New Years in Paris: Air France Business, British Airways First, and the Park Hyatt Vendome: In and Around Paris

A trip report in five parts

  1. Air France A380 Business Class, Washington Dulles – Paris
  2. Park Hyatt Vendome
  3. Mostly Eating in Paris
  4. British Airways Paris Orly – London and the Concorde Room
  5. British Airways “New” First Class, London – Washington Dulles

The first night’s dinner was a bit impromptu, the Park Hyatt’s concierge stepped in with a recommendation based on my request for something nearby (walkable), casual bistro, reasonably priced (I didn’t want to spend 50 euros per person), and good food — that was available at the last minute by reservation, so that it wouldn’t entail a wait.

The recommendation was for Restaurant L’ardoise, which fit the bill perfectly.

We walked in and the place was packed. I mentioned that we had a reservation and the woman greeting us said, “You talked to me??” as though this were impossible. I said actually no, to the concierge at the Park Hyatt and she immediately brightened up, “yes of course!”

Tables were packed tightly in, and people around us had to shift their table slightly so that we could sit. We were seated between two parties of Americans so I started off a bit disappointed — we had been sent to a tourist trap! — but no, it seems that we either pulled random luck of the draw on seating, or they tend to sit Americans together (?) becase much of the rest of the restaurant was populated with locals.

They had a price-fixe menu of 35 euros per person for three courses, which looked to be the best value. And the wines were reasonably priced as well, I ordered a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape which was decanted in what appeared to be the largest wine glass I had ever seen.

To go with the bread, in addition to butter, was a pickled herring spread of some kind. Not my favorite, but interesting nonetheless.

The appetizers were good and interesting, I had a steak for my entrée which was tasty, and dessert (as is often the case with fixed price) was simple — but also good.

As my only real meal of the day it suited me perfectly, it wasn’t so far off as to seem overwhelming when tired, and I walked out of dinner without being substantially poorer. All in all a good first night’s dinner.

The next day, after a sumptuous hotel breakfast, we did a bit of sightseeing, poking around some museums. I’ve been before so didn’t have to stop at the most touristy, just some that were interesting and nearby.

And then I wandered into a charcuterie shop.

The woman sliced off a piece of goose foie gras with black truffles for me to try, and I was hooked. It was amazing. Of course it was also pretty expensive, fortunately you don’t need very much. You can make a meal for two out of less than half a pound, and you don’t want the meal to be just this. Which is good because it was something like 300 euros/kg. So just a little bit, the highlight of a charcuterie and bread meal taken back to the hotel to have with the half bottle of red the hotel left in the room the night before.

After a rich Park Hyatt breakfast, charcuterie for lunch, there’s only so much more butter and cheese and cream that you can possibly ingest. Which is why I’m a big fan of mixing up French meals with Asian food, there’s something about the spices and seasonings that cuts the butter, you can eat and eat and somehow reset yourself to have more French food the following day.

So we decided to try Lao Lane Xang for dinner. It’s Laotian, although it violates my rule that you don’t want to eat at an Asian restaurant that also tries to serve more ‘common’ Asian varieties. Any Thai restaurant that also serves sushi is going to be bad. (A Thai restaurant that also serves Laotian food though can be quite good, provided you eat only the dishes of the chef’s homeland). But this one — tagged as Thai and Vietnamese as well — got really good reviews.

They do take a few reservations but are mostly walk in, so after a metro ride and a walk I turned up at a bit after 8 and found a 45 minute wait for a table. The place was inexpensive and well-reviewed so I decided to stick it out.

The food was reasonable, and tasty, but not at all spicy (and I admit I was going in large measure for the spice).

After dinner it was a quick direct metro ride back to the Park Hyatt, from the end of the purple line (Olympiades) back to Madeleine (the Park Hyatt was reasonably close to the Opéra, Pyramides, Madeleine and Tuileries metro stations meaning that everywhere I went this trip was a direct shot with no change of trains).

The walk back from the Madeleine metro the hotel did have a bit of a theme along the way, though.

The next day I made a stop that I had promised to make. My friend Robert Wuhl, whose arm I’ve twisted the past two years to emcee the Freddie Awards, emailed to me,

you MUST go to ANGELINA’s on the Rue di Rivoli (next to Meurice Hotel and near the Louvre) for the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE on the PLANET!!! I turned my pal Artie Lange, late of the Howard Stern show, onto it, and he said it “changed his life.” It is amazing!

And since Angelina’s was a short walk from the Park Hyatt, with that endorsement I had to go.

Now, a couple of things I’ve learned in my visits to Paris.

  • There are good and bad tourist traps. Just because a place is a tourist trap doesn’t make it bad, although there are plenty of bad tourist traps.
  • Parisians queue.

