The 10 Most Surprising Facts About The South Of France

The French Riviera. Cote d’Azur. That Mediterranean Coast With The Croissants. No matter what you call it, there’s one image that comes to mind: wealth, in the form of private, pebble beaches; yachts with their own Wikipedia page that are worth $210 million and owned by Saudi billionaires; and bronzed French men, too. And while that’s all there – oh, is it there – you’ll also find a lot more that you wouldn’t expect. Having just returned from my mother-daughter bonding trip to the French coast, here are the top 10 surprising facts about the south of France.

1.     Between the hours of 2pm and 7pm, no restaurants serve food, which completely explains how the French stay thin. For Americans (me), this is devastating. Bring trail mix.

2.     But French people really do eat a lot. I saw so many fit women devouring –and finishing – dessert samplers filled with profiteroles and crème brûlée at lunch, which means either it’s probably all genetic, they only eat one meal a day, and/or their ingredients are just a lot fresher and less manufactured than ours so they don’t need to be vegan.

3.     While St. Tropez is as glamorous as you think it is with its $12 cappuccinos from Sénéquier Café and white sand-covered floors in L’Escale, the serene cobblestone village Ramatuelle just 20 minutes away provides the calm you may crave amid the wild nights and opulence.

4.     Five days in, and you realize you might as well be on the island of Manhattan, standing in the middle of the Meatpacking District with a bag of very fresh baguettes, because that’s totally what the coast feels like; the wealth, the rosé, the nightclubs, the fashion, and everyone looking like they’re ready to go out – at 2pm.

5.     The cappuccinos really aren’t better than at NYC places like Bee’s Knee’s, and they’re a lot less strong. I missed that spot.

6.     If you’re an American, you will feel both incandescently happy to be there and devastatingly insecure because no matter how many suede black heels, pastel blazers, and satin scarves you wear, you will fall short of looking like “them.” The French folks look both effortless and effortful, since they’re naturally good looking and, on top of it, impeccably put together.

7.     Elton John bought a massive house in Nice that overlooks the entire city, can be seen from the main port, and is next door to a castle.

8.     Nice feels like a mixture of Barcelona cosmopolitan and St. Tropez charm. And the building in Cannes where the film festival takes place – the Palais des Festivals – looks like a convention center in Kansas.

9.     Monaco is its own country, and the language and food of choice: Italian. Want the best? Head to Le Pinocchio, right by the Prince’s Palace.

10.   Leave your sneakers at home. You’re in French country now, suga.

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Mixing Alcohol & Literature At Chicago’s New Secret: The Library At Gilt Bar

Perhaps it’s true – eventually, we become our parents. And after a couple of generations of drinking-establishment evolution, there certainly are a lot of "daddy’s old club" places popping up. The latest: The Library at Gilt Bar. Tucked below the swanky River North dining hotspot (yes, Gilt Bar is actually a restaurant), it makes no small work of cultivating old-world atmosphere, with exposed brick, plush velvet booths, and vintage crystal glassware. The name is to be taken literally as there’s a collection of classic literature on hand, though the low lighting would seem to hinder more bookish activities.

There’s no dedicated menu at The Library, but the space begs a careful editing of the selections from Gilt. We’d recommend the foie gras and pork liver mousse toast, or maybe a sausage & gruyere fondue. As for the drinks, make like dad would and order a few rounds of the classics: whiskey sours, Pimm’s Cups, Moscow Mules, or better still, Old Fitzgerald Manhattans. There are just twenty seats, so reservations are a must.

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Boobs, Bubbles, and Beaumarchais

Most people know Beaumarchais for their wild brunch parties on the weekends that start soft and end up with dancing on the tables. Last night, though no one got higher than a chair, I was pleased to see Wednesdays are also hot, and that after 11pm, the swanky French restaurant turns into a mini nightclub.

This, of course, didn’t come on sporadically. The party fire was fueled by an unbelievably sexy and classy performance by a troop of burlesque dancers, courtesy of Dances of Vice, an entertainment and party organization run by vintage-goth Shien Lee. Every week these ladies tease the stage and audience with Nuit Blanche, their theme-based weekly show that runs from 9:30 to 11pm right in the middle of the dining room. This week we were treated to a Boardwalk Empire premise, flapper dresses, bee-stung lips, and feather boas included.

