September 21, 2020

Mon Ami Gabi French Restaurant in Lincoln Park and elsewhere

I wanted to do something special on my birthday so having a Lettuce Entertain You gift card from an adult student of mine really came in handy.

Mon Ami Gabi was my restaurant choice since I had a yen for French food. Some people are opting to use the outdoor patio in front of the venerable Belden Stratford apartment building (pictured above), but we chose to order carry-out and dine al fresco in the park next to Lincoln Park Zoo.

I ordered a filet mignon in a pepper and creme fraiche sauce along with side dishes of green pea and Leek mash and sautéed mixed mushrooms. Magnifique! I don’t eat beef that often, but this was a beautiful cut of meat. My husband wanted the hamburger with blue cheese on a brioche bun, paired with crispy frites. We polished off the meal with blueberry crumble à la mode and chocolate mousse with Chantilly cream. Surprisingly, the high quality vanilla ice cream stayed cold until we were ready for dessert. We brought our own silverware and napkins, so make sure you request those if you are not taking carry-out food directly to your home.

Most people do not realize there are five Mon Ami Gabi restaurants: the Chicago original named after beloved chef Gabino Sotelino, OakBrook IL, Reston VA, Bethesda MD and the Las Vegas Strip. The Vegas outpost is a favorite for locals and visitors alike with premium outdoor seating overlooking the fountains at the Bellagio Resort. The bottom photos are from a charming lunch I had at the Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

https://www.monamigabi.com/

The Bureau French tv series on Sundance Now

If you are up for a French tv show that has some similarity with Showtime’s Homeland, The Bureau or Le Bureau des Légendes on Sundance Now may be your cup of cafe au lait.

Guillaume Debailly (Mathieu Kassovitz) is an undercover agent with France’s DGSE (General Directorate of External Security), the French equivalent of our CIA. He has been posing as a French teacher in Damascus, Syria and falls in love with an Arab woman who is college professor. Their relationship and its complications is the main through line of Season 1. We are also introduced to Marina Loiseau (Sara Giraudeau), a newbie spy who is embedded as a seismologist in Iran to shed light on that country’s nuclear program.

Ancillary characters are other French agents along with their bosses and handlers, CIA operatives, Kurds, terrorists, politicians and business people from different countries, kidnappers, imams and family members of the main players. There are brutal scenes with French captives so this is not a show for the faint of heart.

What you will get with The Bureau is whip smart plotting, memorable characters and a greater sense of the stakes in the Middle East. This is not light entertainment, but you will be immersed in a world that is, hopefully, unlike your own.

All four seasons of Le Bureau are available on Sundance Now.

Making the Cut on Amazon Prime Video

Call me crazy but I love reality competition shows especially for food or fashion. Amazon Prime has entered the competitive fray with Making the Cut starring Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn whose previous fashion-centric progam, Project Runway, ran with them as hosts for 16 seasons on Bravo and Lifetime, respectively.

Although the two show formats seem similar, Gunn and Klum have upped the ante with international designer contestants who have already achieved some career recognition meaning there is less emotional drama and more professionalism. The winner receives a million dollars and a marketing deal with Amazon. High incentive for these talented competitors.

The premiere season takes place in New York, Paris and Tokyo adding a glamorous travel aspect. The judges include model and British Vogue fashion consultant Naomi Campbell and Nicole Richie, creator of fashion brand, House of Harlow. Getting to know the judges as well as the contestants is part of the fun; Campbell is brutally honest and Richie is surprisingly articulate. The real stars are Klum and Gunn who have little comic interludes that would be annoying if the two weren’t so damn cute.

Project Runway has continued back on Bravo with new hosts and judges for Seasons 17 and 18, but for my money, Making the Cut on Amazon is indeed a cut above the competition.

The Making the Cut Amazon page allows you to buy winning looks from the show, or purchase items from Tim’s Closet Staples, Heidi Klum Intimates, or judges companies, House of Harlow and Altuzara. More proof that Amazon is taking over the world.

