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Valentine's Day in Paris

Valentine's Day in Paris
via Lufthansa First Class
February 2014

What could be more romantic than Valentine's Day and weekend in the most romantic and beautiful city on earth?  Well... other than cleaning out our Mileage Plus accounts with the last Lufthansa First seats before the "we know we're crap compared to our partners" MP partner devaluation. 

Mrs. SFO and I are off for the weekend in our most favorite city.  But what an ordeal getting good connections.  Once again, DEN is the ugly stepchild in the LH network. Relegated to perpetual old First and despite an F6 cabin on DEN-FRA, LH essentially forgot about DEN this week and didn't release any O (First Class award) seats. Seriously?  They kept opening more ORD, DFW, SEA and DTW First seats (with a hard to believe six DTW First seats available)... but nooooo, not DEN.  OK, I know Peyton and the guys choked in the Super Bowl, but come on!

-United DEN-ORD First Class
-United Global First Lounge at ORD
-Lufthansa ORD-FRA First Class
-Lufthansa First Class Terminal at FRA
-Lufthansa Business Class FRA-CDG
-The Westin Paris-Vendome
-Lufthansa Business Class CDG-FRA
-Lufthansa First Class Terminal at FRA
-Lufthansa First Class FRA-DEN

We originally booked DTW-FRA but the prospect of a 3 hour DEN-DTW United Express flight was not very appealing.  So when LH released two O seats into an F3 cabin on the new ORD-FRA 747-800, it was a no brainer.  

Unfortunately, the black BA cloud that hovers over us has now spilled over to LH as the 748 went mechanical yesterday and was swapped out for a New First 744. Not a bad swap since the seat and bed combo is the best hard product in the skies, but I wanted to try the 748 at least once.

UA 1591
10:30A-1:52P (sked and actual)
February 12, 2014
Seats 4AB

No traffic on I-225 this morning and we were at DIA at T-70.   As usual for DIA, Pre-Check was packed with kettles.  But this time, we used CLEAR to cut to the front of the line.  Meanwhile over at the B concourse, the typical UA gate lice scene.

Unlike on AA where only F pax board first, UA boarding commences with Group 1 which means includes GS and others... about 30 pax or so half on their way back to Y.

On time push and we are on our way.

The usual G&T to start the trip.

Lunch choices today were chicken salad or cheeseburger, with onion soup.  I wasn't really hungry but took one for the team and the photo op.


Meh, not so good.

The chicken was OK if one is starving but whoa Jeff, think you can find an even smaller serving of chicken? :D

On time arrival at ORD and a short taxi to B7.   And down the escalator to the tunnel over to the C concourse and the United Global First Lounge.

Welcome to "The city that works"... but apparently not today. :)

There are no signs for the United's ORD Global First Lounge and it is basically hidden behind the C Customer Service counters.  I guess that cuts down on traffic.  Perhaps the rationale is that if you don't know it's there, you're not welcome.

On our last trip here in September, the staff was great but this was one sorry looking lounge with furniture long past it's prime.

But whoa Nellie, I didn't recognize the place.  Gone with the old and in with the new.  OK, it's a little minimalist for my taste, but a vast improvement over the old.

Unlike our last late evening visit, there was actually food. @:-)
A limited supply of serve yourself nibbles.

But also a made to order menu.

And wines...

But a major, indeed shocking upgrade in the wine quality.  Far Niente Chard?  At $40+ retail?  Color me seriously impressed

And Veuve is the new house champagne.  Very nice.  With a wonderful staff eager to please.  By far, the best domestic lounge staff we have encountered. ^

All in all a pleasant hour stay.  Excellent interaction between UA and LH as a pleasant LH agent came to verify passports, deliver our BPs and then retrieve us at T-50 to escort us to B17.

