reviewers have written for context. I interrogate friends, colleagues and web-friends, and then proceed to fire off dozens of questions, drilling down to water temperatures and fluffiness quotients of pillows. Why the blinking? Is there something you’re not telling me? I feel like you’re withholding critical information, etc, etc.

My research is torturous, maddening, riddled with a constant fear that I’ll make the WRONG DECISION. I’ve been known to cancel reservations on a whim and re-engineer itineraries based on trusted counsel, so believe me when I say that planning an itinerary for a three-week European sojourn took MONTHS.

MONTHS, PEOPLE. Let that sink in.

And then AirBNB happened. Scores of my friends have used the service and have sung its praises. Rhapsodized over the easy check-ins, the well-appointed rooms and terrific locations. You’ll save hundreds, they cried. You can cook! In an actual kitchen! Imagine the money you’ll save! Yet all the while I was thinking that this was some sort of trickery, a ploy to dupe and kidnap deal-seekers. I’ve seen Hostel, Taken and Taken 2 (brief aside: the sequel was terrible) more times than I care to admit. Who just rents out their home to a stranger? More importantly, would I book a room and lose an organ?

I’m happy to confirm that all my organs are intact. Not only do I find the concept of AirBNB genius, I had two very exceptional experiences in Paris + Rome. Registration is a cinch, and the communication (email/text), flawless.

Midway through my holiday, I decided to nix the Bordeaux trip. Since the idea of paying $250+/night (if I was lucky) in Paris gave my heart pause, I made a last-minute booking at this lovely apartment in the Bastille district (photos 1-5) (4th Arrondissement) in Paris. From the rapid response to my urgent plea for a booking confirmation, to the spacious, quiet apartment, I was incredibly pleased with my choice. Although I never met my host (I’m told this is fairly common), her boyfriend was kind enough to greet me, show me around the apartment, and was helpful answering any questions I posed (there were many). From fast WIFI to a washer in the apartment (apparently, having a washer in your apartment is quite normal in Europe, while I’d have to sacrifice a spleen to afford one in NY) to great cable, a functioning shower, and a comfortable bed, I was impressed. My only gripe was that once I booked the apartment, the host’s responses to my questions (How do I turn on the heat? The stove?) lagged, and I did experience some noise at night from drunks spilling out of a nearby nightclub.

Rating: 4/5

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I’ve written about my fondness for the quirky Hotel Original (photos 6-7), also located in the Bastille district. My love of Bastille is sentimental, the stuff of greeting cards. Over the past ten years I’ve always stayed in Bastille, and I don’t plan on breaking the trend. It’s a given that hotels in Europe tend to have smaller rooms, but this doesn’t bother me as a hotel functions as a place in which to sleep and edit photos and blog posts. Original is perfect as it’s a block from the Metro, and convenient to Place des Vosges and the Marais (two of my beloved spots in Paris). While the staff is attentive and genuinely warm, on two occasions during my trip I encountered issues with my shower and slow WIFI (constantly having to log-in is annoying). Also, I noticed that all of the cheeky accoutrements were missing from the rooms. Each room is themed — from concept to design and accessories — and I enjoyed learning about the origins of the room and leaving with a small souvenir. Minor, but I noticed a difference from my last visit in September.

Rating: 4/5

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On advice from a very discerning Brit and former colleague, I decided to book a boutique hotel off of Tablet: Continentale, Florence (photos 8-9). The description was certainly seductive (as were the photos) — a sleek, Ferragamo-designed hotel within walking distance of the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio. All of this is true: the location was perfection, the service courteous and expedient, but the accommodations were lackluster. On certain days I’d enter the hotel and there would be this smell, and the only word that comes to mind is mold. The rooms, while lovely and sound-proof, offered a leaking shower (This is just how it is, I was told by a non-plussed attendant), extreme temperature shifts (it was always too hot or cold) and a sleeping/living area that was disproportionally smaller than the bathroom. Odd. The breakfast was delicious, albeit expensive, and I found their list of recommended restaurants to be borderline touristy. Great location, great service, mediocre room.

Rating: 3.5/5

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When I arrived in Rome, I had to deal with lost luggage, incompetent Alitalia + Lufthansa representatives, and a heartless United Airlines. I spent a few hundred dollars just to stock up on the essentials + clothes since I all I had were a carry-on and the clothes I’d been wearing during twelve hours of flying. Suffice it to say, my holiday got off to a shaky start. However, that shouldn’t diminish the greatness that is Matteo’s Trevi Fountain/Coliseum (photos 10-12) abode. Matteo was born for AirBNB. He greeted me with a book (WITH DIAGRAMS!) describing the apartment, replete with color photos and detailed instructions. The perfect host, he even left me with fresh fruit, snacks and Italian coffee. I practically burst into tears because he was an AirBNB-fearing, Type-A woman’s dream. Not only was his home historic (the building is over 400 years old), it had all the modern trappings (fast WIFI, washer, terrific shower, cable TV/DVD player with videos). Conveniently located near the Trevi and all the great spots, it was still quiet at night and made for an excellent way to start my holiday (if we forget about the HORROR that is United/Alitalia/Lufthansa).

