I have a vision of my perfect Paris apartment. It would be high up - stairs don't scare me - with a small balcony and a sweeping view over the zinc rooftops, punctuated here and there with church spires and glimmering domes. There would be parquet floors, big windows on both sides (east and west, ideally) and a sunny kitchen that opens onto the living space. Oh, and it would have central heating.
When I first laid eyes Erica Berman's apartment just south of Abbesses Métro station, I felt slightly breathless. That might have had something to do with the five flights of stairs required to reach it, but it also came from the certainty that this was my dream apartment. I loved the antique table and mismatched chairs, I loved the contemporary paintings and well-tended plants, and I especially loved the vintage wooden "pâtisserie" sign above the kitchen, which Erica found at a market in Provence.
It's no surprise that Erica's flat should seem so effortlessly tasteful, given that she is the owner of the hippest apartment rental agency around: Haven in Paris. I first met Erica when she came to do one of my food tours in Nice, and I immediately realized that we had many things in common: our love of Paris, Provence and Italy (especially Liguria), our fondness for off-the-beaten track bed-and-breakfasts, and our insatiable curiosity about new Paris restaurants.
When I dropped by her Paris apartment before a meal at the nearby bistro Le Cul de Poule (here is a report on the Haven in Paris blog), she beckoned me onto the balcony for a glass of Italian wine. Erica has lived in Paris for 17 years and there is almost nothing she doesn't know about the city, as proved by her frequently updated blog. We chatted about good and not-so-good meals she has had in the Pigalle and Montmartre area: her current favorites are Le Miroir (94 rue des Martyrs, 18th) and Guilo Guilo (8 rue Garreau, 18th), the second run by a renowned chef from Kyoto.
Last November I had a chance to stay at Erica's apartment for a few days while she was away in Brooklyn - she has cleverly organized her life so that she can live in different countries throughout the year. I knew that I could expect comfort, since Erica doesn't buy into the it's-rustic-because-it's-Paris philosophy: the bathroom fittings are modern, the plumbing works impeccably, and the bed piled with pillows reminded me of a luxury hotel. But nothing could have prepared me for the sunset. I was happily working on my computer at the dining table when the sky started to glow, first pink and then orange, with steel-grey clouds drifting across this tableau that gradually dimmed to shades of blue and purple. From then on I made sure to be at the apartment at the end of the day for the nightly spectacle.
Each morning, I made it my mission to find the best baguette in the neighborhood - and there are many to choose from. I sent Erica an e-mail raving about crunchy-crusted, chewy-centered baguette à l'ancienne at Le Grenier à Pain (38 rue des Abbesses, 18th), and she wrote back saying: "try the boule de pain au levain at Au Levain d'Antan (6 rue des Abbesses, 18th) at the top of my street (if it is warm jump on it!), don't get it cut and then eat with salted butter... it is the BEST." I might never have noticed this loaf without Erica's prompting, but I followed her instructions to the letter and the boule was a revelation. Calories were not an issue, since I had worked them off just by running out to pick up the bread.
I also became enamoured with the épicerie Lion (7 rue des Abbesses, 18th) at the end of her street. A newer branch of the charmingly cluttered Graineterie du Marché facing the place d'Aligre market, this bright, airy space is filled with the finest French food products - everything from rice pudding kits complete with candied violets or crystalized rose petals to herbal infusions from Gérald Passédat, the celebrated chef of Le Petit Nice in Marseille. Showing great restraint, I bought only a mix of dried seaweeds from chef Olivier Roellinger in Brittany - these can be used in vinaigrettes or in a bouillon for fish or shellfish (I've also added them to potatoes mashed with salted Breton butter).
Walking around the neighborhood, I came across this little square with a wall dedicated to romance. "Love is chaotic," it says, "so let's love." It reminded me that, no matter how long I might have lived in Paris, the city still holds many secrets.
Erica now manages about 25 apartments in Paris, many of which have been gutted and decorated under her supervision. She especially likes Montmartre for its villagey feel and its light-filled, top-floor apartments with their stunning views of the city - but, wherever the apartment, she always looks for plenty of charm combined with modern comforts. She will only work with owners who comply with her strict standards, which include high-speed internet access, flat-screen TVs and free international phone calls.
Owning a Paris apartment like Erica's will probably remain a dream (at least for a while), but staying there for a few days was the next best thing. Months later, I'm still dreaming of that boule de levain.
Note: Please excuse my very infrequent posts at the moment. I'm frantically working on a new cookbook for Marabout, Les meilleurs desserts des paresseuses, with a deadline of mid-February. If you have any lazy desserts to share, all contributions are welcome!
17 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
It sounds like the neighborhood has changed since I lived there 25 years ago! Back then we had good food and a good market but it sounds a little more upscale these days. I agree with you - my dream apartment is in the same quartier. love your blog!
I am glad that dreams are free. That's about as close as I'll ever get to one of these beautiful apartments in Paris.
As the person who stayed in the apartment right after you (and have stayed there many times), I can attest to everything you've said. I fell in love with this apartment when I attended a Thanksgiving soirée thrown by Erica years ago. It's worth going up and down the five flight of stairs. Great apartment. Great neighborhood!
I have a much loved lazy dessert. I usually use peaches, but any soft fruit works, Halve and pit the peaches and place in a shallow dish, cut side up. Mix 100ml of good olive oil with an equal quantity of honey. Beat very well Pour over the fruit, and sprinkle with frsh thyme or dried lavender florets Stand at room temperature for an hour or so Bake at 325F, 160C for about 45 minutes until soft and serve warm with icecream or (preferably) creme fraiche.
Thanks for dropping by, Frenchee! Montmartre is definitely chic these days.
Jim, you never know what surprises life might hold!
Linda, I'm sorry I missed you by just a hair in Paris. Next time, I hope.
Nina, this dessert sounds very intriguing. I will include it and credit you!
Wow what an amazing apartment :-) As you say "a dream" apartment.
I stayed over in the 16th and the 7th arrondissments last year...one I rented and one was offered where I looked after a friends cats :-)
This apartment is indeed special, and I adore the neighborhood. As a new member of the Haven in Paris team, I'm just getting to know each apartment and Erica's is one of my favorites. Nice post!
Djibril Bodian of that Grenier à Pain on Rue des Abbesses won the best baguette of the year competition earlier this year!
Thank you for the comments and I hope you all make it to Montmartre and Le Grenier à Pain someday, if you haven't already.
I haven't ever been to France, but it's on my bucket list. You make this bread sound amazing, so hopefully when I get around to going.. this amazing place is still around. Surely it will be if everyone enjoys it as much as you did.
I've been thinking it would be fun to do a few days in Paris for our honeymoon then heading down south. I'll have to check out Haven in Paris :)