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Simon Says: How to pick a restaurant, eat well...

John Talbott

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Comment se faire passer pour un critique gastronomique sans rien y connaître.

François Simon : Éditions Albin Michel SA 2001, 342 pages (currently unavailable new on Amazon.fr).

An American publisher might title it “The Dummies Guide to French Restaurants,” but my summary would be something like “How to pick a restaurant, eat well, avoid pitfalls and enjoy yourself.” It is written as if for a wannabe critic, but 99% applies to us all.

In this drôle, perceptive and entertaining book, François Simon, ex of Gault & Millau, now at Le Figaro, gives 50 lessons for “being well treated in a restaurant.” He uses three modes of communication: some humorous instruction, bitingly incisive incidents and reviews of real places structured much as he does in Figaro Entreprises, e.g. Should I go?, Is it expensive?

For me, the book started slowly and didn’t pick up speed until Lesson #7, so if you want to skip ahead, be my guest. Otherwise I’ll march you through the beginning.

Lesson #1: How to choose a restaurant?

Don’t dream the impossible dream, be realistic, patient (he recounts Jeffrey Steingarten’s seven trips to L’Arpège before understanding why it had 3 stars), accepting of imperfection and you’ll be rewarded. His appended review is of the Rainforest Café at Disney Village; in brief don’t go.

Lesson #2: How to make a reservation?

Call up and while using all the “magic words” that we teach our children, lower your voice an octave and assertively, clearly, concisely and firmly ask for a quiet table. Ideally, go by yourself first (even going so far as ordering the wines) so you don’t get subjected to his example where they gave him the runaround and denied he had a reservation. His review of La Guirlande de Julie is subtitled “Deliciously nothing.” Here the reservation screw-up, wait, food and service result in a “No go.”

Lesson #3: How to enter?

He maintains that entering is an art. Look important, direct yourself to the maître d’, don’t hesitate to throw him a curve (e.g. being more snobbish than he) and make sure to leave the case of wine or your golf clubs with the coat-check person. The review is of Robert et Louise where he culminates by being served a tart of rancid apples.

Lesson #4: How to choose a table?

You’ve already asked for a quiet spot, now as you’re led to “your” table you’ve got a few seconds to make a decision whether to sit there or refuse it; indeed if you do, the next one shown you is invariably better. Tips: avoid corridors, kitchens and toilets.

Lesson #5: Stay anonymous?

For the author, who prides himself on never being photographed or recognized, this is important. For us, it’s not much of a much. The review is of Maxim’s; the cuisine is banal but not indigestible; lacking stature despite the great setting and fabled history.

Lesson #6: How to spot the traps?

Simon points out that restaurants are cash cows, thus to avoid paying exorbitant prices for things like a “simple salad” which costs as if it were made of gold: split plates in two, avoid single glasses of wine, claim you’ve already eaten or plead having to catch a train. Review: Le Grand Venise where the table was “offered” apéritifs that actually cost $37 (all dollar figures are given for the franc/dollar rates when the book was written); the mineral water was $12 and dishes they split were more costly than on the nenu.

Now things get juicier, funnier and more informative (to me anyway):

Lesson #7: How to read the menu? or Pet Peeves

1. Telling you after you’ve decided on a dish that they’re out of it.

2. A menu that’s printed “in marble” once a year.

3. Playing games with the names of dishes; e.g. an osso bocco of lotte.

4. Dishes labeled “in my fashion.”

5. Restrictions, such as no orders after 10 PM.

6. Small, abbreviated menus with no inexpensive items.

7. Presenting you a menu open to the most expensive items.

8. The absence of prix fixe menus you have to ask for.

He encourages us to search in the corners for stuff with interesting (e.g. inexpensive) prices and tells the story where a chef, sensing he didn’t see what he wanted, offered to make him what he, Simon, wished. Review: Minchelli, where he truly illustrates the title of this section with the now well-known tired jokes, Parisian cynicism and “absurd poetry” of the menu. Go - no way.

