"Those who have experienced Paris have advantage over those who have not. We are the ones who have glimpsed a little bit of heaven, down here on earth." - Deirdre Kelly

Thursday, September 14, 2017

postcard to paris #2 ~ abashiri: experience is everything...

"...sushi is an art, and experience is everything." - Nobu Matsuhisa 

I'm fortunate to live in a small tucked away oasis of winding, towering tree-lined lanes, dotted with modest elegant homes with generous front and back yards; encircled by fields, protected tall-grasslands, and several huge retention ponds. But surrounding us, on all sides, is concrete suburban sprawl: wide asphalt streets lined with strip malls, a mostly deserted shopping mall, big box stores and nearly two dozen depressingly unimaginative fast food drive-thrus and restaurant chains. But there's one little gem. Nestled between a mattress store and a vape shop, sits Abashiri Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar...

An orange neon 'Open' sign, a fish window decal, Shabby chic wood-slat benches, 
Geraniums, and a cigarette receptacle - add a quirky undeniable charm to Abashiri's facade.

Abashiri is named for Mr. Kaga's (the original Itamae's) home town: Abasihri, Hokkaido (Japan).

Hardwood floors with simple matching tables and chairs, comprise the main part of the restaurant. In one back corner sits a small multi-purpose counter: a bar with all the essential accouterments (behind which sits a well stocked cooler), a Jasmine tea station, a cash register, a stack of take-out menus and requisite hard candy and toothpicks - two ceramic kittens stand guard.

In the adjacent corner... 
a sushi bar - shrimp, crab meat, octopus, steamed rice, seaweed carefully encased in glass. 
Behind it all, the Itamae (sushi chef), in all his glory, weaves his yummy magic. 

On a tiny corner of the sushi bar, a 'finishing service station.' 
Miso, ginger, soup spoons and bowls, Bento boxes, soy sauce and chop sticks.

"Big things come in small packages." - Unknown

Abashiri is small, very small: seats about 50. It's in a 'bad' location: set far off of the main road, at the very back end of a nondescript strip mall, in a sleepy suburb, 37 miles from Chicago. They do absolutely no advertising of any kind. They keep 'European hours' (Monday-Saturday; Lunch 11:30-2; Dinner 5-10). Their menu never changes. Yet they have a large, diverse and fiercely loyal clientele that encompasses the gamete (every occupation, age, gender and ethnicity). So how do they do it? What's their secret? A few weeks ago, while I was there for lunch, I asked the owner - SooMi - if she'd allow me to photograph and interview her for Postcards to Paris. She said yes...

She had me at Sushi...

Abashiri opened their doors 13 years ago. SooMi, with a staff of 5, has been Majordomo from that first day to this. We sat down at the tail-end of their bustling lunch rush hour. But before we did, I got to sit, watch and marvel at SooMi in action. This lovely diminutive lady is a literal whirlwind - welcoming each patron with a true uncontrived sunny smile; she remembers her frequent customers' usual/favorite dishes (since most of us are frequent repeats, an impressive feat indeed!).  While renowned for their delicious reasonably priced Sushi, Abashiri also offers equally yummy  Udon and Bento Boxes. Yeah, you know I asked SooMi how she does it, what her secret of success is. Her answer is what inspired this postcard's opening quote: "...sushi is art, and experience is everything."

Sushi is art... SooMi told me that the secret to their delicious food is actually a quite simple two step process: employ a most excellent Itamae and provide him/her with the highest quality, most fresh food possible. SooMi accomplishes this by daily sojourns to a local Japanese wholesale fish market, farmer's markets (in season) and local year-round grocers that supply the freshest produce possible.

"My customers are family. I know [them] and they know me. I want them to be happy, always." - SooMi

Experience is everything... Abashiri deliberately ignores trends; proudly serves traditional Shirley Temple's, garnished with maraschino cherries and tiny Chinese paper parasols - thank you very much.   SooMi's only concessions to modernity are child friendly chop-sticks, the occasional special on the menu and to provide free wi-fi to her patrons. Every other moment and mouthful is steeped in old fashioned comfort and quality. 

Abashiri. Little, lovely, simple, traditional, yummy, luxurious. It's a good thing.

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!


with Soomi, proprietress of Abashiri.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

postcard to paris #1 ~ la vie en rose

"Hold me close and hold me fast. 
This magic spell you cast. 
This is la vie en rose." 
- Edith Piaf (1947)

Last Sunday, it was an honor and joy for Mr. Gorgeous and I to attend (and for me to photograph) the wedding shower of my good friend's lovely daughter and her dashing fiancé. As soon as I walked through the doors, I knew I had found my first Pour l'Amour Postcard to Paris...

The wedding shower site: Chez Moi - a lovely French Bistro in the heart of Chicago
Every moment was elegant, intimate and lovely

La Vie en rose, took over the entire restaurant: each 8 person table was draped with white linens, topped with black and white stripped runners; set with Hydrangeas, gold chargers, sparkly gold votives, petite black and white striped boxes housing tiny Eiffel Tower favors. Overhead: crystal dripped chandeliers, oversized vintage French posters, red velvet curtains and a large wall clock (reminiscent of the train clocks of Musee d'Orsay.


