Take a night off from the rat race with a très Français dinner and a movie

By Angela Matano

Get in touch with your Gallic side at Venice’s
French Market Café

With the normal pace of American life set permanently to warp speed, it can be difficult to catch your breath. Sometimes you have to force yourself to pause, inhale, exhale and find your joie de vivre. When it comes to indulgence, no culture knows more about delectation than the French, from champagne to cinema to bonbons.

Begin your path to enjoyment with the terrific new film “Non-Fiction,” from French director Olivier Assayas (“Personal Shopper,” “Clouds of Sils Maria”). This tale of seduction, deception and popular mores serves up Juliette Binoche, on a platter, in all her glory. One of the most interesting actors working today, Binoche chomps down on her role as one half of a bourgeoise couple looking for distraction. Like many a Gallic comedy that came before, the resulting romp combines sex, lies and art, blurring the lines between fact and fantasy, into a frothy confection.

The cheating partaken in this romantic roundelay manages to hover at a cheerful level, something difficult to imagine in our more Puritan society. In fact the incessant banter in “Non-Fiction” looks nothing like the public discourse our world has grown to tolerate, like a minor sun rash, rather than a full-blown case of measles. Lazy with plot, bursting with character, overripe like a late summer strawberry, “Non-Fiction” is the perfect movie to escape into, and paradoxically, remember who you are.

Pair your evening’s entertainment with The French Market Cafe, a stalwart in Venice since 1993.The spacious patio radiates pleasure, comfort and a soupçon of chic. Always a terrific spot to munch on a croissant or a tomato tart, the space recently expanded its hours to include dinner service from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Sometimes more is more.

Classic dishes like boeuf bourguignon and onglet à l’échalote (hanger steak with shallots) come in hearty portions with surprisingly inexpensive price tags. The daily specials, listed charmingly in chalk on a blackboard, telegraph the care taken with each plate of food, from the pearl onions to the individual dish of potatoes au gratin, browned just so on top.

The endive salad, one of the best around and quite large, comes chopped up, thus easier to combine all of the ingredients into one loaded bite after another. The herb vinaigrette adds just the right amount of tang to the walnuts, crumbled cheese, apple, bits of arugula and peppers à la brunoise.

Pair your meal with a refreshing cocktail such as the light and vibrant Pamplune, a mix of rosé wine and grapefruit juice poured over ice and garnished with a bit of orange. Or sip a Blanc Lime, a dry white wine with citrus and a touch of fizziness. Both speak to summer by the beach, sunshine, ocean breezes and generous repartee.

Of course, before finishing your evening, linger, order dessert, eavesdrop. The warm apple tarte tartine comes with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, the thin crust soft and welcoming. Chocolate lovers will moan over the molten cake and classicists revel in the crème brûlée. With coffee or tea to round out your feast, you cannot help but have your thermostat recalibrated.

Are the French really as blasé, as cool, as they portray themselves? Qui sait? The important thing for we bumbling folks of the New World is to imagine they are. It gives us something to aspire to: a universe where people spend entire afternoons nursing a café au lait and doing absolutely nothing.

French Market Cafe is at 2321 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. Call (310) 577-9775 or visit frenchmarket-cafe.com

“Non-Fiction” opens Friday (May 10) at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A. Call (310) 478-0401 or visit laemmle.com.

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