One of my favorite places - they're all over New York now, too, which is great - is called Le Pain Quotidien. There are two in Paris that I know of, and they're great for lunch or a late breakfast. It's distinctly European, and they'll bring a board that has a little bit of the best cheese you've ever had, a little bit of the best olives you've ever had, a little bit of salad, a little bit of prosciutto, and some freshly made bread. The thing about Le Pain is that it's really great food, but all of the ingredients are organic, and it's very different from the typical Parisian cafes. You're definitely in Paris, but the attitude actually reminds me more of Scandinavia - just the way that they combine things. Another place, Cuisine & Confidences, would be a good place for lunch. It has delicious and really creative salads, very healthy. You get a warm welcome when you come in.
[At] one of my favorite restaurants, L'atelier de Joël Robuchon, there's usually a line, so it's hard to get in. It's probably the most difficult restaurant in Paris to get into. But once you do get in, it's like a sushi bar, but the food isn't sushi. The chef came out of early retirement to create this idea of almost like a tapas bar combined with the idea of a sushi bar, where you go in and sit at a bar and you're presented with a menu. And they prepare the food right in front of your eyes and give it to you on little plates. The food is spectacular. Modern, French, international, I'm not even sure how to describe it. It's expensive, but it's really worth it.
LETTER NEVER SENT
There's a periodical out of Paris called Purple that's a little off the beaten track but worth exploring. It's kind of like a combination between a magazine and a book, but they also used to have a cafe and a store. It's near Gare du Nord, the North Station. I had a rice-milk/lavender-tea combination that had little passionfruit seeds or something floating in it. They have impossible-to-find books by local artists and custom-made clothing by a local artist; it's basically like a little gallery. They'll have a photo show by someone you've never heard of from Singapore, and then they'll release all of these different periodicals called Purple. It's an interesting way to keep up with what's going on in the fringes of European art. The impact that they have on more traditional galleries and art circles is pretty profound. Everybody keeps their eye on Purple.
A couple of blocks away from Hôtel Costes there's a Helmut Lang store, which is really fun. And you can go down to Colette, which is Paris's most famous shop. Colette is really key, because it's a destination store. Virtually everyone I know goes to Paris to go to Colette. It kind of changed the face of what a store could be, simply by the approach that they use. Which is that stuff is laid out almost like at a museum. You walk by and look at it, and it's all for sale, but you kind of feel like you're in a gallery or museum. And they pull stuff from all over the world. There's a great cafe downstairs that has free Internet. And they sell books, records, shoes, watches, jewelry, and they have a makeup counter. Basically anything that you've seen in a magazine that's hip, new, and interesting, you're going to find at Colette. Even if you're not buying stuff, you can go there just for the experience of being there.
There's a men's store called L'Eclaireur [pictured at left] that I always go to if I have time. They have tremendous taste and bring in better-known designers, but also lesser-known designers. L'Eclaireur has clothes and accessories, they might have some luggage, a few records, shoes. If you're looking for men's stuff, I would go there. They carry stuff like Martin Margiela. Margiela is a Belgian designer who designed for Hermès. Margiela opened a store in Paris recently. The store is hidden on a little pathway on the side of the great gardens of the Palais Royal. Typical of Margiela, the store has almost no sign in front of it. I think in London they have a sign, but in Paris I don't think they have the sign. The only way you know that you're at a Martin Margiela store is the label on the clothes, which includes the numbers one through 23. Depending on what line it is, if it's women's evening wear or if it's men's casual wear or if it's accessories, one of the numbers is circled. So they like to be a little obtuse, but it's well worth the hunt. A good concierge would be able to tell you immediately where to go.
Going to the Comme des Garçons store is an extraordinary experience. They have one room that, the last time I was there, was painted completely red. And there were these red plastic ottomans on the floor, and you'd sit on them and they'd all start moving. It's very high-concept, this store, which is typical of Comme des Garçons. It's also interesting because their perfumes are very bizarre. They use things that you wouldn't expect, like leather and dirt, as inspiration for their scents.