Lesson #8: Can one fiddle with the menus?

In brief, it’s tough: e.g. to not have everyone order a tasting menu, to take one from column A and one from column B. Simon suggests you play dumb, remember that if a meal begins badly it ends badly and figure out your exit route when this happens; there’s always Pizza Express he reminds us. His example: Chez Wanieck where he imagines a tidal wave hitting Paris, leaving only this place above water.

Lesson #9: Must you order what’s strongly recommended?

Short answer, of course not. As well, Simon objects to the common practice of not giving prices for suggestions of the day (shades of the US) and warns us especially of “noble” items: e.g. lobster, truffles, caviar, and turbot….

Lesson #10: How to spend less.

He quotes a chef who says (liberally translated) “everytime someone opens the door, it costs us $74, if I kept it shut I’d save money,” as if that justifies elevating costs. Simon suggests: not ordering orally given specials, not having an apéritif, not hailing the champagne cart, not ordering all 3 courses, not taking a cigar or bottled water or playing like millionaires with tips. Instead, and he stresses this, decide what your desired main dish will be and construct a dinner around that and order “little appellations.” His review is of Le Bourdonnais and the tale that follows recounts booked it through Dégriftour (like Expedia). Reading this review, you sample some of Simon’s acidity when crossed; e.g. the service was minimal and nul; the ambience masochistic and the wine that came with the $100 prix fixe was a “mystery wine.”

Lesson # 11: How to work up an appetite?

Alleging that he only eats once or twice a month at the grand restaurant, he advises that, on those days, we have a light lunch, have sage or green tea in the afternoon, a lemon squeeze at 6 PM and drink lots of water. He also fasts once a month, regularly works out, drinks only the best of apéritifs, diets and drains his liver with herbs (I’m not making this up). Finally, psych yourself up.

Lesson #12: Must you judge the restaurant by its bread?

Yes; it’s the first indication of a place’s worth and the chef’s professionalism and food savvy. Look, listen to its crunch, smell it and only then taste it. Here again, Simon is at his one and only literary best – describing how one inspects all the aspects of bread as if it were a piece of sculpture. Chez Raymonde is his example of, for once, dropping his role as critic and just getting into the spirit of the place.

Lesson #13: How to deal with the sommelier.

To start, he describes him as dressed like a sadomasochist (chain, opener, knife, tasting cup) on whom the Hell’s Angels have nothing and acting like an animal. He acts like he’s seen everything and tasted everything. Since sommeliers change often, they ignore much of the old stock– so home in on those (but later he warns that some really old ones are by now are dead dogs). And beware those marked old vintages; instead head for sweet and divers (no real translation) wines. Sommeliers will try to steer you towards expensive wines and with the multiplier effect of at least 3, and sometimes 6, you really get stiffed.

Lesson #14: How to out-snob the snob (eg the sommelier)?

Choose a wine you know by heart, ask him to remind you if it was grown on the hillside or farther down, stop conversing if he is inept in uncorking the bottle or spills a drop, and take an attitude like Colombo “Tell me, this first pressing, it was by hand or machine?” If he wants to let it air in the glass, argue to let it air in the bottle - and vice-versa. And only pour into a carafe a young wine, especially a white. Take courses, take notes in illegible handwriting, ask for the wine at the temperature of the cellar, and jovially share with him all the spelling mistakes in his wine list.

Lesson #15: How to have a successful business meal?

This is probably more information than any person not working in France would need; highlights – scope it out in advance, find a place where you can talk, have apéritifs, avoid a credit card fight at the end. The review: Apicius: very, very expensive but go once a year (that was written when Jean-Pierre Vigato, soon to leave, was there).

Lesson #16: How to best a snob?

First, let the know-it-all preen his stuff, then ask arcane questions about what cups he drinks tea from (Royal Westminster, etc), practice little tricks with the bubbly, and finally be a bigger snob.

Lesson #17: How to talk to a chef?