Lufthansa LH 431
Chicago ORD to Frankfurt FRA
747-400 New First
4:10P-7:30A +1 (sked)
4:10P-7:19P +1 (actual)
February 12, 2014
Departed 7/8
Seats 84CH

LH.com is seriously challenged these days.  The View/Change Seat function doesn't work.  Add in an itinerary change and an equipment swap and LH IT doesn't know what to do.  The good news is that it has our correct itinerary...

And says we can check-in...

But the bad news is that it still thinks we are on the DTW-FRA flight.  Yikes.

Nevertheless, we were able to check-in via UA.com but, with the equipment swap, not get a BP.  In the end, the ORD LH staff was able to figure it out and process our BPs, giving us 84CH, typically not the most desirable seats due to the proximity to the galley and rear lav. With all the action in front of you, 84CH is actually very private and quite pleasant if the FAs keep galley noise down like they did tonight. 

Seat and a bed from previous flights...

Our wonderful lead FA Maur.

More good news as the champagne this month is Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle. 

On time push and we on our way.

Tonight amuse bouche, some type of beef thingy.

More LPGS and the Riesling which seemed to be one of the few bright spots on the wine list today.


Tonight's menu.  OK until we get to the mains.  OK Lufthansa, what are you thinking?  
How about at least one basic safe option, like Schnitzel? @:-)

And the pretty weak wine list.  Looks like a Grand Siecle Night. :)

How about some not wines not "off the beaten track". :eek:

And for those not into champers, good old Blue.:

The caviar cart which I actually declined tonight.

Starters were great, with more Grand Siecle.

For tonight's main... yikes.  Where to go with this bizarro list of options?  It's pretty bad when you go with the lesser of the evils... the vegetable stew with teriyaki chicken.  Stew was just OK, but with even less chicken than our United lunch and not a hint of teriyaki.  It's good thing that we weren't that hungry anymore and the seat, bed, cabin and service were great.

Cheese and dessert.

The dessert was to die for.

After dessert and a movie, I hopped into bed and slept for nearly 3 hours.   Not even close to hungry, I passed on breakfast just before dawn n Frankfurt.

Main course options notwithstanding, it was another wonderful Lufthansa First flight.

After a long walk from the gate to passport control, we exited the terminal, turned left for the short walk to the First Class Terminal.

We headed for our favorite seating area.

Pics from another trip.

At T-25, our PA retrieved us for our van ride to our gate... Carpool with 3 other CDG pax this morning, not quite as nice as the usual private S class ride.

Lufthansa LH 1528
Frankfurt FRA to Paris CDG
8:55A-10:00A (sked)
9:30A-10:35A (actual)
February 12, 2014
Seats 5DF

European Business Class is a pathetic excuse for "Business Class"... crappy coach seating with an open middle.  

Our A321 featured the thinnest and more uncomfortable airplane seats I have even flown.  Even Southwest is more comfortable.  And LH actually flies this plane to TLV.  When I told Mrs. SFO that this would be our plane to Tel Aviv, she said "OK, looks like we're going via Abu Dhabi and Colombo"

I guess the trade-off for crappy seats is breakfast on a 50 minute flight.

Despite the departure delay due to a flat tire (or something like that), we were almost on time until the captain decided on a go around after the wheels touched the runway.  He explained that he aborted landing because of potential wind shear.  Seemed strange since the approach was smooth and he had already touched down.  Go figure.

The lovely maze that is CDG.

We headed for exit 24 and the taxi queue.  And 40 minutes later we were at the luxurious and ridiculously cheap (with a confirmed SPG Platinum upgrade) Westin Paris-Vendôme.

The Westin Paris Vendôme
75001 Paris

The Westin was not my first choice, but some of the nice boutique hotels in the 6th and 8th had suites that were either unavailable or ridiculously priced.  With a new batch of 10 SPG Suite Night Awards and The Westin at only 232€ with lots of suite avails, it seemed like a much better deal than 1,500€ across the street at Le Meurice.  Even Mrs. SFO agreed, shrewdly figuring that some of the money saved on the hotel might be applied to shopping. :cool:

Obviously not in the same league as Le Meurice or FS Georges V, it is comfortable, has a pleasant bar and great location across from the Jardin des Tuileries and two blocks from Place Vendôme and Place de la Concorde.  Our Junior Suite was more than adequate for a short stay.

