28 May 2014

oh la honte: ma cocotte, saint-ouen

For a certain class of Parisian, familiarity with the marché aux puces is a basic mark of distinction. It doesn't matter if very few of us do any actual shopping in the stratospherically-priced high design markets north of the city. Les puces constitute the city's most accessible museum and, at once, its most cosmopolitan feature, for the knowledge that Paris entices the world's most discerning interior decorators to spend lavish sums in the center of a chaotic slum is something anyone can enjoy.

Who are these titans of the earth, we wonder, dropping tens of thousands on Finn Juhl chairs and Adnet lamps? Do they or their decorators mind dealing with the strange unhurried merchants who drip bad red wine and cut sausages on the merchandise during transactions? There is even poetry in this: to purchase a luxury item at the flea markets, a client must descend, momentarily, to the world of crowded guingettes and couscous.

But since fall 2012, the world's high-design tastemakers - along with us window-lickers - have had an alternative. Towering at the entrance to the Marché Paul Bert - Serpette, it is a Philippe Starck-designed megalo-bistrot called Ma Cocotte, run by Philippe and Fabienne Amzalak, proprietors of 16ème arrondissement restaurant Bon. Ma Cocotte is positively thronged on weekends, and its success with the flea market clientele reveals something about the separation of aesthetic spheres. Overpriced, anarchic, and irredeemably tacky, it would be Paris' worst restaurant, except that it is not, technically, in Paris.

Pretension drew me in one Sunday in early spring - I wanted to stay au courant with the market and its denizens. So while the Native Companion shopped I dutifully waited twenty-five minutes in line, only to realise when I reached the hostess that I had been standing in line to put my name on a wait list.

This is, of course, punitively bad organisation, bordering on Kafka-esque. The whole point of a wait list is to prevent lines. It should never take so long to take names for a waitlist that another line forms. I questioned the benevolence of God and then repaired for coffee at a nearby couscous joint, where we ought to have stayed for lunch.

Later it took about ten seconds after being seated at Ma Cocotte to realise we had made a huge mistake. The menu, by chef Yannick Papin, consists of French standards and safe faddish imports (cheeseburgers, fish and chips) at tough mark-ups.

The wine list, as ever, reveals Ma Cocotte's target clientele: it is heaped with overpriced Bordeaux, for the truly unthinking conspicuous consumer. Poor Michel Gendrier's ever-reliable Cour-Cheverny was a lonely blip of quality on an otherwise abysmal wine list. I got a beer.

Since the Amzalaks presumably spent a fortune on the services of buffoonish celebrity turd-polisher Philippe Starck, I'd be remiss not to comment on the restaurant's décor, which is at once cacophonic and utterly bland. Books and wacky urns adorn every conceivable shelf-space. Lamp-height lighting partially conceals the dehumanising vastness of the interior. Surveying it, one has the sense of scrolling ever downwards on a website hawking a limitless range of quirky crap.

The NC had ordered a juice when I ordered my beer. We reminded our overstretched server, who grunted at us. After fifteen minutes we alerted a manager, who took up the issue with our absentee server, who, in retribution, ignored us for the rest of our meal, which, despite enormous delays, was to be rather brief.

I horfed down some gummy oeufs mayonnaise and blanched at the NC's flavorless plop of lentils and we continued staring at the cluttered table beside us, which hadn't been cleared of its previous occupants' meal since we sat down.

In the distance, the hostess stand was still visible outside, and various parties still awaiting tables. Instances such as this illustrate why it is important to clear meals that have finished. More than making adjacent diners feel like they're eating in a junk yard, uncleared tables are a blaring indicator of a breakdown in restaurant service. The NC and I stared at the one next to us and it was clear that we were in a deeply mismanaged space.

We cancelled our plats and left.

That wealth does not connote discernment is news to no one. But I still marvel at places like Ma Cocotte, or fashion elite canteen Restaurant Dave by Palais Royal, places whose success seems to depend entirely on the selective aesthetic blindnesses of their otherwise discerning, high-value clientele. Serving packing peanuts to princesses and mouse-droppings to millionaires.

Perhaps it's very middle-class of me to care so much about the relative quality of individual meals. It's true that I might become more blasé about dining if I made more money.

But the act of dining begins and ends with death. There are dead things on the plate and we metabolise them and we, our internal machinery, age as we do so. Wine, too, wears us out. And the minutes we pass waiting for the check at cynical mismanaged restaurants are not returned to us. So it seems important to take these things seriously - at least as seriously as good design.

Ma Cocotte
106 Rue des Rosiers
93400 Saint-Ouen
Tel: 01 49 51 70 00

Related Links:

An twittish January 2014 endorsement of Ma Cocotte at Hip Paris. Articles like this are how you tell honest writing apart from the Paris Charm Industry, an inherently dishonest endeavor.

Another sickening piece that finishes by cutely thanking Philippe Starck at My Little Paris.

François Simon on the opening of Ma Cocotte in Le Figaro.
A boosterish piece on Ma Cocotte in Sortir A Paris.
Le Fooding went so far as to admit that the place is noisy, which in this case is like saying the Titanic had a small leak. 

1 comment:

  1. I have to go there ! It's so pleasant to read that you really make us want to go through this ordeal :-)