Angelina’s is famous, and in a high profile location. Plenty of tourists from all over. Which translated into a long wait to get into the restaurant, and a decent wait once inside.

The wait though is only to sit down for a meal or for tea service, you can go right in if you want takeaway.

After a wait of about 45 minutes we were seated and given menus.

And while service was quick, a little abrupt even (a check was brought along with dessert, they need to turn those tables!), the treats were outstanding.

And of course the hot chocolate. Al I can say is wow. Usually hot chocolate is chocolatey water, I don’t order it and really haven’t had much of it in years. Probably because immediately after college, when I was an intern, hot chocolate packages were in abundance. At what I was making that was a meal. So you get sick of it, y’know?

But this was unlike anything I’d ever had. Thick and creamy deliciousness. I probably wouldn’t drink it every day, but it lived up to the billing.

Not visit to France is complete without castles or churches or both.

Getting outside of city center meant a metro ride, then up more steps than I could count although I did my best to try — first the steps up from the metro, and then up towards the hill that brings you to the base of the church, and then up the Church’s entryway hill as well, I believe it was 732 steps roundtrip.

Tons of tourists strolling through the Church’s ‘Chrismas Village’ and looking out over Paris.

One more lesson that I was reminded to about Paris, and it applies throughout much of Europe as it does Asia: people smoke. A lot.

For dinner that night it was another quest for Asian food, a search for balance such that I could continue to approach Paris and French food during my remaining time there. So it was another trip on the metro to Olympiades, this time to Pho Banh Cuon 14.

This turned out to be some of the best Pho I’ve had outside of Vietnam. It wasn’t Pho Hoa on Pasteur Street, but it’s better than most. The appetizers were good, too.

Much of New Years Eve was spent on the Champs-Élysées, and it was there that I realized New Years in Paris is different. Different than what I’m used to in DC. Different than anywhere in the U.S. actually and that includes Times Square. Everyone is out on the streets. Everyone is loud. Lots of people are going crazy. It’s as though everyone as come together for one night — one night at the end of the world where time stands still and since who knows what 2013 will bring there are no consequences.

It was body-to-body. People were headed in all directions, stopping in the middle of the street and blocking traffic to take photos.

My own time leading up to midnight was spent at Laduree for dessert and champagne. They’re known for having some of the best macarons in France, which meant they were a must-do for me. Although they are now also on Madison Avenue in New York, and having had the macarons in Paris it’s not obvious to me that they’re better than what I was already getting Francois Payard Bakery.

We stayed there until past 11, and then had a strategy of wanting to see the Eiffel Tower light up at midnight — but recognized that getting anywhere near the Eiffel Tower was going to pose a serious challenge. Getting down into the metro, heading that direction, was packed body to body. In the tunnels to get down to the tracks. It was like trying to get on the metro in downtown DC after the July 4th fireworks, but with twice as many people.

So the plan was the head the opposite direction, back towards the hotel, because there’s a clear shot of the Eiffel Tower. Nobody was heading that way, I wound up staking out a great spot with plenty of time to space. And then counted down the time to midnight, while street vendors got themselves set up with food and people ran through the streets with champagne.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Pingbacks

  1. […] Eat.  I love food of almost all varieties, and am hoping for a couple enjoyable meals on this trip.  Fancy meals won’t really fit the bill with a four year old, but otherwise we are pretty open.  My mom especially loves desserts and sweet treats, so that will be on the list of “must dos”.  I know I will want a couple options close to our hotels, and this post on View From the Wing was a great starting point. […]

Comments

  1. Have you tried the pho in CA (Bay Area or Orange County areas)? Just wondering, for comparison’s sake.

    Excellent post!

  2. Lauderee is awesome(better than Payard)! Very close to the Hyatt is Pierre Hermes; they are lauderee’s competition at the top. Consider Madison du chocolate if you want to try another “best in the world” version!

  3. Pho is not pho. That’s like saying ramen is just ramen. Guess you don’t live in a place with good asian food. Living in So Cal with arguably the best Vietnamese food in Little Saigon, and the best Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley makes us a little spoiled.

    I actually think the macarons at Pierre Herme are a little more rich and flavorful than at Laduree.

  4. My favorite restaurant in that area for dinner is: http://www.lesfinesgueules.fr. If I’m there in the winter, I have to get their seared foie gras appetizer with beets.
    Further away, Paul Bert Bistrot is also wonderful for lunch or dinner (I prefer lunch so I can digest). Both have some Americans but also have quite a few local guests.

    As for macarons, I think Laduree is overhyped (I know I know) and too sweet. I much prefer Pierre Herme or Sadaharu Aoki. The fresh madeleines at Fauchon are also on my list for every Paris visit.

