Travel

French Twist

Paris is changing, one craft beer and third-wave coffee at a time
Paris's Best Restaurants & Hotels 2017
From The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta, photographs by Charissa Fay. Published by Abrams c 2017.

When I arrived in Paris early one morning in late May, the city was still sleeping, but the irresistible romance that attracts millions of visitors each year was already shining brightly. And I fell hard for all of it, just like always.

This visit, however, wasn't about hitting the museums or sights that have made Paris so iconic. It was about observing what Lindsey Tramuta, the journalist behind the blog Lost in Cheeseland, calls the "new Paris." In a book by the same name that came out this spring, Tramuta documents the recent rise of a creative class propelling the city forward in every arena, from dining to design.

Living in Paris for the past 11 years, Tramuta, an American, has witnessed a revolution—one in which young chefs and artisans have set out on their own to embrace the modern world and bring international ideas into a city both blessed and cursed by its heritage. "The idea was to capture a moment of change that has fostered all kinds of new opportunities in the city," Tramuta says of her book.

"The trouble with an internationally fetishized public image," she explains, "is that the city becomes a prisoner to its own defined history, hemmed in by its former successes. . . . So to protect its legendary reputation, the city has historically turned inward and resisted change." Not so anymore.

Photo: Paul Bowyer

Today, young cooks are embarking on their own path to open banh mi shops, newfangled ice cream parlors and envelope-pushing small-plate spots, instead of spending years on end climbing the ladder in someone else's kitchen. Craft beer and cocktails are taking the place of wine on the dinner table, and third-wave coffee is descending upon old-school cafés.

Leaving the boutique Hotel Bachaumont one morning—itself an emblem of this new movement, thanks to its trendy cocktail bar—I turned the corner not to find a traditional café but Matamata coffee shop whipping up lattes alongside avocado toast. Later, I wavered between grabbing a taco at Candelaria and a cone at Glaces Glazed, where ice cream maker Henri Guittet's flavors are a far cry from the classics. Scoops of mango sorbet with Espelette pepper or pistachio and black sesame might be commonplace in a city like New York but didn't exist in Paris a decade ago. Walking around, it was impossible not to notice all the other recent arrivals, too: sushi counters, burger joints and cold-pressed juice bars.

Before you lament what might feel like "Brooklynization" encroaching on the city (a fair concern, considering the fact that two years ago, Le Bon Marché dedicated its fall theme to the borough), take comfort in the fact that the new Paris has room for upgrades on traditional fare, too. Take Bontemps Pâtisserie, which head pastry chef Fiona Leluc opened with her sister after leaving the finance world. One bite of the buttery shortbread, and I was completely hooked.

From The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta, photographs by Charissa Fay. Published by Abrams c 2017.

In some cases, too, the new Paris means breathing fresh life into old establishments. Clown Bar, for example, a historic bistro from the early 20th century, took on an entirely new sensibility in 2014 when Tokyo-born Sota Atsumi took the helm, bringing with him irreverent and Japanese-spiked twists on French staples. And Daniel Rose of Spring in Paris and Le Coucou in NYC—a key chef Tramuta references in the book for his spins on the classics—resurrected an old bistro called Chez la Vieille this December.

Another spot that represents this new movement to a T, and also happens to be the hottest restaurant in Paris right now, is Balagan from the folks behind the Experimental Group, otherwise known as the driving force behind the city's cocktail revolution with hit bars like the Experimental Cocktail Club. Serving exquisite Israeli food—kubaneh bread and deconstructed lamb kebabs, eggplant and labneh—with a theatrical flair not seen in most French dining rooms (for the real show, order dessert), it was the meal that blew me away and the one Tramuta "can't stop raving about." It's an entirely new kind of restaurant for the city, but both Romee de Goriainoff, one of the founders of the Experimental Group, and Tramuta agree, Parisians are ready for it.

So what caused this seismic shift in Paris's food scene? Though the movement has been brewing for years, it picked up steam after the financial crash of 2008, which forced people to choose alternative paths but also consider what they value most. "People couldn't afford to eat the way they used to," Tramuta says, and on the flip side, they were also inspired to strike out on their own and start fresh.

From The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta, photographs by Charissa Fay. Published by Abrams c 2017.

The new Paris also grew out of an opening to international influences, as it became increasingly easier to exchange ideas with a global community. Also, the pace of life has, of course, sped up for people across the board, which has created a space for an on-the-go economy that had been slow to take off.

Crucial here, however, is that all of these changes have blossomed without sacrificing the cornerstones of Parisian culinary identity. I may have been waffling between tacos and fancy ice cream, but I was doing so inside a café where not one person around me had a phone out to Instagram a glass of rosé. And when I got my two scoops, they weren't supersized to American standards; they were small enough that I could head straight to dinner, where tables stayed full late into the night, with no one rushing on to the next thing. The guiding principle is still that "we should be consuming less and consuming better," as Tramuta puts it, and that's what keeps the best of Paris alive.

See the map below for some of Tramuta's must-visit spots in Paris, including recent picks that didn't make it into the book:

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