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3 star etiquette and what to expect for us virgins


cabrales
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Speaking of not being bound by externally-derived norms, I wondered how top French restaurants might broadly react if I were to decline both dessert and cheese at the end of a meal. :blink:

There are times when I am simply too full to take in dessert or cheese. Other times, I am continuing feeble efforts at a diet.

Do members have experience with such an approach at a three- or two-star level?

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At Lion d'Or in Romorantin, which is a two star restaurant with a chef of some acclaim if not a household name, we did just that. We ordered a la Carte and by the time we finished four savory courses--granted we split all four and thus had not really consumed more than two courses each, although we believe the three course savory tasting menu probably had less than full a la carte portions--we were quite unable to eat any more. I think we barely made a dent in the petits fours and chocolates that came with the coffee. There were no questions and no looks. This is an inn devoted to making its guests feel at home in any way it can and seems to cater to many who come for the comfort more than the food. It's an old fashioned place in that aspect. The excellence of the food is taken for granted rather than flaunted. I ate as well here as I could ever hope to eat, but in relaxed comfort and without the tension of a more avant garde restaurant. I suspect a majority of diners would find it preferable in every way to most three star restaurants. The same could be said for the Domaine des Hauts de Loire near Onzain where we stayed the next night. The food at both seems contemporary, but more consciously rooted in tradition and designed to please not shock the diner. At the latter we split three dishes and had room for a little cheese and dessert. Actually, I had cheese and dessert, Mrs. B. was content with cheese. I'd trade a savory course for cheese and dessert, especially in a more traditional meal. It just seems so much more of a rounded meal that way. The petits fours almost satisfied my taste for dessert, but the sight of the four wicker trays of cheese was a painful temptation. The possibility of just exploding at the Lion d'Or--a la Grande Bouffe--certainly entered my mind. It would not have been a bad way to go, but then I was curious about the food at the Domaine des Hauts de Loire the next night. I am saved from my gluttony only by the prospect of another meal.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I can only answer in regards to my experience at one-star (Astrance) and two-star (La Galube) restaurants, and in both these instances I had ordered a tasting menu. I simply left all or most of the dessert, after at least attempting part of the cheese course. In these and a couple of other similar level meals, I have just told the server that the meal was delicious, enormous and very rich. They have, in all cases, agreed with me. When ordering off the carte, I have often coerced my husband into ordering one or both of these courses, and in such instances, we're always provided with a second plate and utensil. When neither of us can face another bite, we explain our satiety, consider an unplanned afterdinner beverage and leave a larger than usual amount on the table.

eGullet member #80.

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  • 1 month later...

I am considering implementation of the "no dessert and no cheese" policy for many of my meals in 2003, unless I am taking in a prix fixe meal or I see a dessert listed in Michelin. I ask whether it would be possible to not order dessert and not order cheese, and stick with digestif or coffee after the principal dish (perhaps after a little break). It reflects a number of considerations: 1) my desire to diet, 2) my not liking chocolate (I rarely eat petit fours, chocolate or otherwise), and 3) my liking mostly blue cheese. Where I feel the dining room team might react negatively to this policy, I will order dessert or cheese. Any way to make the situation less potentially akward? :blink:

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Normally, it's no problem not ordering cheese or dessert at the end of a meal in a Michelin-starred establishment... the waitstaff knows you've just packed in a calorie-rich meal, and won't get angry at you!

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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Normally, it's no problem not ordering cheese or dessert at the end of a meal in a Michelin-starred establishment... the waitstaff knows you've just packed in a calorie-rich meal, and won't get angry at you!

Agreed. Just order coffee and they'll bring out the mignardises.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Where I feel the dining room team might react negatively to this policy, I will order dessert or cheese. Any way to make the situation less potentially akward?  :blink:

I'm baffled by this. It would never occur to me to allow the waitstaff's possible reaction to govern what I choose to order. If I don't want dessert or cheese I don't order it.