For guests it’s complimentary, though don’t be surprised if a foxy lady or two saunters over to your table, tassels shaking, and steals a kiss and sip of your Champaign. It’s all in good fun.

While your there, take a gander at the menu, the food, I was surprised to find, is actually high-class. True, executive chef David E Diaz makes dishes that are as exuberant as the space and vibe, but who doesn’t want to tuck into a plate of uber creamy gnocchi with truffle, a pot of lobster topped with caviar, or a classy crock of salmon tartare, roe included. Chase that down with their jalapeño-infused tequila cocktail, or a giant glass of Rioja, and you have got yourself a night to remember.

Photo by Ben Goldstein.

A Parisian Lunch in the West Village

Former Bagatelle partner Angelo Peruzzi opened up La Villette about three months ago, just in time to be hit by Hurricane Sandy. Now, the French brasserie has gotten into the swing of things and is kicking off their new lunch menu this week. The goal, said Peruzzi, is to bring the café culture to the corner of Downing and 6th Avenue, which once housed the restaurant 10 Downing. After Peruzzi took over this past summer, he tapped into his carpentry knowledge and gutted the place to create a café and brasserie in the classic French style.

Now, the space sports antiqued mirrors welded together to create a modern-meets-old wall piece, burgundy banquettes, and a pewter bar made from one solid piece by an artist from Seattle. The now exposed floor-to-ceiling windows are also a nice addition, and let in plenty of daylight for La Villette’s new lunch, and soon-to-be breakfast service. 

As far as the new midday menu is concerned, chef Christophe Bonnegrace has concocted a $19 prix fixe that includes coffee, your choice of appetizers like the house vegetable soup, salad, or the soup de jour, and an entrée. On a cold winter day, we chose to warm the belly with their hearty coq au vin and the piping hot hachis parmentier, otherwise known as French shepherd’s pie.

They also offer a $12 sandwich menu with classic options including croque monsieur or madame, jambon beurre cornichon (ham, butter, and pickles), and tomato with mozzarella. Each creation is served on a baguette made from dough they import from Paris and bake in house. For those of you who can take a nap after lunch, the chef’s burger for $16 is a decedent option, as its lamb and beef patty comes with your choice of cheese and topped with foie gras. Bon appétit indeed.

Go French! A Bastille Day to Celebrate

America had its birthday, now it’s the French expats’ turn to celebrate the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution.Whether or not you like the French lifestyle, French food, or the French people in general, it’s a good excuse to continue the summer party and get your escargot quota in for the year with a week of French-themed events.

First up, get classic and classy with Michael Arenella & His Hot Eight band playing July 12 from 2 to 6pm in front of owner Georges Forgeois’ Cercle Rouge Brasserie in Tribeca. They will be offering games of petanque (which involves circles and balls), can-can dancing by The Love Show, and pommes frittes galore. Forgeois’ other bistro, Bar Tabac in Brooklyn, will also be celebrating on Sunday, July 15 starting at 11am with Pastis-laden drinks and croque monsieur. Of course, that’s not all for Cobble Hill, the whole block by Bar Tabac will be celebrating with music and the nation’s largest live petanque tournament.

Naturally, Beaumarchais in the Meatpacking will also be reveling in French independence on Saturday, July 14 by playing petanque to the beats of DJ Marco Peruzzi. For a mellower Saturday celebration on the Upper East Side, Brasserie Julien features dinner and jazz with Myriam Phiro from 7pm to 12am. Also on Saturday, Hotel Americano hosts a Bastille Day dinner by chef Thomas Boullault, which features his Presse de Homard appetizer, organic chicken with chanterelles, and his stripped bass dish, Bar de Ligne–all paired all paired with various bubbles by Billecart.

Of course, you can hit up the annual Bastille Day on 60th Street on Sunday, July 15 from 12 to 5pm. There not only will French goods being peddled, but you can fill up on crepes from Yorkville Creperie and other nibbles by Brasserie Cognac, Bel Ami Café, Rouge Tomate, and many others. Finally, if settling down for a French celebration on your own time is more your speed, make merry by heading to Astor Wines and Spirits and pick up a bottle of sparkling Cremant d’Alsace ($17.99) or change things up and try the Armagnac from Tariquet ($28.99). Grab some creamy Camembert or blue du Bocage and a baguette at Murray’s Cheese, it’s what the French would do.