Where West Meets l'Est
Published: June 2009
By Elizabeth Garnsey
With a new infusion of Asian art, fashion, and food, Paris has suddenly gone mad for the Orient--again
Your carry-on is stuffed with 10th-century Chinese porcelain, a bamboo rice basket, kimono wraps, ivory chopsticks, and lung ching tea. Souvenirs of a whirlwind Asian tour?Mais non--you've just been to Paris. In the most recent trend to sweep the city, French style is meeting its match in all things Asian. It's happening in food and fashion, tearooms and nightclubs: Gallic subtlety and savoir faire are fusing with Japanese minimalism, Chinese complexity, and Vietnamese artisanship. This is the new way to experience the most visited city in the world, and it has nothing to do with brasseries and baguettes. Herewith, the best of the latest.
The Asian tiger sleeps with the French lamb at Shozan, a Franco-Japanese restaurant outfitted with a feng shui touch in unmistakable Christian Liaigre surroundings. The menu lists roast lamb in a green tea crust, lobster with a sweet-sake-and-white-sesame sauce, and--not to be missed--foie gras sushi with sansho pepper. • The so-called cuisine de voyage is more subtle, if a bit less successful, at Café Mosaïc, where young chef Paul Pairet shocks French palates with surprises such as roast squab under peanuts and kumquats, or roast beef with soy saucorn, and apple butter. But dessert is the ultimate fusion experiment: Nutella wontons accompanied by a coconut "milk shake" dipping sauce. • With its dizzying menu of Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Philippine, and Chinese specialties, Asian might come off as cloying if it weren't such a pleasing aesthetic bath: a sake and sushi bar surrounded by bamboo and planters filled with wheatgrass, calligraphy on the dining room walls, the sound of gurgling water fountains (taped, not real). As for food, the Thai dishes are the most reliable. Lest you forget you're in Paris, Ladurée pastries top the dessert menu. • What do you get when you cross Kenzo, Andrée Putman, a conveyor belt, and wall-mounted video screens?Lo, it's Lô Sushi, the Champs-Élysées's most groove-injected lunch bote. Sushi and seaweed salads snake past diners perched on Putman's barstools while waiters shimmy about in Kenzo outfits and world-music videos play on TV's above. Sushi-lovers be warned: there's more style than substance.
Ten years before Asian restaurants were trendy, the very swish China Club was already a fashionable address; today this Bastille-quarter classic sighs ho-hum at the nouveau-Asian upstarts across town. Imagine yourself an expat in 1930's Hong Kong over delicious Cantonese food. The Sing Song club downstairs has live music on weekends, ranging from Les Insolistes (comic cabaret) to the François Wong Trio (Sino-French jazz). • At the mellow, teak-lined basement restaurant Kambodgia, a waitstaff perfectly dressed in black cotton tunics serves excellent--what else?--Cambodian dishes, such as ginger fish wrapped in banana leaf. • There are plenty of great sushi bars in Paris, but Issé has long been considered the purest and best (if not the priciest).
In the otherwise barren 13th Arrondissement (the Bibliothèque Nationale being a notable exception), six contemporary art galleries have opened on Rue Louise Weiss to form the scène est association. Among the many Japanese artists represented here are Takashi Murakami, creator of giant cartoon-character balloons (showing at Emmanuel Perrotin), and photographer Nobuyoshi Araki (at Galerie Almine Rech), known for his erotic nudes and Tokyo cityscapes. • In 1971 Joyce Ma introduced Western designers to Asia with her first Hong Kong boutique. Three years ago, on a reverse mission of sorts, she opened the joyce gallery in Paris as "a window onto Asia." Ma chooses works with distinctly Asian sensibilities or influences--from silicone gel-filled yoga mats by Italian artist Luisa Cevese Riedizioni to calligraphy tableaux by the French artist Fabienne Verdier, the first European woman trained by master Chinese calligraphers. Through October 30: Rugs woven by American artists Brad Davis and Janis Provisor, made with wild silk harvested from China's northern mountains.
With bamboo groves, red painted bridges, Japanese shrines, and soothing streams, the Jardins Albert Kahn are a small piece of nirvana just outside Paris. • The Hôtel Heidelbach Galeries du Panthéon Bouddhique is home to more than 100 Buddhist artworks and a Japanese garden.
At Purple Boutique & Café, in the unlikely neighborhood of the Gare de l'Est, anti-shopping is the rule: rather, you lounge around, order miso soup, or sip a fluide florale, an artist-designed drink made with rice milk, violet extract, and mini marshmallows. Browse obscure international magazines (including Purple Fashion, the stylish underground journal published by the boutique's owners). Really an art gallery masquerading as shop (or is it the other way around?), Purple displays conceptual clothing and accessories by young artists such as Korean designer Sun Young Song and Japanese Koji Tatsuno. • Tokyo transplant Muji is an all-purpose, one-stop shop for those pursuing the Japanese art de vivre. Along with your shampoo, lead pencils, and cotton turtlenecks, you can even take home a fold-up Muji bike. • The Compagnie Française de l'Orient et de la Chine (CFOC) sells the best Chinese earthenware, bamboo baskets, and reproductions of 10th-century blue-and-white porcelain, as well as opium pipes and bamboo rugs.