Sometimes When You Are Right, You Can Still Be Wrong. ~De La Vega

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The French are a very formal people and there's a tradition of dining on at least three courses in a traditional restaurant. There's also the fact that in most better restaurants, the table is yours for the night and unilke here in the states where the faster you eat and leave the sooner they can serve another meal at your table. I think Cabby recognizes this and is sensitive to it. To a great extent she is oversensitive to it, but how much nicer it is for a American in France to be over sensitive than clueless in regard to local traditions and manners.

I share some of Cabby's concern. Often when in France and looking for a light lunch, my wife will see a menu posted and suggest we eat there and just order main courses. Invariably I will tell her it's not the sort of restaurant where I would do that and we will continue to look for a cafe or brasserie where I feel it's permissable to order one course. I think Cabby's being too concerned because I feel that not having dessert is more acceptable than skipping a first course and because I think things are changing in regard to formality in restaurants. Another factor is that Cabrales is talking about the most formal end of French dining and oddly enough that's where a strange dichotomy exists. The chefs are artists whose work is not to be sullied with requests for sauce on the side, but the restaurants are dedicated to pleasing the diners' whims. I think you can order as much or as little as you like as long as you show respect for what you order.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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As a result of cultural insecurity, I think that we're being far too sensitive. At least for lunch, there are a large number of formal restaurants including 1 and 2 starred ones in Paris and the provinces, that are actively marketing abbreviated meals. This undoubtedly results from local demand. What you see is a special section of the carte called menu d'affaires where you are advised to order a single plat or a plat plus appetizer or desert with the statement that there is no need to order anything more. I have the feeling that the French have already moved beyond, and we visitors remain beholden to antiquated customs.

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Bux's explanation is about right, as to my concerns. I believe, at certain restaurants, there is a set of shared expectations as to how the dishes in a meal might generally progress. (By the way, I happen to believe that restaurants expect clients to order aperatifs, although that is not necessarily the prevalent practice and I like ordering champagne regardless of whether it is expected.) It is not a question of a restaurant trying to maximize a client's expenditures, nor a question of inflexibility on the part of the restaurant. Perhaps more a question of the ebbs and flows of a meal. (On very rare occasions, I have felt like cheese *and* dessert are expected to be ordered, although that is much more the exception.)

Note I would rate myself as fairly secure, both personally and with respect to the cultures with which I identify. It's a question of choosing to embrace the norms in which one places herself (I happen to agree wholeheartedly with those norms and to enjoy them, so there's not much of an issue in my case, except with respect to desserts and cheese.)

Edited by cabrales (log)
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Whilst in Milan (pronounced, Milano), I dined a great little resaurant eating a full meal of primi (the linguini with lobster sauce was a pile o' excellent pasta in a delicatlely light cream sauce and half of a lobster), secondi, etci. A few days later I found myself in the same area and popped in for lunch. I ordered only some pasta. The waitress looked at me like I was nuts. I looked around at the other folks and couldn't believe that they were all ordering tons of food. My lunch came and it was so oversalted, I assumed the chef was trying to punish me for my vulgarity. When I tried to complain, the waitress suddenly understood no Englich.

Edited by Dstone001 (log)
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If I'm worried about getting stuffed I generally skip on the bread

Also in posh places I find that ordering coffee triggers the materialisation of multiple squadrons of petit fours, which often does very nicely for a light pudding if I am feeling a bit complet

The third alternative is a brisk walk around outside (esp. in winter) before returning to the table. does wonders for the perpetually plumped

cheerio

J

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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What about not ordering wine?  Completely beyond the pail?

Wilfrid -- You know that question is somewhat moot for me. :wink:

Yep, me too. I think my serious solution would be to eat the cheese (not the dessert), and try to skip eating something else during the day.

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Jon -- Recently, I have already been skipping bread/butter (I know this is shocking for some members; I like to sample butter, but intake has been reduced lately) and petit fours, for most meals. When I currently order cheese, it is one or two blues only or Vacherin or Epoisses, if in prime condition. Usually one type of cheese, and requested in small quantities.

