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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hotel du Nord - Not in Kansas Anymore

As the French rentrée reared its predictable head back in early September, I sat sipping my second, or was it third, copiously poured glass of brother Jack D. at the Cork & Cavan pub along the Canal St. Martin, listening to the Moose enthusiastically impart his stories about his habitual haunts along the adjoining Quai de Jemmapes. When he mentioned the hordes of youthful, trendy Parisians congregating outside the Hotel du Nord just up the quai, I made a mental note to check out the hotel’s restaurant menu. The rest is history: For our latest dinner excursion, Co. and I ventured over to the Hotel du Nord to see what all the fuss was about.

Our evening began with some sick stories from the bartender and a couple of his colleagues with whom we were bantering as we waited for the final preparations of the dining room. Hotel du Nord, which dates back to 1885, is a venue along the canal immortalized by the Marcel Carne film of the same name, the one where Arletty yelps, ‘Atmosphere! Atmosphere! Atmosphere!' and then storms away from Louis Jouvet. That’s right, definitely not in Kansas anymore. As the bartender recounted the history of the drink Le Petit Gregoire – trust me, you don’t want to know –it became eminently clear that the youthful staff actually enjoyed themselves on the job,quite a change from the more typical waitstaff at some of the other noted venues in town, where pained expressions and tightly buttoned waistcoats rule the day. At the bar, we sipped glasses of St. Nicolas while we took in the – for want of a better term – atmosphere.

Once seated, we perused a menu pretty close to the one at HDN’s website. I went with the salade chinoise craquante (9€) and the millefeuille de thon cru à la japonaise, artichauts marineés et petals de tomate séchée (15€). In this case, my entrée was far from inspiring, but the millefeuille main dish was really terrific – multi-layered with a finely baked pastry and lightly cooked tuna, perfectly complemented by the artichokes and dried tomatoes. Co. also was rather disappointed by her entrée of raviolis de chevre frais au basilic et copeaux de parmesan (9€), both from a quality and quantity perspective, but appreciated the main dish, noix de saint Jacques, buerre d’orange, quinoa rouge et legumes croquantes (23€). So a real switch – for once a restaurant that excels at the main courses rather than the appetizers, whereas we often find this to be the other way round. Whether this has anything to do with the relatively youthful crowd and, we noticed, their tendency to stick to budget by only ordering a main dish, is mere conjecture or the part of your’s truly. Our meal was washed down with a Pinot Noir Bourgogne Maison Louis Latour 2007 (28 euros), and it must have been pretty good because it was emptied well before our twin cheesecake cassoulet deconstructé (I know this doesn’t sound right, but it’s what I have in my notes, albeit roughly scribbled after finishing that Pinot) arrived. Our 3-course dinner, with wine and espresso came to a respectable 112.40€.

When you dine at HDN, you get the whole experience. True, pretty decent food at
fairly reasonable prices if you choose carefully. But it’s not just about the food – it’s about the trendy bobo clientele, the gothic waitresses, the bawdy bartenders, and the interesting ambiance. In short, it’s all about the atmosphere.

102 Quai de Jemmapes
75010 Paris
tel. 01 40 40 78 78
website: www.hoteldunord.org
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