    I visited Paris and left right before New Year’s. Can’t wait to see your next post on eating!

  5. Aah, so many yummy restaurants, so little time…. Thanks again for this “Paris fix”!

    And as Beachfan noted, do try Pierre Herme (the original’s in the Marais, as I recall) for some of the best pastries on this planet (and some darn fine caramel as well)!

    Looking forward to your next installment!

  6. I would disagree with your characterization that all Thai places that serve sushi are going to be bad.

  7. Pierre Herme is hands down the best. You missed their seasonal white truffle macaron available only around this time! Also the most popular Angelina duo is hot chocolate with the Mont Blanc. Something to try next time!

  8. Ah, what divine memories your trip report brings!

    We stayed at PH Vendome before the Charles de Gaulle great rate a couple of years ago. I loved that hotel, sort of made the CdeG look like an old, tired hotel in desperate need of a redo. We also are at L’Ardoise (how can one not love a restaurant when the first four letters spell lard?), and I still dream of the hazelnut souffle.

    Sounds like a fab trip, and I’m thoroughly enjoying your report.

  9. Great Wonderful pics thanks for the effort. Paris still on list and this very helpful and enticing!

  10. Hermes is more imaginative. I still find Lauderee just as good, just more traditional. I’ve tried them side by side on more than one occassion.

  11. Asian food in Paris… Sad, as a parisian living in DC, that loves my home food, this is really disappointing.

  12. Next time, put more cream in the chocolat chaud à l’Africaine chez Angélina — yours doesn’t seem to have nearly enough!

  13. @DB – Yours seems an odd comment given all the wonderful food options in Paris. Perhaps you need to expand your horizons?

  14. Ha!! I have a picture of myself in front of that same library!! I was staying at the other Hyatt (which I prefer over the PH) in Feb 2012 and we walked by multiple times… always making jokes about needing to get a library card! Fond memories…

  15. @db as I explain I find that Asian food helps me balance my eating and consume more French food! I couldn’t have gone on with rich pastries, cheeses, and other buttery goodness otherwise!

  16. I haven’t been to l’Ardoise for several years. In my view, it is not a tourist trap but it is a favorite of concierges so expect to hear some Engliqsh. Unlike some places, they’ve kept up the quality even with a healthy percentage of their business being visitors.

    Be sure to get a table upstairs (street level) which it seems Gary did. There’s another dining room downstairs that’s windowless and which lacks character.

  17. “it seems that we either pulled random luck of the draw on seating, or they tend to sit Americans together (?) becase much of the rest of the restaurant was populated with locals.”

    they may have one waiter that is more comfortable speaking English than the others – we’ve experienced this a few times.

  18. As a Vietnamese person who as pho in Vietnam, the pho in the US is almost always better (and cleaner) than in Vietnam since we has access to better products.

  19. aaaah Paris. My husband and I make a tradition of going there for New Year’s Eve each year…alas, this year, flights were too expensive when we went to book it, so we’re going in February instead.

    You didn’t mention how the streets were littered with empty champagne bottles on 1 Jan…

  20. Possibly the best city trip report I’ve every read. Having never been to Paris, I look forward to following in your footsteps – I like the French/Asian strategy as well. Thanks to everyone else for their recommendations.

  21. Can’t go wrong with Laotian food, there’s not likely to be a fast food Laotian. As a native I am looking forward quench my craving of Laotian food on my first trip to Paris in May, thanks for the review.

  22. For the BEST hot chocolate in Paris, go to the Sunday organic market on the Boulevard Raspail in the 6th arrondissement (left bank). Rich, dark, thick and delicious and less expensive than Angelina’s. The variety of foods is extraordinary: beautiful produce, healthy and delicious prepared foods. The French word “Librairie” as shown in the photos means bookstore, not library; It’s what is called a “faux ami”, a false friend, a word that looks like one in English, but has a different meaning.

  23. I let it go the 1st time but it’s been more than once that you’ve mentioned you witnessed the fireworks over Eiffel Tower in Paris for New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago. Well, I find your story …puzzling, since there are no fireworks oven Tour Eiffel on New Year’s Eve . Actually, and with very rare exception such as 2000, there are no fireworks at all in Paris for New Year’s Eve ! The fireworks in Paris take place on 14th of July, Independence day. Mixing Paris with Sydney is rather unlikely so maybe you have an explanation…

  24. @Ben there’s no ‘official’ fireworks. There are private fireworks, they’re perfectly legal in Paris. What officially happens at the Eiffel Tower is that it lights up and sparkles at midnight. But there were private fireworks set off that could be seen from my vantage point as the Tower sparkled.

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