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Ooh-Là-Là by the Hudson

January 25, 2007 By:
Blake Gernstetter, JE Feature
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If you pine to hear French, see classical art and architecture or bite into a fresh baguette, but can't make it to Paris just now, consider an alternative: Paris in New York.

With more than 100,000 native speakers of French, New York is home to an entire Parisian world. Manhattan, divided into neighborhoods much as Paris is comprised of 20 distinct arrondissements, makes it easy to pretend.

Start by picking up a copy of the venerable French daily Le Monde at Universal News (www. universalnewsusa.com/publisher/docs/stores.html), New York's biggest international-news vendor, then peruse it over madeleines and baked sweet tarts at Once Upon a Tart (135 Sullivan St., 212-387-8869), nearby in Soho. Owner Jerome Audureau, who is from Avignon, has been baking at the cafe since he opened it 10 years ago. There's intimate indoor and outdoor seating, ideal for morning conversation and solitude. The sweets pair perfectly with a cafe au lait or a decadent cup of hot chocolate.

The métropolitain, famous for its iconic signs by artist Hector Guimard, is the most popular way to get around in Paris. In New York, too, underground is the way to go. Avoid the impulse to take a cab and walk over to the Astor Place subway station in the East Village, at the intersection of Lafayette Street, which opened in 1904, and has historic landmark status as one of the city's original stations. Take the No. 6 train (green) uptown to 59th Street.

There, you'll find New York's answer to the Champs d'Elysées. Fifth and Madison avenues between 50th to 59th streets host the powerhouses of fashion: Escada, Ferragamo, Versace, Fendi, Gucci and Bulgari. The luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman is stocked with fine and frivolous fashion, and the glittering jewelry displays and designer-shoe department will leave shoppers salivating.

Nearby, at the Henri Bendel boutique (712 Fifth Ave., at 56 St., 212-247-1100), the scent of Chanel No. 5 permeates the air like a heavenly cloud above every cosmetic, accessory and garment indulgence a woman could dream up.

Clutching packages, or not, walk westward across town -- a stroll along the southern perimeter of Central Park, along 59th Street, is a pleasant route -- for lunch at the modest French eatery La Bonne Soupe, a New York institution that offers delicious homemade quiches, soups and wonderful breads. The decor is minimalist yet still welcoming, with artist Carlos Spaventa's photographs of France adorning the walls.

Owner Jean-Paul Picot named the restaurant after a French comedic play from the 1950s. Besides "the good soup," the restaurant's name also means "the good life." The mostly French-speaking staff is hospitable, and prices are reasonable. The onion soup is a must-have, but the minestrone is equally flavorful and filling.

The Museum of Modern Art (http://moma.org), a great place to appreciate French art, is a few blocks away (11 W. 53rd St., 212-708-9400). The sleek new museum is designed in stark white and metal, a clean canvas to display the paintings of Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. (On the east side, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has its own excellent French collection of Georges Seurat, Pierre-August Renoir, Edgar Degas and Henri Rousseau).

The Alliance Française (http:// www.fiaf.org), the French organization devoted to spreading French culture around the world, is particularly active in New York, and a rich resource for all things French in the city. There's a lending library of French literature, plus steady offerings of French films, theater, music and dance.

New York, of course, bursts with French restaurants -- from the formal and stratospheric to the relaxed and reasonable. As for those who want their French fare kosher, there's the acclaimed Grille de Paris (904 King's Highway, Brooklyn; 718-336-1588), just a subway ride to Brooklyn, where diners can experience the cuisine of Chef Sunny, whose training in Haifa and at the Lumpier in Paris, combine here for French/Jewish kosher cuisine.

Jules Bistro in the East Village, with its lively, Parisian atmosphere, falls into the relaxed and reasonable group. The walls are adorned with old French signs, posters and photographs, and once the nightly live jazz begins, you're transported to another time and place: old Paris, that is.

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