We had set aside the first afternoon for "shopping" or as I figured it... "let's get it out the way".  Since it was a short flight with not much sleep, we decided to take our power nap before heading out.  In fact, Mrs. SFO was so tired that she amazingly asked "Do we have to go shopping today?" :)

Unfortunately, two hours later she was rested and ready to go.  On a positive note, the sun had come out and the temps had risen to +9.

And a few minutes later, it was on.  LOL, nice try dear but not today. :eek:

After a brief stop of 31 rue Cambon where I escaped with only buying perfume, we grabbed a taxi and headed up the Champs Elysees for some serious hand bag shopping.

To the world's largest LV store.

After a successful and cheaper than expected visit, we strolled back down the Champs Elysees for a while and then took a taxi back to the hotel.

Pretty pricey retail space for any airline, let alone one with a limited route map.  Maybe someday. :D

A little after 7PM, we headed out to the 6th and Ze Kitchen Gallerie, a wonderful Michelin one star French/Thai fusion restaurant we'd visited 5 years ago during our month in St-Germain.  

As we were seated, we noticed a TV crew from M6 in the kitchen doing a story.  Since we were one of the first couples seated, the reporter came over and asked if we would mind them taping our various courses and asking our opinion.  When one of the nearby waitstaff interrupted him and told him "Ils sont anglais", I boldly replied "oui, mais je parle francais".  And so we became French TV stars tonight, at least on tape and until we were apparently fired after the first course... guess they wanted some French customers instead of an English-only American and a faux French Quebecois-American.  :D

We both opted for the 6 course degustation menu, with selections at the whim of the chef.  Four of the 6 courses were out of this world amazing.  But first, the most important part of any meal. ;)

Wonderful amuse bouche.

And the most amazing marinated trout.

And incredible seafood broth.

And pasta with truffles that was divine.

The sea bream good but probably a little underdone for some including Mrs. SFO.

And the final main...  pigeon.  Ugh.  I guess some like it.  The foie gras was excellent.

The double dessert finale was amazing.

After I dropped Mrs. SFO back at the hotel, I walked up to Place de la Concorde for some night pics, just in time for the top of the hour light show.

Too noisy for the neighbors?  OK, we'll just move along.  Great idea.

Valentine's Day in Paris

After a lazy first morning in Paris, we headed out just after noon to an overcast, off and on rainy +8.  Meanwhile in the lobby, ah yes it must be Paris.

Today, we are heading over to the 16th and the chic shop of artisan butcher Hugo Desnoyer.  Oui, un boucherie.  But unlike any butcher shop that you are likely to see visit.  Hugo is Paris' best butcher, supplying the city's rich and famous and many of the city's best restaurants.  What is so unique is that Hugo also has an 8 person table d’hôte right in the shop, serving food and wine and offering a unique culinary experience in a relaxed communal atmosphere.  This is absolute must stop for any foodie.  Fortunately it is not yet well known as a "restaurant" ... ranked only #2,513 on tripadvisor.  Even our concierge questioned my request for a reservation replying "it isn’t a restaurant but a butchery".  As we arrived a little early for our 1PM rez, we strolled the neighborhood stopped for un café across the street.

And finally to Hugo's at 1PM where we were warmly welcomed by his staff.

Hugo brought us a glass of wine and charcuterie while we waited for our place at the table.

And then delicious truffle butter bread.  Hey, we have nothing else planned this afternoon. :)

At around 1:15P our seats were ready and we joined two other couples who had already started their meal.  A third couple joined us 10 minutes later.  All the other couples today were from Paris (four native Parisians and two expat Americans) but everyone spoke English or some and we had a wonderful afternoon of eating, drinking and conversation in English, French and Franglais.  All wondered how we tourists even knew about this place?   

