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Is it a French Restaurant or a Restaurant in France?

I recently read the article, « The French Twist, » by Lauren Collins in The New Yorker magazine. The article described a new food craze in France, the Tacos. Although adding an « s » at the end of a word makes it plural in French as it does in English and other languages, in this case, «Tacos» is singular — one tacos. And before you get too excited thinking that maybe decent Mexican food is now available in Paris: sorry, but the French tacos has as much relation to a Mexican taco as say a Mexican sparkling white wine labeled Champagne has to the real thing.

But what is it? The article describes it as a soft flour tortilla containing meat (beef or chicken), French fries, a choice of relishes and sauces, and a cheese sauce. The whole thing is then folded into a rectangular shape and grilled. At least, there’s a tortilla.

What makes this interesting is that it raises the question of , »What is French cuisine ? ». We all know, or think we know anyway, what French cuisine is. We can reel off the classic dishes such as canard à l’orange, foie gras, quenelles de brochet, boeuf bourguignon, crepes suzette, bouillabaisse, mousse au chocolat, etc. All of these dishes and many others were created in France and then served in French restaurants around the world because gourmet dining became synonymous with a meal in a French restaurant if you were lucky enough to have one nearby.

The tacos was also created in France, in the suburbs of Lyon. Lyon is not just anyplace when it comes to how seriously the residents and restaurant professionals take culinary traditions.

Dirt, by Bill Buford

One of my favourite recent

reads is the book: Dirt, by Bill Buford.

So the tacos was created in France, but does that make it French? Interesting question, because the chef (or chefs - there’s a dispute) who created it was / were French citizens of North African origin and had not been trained in classical French cuisine. Does that mean that a dish created by French citizens living in France is not French cuisine if the creators weren’t classically trained?

There are a lot of restaurants in Paris (lucky us) because eating well is an important part of life in France and a lot of tourists come here hoping to have memorably good meals in addition to seeing the Mona Lisa. Personal opinion: I prefer a really good meal to being in the crowd trying to see the Mona Lisa — sorry Leonardo. For French restaurants, there are restaurants, brasseries, and bistros. There are also restaurants for the cuisines of other nations: Chinese, Japanese (mostly sushi), Korean, Italian, Turkish (kebabs), Lebanese, Greek, etc. In the years that we’ve been here, there has a progression of food fads such as hamburgers, bagels, and Poke bowls, but these have been in restaurants set up to take advantage of the fad and serve mostly that.

And yes, the French eat pizza and hamburgers but with a knife and fork: please don’t laugh or stare when you notice it. These food fad restaurants or restaurants serving non-French cuisine, however, are not the places frequented by the French for the really special meal. No, for the really special meal, there are really special (French) restaurants. The others represent a different set of flavors or copious amounts of food for very little money. Does this mean that French restaurants are always more expensive? No — we have suggestions below. Do we think you should eat only in restaurants serving French food? No, that’s up to you. I happen to like couscous and sushi as do the French.

Here are a few tips on choosing a good restaurant:

  • If the restaurant staff is outside the restaurant inviting you to come in, don’t go there.

  • Try to avoid the restaurants that are closest to the tourist sites, although we can give restaurant recommendations near tourist sites.

  • If you’re staying in a hotel that has a concierge, ask him or her for a recommendation

  • If you want to go to a Michelin-starred restaurant, you’ll need to make a reservation before coming here

And some favourite restaurants:

For game and wild mushrooms in season Au Petit Marguery, 9 blvd du Port-Royal 75013

For couscous : La Corniche, 77 blvd de Courcelles 75008

For seafood : La Brasserie Lorraine, 2 Place de Ternes 75017

For a special meal :

La Closerie des Lilas, 171 blvd du Montparnasse 75006

Les Zygomates, 7 rue de Capri 75012

I wish you a Bon Appétit!

by Eliot Goldman

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