Simon says encounters with chefs are invariably a disaster; primarily because they want to be loved and the critic to have no criticisms; he gives a list of things you say and how they hear them; e.g. the critic says “It’s very, very, very good” the chef hears “not bad;” critic says: “very interesting,” he hears “there’s an idea there, but on the whole he failed.” His review is of La Pergolèse and it features the chef checking at least three times with him to ask if he likes the food, etc.

Lesson #18: Must you let the chef get his way?

Essentially, if he’s meandering off on his own way, there’s little you can do but say you’re allergic to (say) truffles, if that’s his flavor of the week. The review is of Le Petit Colombier where the chef of the old school makes everything from an autumn salad to royal rabbit and is ever-present.

Lesson #19: How to maintain your cool faced with intimidating products?,

e.g. caviar (have it at home), foie gras (avoid pâté-like stuff), truffles (again buy it in an épicerie and sample with friends at home) and above all – ask questions about the product’s provenance, etc.

Lesson #20: How to enjoy a coffee?

talks of a good machine, fine cups and producing a proper mousse. The review is of Le Barrio Latino for a Sunday brunch which he concludes was not good and thus scandalously expensive.

Lesson #20: How to find new places before the others?.

In brief, read publications that closely monitor changes in the restaurant business; e.g. L’Hôtellerie, Le Figaroscope, Le Figaro; read between the lines in the L’INSEE reports (which I didn’t find terribly helpful); become a flaneur and scan windows as you walk around Paris and sometimes, but rarely, find them in the guidebooks. The review is of Les Magnolias, an example of a “little pearl” in the suburbs (that I also have been unable to convince anyone I recommend it to, to visit).

Lesson #22: How to test a trendy restaurant ?,

Georges or Bon or the Costes places, for example. Simon suggests you use different standards than usual, treat them for what they are, and eat simple dishes. His review of L’Avenue, the Costes flagship place, emphasizes the décor and clientele; as for the food, he writes “The food. The what? But you surely joke?”

Lesson # 23: How to approach ethnic food?

Speak with the owner and ask about dishes that are “personal” not “typical,” try the wines of their country rather than rosés from Provence, don’t be timid about asking how to eat a course, try new things, study a bit (e.g. learning that true risotto takes 22-23 minutes to prepare) and try everything once. His review is of Sawadee, a thaï restaurant which he judged authentic and honest.

Lesson #24: How to test a sushi bar?.

I’m not sure there’s much here of news to American foodies: hygiene is #1, freshness #2 and talent of the sushi chef #3. His review is of Lô Sushi where he thought the prices were outrageous (his bill was $60 which wouldn’t surprise most Americans) and the sushi disappointing.

Lesson #25: How to test a platter of shellfish?

For assured freshness, he recommends eating at a brasserie where they do a lot of them. He warns that too much ice is a bad sign, indicative of covering old product, advises us to test langoustines by separating their heads from their bodies and see if there is a slight amount of resistance and to test the “state of health” of the oysters by putting a drop of lemon on them to see if they react immediately. His accompanying review is of the venerable brasserie Marty, which he recommends especially for the price although he’s not convinced the product truly arrived yesterday and didn’t think the scallops were the best.

Lesson #26: How to get the temperature you want for wine?

In brief, make it clear what you want and take possession of the bottle yourself, so, say the white wine doesn’t get overly warm in a giant glass. His review: the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz where he likes the barman and where the white wine and a Bloody Mary were as he likes them.

Lesson #27: Should you ask the chef to come to your table?

Not if you find a gold crown in your food (instead pocket it) but yes if it’s lead, or you’ve waited an hour to be served. He says it’s useless to complain if a dish is bad; the waiter or chef’s automatic response is that “everyone else loves it like that.”

Lesson #28: Is it necessary for the chef to be present?

