Exploring Paris: Fasubourg St-Honore to Place Madelleine

Although neither of us are shoppers—and certainly not luxury shoppers—we do enjoy an occasional stroll through the areas in which the other half (or more likely the other 1-5 percent) shop. We began with a leisurely walk through what used to be the high-end, colonnaded specialty shopping arcade of the Palais Royale but is now mostly occupied by a few esoteric specialty shops and restaurants, but whose central plaza is not primarily occupied by families enjoying its large open spaces and its lovely, peaceful garden. Slightly further north of Palais Royal is Galerie Vivienne, the glass-covered forerunner of the modern shopping mall.

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This took us to the main shopping street of Rue Saint-Honoré and to one of the city’s top shopping districts (clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, art galleries, etc.), the Place Vendome (whose signature column is now completely covered and under a major renovation sponsored by the ultra-lux Ritz Paris hotel (with participation by all the other famous jewelry and designer clothing merchants in the Place). Then along more shopping streets to the Opera Plaza (lined especially with premier jewelry and leather goods stores) to the beautiful Opera Garnier, of which we also took a guided walking tour (see below).

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Then to Place de la Madeleine, whose lovely colonnaded, temple-like church is at the center of the epicurean center of the city. The square is surrounded by upscale restaurants at which you can eat and shops in which you can buy delicacies including caviar, truffles and foie gras; wash it all down by Henriot Champagne and finish it off with delectable, sinful pastries (and pretty much any other gourmet food item you may want) at the world-famous Fauchon.

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Although we window-shopped all the delicacies, and bought a few cans of foie gras to bring home, we also stopped for lunch at one of our favorite Paris restaurants: Maison de la Truffes. Any guess as to the specialty, and what we had? (See our post on Paris Destination Restaurants)

Opera Garnier Guided Tour

The 1875 building is incredible from the outside, and downright dazzling from the inside. Commissioned by Napolean III, under the Haussmann master plan that used the Opera as one of the city’s central arteries, Charles Garnier won the commission with an eclectic design that combined Classical, Byzantine and Baroque styles. The building, created around a central theme of the Greek god Apollo, Is pretty much all marble, mirrors and gold gilding.

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Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase is amazingly sumptuous, with about 20 different types of marble that, interrupted only by mirrors, reaches to the grandly painted ceiling murals. The mezzanine level is even more breathtaking. While the Venetian mosaic Anteroom is lovely enough (and was responsible from bringing the mosaic craft to France), it is just a warm-up for the absolutely over-the-top Grand Hall. Inspired by Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, it even outdoes the original. The inlaid wood floor, the floor-to-ceiling gilding, the marble sculptures, the elaborate, mythological ceiling murals—even the figurative marble busts of Garnier and his wife on either side of the central mural. Everything is so deliciously overdone as to be totally inviting.

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After all this, the 2,000-person auditorium was something of a let-down. The reason: since a rehearsal was in progress, the stage lights were the only ones on. We could barely make out the seats, much less the Mark Chagall ceiling or the famous eight-ton chandelier.

Marc Chagal ceiling

Worse of all, the peak into the Phantom’s box (Number 5), provided no view at all. And speaking of letdowns, there is also the Emperor’s staircase. Although one may normally expect this to be the most lavish in the theater, the Emperor had gone into exile before the theater or the staircase was completed. So instead of spending vast sums on a staircase that would hardly ever be used, Garnier used the money that was saved to make the public spaces even more grand than he had planned. The staircase, however, does take one between a display of some of the opera’s more famous gowns and an upstairs library and a museum.

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Place de l’Alma and the Avenue George V Area

This is probably the most expensive area in Paris—the best hotels, the most expensive restaurants, etc. It’s also one of the prettiest, with its grand old mansions (some of which are now museums) and apartments. Avenue George V is home to everything from the luxurious Hotel George V to the Crazy Horse music hall (which is known for its extravagant topless stage shows). The real wealth, however, resides on nearby Ave Matignon, a formerly disreputable street that is now lined with one of the city’s premier hotels (Athenee Hotel) and some of the city’s most exclusive designer stores and elegant apartments.

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In addition to gawking and browsing, we also visited three of the neighborhood’s museums (two large, public museums–the National Museum of Asian Art (Musee Guimet) and the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art (Musee d’Art Moderne) and a large mansion that has been converted into a small, private museum, and also a corporate headquarters—that for Baccarat Crystal (the Gallerie-Musee Baccarat. (Each of these museums is specifically discussed in our museum posts.) And, since browsing and museum visits work up such an appetite, we also stopped at some of the area’s restaurants:

Chez Andre (12, rue Marbeuf)

This was a wonderful restaurant at which we had two winning dishes: sautéed frog legs provencial with nice, fluffy basmati rice; and scallops with slow-cooked leeks with pine nuts. And to top it off, a nice bottle of 2012 Belissand Aeqerter Beaune 1er Cru. Not only was the food and wine good, but our server seemed to truly enjoyed her job. And as an extra bonus, our sidewalk table provided a perfect view of the show as the huge line formed for dinner at Relais de l’Entrecote, a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations and where you need answer only two questions (so you want rare, medium or well done steak and do you want dessert). Unless you want something to drink, all else is determined. You get a green salad, slices of entrecote and a load of French fries (for 26E)–and this does not even include the standard hour+ wait for a table. We think Chez Andre was a much better choice and we didn’t have to stand in line.

L’Avenue (41 avenue Montaigne)

We had two large appetizers at this high-end packed restaurant. Our cantaloupe with parma ham and spicy tuna tartare with lemongrass on finely chopped avocado were both OK but not memorable. And since we were in Paris, we had to have at least a half-bottle of wine with lunch, a very nice 2013 Fourchaume “La Chablisienne” 1er Cru Chablis. While the restaurant was packed, and we got our wine and food very promptly, the service was chilly.

Restaurant Waknine (9 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie)

The upscale, generally business restaurant, has what appeared to be an established, older clientele. We had two very nice dishes. A light, but very good fig carpaccio with fresh mozzarella and basil; and grilled veal scallops in a light, white wine/lemon sauce with fresh spinach, along with a carafe of a Pinot-Gamey blend.

La Galeria (31 Avenue George V)

We stopped here for a drink then decided to stay on for dinner the basis of one particular item on the menu—a veal chop. While the chop was large, and prepared as Tom likes it (medium-rare), its taste and texture seemed to be of an inferior cut of meat. Nor did Joyce’s sea bass fare any better—overcooked to the texture of cardboard. They replaced her meal with tuna, the only fish which the kitchen appeared able to cook rare. On the positive side, the steamed vegetables were very good (and not overcooked), the atmosphere pleasant and our bottle of Croze Hermitage good (although it was not the one shown on the wine list). Overall, however, we would not return.

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