French Food Follies: What do Americans want?
For 20 years or more, I’ve been keeping a list of restaurants I’ve found to be particularly good, new, inventive and often as yet not written up in the Anglo-Saxon guides or other publications. My friends/colleagues/etc ask for the list each time they go and the only thing I ask in return is for them to report on their experiences. The most dutiful couple of them actually telephone from the restaurant (I recall two calls from them, one from Chez Catherine, the other from Le Reminet, both in their prior incarnations, raving about the food).
But frequently, folks who were in Paris for a week, will report on only one or at most two, when there were maybe 20 on the list (7-8 top ones and then ideas for the weekends and Mondays, when finding places can be tricky.) At first, I took it personally, and added a caution to my list – something to the effect that they should try one and if they liked it (and by inference, my taste) proceed.
But often I got the following feedback:
“After we got out of the Louvre at 1 PM, we couldn’t walk a step more and just crumped at the nearest place nearby, I can’t remember its name.”
“Oh, we were so tired and jet-lagged that we fell asleep at 5 PM and only awoke at 10:30.”
“Oh gosh, we wanted a place near our hotel and found this terrific café – have you ever heard of it?”
But in looking back over these 20 years, I notice a pattern. No one has ever gone to the two places outside the city, Les Magnolias in Le Pereux-sur-Marne and l’Escarbille in Meudon, that I think are superb, nor do many travel far from their hotels, museums and the city center.
So what do Americans want? Freud of course famously asked rather rhetorically “What do women want,” never really answering his self-question, and maybe I’m in the same spot. I always thought they wanted what I did: that is, superb, inventive, reasonably-priced French food, setting be damned, location be damned, décor be damned. 40 years ago, we’d taxi out to Le Pot Au Feu in Asnieres, drive across to Fredy Giradet’s in Crissiers or take a train to Reims for Les Crayeres. But today, if I put pins in the map where my friends go, they’d cluster in the single digit arrondissements.
Which is way too bad. Because, for instance, I’ve eaten recently at several places* located outside the tourist corridors; the best, in my opinion, is Le Clocher Periere, out to the North-West, far from normal metro traffic (on an RER to boot). Then there’s this year’s Spring, called Le Bigarrade, again located in a non-frequented part of the 17th, out where the Olympics would have been held if we’d won the nod. And finally, there’s La Bulle, a place which has been around for a year but little reported-on, also in a strange place – in back of the Gares of the North and East. All really follow Olivier Morteau’s famous formula for culinary success by locating in a culinary dessert, where rents are affordable, finding a talented chef and charging reasonable prices.
But that’s not necessarily what Americans want.
*My last meals at Le Clocher Periere, Le Bigarrade and La Bulle were 28 December, 24 and 25 February, respectively, all fully paid for.
My favorites 10 minutes from the beaten path are:
Le Clocher Pereire
42, bvd Pereire 17th, (Metro/RER: Pereire )
Closed Saturdays and Sundays
Lunch menu 17, dinner 29 and 38, a la carte 35-50 €.
106, rue Nollet,17th, (Metro: Brochant)
Closed Saturday lunch and Sundays.
Menus at 45 (lunch) and 55 € (dinner)
48, rue Louis Blanc, 10th, (Metro: Louis Blanc)
Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday and Monday night
A la carte about 25-35 €