He notes that Joêl Robuchon is never visible so he can take off any time he wishes and that it’s not necessary for the chef to be present – after all you don’t expect Enzo Ferrari himself to tighten the nuts & bolts. And he quotes the famous, probably apocryphal answer Bocuse reportedly gave to people asking who cooks when he’s not there: “the same guy as when I am here.” The review, most appropriately, is of Alain Ducasse who maintains that he’s there when needed.

Lesson #29: Is it necessary to see the kitchen?

Despite Michelin’s practice, his answer is No.

Lesson #30: Several little tests to make you have confidence in the place….

Check for a clean ashtray and clean glass, see what happens when cutlery clangs on the floor or a napkin drops, order a simple dish (e.g. the old sliced tomato trick) and/or olive oil, fleur de sel, a peppermill. The review is of a place I assumed no one but me has gone: Ikea out at Paris Nord, where they had a menu for $6 ($1 for the children’s menu) and he had fish with ginger and blanc-manger, but was served not by his fantasied pretty, buxom, Swedish “girl,” but a sweet woman from the Dominican Republic.

Lesson # 31: How to get the right temperature (for the food)?,

e.g. so it’s neither carbonized (meat), cold (cheese), or frozen not cold (ice cream). He describes an experience he had in a restaurant near L’Opera when the fresh roasted apricot he had ordered arrived sending off sparks, then died an agonizing death. Answer: be specific about what temperature you expect dishes to be at.

Lesson #32: How to change (that is, send back) a bottle of wine?

This is a good reason to have had the sommelier participate in the decision; then he’s stuck with switching. He quotes an experience, as an example, when the sommelier tasted the wine and pronounced it good but on airing it was obviously corked and the sommelier agreed with everyone at the table. Simon suggests one not say “I don’t like it,” but rather use terms such as: lifeless, musty, old, transparent, watery, madeirized, acerbic, raw, broken, corked, warped, sour, diminished, flat, narrow, unbalanced, tired, tasting like flooring…

Lesson #33: What’s a good cheese spread?

First, the platter should be hygienically perfect, second, there should be no contact with the straw and third, not too many cheeses should be there – 7-12 is correct. Finally, don’t go for the raisin rolls and ask for cheese that goes with the wine you already have (why order more?).

Lesson #34: How to test desserts?

The flaky pastry is the best test, the ice cream shouldn’t be frozen, avoid floating island, only your mother could really make crème brûlée and the best test of chocolate is a mousse. The review is of La Flèche d’Or which he subtitles “abracadabrantesque” (a word Chirac used dismissively about the charges brought against him several years ago, implying they were a product of fantasy). Simon had a tiramisu which the “adorable” server said was “excellent,” but he found had the appearance of a “drag queen” (in English.)

Lesson #35: How to have a successful romantic meal?

He maintains that every day can be Valentine’s Day but one must avoid restaurants that are too romantic (e.g. flowers, boudoirs, couples coupling), not pick heavy foods, reserve a good table, put the maître d’ in your pocket, and forget how much it costs. His review is of Au Café de l’Industrie, a vast barn of a place with spots on the wall, couples quarreling, etc. (PS It’s since been renovated and reopened not long ago.)

Lesson #36: How to make a meal short?

He starts with a story of reaching 11:30 PM after 16 bottles of wine and 18 entremets and suggests one make clear to the staff from the start how much time you have, use catching a train as an excuse, and order dessert, coffee and the bill at the same time (avoiding three round trips). His review is of the now definitively closed Au Pactole, where the well-known (to anyone who’s eaten there) patronne arrived very late and spent hours, it sounds like, blaring away at top volume (he calls her Radio Casserole) at two guests about everything from jazz to the Restaurant Association).

How to judge a restaurant on its cigars?

Starting off by chastising those who light up oblivious of others, he gives the rituals I think our readership is quite familiar with: e.g. humidification, preparation, lighting up, etc.

Lesson #38: What should you try?

