Welcome to: Where I Spent My Week Off —by a NYC Restaurant "Insider"
[Continued from "My Week Off: Portofino / Camogli"]
So, what do you do in the industry?
I used to do lots of things. Now I do other things.
And you have how many weeks off a year, generally?
About four or five.
What made you choose Paris for this vacation?
As I explained before, I didn’t exactly choose it; I was just lucky. A couple of years ago, I was invited to sail the Turkish Riviera to Greece aboard the Black Sea, a 110′ sailing yacht owned by an incredibly lovely family I was fortunate enough to have been able to do some very miniscule favors for, once or twice. Evidently, I was such “a good guest,” they invited me back this year to cruise the Cote d’Azur with them all the way to the Ligurian Coast. Obviously, I would have been a total idiot to refuse. It was one of the most amazing trips of my lifetime (and despite the danger of sounding crass, I must say I’ve been blessed to have experienced some pretty fantastic journeys all right).
My journey with them started in St Tropez, continued on to Cap d’Antibes, Cap Ferrat, Monte Carlo, Portofino and Camogli. Rather than fly directly from New York to Paris to Nice in one trip, an overnight stay in Paris at the start seemed like a good idea.
And where did you stay?
At The Four Seasons George V. But only because I figured, "Why not?"
I’ve visited Paris numerous times and have already experienced many of the most popular choices— The Ritz Carlton, Plaza Athenee, Hotel Crillon, Hotel Costes, and Hotel Vendôme – Place Vendôme. And although Mama Shelter and Hotel Artus seemed like intriguing options, for a one night stay they would simply have been impractical for their distances from the "center" of Paris. So, that left Le Meurice and George V, and for the lack of substantial price disparity, George V won my decision due to their renowned reputation for superlative service.
How was the ambience/service/amenities etc?
Very good. Obviously, Four Seasons generally isn’t for everyone, as it does have a tendency toward pomposity or stuffiness. But the service certainly did live up to its stellar prestige. Even though we arrived a full five hours before official check-in time, they bent over backward to accommodate us and make us feel welcomed. Absolutely every person we encountered from the front desk to the dining room to room service was as warm, affable, and professional as could be. It’s not hard to see why for discerning travelers of a certain taste, George V ranks among the top in the world. (And believe me, the "five star" rating really has nothing to do with it— I’ve visited many a so-called "five star" before, only to be repulsed by glaring shortcomings.)
Any major glitches and/or disappointments?
Ha ha ha ahaa oh my lord. This one has got to be up there as a traveling glitch of a lifetime.
Yah so— okay, I knew I was spending one night in Paris. Well, I wanted to pick a nice restaurant for dinner, duh.
So I tried to do a little research beforehand, because I wanted to dine "like a hip and savvy local." I thought I found several that seemed alluring (Yam’Tcha, Thomieux, Frenchie, e.g.), but then a friend of a friend who resides in Paris suggested something else.
Now, I never pick a restaurant based merely on what I’ve read. EVER. Come on, that would be like the antithesis of PX This. So, when this suggestion came via a resident of Paris, I assumed I was safely in the clear— of having to dine like some kind of oblivious, misinformed, rabid, incognizant, stupid lemming-like Foodie. Hah! As it turns out, the restaurant proposed to me was Le Chateaubriand— because it’s "hot." Ranked No.11 of "The World’s 50 Best Restaurants" no less!
Well, alls I can say is: ugh, christ. I don’t know whether it’s sad or comforting to know NYC doesn’t hold the monopoly on idiotarded "food press."
Also: I didn’t realize "hot" was meant literally, otherwise I surely would not have gone. It was about 100 degress in that restaurant (no exaggeration) and they have neither an air conditioner, ceiling fan, table top oscillator, or manual fucking palm frond. I can assure you its ranking amongst the "Best Restaurants in the World" is a brazen slap across the face to restaurateurs everywhere— particularly to those who are ignorant enough to spend hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars on ridiculous amenities and services that pander to the fruitless comfort of their patronage.
