Here at Dinner at a Movie headquarters, it has come to our attention that we are not at a seaside resort in France.
Quite probably, you aren’t either. But after several years now of cinematic/culinary adventure — Shrimp tacos at iPic! BLTs at the Tin Room Bar & Theater! Macaroni-and-cheese balls at Pacific Place! Din Tai Fung delivery and Netflix, with us remotely together! — we, Seattle Times food critic Bethany Jean Clement and film critic Moira Macdonald, are nothing if not inventive. (We even cracked the code on making movie theater popcorn at home for your pandemic pleasure!)
So voilà: Dinner at a Movie, French Seaside Picnic Edition. We picked up takeout from local French gem Café Presse — with a quick pause to say “bonjour!” to each other on the sidewalk — and headed home to enjoy our feast and to watch the French comedy classic “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday” over FaceTime/via text. Chouette!
Bethany: We are nothing short of spectacularly lucky that the sororal French greatnesses that are Café Presse and Le Pichet exist in Seattle. These are two of my favorite places in the world, and having them here at home, ready and waiting for a perfect staycation anytime — well, Thursday through Sunday at the moment, because pandemic — is an immeasurable luxury and a total joy. And it just so happens that for takeout, they both offer foods ideal for a picnic. Or should I say pique-nique? I picked out a summery supper menu for us and began texting Moira about the different selections, deploying an absurd number of exclamation marks, first thing on a recent Sunday (first thing being, you know, around 11 a.m.).
Moira: Exclamation points were very much called for! This menu was a French dream. Except for the chicken liver terrine ($8), which I’m sure is absolutely delightful but did not spark joy for this liver-resistant diner. (It tasted like … liver.) Don’t worry, it didn’t go to waste — Bethany came over the next day to get it.
Bethany: Moira, over the course of Dinner at a Movie, you’ve been utterly valiant in taking at least a tiny bite of everything I love but many people find abhorrent. And in the end, it means more gâteau aux foies de volaille for me. I’d drive to France to pick more up. I wish we could drive to France!!!
Moira: Oui! Some day! But, speaking of driving: Allow me to share with all of our readers the greatness of Bethany’s advice to me, as I headed out to pick up my takeout: Eat the french fries in the car, while they are still hot. I was not previously aware of the incredible joy of driving around Seattle on a sunny spring evening, shoving fresh-from-the-oven fries into my mouth at every red light and worrying (though not that much) about greasy finger marks on my steering wheel. (From now on I will keep a french fry napkin in my car.) By the time I got home, well, let’s just say the fries were an amuse-bouche, before the meal actually began.
Bethany: The french fries of Café Presse/Le Pichet represent the pinnacle of the form. And we both agreed that the half-chicken served cold with mayonnaise (and fries, for $18), as you’d have it under a striped beach umbrella, surpassed every roasted chicken we’d ever made by many kilometers — the depth of flavor! The savoriness of the soft skin! We fell into an uncharacteristic silence due to reverent eating. Chef Jim Drohman has generously shared this recipe online, and looking at it again, I remembered I’ve never tried it because it involves an hour’s roasting at 500 degrees, which, he says, may involve “a fair amount of smoke.” Perhaps best left to the professional-level range-hood ventilation system?
Moira: Indeed. But oh, the chicken sandwich potential the next day! Also lovely: the green salad ($7), to which Bethany wrote an exquisite (and well-deserved) ode back in 2008, the baguette with insanely creamy butter ($5), and the bread pudding for dessert (which actually had to wait until breakfast, $7.50).
Bethany: I had chicken liver toasts for breakfast.
Moira: [Silently shudders.]
Bethany: Vacation picnics — all picnics — call for rosé. But Moira, with her discerning (not to say picky!) tastes, was drawn to the Blanquette de Limoux sparkling on Café Presse’s list, and indeed, upon further inspection, it was doubtlessly the best choice (and, at $17.50/bottle to-go, very kindly priced).