Rating: 5/5

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For those of you who have been following my exploits, Biarritz was nothing short of magical. Typing this in New York, I will remember Biarritz as the place where I composed short stories, read in front of the ocean and finally tiptoed into the dark, wondering where the next few days, months would take me. Biarritz is not the sort of place where you drop your bags and start ticking off landmarks, rather it’s a place where you lay your head down to rest. And Hotel Ocean, Biarritz (photo 13) was the perfect spot for my chrysalis. Located in the city center, Ocean is literally steps from the beach, and if you don’t start quivering over the thought of waking to the ocean, there’s no helping you. The hotel was simple, minimal. It’s not modern by any stretch of the imagination, however, Biarritz is the sort of place that doesn’t have a Starbucks and I was fine with the austerity. The room was comfortable and the staff was incredibly accommodating and kind. Ocean made for a nice respite after a long day of thinking about what I’ve got planned for the rest of my life.

Rating: 4/5

And there you have it. Two countries, many homes not my own, considered. Feel free to drop me any questions about AirBNB or the hotels in the comments!

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dispatches from europe: there’s always a test

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To say these past two days have been trying is a grand understatement. Remember when we talked about this trip changing me in some way? Who knew that a day later I would sit in an airport in Rome while a woman tells me that my luggage has gone missing. That all I have for a three-week holiday are the clothes on my back and the purse in my hand. Who knew that it would take two days of calls and tweets to three airlines in two countries to make it whole again? Who knew that this brief experience would reveal a lot about myself and my unheimlich relationship to possessions, and how I sometimes need to tell people to back the fuck off and figure it out.

When I was a child I didn’t have much in the form of possessions, but my mother was a hoarder of abundance. From stockpiling dresses from the 1970s to cooking a dinner for eight when there was only three seated at the table, the notion of a barren closet or refrigerator would set her teeth on edge. As I grew up I saw how possessions affected her, and I swore I’d never be her photocopy. But we’re human, prone to mimicry, and there I was hoarding sweaters like a woman jetting off to the arctic. Sometimes you can’t help but fall prey to your worst self, no matter how hard you architect a person that is polar opposite. No matter how many times you clean out a closet, there’s always a part of you desperate to fill it back up again.

Fast forward to yesterday where I was kind of a whiny asshole. A woman oscillated wildly. I moved from confusion to anger to ambivalence to denial to rage to heartbreak to despair with such velocity I wore myself out. All of this over two pieces of luggage. I cancelled plans on a whim. I moped in my 400-year-old apartment. Then I realized that I had two choices: I could either moan about the things that I no longer carry or I could revel in the fact that I’m privileged to be in Europe. For three weeks I gave the gift of quiet to myself, and here I was manufacturing all this internal noise.

In a span of a few short hours, I had become my own wrecking ball.

I chose to get out of my apartment and walk around Rome. I purchased some shirts and toiletries. I had a horrible meal (don’t even ask me about raw sausage because I will commence with the gagging, I promise) and a delicious one. Copious amounts of gelato were consumed. Come evening, I phoned my friend, calmer, and we spent three hours in a perfect restaurant devouring plates of pasta.

When I came home, I resolved that I would focus on savoring every moment of this stolen bit of time without possessions. Regardless of my anger toward ambivalent and insensitive customer service representatives and emails from people who don’t understand the word holiday, I chose to accept this test and move forward.

Apparently, my luggage is en route to Rome.

Test #1 and counting…

For all of those interested in checking out my travels in real-ish time, follow me on Instagram!

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the journey that will change you

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It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety. ― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

A few weeks ago, a friend folded my hand into hers and said, This trip you’re about to take, it’ll change you. You’ll come back changed in some remarkable way. As someone who shies away from an abundance of touch, I laughed and said, I’m not already remarkable? To which she responded, You’ll be remarkable in a way that you can finally see. Since then I’ve been thinking about what my friend said and how the strange and unsettling — Germans call it das unheimliche, the sense of the uncanny, the opposite of what is familiar can have the capacity to make you see what has been in front of you all along.