Making the Cut Amazon page

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A stroll through time

Five of us Cabaret Connexion singers had just seen the Van Gogh Art Immersive Exhibit in Paris and noticed Paris’ famous final resting place, Père Lachaise Cemetery nearby. It was a beautiful fall day so we agreed to wander amid the shady trees and ornate crypts and graves in search of a few artistic ghosts.

I had been to Père Lachaise years ago but this was before cell phones and the internet so I wandered fruitlessly, unable to find most of the famous grave sites. As luck would have it, three Cuban ladies in front of us were being led by a small man who seemed most knowledgeable about the environs. We started to tag along, after asking if we could join them.

It turns out that Paul, the man in question, was a volunteer docent who lived in the neighborhood and knew Pere Lachaise like the back of his hand. Off we trotted to see some of the most famous graves.

The cemetery is large so we had to cover a lot of beautiful terrain in between burial spots. I was able to touch the memorial with Chopin’s remains, although his literal heart remains in Poland. I gazed with bemusement at the gift-strewn Jim Morrison grave, and nodded with appreciation at the memorials to Moliere, Honore de Balzac and other literary luminaries. Some of my personal favorites were artist Modigliani, singer-songwriter Gilbert Bécaud, mime Marcel Marceau and beloved author Colette.

Some tombs and crypts are ancient and falling apart, but others are decidedly new. Our guide pointed out more recent head stones with colored photos embedded, most notably victims of the Bataclan and Charlie Hebdo bombings. A promenade through this restful place is a journey through culture and history.

The highlight of our walk was the tomb of Edith Piaf where we serenaded her with La Vie En Rose. Passersby were filming our little Cabaret Connexion group so our homage to the Little Sparrow may be floating in the electronic ether somewhere.

As our time ran short, I thought with regret of the many other grave sites I had wanted to visit, Oscar Wilde, Abelard and Heloise, Sarah Bernhardt and countless others. Having a guide made this a much more gratifying afternoon experience so we gratefully tipped him at the end of our afternoon.

Paris Greeters, link below, has people available to lead you through Pére Lachaise although this may not be the organization of our wonderful and knowledgeable guide, Paul. We never even got his last name.

This famous cemetery is like the Louvre Museum; don’t try to catch all of the highlights in a frenzy. Take your time and really experience the few things that you do see. Bonne chance.

Link to the full roster of people buried at Pere Lachaise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_burials_at_P%C3%A8re_Lachaise_Cemetery

Paris Greeters: https://greeters.paris/en/

Au Lapin Agile, a trip back in time to a quintessential Parisian cabaret

Cabaret can mean two things in Paris. If you are looking for topless women, champagne, feathers and lots of glitz, head for the Moulin Rouge, Lido de Paris or Crazy Horse and their glamourous ilk in Montmartre.

If you want something less expensive, very musical and a little bit retro, head for Au Lapin Agile for “poèmes et chansons (poems and songs)” and shots of cherry house wine.

Cassita, resident chanteuse Au Lapin Agile

Lapin Agile Owner Yves Mathieu

There is a resident group of professional singers who lead group sing-alongs and perform mini-sets of their own throughout the evening. Everything is in French but those who do not speak the language can enjoy the familiar melodies and soak up the timeless atmosphere with paintings covering the walls as they sit at wood tables that very well may be ancient.

The little house cabaret has existed since 1860 when it was first named Rendezvous for Thieves followed by Cabaret for Assassins.

In 1875, Artist Andre Gill painted a rabbit jumping out of a sauce pan thereby giving the venue its new name, Gill’s Rabbit. Before 1900, the title evolved into the Agile Rabbit or Au Lapin Agile, a delightful historical play on words.

The great cabaret artist Aristide Bruant (immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec) bought the club after the turn of last century and created a meeting place for struggling yet creative luminaries such as Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire and Utrillo.

