New York and Paris have always had a special relationship. We may have taken our language from island to the north, but we’ve acquired our appreciation of fine wine, food, and culture from the French. Walking around SoHo on any Saturday afternoon is surely a testament to the special bond we share: Sometimes I hear so much French I have to check the nearest street sign to make sure I didn’t just turn a corner onto the Boulevard Saint Germain while I wasn’t paying attention.
Of course, New Yorkers have never had to travel far for foreign cultural experiences: Spanish Harlem, China Town, and Little Italy and just a subway stop away, but for a piece of La Belle France, just like trying to find that gem of a vintage shop on the Left Bank, you have to know where to search.
For a dining experience so authentic the servers speak to you en Français no matter how dusty your high school French, head to the inconspicuous Upper East Side gem, Le Bilboquet. With no outside sign, you could just as easily stroll past the tiny restaurant if not for its few outdoor tables in the warmer months. There are no surprises here: The menu features the traditional French gastronomie – the same you’d find tucked into little corners in the Latin Quarter or beside the Seine. 25 E 63rd Street, 212-751-3036
La Maison du Chocolat
The French are as serious about their desserts as Americans are about tailgating barbeques and monster cars. On almost every street in Paris, you’ll find a little boulangerie selling every sort of water-colored delight and fresh-out-of-the oven pastry your five senses could ever hope to experiences. In New York, for a similar indulgence you can head to La Maison du Chocolate – the House of Chocolate – to find mouth-watering authentic macarons, tarts and cakes with a wafting deliciousness that’ll transport you faster than the next Air France flight from JFK to Charles de Gaulle. 1018 Madison Avenue, 212-714-7117
The Paris Theatre
More akin to a Broadway theater than a typical movie one, The Paris Theatre plays only one film at a time, usually a French one, and is a delight to visit. Nestled next to the Plaza and Bergdorf’s the place feels magical at night with its iconic sign lit up. Inside, the seats are plush velvet in the style of bygone theaters and divided between the mezzanine and balcony. At the end of the evening, you’ll have reorient your senses to find it’s 58th Street and not The Champs Élysées where you’ve exited. 4 W 58th Street, 212-688-3800
French Institute : Alliance Française
Sure you can eat and drink like a Frenchman, but if you’re serious about your cultural pursuits, then you must stop at the French Institute for a real education. The institute houses everything from languages classes to a library full of French books and movies all within a beautiful townhouse on Madison Avenue. Who knows — come often enough and maybe you’ve have a coup de foudre (the romantic French expression for love at first sight – “lightening strike”) moment with a French single who’ll whisk you off your feet to the real city of light. 22 E 60th Street, 212-355-6100
At the end of the night, consider laying your head at the Hotel Elysee in Midtown East, an intimate property with lovely, old French-style decor.
–Adrien Field of The Field Notes
[Photo Credit: Flickr/ulterior epicure]