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I have the feeling that the French have already moved beyond, and we visitors remain beholden to antiquated customs.

I have the same feeling and I'm disappointed--not that I'm beholden to antiquated customs, but that the French aren't. Takes the fun out of traveling there. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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When I currently order cheese, it is one or two blues only or Vacherin or Epoisses, if in prime condition.

Cabrales- Lately, is it harder to find cheeses like a ripe Epoisses in restaurants? I have been told on more than one occasion in France recently that the "smell" kept them from serving it. I have found that ripe and "stinky" cheeses are getting harder & harder to find.

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dlc -- Apologies; I don't know. I recently had some at Troisgros, and they were not shy about serving it. That restaurant, I have observed, has at least two largely identically endowed cheese platters. Sometimes one of them is moved around to a table by being carried by two dining room team members. Also, I don't consider myself particularly knowledgeable about cheese, although I like some varieties enough and am trying to gain knowledge. :smile:

Edited by cabrales (log)
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  • 2 months later...

French wining and dining has a mystique about it that may be unparalleled. Serious tradition pared with governmental regulation seems to govern the production of the simplest aspects for food and wine. Wine traditions, I enjoy reading about from books, and through wine tastings. But food traditions, especially etiquette and expectations that govern dining experiences in haute cuisine- that is to say, starred restaurants- are much more dauting and inaccessible.

Even though, well-traveled, knowledgable about many subtelties of food and wine, and having been lucky to have eaten diversely, and well, in the States and abroad, this 23 yr-old American gourmet/gourmand finds himself feeling daunted at the prospect of spending an evening at a starred/haute cuisine restaurant in Paris. Yet, a 3 month linguistic/culinary/oenophilic sejour in Paris can hardly be complete without trying the casual and the formal; the simple and the complex; the cheap and the expensive of what Paris has to offer- and I'm convinced I will regret it if I don't have a haute cuisine experience (at Parisian wonders like Le Cinq, or L'Astrance) in addition to my experiences at bistros, brasseries and crepe stands.

Are there things to remember/know, on what to expect at a starred restaurant. Is there protocol, etiquette or other subtle savoir faire that the knowledgable and passionate members of egullet could impart to help make an evening (or afternoon) at a starred restaurant a culinary exprerience to remember, rather than an expensive faux-pas ridden nightmare to forget?

Or perhaps, on a lighter-note, do members have folly experiences or mistaken adventures in haute cuisine to share that we can all learn from together? :smile:

A bientot,

-ron

Edited by saveur (log)
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There are no social situations, and that includes the nursery school sandbox, that are without their own protocol, etiquette or other subtle savoir faire, but the haute cuisine restaurant is not a secret society and there is a large staff whose job is generally to see that you are comfortable as well as well fed. Of course you are entitled to be a bit aprehensive in any environment in which you find yourself for the first time. It's natural and don't try to pretend you're any more experienced than you are. A love of good food and an honesty of approach will carry you a long way. Most maitre d's, captains and sommeliers will be as eager to teach a young novice as they are to serve a familar customer.

Work your way up if possible from the simple bistros through more formal restaurants with perhaps one star or even a good no star restaurant. Life is full of mistakes. Whatever mistakes you might make will not ruin your meal if you're cool and there really are few things you could do wrong, assuming you've already eaten out somewhere in the world.

You may be interested in knowing that French formal service dictates that the only implements on the table are those to be used for that course. In a fine restaurant all cutlery will be replaced with each course and you don't have to worry about which fork to use. Ask questions if you're in doubt. The staff is there to serve and will reward your honesty.

Enjoy Paris and tell us how it goes.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Enjoy Paris and tell us how it goes.

Saveur:

Welcome to eGullet. I have no advice to add to Bux's.

But like him, I would love to hear about your experiences in Paris. Ah....23 again and in Paris. You lucky dog.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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