Some of the current excellent performers include Patrice and Oona, a singer-songwriter duo, singer guitarist Gerard Caillieux, baritone Frédéric, the son of the current owner, Jean-Claude Orfali, pianist extraordinaire and Cassita, a clarion-voiced accordionist who summons up the spirit of Piaf.

If you want to brush up on your French before a visit, here is a page of lyrics from group songs sung at Au Lapin Agile.

au-lapin-agile.com/paroles/

This September, Au Lapin Agile was kind enough to let us bring Cabaret Connexion 2019 to their venue on their off night. David Edelfelt and I presented our Porter in Paris show with guest stars Jacques Protat, Jean-Jacques DeLaunay and Ava Logan, followed by Paris Qui Chante featuring Christine Steyer, Jean-Claude Orfali, Mylène Launay, Maryline Rollet, Francoise Miran and resident chanteuse Cassita. Angelina Réaux, Claudia Hommel and Anne and Mark Burnell were guest stars in the regular Friday show later in the week.

David & Elizabeth playing at Lapin Agile 9-19

A few words of advice, use the restroom before you are seated because making that trip once the show has started is problematic. If you want a beverage besides the cherry wine, order that at the beginning of your evening. For those who have trouble sitting on hard benches, opt for one of the banquette seats lining the walls.

The current owner since 1972, host and singer Yves Mathieu and his family have been have keeping the flame alive by including French song favorites from the last hundred years all the way back to folk songs from the 15th century. Bravo, Yves and family!

For the real heart of Montmartre and perhaps of musical Paris, an hour or four at Au Lapin Agile is what the doctor prescribes.

Tuesday to Sunday, 9pm-1am
Cash payments only
22 Rue des Saules, 75018 Paris France

Here is the English site for visitors, but the French site has more info.

au-lapin-agile.com/1-au-lapin-agile-anglais/

au-lapin-agile.com

Van Gogh, Starry Night Art Experience in Paris

After two different ex-pats in Europe urged me to catch the Van Gogh, Starry Night art exhibit in Paris, I took notice. This was indeed no ordinary art exposition, but an Art Music Immersive Experience at the Atelier des Lumieres in the 11th arrondissement near the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

L’Atelier des Lumieres, the first digital center for art in Paris, opened in 2018 with a show featuring the work of Gustav Klimt. Would that I had a time machine to catch that show now. Bing images will have to suffice.

The current show featuring Vincent Van Gogh’s work is an otherworldly mix of his painted images from faces, to furniture, to landscapes to the famous starry night painting. Van Gogh’s brush strokes are almost palpable; his handwriting is even scrolled across the 140 video projectors throughout the former iron foundry.

An incredible sound system surrounds you in music of various types while you soak up the Van Gogh images. The soundtrack includes Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Maria Callas, Miles Davis, Die Moldau by Smetana and an eerie version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major. However disparate the musical pieces are, they all seem to complement the enchanting visuals.

Some people choose to sit or stand in one area while viewing the multi-media presentation while others meander through the industrial space. There is a mosaic lined water pool on view below the main floor, a balcony and two additional viewing rooms, one round, the other glass or mirror-lined.

Two shorter eye-popping films play between the periodic Van Gogh program, Dreamed Japan, Images of the Floating World and Verse by Thomas Vanz but the real draw is Van Gogh, Starry Night (La Nuit Étoilée). The Atelier des Lumieres site recommends to plan for an hour in the space.

If you or someone you know is going to be in Paris through Dec. 31, 2019, please suggest they catch this impressive art and music experience. Admission may not be purchased at the venue, so order your tickets on-line. 14.5 Euros per adult and well worth it.

The official site: https://www.atelier-lumieres.com/en/van-gogh-starry-night

If you can’t attend, here are Bing images from the Van Gogh show:

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=van+gogh+exhibit+paris+2019&id=D0FAA86B1F68580C3D995F75F91BB7BE1E83B1B4&FORM=IQFRBA