When we first arrived at 9PM (because I was told reservations are not accepted for "second seating, but you are allowed to wait") we were informed it’s "too early" and to "come back at 9:30" (despite our asking if we could order a drink and stand at the seatless bar instead). So we took a stroll around the block and returned at 9:25, only to find five full parties now ahead of us on line. (Yah, that’s right— there’s no host nor waiting list nor any door management of any kind). Were we not so far away from our hotel and not spent nearly €20.00 on cab fare to get here, we would have just left. But, we didn’t. Instead, we stayed and stood and sweated like animals. I’m not kidding. And it was of little consolation that all the English speaking tourists all around us (fresh from having plucked their noses off the internet) were sweating like hairy beasts too.
About an hour later, we finally sat down. (Evidently, the genius "first and second seating" system had the kitchen solidly slammed. Best restaurants! My ASS.) But whatever—
Fish, bean puree (that, actually, was pretty tasty— the best thing all night), fried fish, fish, fish, and pigeon. Yes, I said pigeon. Tough, cartilagey, gamey, flavorless, pedestrian, bloody, pigeon. (Oh, did I mention you don’t get to choose what you eat? They only make "one meal" a day. Mmhmmp, BEST restaurants! You stupid, overspending, budget-allocating, chef-indulging, micro-managing asshole, you!)
But that didn’t stop the customers at three tables surrounding me from snapping photographs of their food. Yes, that’s right, I’ve died and gone to Foodie-Blogger Hell.
On top of all that, the cheap rosé (from Spain?) by the glass gave me a splitting headache.
Okay, don’t get me wrong— was the food horrible? No, it wasn’t horrible. But it wasn’t extraordinary either— certainly nowhere near remotely deserving of a title that ranks it No.11 in the world. Top 50 Concepts ("highly trained chef wants to open inexpensive accessible restaurant blah blah blah") maybe, but Top 50 Restaurants? Oh, hells no.
By my (knowledgeable, insightful, sagacious) standards, it doesn’t even rate a recommendation to a local resident, much less one traveling from outside the country.
In short, yah— that was a disappointment.
Oh but— you wanna hear something kinda crazy?
On one of my nights in St Tropez, my hosts were invited to dine at a friend’s home, and so I got to tag along. Wow, it was one of the most gorgeous summer estates I’ve ever seen, and the owners were sweet, and kind, and gracious, and positively scintillating. Anyhoo—
as we’re sitting down to dinner, they inform us their live-in chef at their summer home was once a contestant on the very first season of Top Chef M6 (the French version of Bravo’s American Top Chef). Actually, what I could swear they said was "the winner" of Top Chef, but later when I googled Romain Tishcenko, I can’t exactly say for sure that was the guy I met that night, whose name I can’t remember, especially since I never got his surname. I mean, maybe it is (it’s possible), but I’m just not entirely sure.
In any case, he served a nice seasonal salad and penne with bottarga. It was pretty good!
Oh but my point is: apparently Romain Tischenko used to work guess where! Uh huh, Le Chateaubriand. I mean— is that kinda freaky or what. Imagine if I’d sat at the dinner table and recounted my Parisian escapade to all the Parisiennes? Ha ha aha hah ugh.
I did tell the chef however, that I know at least one American "top chef" very well, and then I invited him to visit NYC. Maybe he’ll come!
Any great standout experiences?
I did stop in for drinks at Bar228 at Le Meurice. That was nice, I suppose.
Oh but, be forewarned they have something of an exclusivity policy in case you ever decide to go. I mean— I was seated immediately (and so was the puppy right behind me), but then I overheard a party arriving five minutes later being told the tables "are all reserved." It’s probably a dress code and/or beautiful people thing.
The only other really great standout experience I want to mention was the flight itself!
I distinctly recall a couple years ago blogging about a trip to London or something, wherein I vehemently pronounced "British Airways sucks dick." And then I went on to rave my head off over Virgin Atlantic.
Well! I don’t know if British Airways heard me or what, but evidently they went and launched this "all business class" subsidiary airline called Open Skies. Open Skies kicks ass! They only have two sections, Business Bed and Business Seat— and both are extremely comfortable but cost far less than a regular business class seat on the other airlines I attempted to book. [Also, supposedly the food is by Michel Richard if you care about that sort of thing.] It was seriously awesome and made the flight just whizzzz by.
Whatever, I’m just saying.
How much did you blow all week?
Eh. Whatever it was, it was well worth it.