Another starter not on the menu.  OMG, the foie gras was to die for. Sorry, I was so excited that I forgot to take a pic before I had devoured most of it.

Since the shop was closing tomorrow for the two week winter school holiday (seriously??) the usual prix fixe tasting menu was not offered, with everything a la carte.  Mrs. SFO and I split the côte de boeuf pour 2 with frites, salad and veggies.  And a lovely bottle of Burgundy.

Perfectly prepared veggies.

Wonderful dessert.

At sometime mid-meal, the original two couples left and their seats were taken by another two, including Hugo's wife and a family friend who had us in stitches with his story-telling.  What a great afternoon!

If you are into foodie experiences, this is a must.  And do it soon because once the word gets out and Hugo opens his planned Tokyo shop, it will be tougher than ever to experience the real deal with Hugo.  We lucked into it by stumbling on John Talbott's Paris food blog (http://johntalbottsparis.com/), a frank review (pics and no hold commentary in FT trip report fashion) of one expat Parisian eating and drinking his way around Paris.

We exchanged contact info and walked part of the 16th with one of our newfound couple friends before heading back to our hotel, but not before stopping at The Trocadero on the way for more touristy pics.

And to the hotel back to relax before... another meal. :)

With no confirmed Valentine's Day dinner reservation, we decided to return to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon St-Germain.  After confirming with both the restaurant and concierge that the evening was no different from other nights... namely walk-ins only and no reservations except for 6:30P, we headed to the pleasant Westin Bar just after 8PM for a drink before heading over to L'Atelier.   We commandeered two seats at the bar next to another couple, proceeded to strike up a conversation, made more friends and stayed for two hours. Turns out she was a former Bond girl who is now mostly retired from acting, her SO a genial businessman.  We exchanged contact info and agreed to keep in touch. 

With a short taxi ride, we arrived at Joel Robuchon around 10:15P only to met with a maitre d' who had clearly mastered the art of French snootery.  Mais non monsieur, we are fully booked for the evening.   No walk-ins tonight, only reservations booked two months in advance.  "Eet eez a spayshall niyat.  Eet eez St-Valentin."  Vraiment?? I didn't know that you idiot.  That's why I called and had the the concierge call and was told "dat eet eez no deefayran dan udder niyats."    I must be mistaken my arse. 

Sufficiently chastened for daring to show up without a rez, we headed up to Boulevard St-Germain to check out our other options.  Fortunately, it was a gorgeous +13 evening so the walk was pleasant.  We wound up at venerable  and crowded Brasserie Lipp, which Mrs. SFO had always wanted to go to but we never did during our month in the area.  Atmosphere?  Oui.   Classic waiters? Oui.  Great people watching? Oui.  Good wine? Oui.  Good food? Meh, no so much.  Mrs. SFO's curiosity has now been satisfied.  And I saved 200 euros tonight. :)

Other than the wine, the best part of the meal.

We got back to the hotel around 1AM.  Time to rest up before another day of touring, eating and drinking.  

Paris Day 3

A late night meant another late noon time start to the day.  On our short list of touristy things to see this trip are the Catacombs (never been there) the Notre-Dame, which we have visited but Mrs. SFO insisted we hadn't.  Who I am to argue, but I do love hearing the "you were right" afterwards. :)   And every trip to Paris, we keep trying to visit the new Picasso Museum... but going on four years and now more than the double the original budget, this sucker is still not open.  Now supposedly set for June.  We'll see. 

We headed across the street to the Jardin des Tuileries for a walk up to the Louvre.  Lots of couple and families enjoying a beautiful February day.

Towards the Louvre.

We took a taxi for the short drive to Notre-Dame

Outside again, the Seine...

And lots of photo taking....

The plan was to head to the Catacombs but Mrs. SFO says lets take the "hop-on, hop-off" Big Bus.  A great way to revisit the highlights of Paris.  And from the open upper deck, great vantage point for pics.