Every few years I return to this quote from Orwell. Over the years I’ve developed a fondness for it, because I’ve gone to the dogs; I’ve endured the war, the carnage and wreckage, and have come out on the other side victorious. Shaken, but a survivor still. I don’t know how that is, really. How I always have the capacity to rebound, how I’ve been so resilient all these years, but this year I challenged myself to abandon the comfort that I had known because I wanted to feel unsettled. Never have I sought out war, summoned it like a fakir, but my head and heart are the clearest they’ve ever been and I found myself whispering, now.

So here’s to getting lost and finding myself away. Three countries, three planes, countless trains, new friends and old, and all the miles in between. Things will be quiet here for the next few days, but watch for oodles of photos, eats, and everything in between.

love.life.eat. of the week: in which a woman shakes in her pants in anticipation of her european holiday!

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love.: As most of you know, next month I’m spending three weeks traveling through Italy and France. People who know me well know that I am a woman who likes to be prepared. To that end, I’ve spent endless hours preparing my itinerary of hidden chow spots, tucked-away streets and art that will put my heart on pause. Some of my choice favorites: Localers, a service offering cool day tours by Parisians. At present, I’m swooning over the food trips. Whilst in Paris, I will definitely pass time in these coffee shops, as recommended by Sous Style. After over a decade of traveling to Paris, photographer and writer, Janelle McCulloch, serves up a sumptuous take on her picks for art, architecture, fashion, vintage, food, and all the hidden streets that are a must-visit in her vividly photographed book, Paris: An Inspiring Tour of the City’s Creative Heart. Clearly, any advice Ines de la Fressange doles out I’m certain to follow. So I snapped up her beautifully bound, Parisian Chic: A Style Guide, and it’s chockfull of etiquette, tips and Ines’ picks for the ultimate Parisian holiday. Finally, the Bloggers Guide to Paris is a must-print {while you’re at it, devour all of Pret-A-Voyager’s posts, please!} When in Rome, I plan to follow Twitter friend + travel writer, Erica Firpo’s tips to the letter.

When it comes to apps, I’ve scored David Leibovitz’s divine Paris Pastry Tour, because if David’s writing about it, it’s certain to be DELISH. And to help me with my pitiful French and non-existent Italian, I’ve already downloaded the simple Mindsnacks apps.

**If you have any links, resources of tips for me, please share them in the comments section. I’m headed to Rome, Florence, Siena, Paris, Bordeaux, Biarritz, and possibly Basque country.

Brief aside: Golden Tip Cups. Aren’t they dreamy?

life.: Just as I ceased the endless trip vacillation {Basque country, no, Switzerland!}, do I read about Ashley’s visit to Southern Spain. You will fawn over the rich history, architecture and the sloe-gin vibe. Meanwhile, Jessica’s literary riffs remind me why I’m so delighted to have returned to books, articles, criticism with such fervor. Some days it feels as if I have a tapeworm when it comes to literature, and trust me, this is a good thing.

eat.: Indulging my passion for chocolate + chocolate are these yummy Homemade Bounty Bars. While I’m noshing on this and pretending to be more virtuous I can feast on Quinoa Salad, x3, Carrot Soup + Blood Orange Oil, Sweet Potato + Rosemary Biscuits.

cook this now: cacio e pepe pasta

cacio e pepe pasta In Rome I was a nomad. I’d wake early and find my way to the nearest cafe, and, for the remainder of my day I would sample, taste, savor and indulge in delicately-flavored, delicious Northern Italian food. Amidst the seemingly endless amounts of gelato and sausage and fennel pizzas, it was the simplicity of the pasta dishes that left me awe-struck. From fresh tomatoes imported from nearby Naples to verdant mint and astringent lemons, believe me when I say that the Italian food to which we’ve become accustomed is a stranger in Rome.

One of my favorite dishes as cacio e pepe. Simply put, this is pasta tossed with cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Deceptively simple yet unbelievably delicious, it has been hard to recreate the perfection I discovered in Rome, but tonight I gave it a go and added a touch of crisp pancetta for good measure.

INGREDIENTS (serves two)
3/4 pound of penne
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper (adjust to your taste)
a bit of the pasta cooking liquid (about 1/4 to 1/2 of a ladel-full)
1/2 cup of freshly ground pecorino romano
1/2 cup freshly ground parmigiano reggiano
1/4 pound of pancetta, cubed

DIRECTIONS
Bring salted water to a boil. Nigella Lawson once said that your pasta water should resemble the Mediterranean, and I’ve always kept this axiom in mind when making pasta. I typically add in a few tablespoons to a medium-bowling pot.

Saute cubed pancetta in a skillet brushed with olive oil, until crisp. Set aside.

Cook the penne until al dente (or two minutes less than the package instructions). Add pasta to the pancetta skillet. Toss in cheese, butter, oil, some of the pasta water, and cracked pepper.

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cacio e pepe pasta
cacio e pepe pasta
cacio e pepe pasta