As I walked through the streets of Paris, I noticed shops selling bagels, cupcakes and cinnamon rolls.
From food trucks to Michelin-starred restaurants, the presence of America was everywhere. At times, I had to question whether I was in New York (or more specifically Brooklyn) when I stepped out of the Metro.
There were no traces of any French aversion to Americans. To the contrary, Parisians were nice and very welcoming of our fumbled attempts at speaking their language.
Not much is different in NYC. We seem to be having a love affair with Paris at the moment … From Keith McNally’s ever-expanding group of restaurants, with the most recent being Cherche Midi, to Dirty French, Claudette, Elan, Le Rivage and any other place beginning with “Le” – French, it seems, is the new American.
But are Americans serving traditional French food better than the French these days or are the French (or more appropriately those cooking in Paris) reinterpreting American food in more inventive ways than we can find in the US? Here’s Part 1 on my take of the Paris-New York food scene. Read on and decide for yourself.
* * *
From Spring to Frenchie to the elite Michelin-starred places, there was little difference in the menus. It was like a review of Fashion Week with everyone choosing maxi dresses and furs. How could the menus all be ostensibly the same when the items weren’t staples of French cuisine? Veal tartar was everywhere but not frogs legs. This eater was far more intrigued by what was missing than what was present. But more on that in the posts to come. Because I prefer to end on a high note, I’ll start with my least favorite – and one of the most expensive places I dined.
At Les Bouquinistes, with a Guy Savoy designed menu, I felt more like I was in New York than half the time I am actually in NYC.u
I wasn’t starving nor was I that intrigued by the expensive menu except for the lamb and sweetbreads, so I only ordered the one dish. The sweetbreads were chewy and gamey and didn’t melt in my mouth the way they do when cooked properly. But worse was the lamb, that I had ordered medium rare. It was well done, tough and came encrusted in puff pastry– which was not even hinted at from the menu description.
It was accompanied by a small crock of “gnochetti” — bland shell-shaped pasta — nothing like gnocchi and not even homemade. Laced with strings of basil that were difficult to chew, a few cherry tomatoes, some favas (also not mentioned) and no discernible sauce, it needed salt, cheese or something to bring it together and certainly was not hot for being served in this fashion.
But mainly it made no sense to serve with the lamb “Wellington” style, so I have no clue why it was served. Halfway through, I was asked “Ca va?” – too which I responded that “Mais non.” I was brought a portion of lamb cooked less, but of course would require another glass of wine while I waited.
If Guy Savoy came up with this concept, I was glad I didn’t spend $500 to eat at his restaurant. Here, despite the ambience and menu descriptions, it ended up being traditional preparation poorly executed. I can’t say I would ever return or recommend it.
Next up: Frenchie – Bar a Vins.