Metro Station: Jacques Bonsergent (Line 5) or République (Lines 3, 5, 8, 9, 11)
Type of cuisine: French
Days & hours of operation: Open seven days a week from noon to 3:00 p.m. and from 8:00 p.m. to midnight.
Credit card: Visa, MasterCard, Amex
Hôtel du Nord is best remembered as a film, a romantic melodrama produced by French director Marcel Carné and released in 1938. The movie portrays two lovers who form a suicide pact and check into the Hôtel du Nord to carry it out. The film’s memorable line “Atmosphère ! Atmosphère ! Est-ce que j’ai une gueule d’atmosphère? ” was angrily articulated by French film star Arletty, playing the role of a prostitute, during an argument with her pimp, played by Louis Jouvet. Although the film was mostly shot on a movie set, its success fixed the real Hôtel du Nord in the minds of the French and, for that matter, in the minds of all who love the film noir genre. In 1989 the hotel was classified an historic monument to protect it from demolition.
The current managers opened Hôtel du Nord as a restaurant in 2005. (It no longer operates as a hotel.) We have long hesitated to go there to dine, thinking that the restaurant owners might rest upon the laurels of the film and not give much thought to the quality of the cuisine. However, we dined there recently and are pleased to report that its atmosphère, service, and food greatly exceeded our expectations!
Although the two-course lunchtime menu was attractively priced, we decided to order à la carte because the choices looked more interesting.
For the starter, I ordered Ravioles de chève frais au basilic et copeaux de parmesan. The waiter brought a wide, shallow bowl containing rocket and shavings of Parmesan in a slightly-sweet dressing, all sitting atop a layer of goat-cheese-filled raviolis and sun-dried tomatoes. It was a generous portion, and quite appetizing.
My partner opted for Crème brûlée au potiron et feuille de brique au Brie. Crème brûlée is normally served as a dessert, so her curiosity was piqued to see what this starter could be. The waiter served a plate containing a crème brûlée dish and a slice of brick pastry that had been folded over Brie cheese and lightly baked. The slightly warm “crème brûlée” in the dish had the consistency of scrambled eggs and contained chunks of cold, cooked pumpkin. The surface of the crème brûlée was not caramelized, as it would be for dessert. My partner reported that the “cream” was absolutely delicious, but that the pumpkin would have been better served warm.
We both ordered the same dish for the main course—Côtelettes d’agneau au piment d’espelette et millefeuille de légumes. Three pan-seared lamb chops, cooked rare as we had requested, were accompanied by a stack of round, sliced, sautéed vegetables: tomatoes, zucchini, egg plant, and sautéed, shredded onions. The tender, succulent lamb chops were sprinkled with bits of gros sel (cooking salt). A small ramekin of lamb gravy was served alongside (for dipping the cuts of lamb), but the gravy did not add flavor to the already flavorful meat.
The waiter (who told us in perfect French that he was Italian-Brazilian) was quite helpful in helping us choose the wine. Following his suggestions, we each ordered a glass of Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil – Gérard Vallée – La Croisée 2006 to accompany the starter. We found it to be medium bodied and slightly tannic. For the main-course accompaniment, we each ordered a glass of Côte du Rhône – Les Trois Garçons, an “organic” wine produced without herbicides, chemical fertilizers, insecticides, or synthetic fungicides. This was a full bodied, dark-purple wine with notes of chocolate and licorice.
Wide-cut, fresh, chewy baguette with a crunchy crust and large alveoli was served alongside in a basket.
Dessert was a special treat. I ordered a “destructured” cheese cake with CaramBar and received a ramekin containing a bottom layer of cheesecake crust flavored with what I identified as allspice or nutmeg; a mid-level, creamy pudding with the consistency of panna cotta; a top layer of caramel sauce made from CaramBar, a French caramel candy; and finally, a garnish of a single raspberry and mint leaf. A sweet, smooth dessert!
My partner ordered a cheese plate—Comté vieux, vin de Jura et pâte de coing. The restaurant was out of Jura wine (a sweet, white wine), so the waiter served a white Port at her request.
The bill for two, including two apéritifs, two starters, two main courses, two desserts, and four glasses of wine, came to 102€.
The large dining room of the restaurant has two levels. The tables upstairs are dressed in white tablecloths, while the tables on the entrance (lower) level have butcher-paper place settings. The walls are decorated with memorabilia of the film Hôtel du Nord and photographs and drawings of the principal star Arletty. A large bouquet of fresh, fragrant lilies decorated the table next to us. Overall, this is a very pleasant place to dine!
Tom Reeves has been a confirmed Francophile since he first traveled to France in 1975. A native of northern California, he moved to France permanently in 1992. Reeves’ love of French language and culture inspired him to create Discover Paris!, a travel planning service that caters to Americans interested in cultural travel to Paris. His book, Paris Insights – An Anthology, has been called “the kind of insider’s view of the French capital…that first or even second time visitors pine for.” He publishes a monthly newsletter entitled Paris Insights about history, culture, and contemporary life in the City of Light, and posts daily information about the French capital on Facebook.