Pont Neuf – Sunset & Evening Boat Cruise

Pont Neuf and Ile de la Cite
A Great Place to Catch a Boat & Enjoy Wine

Some spots on the world are well-visited because they’re magic. Pont Neuf and the Seine by night are two such places. (If you’re visiting Paris for the first time, the following is a great way to start your trip the first evening you arrive.)

First, buy your tickets for a night-time boat cruise on Vedettes Pont-Neuf. You can do this online (and often get a discount) or you can show up in person. (If it’s a tourist time of year like summer, be sure to get your tickets extra early, as the night-time cruises sell out fast.)

Head down to Pont Neuf before sunset, with a bottle of wine or champagne in hand. Because King Henri IV commissioned Pont Neuf, his statue sits atop the bridge, in front of the stairs that take you down to the boats and park below. Henri IV’s nickname was “Vert Galant,” (Green Gallant)– an allusion to his sexual powers and overall vigor. He was a “notorious romantic,” euphemistically speaking. (Allow that to inspire you for your evening as you see fit.)

Pont Neuf, in spite of its name meaning “new bridge”, is actually the oldest bridge in Paris. The beautifully carved faces seem alive, showcasing an exquisite range of expression. When commissioned over four centuries ago, the bridge’s architect/designer was asked to showcase government ministers and those popular with the court. In a fit of artistic pique that can still induce chuckles across the ages, a few condemned people and murderers were thrown into the gallery of faces. As is common, it’s hard to sort out the criminals from the statesmen.   

After studying a few of the bridge’s faces, stroll down with your vino to the tip of the Ile de la Cite, the island that really started the whole Paris thing way back before Romans, Franks, and the rest.  Sit back and relax while watching Paris go by, and you may learn one of the reasons why that song’s called “La Vie en Rose.” (The sky can turn an amazing pink, and this vantage point is perfect for getting a great vista of a Parisian sunset.)

Once the sun slips below the horizon, head over to Vedettes Pont-Neuf and board your boat. The French are masters at illuminating their public buildings and bridges. Paris, a city so beautiful by day, is 1000x more beautiful by night from the water that is its heart.

For boat tickets, cruise over to http://www.vedettesdupontneuf.com/

Best Fondue & Lively Atmosphere in Montmartre

Though often full of tourists of all stripes, the Refuge de Fondues still draws its fair share of French, and it is the French who are, in fact, the folks who took me here in the first place.

It’s popular with most everyone who visits, as the Refuge is an awesome and funny place. You will surely strike up conversation with someone next to you as, quite frankly, it is so packed, you have no choice. The proprietors also do what they can to keep the conversation and good times rolling. (Such as asking 10 people to stand up and move down one seat to accomodate a few other visitors, all while happily passing hot oil and molten cheese briskly around the room.) 

It’s only about 18 Euros for the entire menu which includes a kir to start, lots of good little appetizers, beef or cheese fondue (which is very very good hence the popularity), followed by your choice of cheese or fruit salad for dessert (though you can have other desserts) AND (why this is a supremely funny place) a baby bottle—yes—baby bottle full of white or red wine. Even if you don’t drink, you will walk out laughing. I have brought everyone who has ever visited me in Paris– of all ages– and they have all loved it. (There’s something very special about watching your parents drink wine from a glass baby bottle, which cannot be explained in mere words.)

If you have to wait to get a table or even if you don’t, go to the bar right next door and have a pre-dinner drink (“apero”). The cute little bar is a pleasant Montmartre haunt, typical of the many small, convivial bars that you can find throughout the neighborhood.

Get your cheese on at the Refuge de Fondues in the 18th, 17 rue des Trois-Freres (between rue Yves le Tac and rue la Vieuville), Metro: Abbesses or Anvers. You must make a reservation: 01.42.55.22.65.

Le Petit Prince – Wonderful Restaurant in Paris’ 5th

In a city where every street seems to reveal another culinary marvel, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the Search for the Perfect Neighborhood Restaurant when living in or visiting Paris.

Le Petit Prince is one of these Perfect Neighborhood Restaurants. Its wonderful menu and intimate Parisian ambiance remind you of how wonderful dining out can be, particularly in a place as wonderful as Paris.

I’ve been going here many times over the years, and sending friends even more times over the years. Everyone’s marveled at how good the food at Le Petit Prince is, and how special it feels to dine in a place that clearly represents the place you are visiting.

It’s slightly hard to find, but don’t give up – it’s well worth the effort: Le Petit Prince, 12 rue de Lanneau (5th arrondissement), Tel. 01.43.54.77.26, Metro: MAUBERT MUTUALITE

Pittsburgh’s Pub

Grab a cold one at Pittsburgh's
Grab a cold one at Pittsburgh's

There are days when you just want an icy cold beer, some TVs with sports on, along with a few pool tables, dart boards, pinball machines, and video games for good measure.  

Pittsburgh’s Pub will satisfy all these needs, and the jukebox isn’t too shabby either.

Named in honor of the owner’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (adulation which has finally paid off with the Steelers over the past few years), Pittsburgh’s is a good place to get a drink and sit at the bar peacefully solo or with pals.

When you’re sitting at the bar, you’ll generally have an interesting conversation or two with the area residents who frequent the establishment. The management’s also kind enough not to eject you from the premises if you and your friends happen to be wearing random hats when you call on Pittsburgh’s at midnight, a degree of openness which is always good to know about a place.

Sometimes, a brewski while shooting pool is all you need. Especially when wearing funny hats.  

Check Pittsburgh’s out for some day drinking or lates at 4207 Judah (at 47th Avenue).

Scoma’s San Francisco Seafood

Scoma's Seafood Restaurant, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
Scoma's Seafood Restaurant, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Sometimes, you just want some fresh fish, perfectly cooked, without all the oddball extras some San Francisco hipster joints tend to layer on plates (chamomile chardonnay reduction with fudge nibs on swordfish).  And, if you live in SF and have out of town guests, you’re probably desperate to find a place where you can meet your friends and family at the Wharf, where you won’t feel like you’ve fallen through the looking glass into a tourist circus.

Scoma’s is just the place. With boats still delivering catch straight to Scoma’s, it’s one of the last relics of when the Wharf was a more authentic place: where fishing and crab boats, and not chain restaurants, were justifiably king.

When in season, this is one of the best places in the city to sample locally caught Dungeness. Other times, you can try sand dabs and petrale sole, 2 San Francisco classics. Ask for whatever’s fresh and you won’t be disappointed.

The area outside Scoma’s has one of the best views of the Golden Gate bridge, and the view of the fishing docks from Scoma’s bar is a great place for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great wine list, featuring several of California’s best wines, to complement your meal as well.

As always in life, getting to Scoma’s is half the fun. You take a turn off the main drag– a tourist laden goldmine of gift shops and chain restaurants– and instantly, everything’s bustling in a different way or just quiet. You’re in a working port, where real fishing boats ply their trade, and seagulls swoop over boats to see if there are any scraps.

See it, and taste it, for yourself at Pier 47, Al Scoma Way, SF, CA. Online, check Scoma’s out at: http://www.scomas.com/