Pont des Arts and all the locks...

La Musée d'Orsay...

Ah, l'amour...

Unfortunately, one of the stops is Galleries Lafayette.  Of course, we had to "hop off" and take a look.

Opera Garnier.

Ah, so that's what our bus looks like. :cool:

And the Grand Palais on our way up the Champs-Elysees...

And finally for lunch at venerable Fouquet's (one of Sarkosy's haunts) at the corner  of avenue Georges V, across from Louis Vuitton.

Part of Fouquet's closed as it is being prepped for the upcoming French Oscars so there is only limited lunch seating, but we were able to get a table as we arrived towards the end of lunch service.  Classic Parisian atmosphere.  Great service.  Great wines.  Excellent food.

Madame relaxing as we pretty much closed the place down, it now being 4:30P.

All wine coolers should be this nicely stocked... downstairs on the way to les toilettes.

On the taxi ride back the Westin, sweet car rentals at the Roue de Paris.

OMG, only four hours until dinner.

And four hours later, we headed over to Le Bristol (8th) at around 7PM for drink with FlyerTalker JohnRain who divides his time between Geneva and Paris. 
Rough life. :cool:  Very enjoyable finally meeting him, even better when his gorgeous fiancée arrived. ^

They walked us across the lobby to Michelin star Le 114 Faubourg where they introduced us to Chef Eric Desbordes (http://www.lebristolparis.com/eng/restaurants-and-bars/114-faubourg/).  Beautiful restaurant and one of the best meals we have enjoyed in a long time.  

Delicious amuse bouche.

An amazing "Duck Pâté in a crust" that was to die for. OMG.  No wonder it earned Chef Eric 2011 World Pâté Champion status.

While Madame went opted for a beautiful salad... mesculin and crisp lettuce hearts, aged parmesan shavings with black truffle vinaigrette. 

Next was the Roasted scallops, Le Puy green lentils with black truffle.  It was delicious.

But not as good as my sole prepared meunière style.  One of the most amazingly delicious I have ever tasted. 

And plenty of incredible sweets...

As we were preparing to leave, Chef Eric stopped by to bid adieu. This was one incredible meal, probably the best anywhere in the past year, and another definite must for any foodie.

Hey it's Paris so of course there has to be a Girls of Paris feature.

The 16 hour journey home

With a 5:45A wakeup call, not a lot of sleep last night.  We were in the lobby, out the door and in a taxi by 6:55A.  No traffic on Sunday morning and we arrived at Terminal 1 just after 7:20A.  A quick stop at the LH First counter to claim the bulkhead seats and we headed to the Gate 60-68 pier.

If there is a worse security setup than CDG, I have yet to see it... tiny conveyors, shallow bins and the requirement to virtually disrobe made this a joy.  Fortunately, there was a Priority lane so we could at least jump the 40 or so pax queue.  At the far end of the mini-concourse down two floors in the basement is the windowless and singularly unattractive LH Lounge.  

Only half of which was open this morning.  


At around T-25 we headed for the gate.

Lufthansa LH 1028
Paris CDG to Frankfurt FRA
8:55A-10:15A (sked and actual)
February 16, 2014
Business Class
Seats 1DF

Ah yes, wonderful Euro-fraud Business Class.  At least we were able to move up to the "Priority" bulkhead as apparently no HON were on board today.

We weren't hungry and figured we'd wait for real food in the First Class Terminal. 
FWIW, looked like the same cheese and prosciutto plate from a few days ago.

On time arrival and more good news as we were banished to an international gate.  Meaning limo pick up and transfer service.  Ground service at FRA is where Lufthansa shines and puts it head and shoulders above other airlines.  We were the first to deplane and our FA reminded us that our limo was waiting for us... right beside the bus transporting the 99 percenters. ;)   

Our gorgeous S-class.

And how the rest of the pax travelled to the terminal.  

I requested a terminal A1 drop-off as our driver gave us the option for A or B. 

A few minutes later we were at A1.