Interesting point he raises, in that some critics eat the same item to see how it fares at different places, while others try different and innovative dishes and still a third group order what they do not like. He suggests you recall Gault & Millau’s dictim to go to a restaurant first and foremost to have a good time; also to try dishes that are more complicated; to order the dégustation menu because that’s the chef’s signature, to pay attention and to watch the vegetables (I take it, because surprises often reveal themselves there). His review is of “S&M” Restaurants, e.g. Korova, 59 Poincaré, Xu and their counterforces Chez Georges, Chez Henri, Le Verre Volé and Villaret. He calls them “S&M” because they are “Candide-esque,” uncomfortable and force you, by their prices, to omit dessert. They are Petri dishes of the cellphone culture, their maîtres d’ are better dressed and tanned than you, they commit treason with ethnic dishes (sushis, risottos) and he suggests the only way to best them is to ask for the bill before you order (that’ll shock the waiters!).

Lesson #39: How to read a critique/critic?

You need to read between the lines and he has several tips: beware reviews praising the view or the seat cushions rather than the chef, note that some towns are over-represented in a guidebook – that’s where the critics have country homes and if reviews present menus as “marathons,” you’re in trouble. Beware those who both call the chef by his first name and those who speak ill of him vengefully because they were teed off by a big bill.

Lesson #40: The rules of critiques/critics?

“Between us, it’s not too tough to trash a restaurant,” says Simon. But he recommends that we avoid misjudging it by not going the first day it opens, not bringing more than 4 people, testing the dishes made by the chef (rather than oysters or lox, etc), avoiding eating at times or on days when it will be packed, not changing what the dish is supposed to come with and being courteous. His review, of Le Véfour is subtitled “Genial but disappointing,” which seems an understatement after he reels off the faults: badly cooked meat, idiotic desserts, precious portions, waiters who were more intent on figuring out their cut of an out-of-sight bill, etc etc.

Lesson #41: How to get comp’d?

Flatter, compliment, lie, butter up the chef, tell them to send the check to your editor, don’t talk too much and remain courteous.

Lesson #42: Must one see the toilets?

If the hygiene is shaky, so will be the food. A good place cares about the every detail, regularly monitors all parts of the restaurant and keeps everything spic and span. The review is of The (sic) Chipper; Sex or fried Mars bar? I’m afraid Simon has lost me in understanding its relationship to toilet-inspection, in describing this place which truly does serve a fried Mars bar, whose ingredients he laboriously and in his words “pré-vomatif”ly lists.

Lesson #43: Dare to speak up?

because the customer’s always right. You want some special fried potatoes, your wine’s no good, your glass in empty, you’ve waited 45 minutes between courses, the temperature of the room is wrong – speak up!

Lesson #44: Must you blow off steam at the place?.

Yes, if the dish is cooked to the wrong degree of doneness, the wine is too cold or too warm, the table is poor, the item is not good or there’s an error in your bill. The review is of L’Arpège entitled Alain Passard: happy traitor (really deserter), where he judges the vegetarian mean enchanting, thinks the staff is as large as the Mexican Army but the bill ($500 for 2) for a non-meat meal was excessive unless it covered the cost of the farmer’s back pain, the manicure of the radishes, the back rub for the carrots, etc.

Lesson #45: How to quiet down a boisterous bunch or cigar smokers or tellers of funny but dreary stories?

Summon the maître d’hôtel, suck it up and roll your bread or speak more loudly yourselves. Or pull his trick; call a trusted friend, have him call the maître d’ to put the offending party on the phone (he’ll notice the drop in volume immediately, thus becoming your ally), when the offending customer hands the phone back to the maître d’ have the friend tell him, very nicely, to ask them to cool it and then you may eat in peace while the perpetrator slinks back to the table.

Lesson #46: Eating alone at a restaurant: 10 ways to beat your fate,

that is, of getting stuck at the worst table. Reserve for two persons, confirm it, shampoo and primp, take a good book, say not a word until seated (at a good table), announce with sincerity that your friend missed his train, when the other tables stare, you keep your cool, put the staff in your pocket by seeking the sommelier’s advice, smiling at the maître d’, etc, order three desserts and leave triumphant. His review is of Benoit where he had a salad, magret de canard, and cheese as part of a $60 menu and ends up saying that for once, the food guides are more in touch than the American tourists (Interesting comment, eh?)

