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As with so many others from just about anywhere, I’ll go to Paris on the thinnest of excuses. I flew over for a birthday party once and probably could be convinced to do it again for afternoon tea. These days, lucky me, I do business in Paris, particularly as the head of my law firm’s fashion and luxury goods practice. In America, business only really stops for prayer, private mourning or national calamity; in France, it stops for lunch. As for dinner in New York: the food is usually good, the service is often so, but as friends who live in both New York and Paris have reminded me, the difference is that, you can get through a social dinner in Paris without anyone once mentioning his job – and you can practically do the same when dining on business. I arrived this time from a conference in Berlin (as earlier reported in this magazine), full of law and business, but within one hour I found myself seated at a café on avenue Georges V, filling with the aroma of Armagnac, with the sight of breezily elegant men and women and the taste of boeuf bourguignon. That triggered memories, from a youth lived long ago, of enchanted nights with a new, but brief, love at a small hotel on rue du Mont Thabor, and I wondered: how could anyone want to visit anywhere else? Superficially, Paris looks like it is there for fun, but Parisians are as serious about what they do as New Yorkers; they just don’t complain or brag about it as much. For the next several days, I had productive business meetings the French way: over a good meal. Ultimate Food First came a fine business dinner at Market, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten place just off the Champs Elysées, on avenue Matignon. It was his 11th restaurant when it opened but his first in his native country. The idea was to design menus around what looks best at the food markets that are daily set upon by the staffs of the great restaurants of Paris, with the result that the menu changes as often as commodity prices. Under head chef Win Van Gorp, the restaurant serves up what the markets offer into sophisticated cuisine with strong Asian notes. As a bit of counterpoint on this visit, there were four separate types of pizza, two of which are prepared with seafood. The next day, I dined with a local legal colleague at the summer restaurant of the Hôtel Le Bristol. It was a quiet night at the Restaurant d’été, meaning the summer restaurant, which is in a glass-enclosed peninsula extending into the courtyard. Each year, in the first week of October, a handover sends patrons to the hotel’s Restaurant d’hiver, for the tastes of winter in an ornate, wood-paneled room. A demure, two-star meal was served and enjoyed in gentle voices, the fragrances of a summer garden punctuating the air. In restaurants such as this, you understand why, in contrast to those many New York restaurants where, if you want to be heard, you need the kind of headset with microphone that you are issued on helicopter rides, ambience in Paris is as much about the silence as are the taste, the aroma and the decor. The restaurant served two “grand cru” chocolate deserts, including one made from liquid cocoa, that it called “priceless Nyangbo chocolate.” I think that the word priceless was not inappropriate because, with a tab that came to the equivalent of $350 per head, the night was my “personal best” for an amount spent on an evening meal. All I have to do now is somehow make it up to my French colleague, who actually paid the bill. My previous record of that kind had been set a couple of years before, at the Alain Ducasse flagship restaurant at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, on avenue Montaigne, where I ate what was perhaps my all-time best meal in France. It therefore seemed necessary to start there, or nearly there, on this trip by dining in the al fresco restaurant set up in the adjacent courtyard of the hotel. HOTELS

Hôtel Fouquet’s Barrière proved to be a great luxury hotel where the staff treated me just as well as they would have any of the celebrities whose names are etched into metal plates that form a twin line outside the entrance. 46 avenue George V; +33 (0)1-40-69-60-00; reservations: +33 (0)1-40-69-60-40; through The Leading Hotels of the World, 1-800-223-6800; www.fouquets-barriere.com. When I travel alone in Paris, I stay just about anywhere, but when I bring my wife, we go to the Hôtel Plaza Athénée. It is substantial and luxurious, but always remains personal in its service, giving that “home away from home” feeling. 25 avenue Montaigne; +33-(0)1-53-67-66-65; reservations: +33-(0)-1-53-67-66-67; through The Leading Hotels of the World, 1-800-223-6800; www.plaza-athenee-paris.com.


RESTAURANTS

La Cour Jardin at the Plaza Athénée; Chef Romain Meder; +33-(0)1-53-67-66-02. Rech, 62 avenue des Ternes; Chef Baptiste Peupion; +33-(0)1-45-72-29-47. Restaurant d’été, the summer restaurant at the Hôtel Le Bristol, operates May 1 through September 30; +33-(0)1-53-43-43-40 or resa@lebristolparis.com. Market, 15 avenue Matignon; +33(0)1-56-43-40-90. Mariage Frères (Le Marais flagship); 30 Rue du Bourg-Tibourg; +33(0)1-42-72-28-11.

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