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Tag: Paris

A Lunch at L’Etoile du Nord (Paris)

Quelle Mauvaise Idée !

Anyone passing through Gare du Nord shouldn’t miss L’Etoile du Nord, if only as a testament to how Thierry Marx’s molecular ambitions went the way of the Dodo, a sad compromise between what some call bistronomy and what any educated palate will call, the French way, “malbouffe”. Supposed to be “inspired” by the North of French cuisine, as mandatory in a place with trains to not only London, but Brussels and obscure places like Lille and Amiens, the place hailed itself as a revisited “Buffet de la Gare”, only with a fussy maitre d’, clueless waiters, vaguely George V-inspired sparce floral decoration, malfunctionning lightning in the toilets, cafeteria furnishing and, last but not he least, bland food. In a way, it’s a smashing success in recreating the impatience, the atmosphere and the poor value for quality of such places, but one doubts it was the initial intention.

Let’s focus on the food, should we? First was an oeuf mayonnaise, a bistro food staple which for some industrial reasons has been reduced to pulp by much lesser chefs. The eggs were too cold, the mayonnaise a shade of what it should have been and yes, there was tons of cheap aneth on top to cover for the rest. And it was only one starter.

The other one was a poireaux vinaigrette, which came with the consensual agrume dressing which the casual eater has been forced to associate with modernity. Bland, at best, and that kind of dressing is neither here nor there.

Main dishes were, first, a decent suprême de volaille appropriately cooked, served with a potato purée which should never be the highlight of a meal if you’re not Robuchon but yet was, instead of a discreet companion.

Second, quite a terrible fish & chips consisting of a big chunk of cod haphazardely fried, one side heavy on the stomach and the other still bathing in flour, served in a debatable version of the thing, without vinegar or salt and pepper to add some gustative substance to the generic fries coming in a fancy cornet.

To conclude with this embarassing interlude, dessert was an oversweet, cubic oeuf à la neige which must have been made early in the morning and bathing since in an over-vanillaed custard. Since the whole concoction was not sweet enough, there was some mollified pink pralines in the mix for your dentist surgeon’s downpayment on his next vacation to the Maldives.

Staff is in training before your very eyes. There is a waiting line even though a vast first floor remains closed. For anyone who went through the ordeal of landing at CDG and taking the RER train to Gare du Nord, this is a mandatory pit stop in the “I Hate Paris” circuit. Count roughly 30€ per head, then regret it.

With our Food correspondant Victoire V.

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Bastille Day (2016)

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B-Day

Yes, it’s formulaic, an odd couple of underdogs facing a vast conspiracy, the lonely American saving France. Yes its marketing in this country was severely hampered by the mad truck terrorist attack in Nice on July the 14th, which in ricochet delayed screening in some other countries. It should have been a hit in UK, considering the portrait it paints of contemporary Paris, a city only a few inches above Baghdad in terms of safety, riddled as it is by larceny, fundamentalism, riots and corruption. Oh, and naked women in the streets. Bastille Day nevertheless achieves quite a good deal in the packed, dense, urban thriller genre.

The setup goes like follows: a terrorist group intends to plunge Paris into chaos by manipulating traditional and electronic media. Their first strike is to have a mule dropping a bomb at the headquarters of the “French Nationalist Party”, but the girl gets cold feet when the building is not empty as expected. Her bag with the bomb inside is stolen by a pickpocket (Richard Madden), who discards it in a trash can, killing four people and making him the prime suspect in the process. As the pickpocket is a US citizen, the Paris branch of the CIA tasks free electron Sean Briar (Idriss Elba) to find him before the French Police does, in an increasingly tense situation as the terrorists follow up with their plan, triggering a city-wide state of unrest.

Bastille Day‘s screenplay is not bad, including three twists that can hardly considered as novel but serve a logical progression of the intrigue. The third twist actually resonates in our time and age; it is the third time in a row that street protest is connected to mad finance, as was the case in Money Monster and Jason Bourne, even though in this case the latter is not the cause of the former. The three main characters (including José Garcia as the Head of French Intelligence) are competently written and well acted. But what Bastille Day has that places him a notch above other thrillers in the same vein is the force of nature also known at Idriss Elba.

A wrecking ball with a golden heart, Elba bludgeons into the story like the unstoppable force he so convincingly embodies. In a Vertigo-inspired, vertigo-inducing roof top chase as in more intimate scenes in which he conveys credible menace as well as the occasional sparkle of humour, he’s impossible to doubt, impossible to resist. He even manages to fool French policemen into thinking he’s one of them by piping “Oui, je arrive”. So cute. He’s also very affable to ordinary people he come across during his investigation, most of them African French in suburbs or the Barbès area. The fact that Elba is black himself allows him a connection which cleverly bridges the cultural gap his American origin could entail (he tells the fable he’s a refugee from Belize, only to tersely state later on that he was born in Connecticut). But it is his sweetness which gets him through his investigation pitfalls, that and of course and the brute force he’s able to summon at will. “Pinky pumps?” offers the pickpocket when they close a deal, and Elba’s reaction makes that extraordinary desirable, even though you’re quite sure he would tear up your little finger without blinking.

Yes there are some “This is Paris, vin rouge, Louis Vuitton” dialogue, no the prime suspect never shaves his beard even though his picture is on every screen, yes the final confrontation is a bit of a letdown. But for his Anonymous, typically contemporary sacrifice during the National Reserve bravura scene, and some delectable use of the French vernacular (“Abrutis de merde!” being a personal favourite), Bastille Day is quite good. The lingering question, however, remains why make this kind of fiction in the first place if a brush with crude reality makes you chicken out of its release? How long will politically correct circumnavigate violence, when it had so abrasively eroded race, sex, work and ethics? The answer to that question, if there is one, certainly doesn’t lie with Bastille Day, but one is grateful to the movie to ask it, even involuntarily.

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MONEY   Monstrometer4
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