"Love transcends all space and time...let love rule." - Lenny Kravitz



The mother-of-the-bride (a renowned artist) added intimate touches throughout the room: an Eiffel Tower made from the crystal pieces of an antique chandelier, baroque picture frames with romantic whimsical sayings in French, a shabby chic(ed) fleur de lis finial standing guard over a decadent bedecked cake. Ooh La La!


The tulle, adorning the dress form on the gift table, is from the mother-of-the-bride's bridal veil. Le sigh...

If music be the food of love, play on." - William Shakespeare

The menu followed the Parisian theme: 
Appetizer - fruit and cheese plate; onion and bacon tarte
Entrees: steak frites and chicken crepes

Joe (the groom to be) gave a most lovely toast. Bien sur, we toasted with Mimosas.

"Old, new, borrowed, blue. Ari & Joe are getting ready to say I do!" 

Sitting through the gift opening part of a wedding shower is a joyful but unavoidably long, tedious process. 
Of course our Hostess devised the perfect accompaniment for the moment: 
Parisian Prop-Photo-Op! 

Our hostess hand made paper sparkly cutouts that followed the Parisian theme: 
a French Poodle, the Eiffel Tower, Kiss Lips, J'adore Paris, a beret, and (of course) a Queen's Crown. 
And a gilded frame for the guests to pose with. C'est amusant!

Grandmother and mother of the bride

"You light my fire. I feel alive with you baby. You blow my mind...Outstanding (so outstanding, yeah)." - the Gap Band

The Bride and Groom to be graciously agreed to briefly pause their gift opening
to accompany me and my camera outside for a few minutes...

"Give your heart and soul to me. And life will always be - la vie en rose." Edith Piaf

Ari & Joe's wedding shower was simply sublime. Two families, and their closest friends, gathered to celebrate the love between these two oh so lovely young people. We were thrilled to shower them with the items needed to seed their home. The love swirling through the room, the sweet love shared between these two, were palpable things, almost visible. It was a beautiful day.

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

to bloom where I'm planted

"Sow your seed, show your worth. Scatter blooms all over the earth.
If the whole world isn't within your reach, tend to the garden beneath your feet.
Bloom where you are planted." - Mulligan Girl

Postcards to Paris is no longer featured on Belle Inspiration. I have no idea why. I received no warning, not even an 'au revoir, so nice to have known you.' But I'm not mad. Belle Inspiration is a wonderful, beautiful publication. I wish them boundless success and a million subscribers. Quite simply, the world is a better place with Belle Inspiration in it - and it will forever be my joy and honor to have been a part of it.  

Where to go from here?

Originally, Postcards was about my adventures in Paris - sent home. Then - my state's side life, financial realities, married to my never ending love of Paris, transformed Postcards from Paris into Postcards to Paris - photographing and writing about state's side people, places and things (in my tiny slice of the world) that evoke the city of lights, the city of love. And, to my surprise, I enjoyed the latter more than the former. Don't get me wrong, it was a girlhood dream come true to travel often to Paris and document the city (and as soon as I get the chance to do it again, I will!) But, to put it baldly, finding adventures in Paris (photographing and writing about them) is not at all difficult to do - it's Paris for goodness-sake! The latter necessitated that I truly live in the moment - be fully aware, pay close attention, let my imagination lead and have my camera with me all the time.

I deliberately kept my Postcard experiences/photography from my blog because Belle Inspiration is subscriber online magazine (doing my bit) and when 'it' ended, I thought Postcards' had ended as well. Moreover, I seriously considered closing this blog (hence my long hiatus). I thought: if I'm not regularly going to Paris and am no longer published in a Paris publication, how can Pour l'amour de Paris be Pour l'amour? And then I remembered why I began this journey in the first place...


Paris - She is small, but really very large; simple but in an oh so complicated way; innocently young, but beautifully mature; pristine with a gritty underbelly; high brow, yet revels in the low brow. Instead of denying these intense contradictions, Parisians, indeed the city herself, embrace these contradictions, and invite the world to freely partake and revel in the experience - and we do. Because Paris is so many things, to so many different people, it is impossible to neatly put all that [She] into a box (of any size). But one thing that I think we can all agree upon is...Paris speaks to the best of us [Her] contradictions, breadth, depth, beauty and joy..." 
- Temple Tsenes-Hills, 'Unexpected Details', Postcards from Paris (2012)

#1 Postcards to Paris: La Vie en Rose

Begin the Beguine...
Paris is more than a place, She is a feeling, a way of living. She is an aesthetic that defies national boundaries, conventional norms and mores. That's how I've always lived my life. Besides, I truly love my quirky little blog that could. Why stop now? So, I have decided to begin again; am happy to continue to bloom where I'm planted. Thus, without further ado, I'm tickled pink to announce that Postcards to Paris is back! Let's start with a Paris-inspired wedding shower in the heart of Chicago... Allon-sy!

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!


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