Parisians are flocking to the first European outpost of Tokyo-based Transcontinents Transcoopérative, for minimalist clothes and colorful shoes by Japanese designer Toco Hamada, as well as the moment's must-have: a space-age watch by Toco's brother Hissachi Hamada. • Saigon-born designer Thien-Nga's new shop, Anna Moï, is true to its Vietnamese name, which means "elegance and daring." Both qualities are evident in the store's clothing and slippers, bags, linen sheets, hand-embroidered quilts, and bamboo-wrapped bottles of honey and liqueur. Exhibitions of contemporary and old Vietnamese artists change every few months. • Gabriella Cortese and Christophe Sauvat travel throughout Indonesia and other parts of Asia in search of patterns and fabrics for their Antik Batik label, which appears in shops and department stores from New York to Tokyo. They finally have their own boutique, on Rue de Turenne. This year's Mongolian- and Russian-inspired winter collection includes fur-trimmed and hand-beaded bags, down-filled skirts and ponchos, fur babouches, and embroidered pashmina shawls. • It goes without saying that the world's finest porcelain (since 1767) is from Limoges, but the ancient technique for making it originated with the Chinese. Today the oh-so-French company Bernardaud, whose Limoges patterns have graced tables for generations, looks to Asia again with its new Fusion line of Japanese dishes, from sake bowls to almond-shaped sushi platters.
Lots of reds, whites, and pinks surround the three small tables (and a dubious cot--an erstwhile opium bed?) at Miss China Tea. Sip cups of ba bao cha or pu er over a lunch of vermicelli soup with shrimp wontons, or try an oeuf au thé, the traditional Chinese specialty: a hard-boiled egg marinated overnight in a mixture of tea, anise, and orange peel. Owner Bonnie Tchien Hy regularly visits her homeland to bring back treats such as sweet-and-sour olives wrapped in rice paper, magazines from Hong Kong, and bamboo picnic baskets. • With more than 20 imported teas and beautiful 19th-century tables, the tearoom at La Maison de la Chine is one of Paris's best-kept secrets. There are also regular art exhibitions and a shop selling Chinese objets and lotus-shaped "concubine" lamps, inspired by the film Farewell My Concubine.
Got a yen for dancing?Check out the Guinguette Pirate, a Chinese junk, and the Batofar, a red lightship, two of a flotilla of nightclubs moored on the Seine. Japanese artists like DJ Krush and experimental guitarist-singer Keiji Haino play a mix of techno, garage, and house music.
Ching Tsai Loo came to France in the late 19th century with a suitcase and an idea: to sell antique Chinese jewelry to Parisians. For his gallery, Loo chose a spot near the Parc Monceau and, working with a French architect, reconstructed a Chinese pagoda with walls of imported 18th-century panels and ceilings painted with birds and blossoms. Completed in 1928, C. T. Loo & Cie remains an experience unlike any other in Paris. Loo's gallery has been inherited by his grandson, who also sells custom-made Chinese and Japanese reproduction furniture, and ships worldwide.
RESTAURANTS AND TEAROOMS
Shozan 11 Rue de la Trémoille (Eighth Arr.); 33-1/47-23-37-32; dinner for two $100.
Café Mosaïc 46 Ave. George V (Eighth Arr.); 33-1/47-20-18-09; dinner for two $110.
Asian 30 Ave. George V (Eighth Arr.); 33-1/56-89-11-00; dinner for two $80.
Lô Sushi 8 Rue de Berri (Eighth Arr.); 33-1/45-62-01-00; lunch for two $50.
China Club 50 Rue de Charenton (12th Arr.); 33-1/43-43-82-02.
Kambodgia 15 Rue de Bassano (16th Arr.); 33-1/47-23-31-80.
Issé 56 Rue St.-Anne (Second Arr.); 33-1/42-96-67-76, lunch for two $80.
Miss China Tea 4 Rue Française (First Arr.); 33-1/40-41-69-84.
La Maison de la Chine 76 Rue Bonaparte (Sixth Arr.); 33-1/40-51-95-00.
Scène Est Rue Louise Weiss (13th Arr.); 33-1/42-16-79-72. Joyce 9 Rue de Valois (First Arr.); 33-1/40-15-03-72.
Purple Boutique & Café 9 Rue Pierre Dupont (Tenth Arr.); 33-1/40-34-14-64.
Muji 27 Rue St.-Sulpice (Sixth Arr.) and 19 Rue Auber (Ninth Arr.); 33-1/46-34-01-10.
Compagnie Française de l'Orient et de la Chine 170 Blvd. Haussmann (Eighth Arr.); 33-1/53-53-40-80.
Transcontinents Transcoopérative 101 Rue de Seine (Sixth Arr.); 33-1/44-41-74-50.
Anna Moï 65 Rue Montmartre (Second Arr.); 33-1/42-36-00-89.
Antik Batik 18 Rue de Turenne (Fourth Arr.); 33-1/44-78-02-00.
Bernardaud 11 Rue Royale (Eighth Arr.); 33-1/42-66-22-55.
C. T. Loo & Cie 48 Rue de Courcelles (Eighth Arr.); 33-1/45-62-53-15.
Jardins Albert Kahn 14 Rue du Port, Boulogne Billancourt; 33-1/46-04-52-80.
Hôtel Heidelbach Galeries du Panthéon Bouddhique 19 Ave. d'Iéna (16th Arr.); 33-1/47-23-61-65.
Guinguette Pirate Quai de la Gare (13th Arr.); 33-1/44-24-89-89.
Batofar Quai F. Mauriac (13th Arr.); 33-1/56-29-10-00.
Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet 45 Rue Boissière (16th Arr.); 33-1/45-05-00-98. Has one of the world's finest collections of Asian art, including Khmer sculptures from Angkor Wat. Reopens next spring after renovations.
Musée Cernuschi 7 Ave. Vélasquez (Eight Arr.); 33-1/45-63-50-75. Holdings range from Neolithic terra-cotta to contemporary Chinese paintings.
For a look at what's hot in fashion--and insights on the thriving Franco-Japanese relationship--grab a free copy of Minimix, a pocket-size magazine whose aim is to "do the splits between Tokyo and Paris" (available at Transcontinents Transcoopérative; www.minimix.org).