Moira: I think rosé is better as a color than a wine.
Bethany: You know when you’re such good friends that you think each other’s insanities are adorable? This is the sensation I am having now! (Also, more rosé for me.)
Moira: Ha! Anyway, the Blanquette-whatever was really nice, and I say this as someone who ranks all wines in terms of how much they taste like Diet Coke.
Bethany: I just actually sort of bark-LOL’d! The really niceness of it comes from the painfully lovely hills of a region just an hour and change northwest of where our also hurtfully picturesque film is set — a region that was making bubbly way before that place called Champagne. This particular Limoux, the sustainably produced Martinolles Le Berceau, did everything exactly right: bubbling celebratorily, while also standing up to the savor of the chicken with just enough body, the faintest honey-richness and a lemony accent.
Moira: What she said.
Moira: At Bethany’s wise suggestion, we chose a summery French classic. “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” released in 1953, was writer/director Jacques Tati’s debut of the title character, who went on to appear in several subsequent films. Played by Tati himself, Hulot is a quiet, long-legged, pants-hiked-high everyman, on vacation at a seaside resort. He smokes a pipe, walks delicately on the balls of his feet, and notices everything — and, alas, is just a bit clumsy. The movie is a sort of plotless, almost dialogueless breath of summer breeze, as we experience the resort and M. Hulot’s many mishaps.
Bethany: High-waters have never been so stylish. Tati as Hulot is a miracle of graceful klutziness; I’m not the biggest fan of physical comedy, but his is so broad yet also subtle somehow, precise yet giving zero appearance of choreography. Also, just so, so drolly funny. Everything about this film makes you ache for travel, and travel to France specifically, where surely summertime vacances still involve many, many hats — chic traveling hats, huge-brimmed sun hats, a hat that Hulot preemptively folds out of a newspaper because who wants to read a newspaper on vacation?
Moira: We were both struck by the beauty of the film’s black and white: If it had been in color, the blue of the water and the brightness of the sunshine might have been overwhelming. The film is currently streaming in a fairly recent restoration; its edges are crisp and its colors a soft rainbow of grays.
Bethany: Over text, Moira exclamation-marked about the richness of the black and white, and pointed out how every person on-screen has a completely evident, fully formed story though only a little bit of it is seen.
Moira: And each person on-screen, even the children, has an amazing face! (For the record, I would NEVER text in a movie theater, and neither would Bethany. This is a pandemic thing that we will leave behind when we can return to theaters. Soon, I hope! I miss sitting together.)
Bethany: File it under The Things I Will Miss About the Pandemic (!?), because your insights make my movie-watching so much sharper, so much more rich and fun — like your writing does, but, fantastically, moment by moment.
Moira: Aww. Just as I learn so much from Bethany’s thoughtful food observations, which make my sadly limited palate so much sharper! (Except for liver.)
Bethany: I want to have every meal forever in the endlessly charming dining room of Hulot’s Hôtel de la Plage. You know they serve excellent liver.
Moira: Let’s change the subject! Fun fact: The film was shot in the coastal town of Saint-Marc-sur-Mer, where there is now a statue of Monsieur Hulot, peering curiously down onto the beach, impossibly long arms akimbo.
Bethany: Let us someday be under his gaze, under a jauntily striped beach umbrella, gnawing on chicken while drinking bubbly AND rosé! Why not — it’s a holiday!
Le Overall Experience
Bethany: For your Seattle springtime sunny-day picnics — be they backyard, park, lakeside or Sound-adjacent — Presse/Pichet cannot be recommended highly enough. And Dinner at a Movie is always pure joy, but this one was just super-splendid, especially for Pandemic Remote Edition. The superlative food, the always excellent company and glorious armchair travel aspect felt just precisely, miraculously fun.
Moira: A joy, indeed! I’m off to make a chicken sandwich now. Without liver.