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The second arrondissement looks like a sort of funny phrygian cap sitting on the head of the first arrondissement and is home to a wide array of historic buildings and streets. An entire huge block is occupied by the original Bibliotheque Nationale, that now sits largely empty and closed to visitors but houses temporary art exhibitions. Next to it to the East is a building containing passages containing everything from art galleries to one of the city’s best wine bars (Legrand Filles et Fils.) Somewhat north is the Bourse, another imposing edifice, that is more for looking than going into. Finally to the North-West one stands the (again original) Paris Opera, arguably next to the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, the most recognizable Parisian landmark there is.
For art, one has the three big spaces for temporary exhibitions at the Bibliotheque Nationale Richelieu and the galeries in the Passages Vivienne/ Petits-Pères, etc. and for walking about nothing beats the rue des Petits Champs as it enters the Place des Victoires or the Place Gaillon.
Shopping used to be rare in the area, but since the Place des Victoires and surround have been invaded by pricey boutiques selling everything from precious frocks to precious boots, it’s heaven for those so inclined.
The second has one of the most grand of grand old restaurants – Drouant – recently revived by Antoine Westerman of the famed Buerehiesel Restaurant in Strasbourg. Westerman, who only a while back launched a less-pricey off-shoot, the Viel Ami, on the Ile St Louis with chef Antony Clemot, boldly moved him to Drouant, a move that has worked well for both places. Smack across the street, famed actor Gerard Depardieu and his less well-known but equally food-interested companion, Carol Bouquet, resuscitated A la Fontaine Gaillon and then launched a most pleasant oyster bar L’Ecaille de la Fontaine. Quite the square, eh?
For some reason the second also has been home to several bistros that have all the look of 1950’s films noirs, the dark and dirty-looking bistros of yore we loved years ago and that folks from the suburbs flock into town to revisit – for example, Aux Lyonnais, Chez Georges, the Grand Colbert and the Domaine de Lintillac; no matter that Alain Ducasse has rejuvenated Aux Lyonnais and the Domaine de Lintillac ain’t as old as it looks. A somewhat strange but appealing place, Un Jour a Peyrassol, features truffles in all their forms, and is well worth going to if you like the black gold. Gilles Choukroun, he of the late departed and sincerely mourned Café des Delices fame on the left bank opened a very edgy place l’Angl’Opera a few years ago and by my lights has pushed the envelope just a bit too far (see my column with that title) but he is much beloved by the “Le Fooding” and Omnivore guys who are trying to move French cuisine off dead center.
The 14th, on the other hand, is another world; no banks, great companies, impressive historical buildings or chi-chi shopping. This is residential Paris, where folks really live, grocery shop and go to the Poste.
Art there’s not a lot of, unless you count the Fondation Cartier, the brainchild of the CEO of Cartier International that exhibits a lot of far-out contemporary art and it’s totally unrelated cross-cemetery same-sounding venue, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, housing the famed photographer’s collection of photos he loved and he took.
Shopping is exhausting and exhaustive in the Alesia area and while it claims to be discount, end-of-season, stuff, I suspect they mark it up before they mark it down (that’s illegal in France, of course, but some magic hand keeps the prices up.)
Walking – sure, the Montparnasse cemetery for the tombs of Baudelaire, Maupassant and Jean Seberg (she of the International Herald Trib tee-shirt); the Montsouris Park, quite nice and huge in summer, and the walk to the Observatory and Cite Internationale Universitaire.) For the medically inclined, there are more hospitals per square inch than on the east side of Manhattan, to whit – Sainte Anne’s, Cochin and Port Royal, with the famed military hospital Val de Grace and its history of medicine museum just across the street. Also not to be missed is the Lion of Belfort at the Place Denfert-Rochereau (easily recognized by former students of “French in Action.”)
So, finally we get to food. The most impressive food “show” in town in rendered by Gerard Poulard, who wheels in the “chariots” of cheese, hard, mountain, soft, rich, that he cares for lovingly and dispenses generously at Montparnasse 25. I haven’t been in ages but the memory is there like a flash-back. There’s a resto that primarily serves rabbit, called Monsieur Lapin, of course; another that serves “burnt-fingers” moules, La Cagouille, that do burn your fingers; and one that must have the best price-quality ratio in town – l’Avant-Gout, if you don’t mind elbowing your neighbors’ plates. This is the area where the idea of the fish bistro was born in 1991 with the Bistro du Dome, still a solid, reliable bet, and where the modern gastro-bistro Le Regalade was born, assisted by that sage-homme (sage-femmes are midwives), Yves Camdeborde in 1984, and the arrondissement where one of his acolytes, Sylvain Danière, reigns at l’Ourcine. It is home to stand-up places like l’Os a la Bouche and the sit-down and smell the flowers place le Pavillion Montsouris. Finally, getting to “hot, new places,” in the past year we’ve adored the little engine that could (that is, working away and not being “discovered” by the critics for several years), La Cerisaie, the little restaurant that socks-it-to-you, Guifeli, and the little bistro-brasserie-winebar-resto that defies categorization, La Chopotte.
So, as usual, here are my favorites in the 2nd and 14th :
16-18, place Gaillon, 2nd (Metro: Quatre-Septembre)
Plat de jour 20 €, Lunch Menu 45 €, Menu-carte 67 €.
L’Ecaille de la Fontaine
15, rue Gaillon, 2nd (Metro: Quatre-Septembre)
Menu: 19 €, A la Carte depends on the number of oysters, average 40 €.
Un Jour a Peyrassol
13 Rue Vivienne, 2nd (Metro: Bourse)
A la Carte 35-60 € depending on truffles consumed.
Bistrot du Dome
1 rue Delambre, 14th (Metro : Vavin)
T: 43 35 32 00
A la carte about 50 €.
70, Boulevard Edgar Quinet, 14th (Metro : Montparnasse-Bienvenue)
T : 01.43.20.98.98
Closed Saturdays and Sundays
A la carte 25-30 €
49, avenue Jean Moulin, 14th (Metro : Porte d’Orleans)
T: 01 45 45 68 58
Closed Sundays and Mondays
A la carte 30-40 €.
129 rue du Chateau, 14th (Metro: Pernety)
Menu 22 €.
168 rue d’Alesia, 14th (Metro: Plaisance)
A la carte 25-30 €.