Lesson #47: Is it necessary to tip?

Once you’ve already paid $10 to the vouturier and $8 to the coatcheck person, leaving another $18 for the rest of the staff seems logical. But if you’re a critic, eating 400 meals a year, the toll becomes heavy. But do tip if the service is really nice and if you’ve really satisfied all your desires; in return, if you were treated badly, leave “nada” and don’t say goodbye. The review is of L’Ami Louis: subtitled “absurd abundance,” which he summarizes as incredibly expensive for sublimely simple food.. He had the foie gras, roast chicken with their signature mountain of potatoes (that all the Americans there watched) and dessert. Tip? Yes.

Lesson #48: The cost of everything!

Here Simon details the costs of the place, the décor, the personnel, accessories, lawyers, commissions to credit card companies, etc (I’ll let you look up the figures if you’re interested, although both “Food Business” and “Burgundy Stars” do pretty much the same thing; they’re awesome. His review is of Le Tournesol: subtitled vengeance is a dish, where he liked the food, especially the desserts and service, but thought it lacked a bit of la “human touch” (English).

Lesson #49: How to pass as a critic?

“Really, you’re tempted?” It begins with the reservation: use a flowery bass voice, create a name for your fictitious publication, say you’re planning an article just about the restaurant and want to case it first, dress up, make sure you have all the accoutrements of the trade: phony business cards, club memberships, camera, little tape-recorder, etc. Take a pix of the chef, interview him, scribble incessantly, look over each platter as if it were a lab specimen, don’t drink too much (having ordered a magnum) and pay your bill. The review is of Tanjia, a restaurant and lounge-bar, where he argues it’s better to not be seen as a critic and be treated as a normal citizen; he had the carrot salad, pastilla and orange salad dessert with a trendy clientele but felt it was a slightly lackluster experience.

Lesson #50: How to not be taken for a critic?

It’s really not hard: don’t become an insider, don’t serve on awards’ juries, keep your distance and don’t allow yourself to be taken for a critic, that is, be normal, change your name to make reservations, always pay – and say goodbye leaving the restaurant. If you follow those rules you’ll sleep well….

John Talbott

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Did you read the French version? Where did you obtain it? (I have an eight-week backorder for a used copy on amazon.fr)..

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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Did you read the French version? Where did you obtain it? (I have an eight-week backorder for a used copy on amazon.fr)..

Yes, I don't think there are any other editions than the Albin Michel. I discovered it on my bookshelf in Paris last week (either I bought it in a fugue state or a good friend left it for me when visiting), in either case I'd forgotten all about it.

When I went to amazon.fr there were no new copies available so the wait for a used one doesn't surprise me. Someone a while back on another thread suggested another French-located website for used books but I cannot recall what it was. Sorry.

John Talbott

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Funny, I already tried alapage, but found nothing - do you have the link?

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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Start alapage.fr, enter "francois simon" in the search box, and when the result comes up scroll down to "livres rares et anciens", at the very bottom of the page. Click on that link (see below) and then scroll down about a page. There it is:

Comment se faire passer pour un critique gastronomique sans rien y connaître - 50 leçons pour être... - SIMON François - Albin Michel. Paris 2001

Cet ouvrage vous est proposé par la librairie le meridien

Prix : 7,00 € / 45,92 FRF

this is the link, but I'm not sure how long it will work.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Thanks, Jonathan, you're a star, I've already ordered it!

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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God doesn't come into it - you just need to jump quickly.

If you try Alpage now, you'll get "Il n'y a pas de réponse pour François Simon dans le catalogue"

Sounds like a great book - just have to try to find it at a brocante.

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  • 1 year later...

On the occasion of the publication of the second edition of "Comment se faire...." and for the interest of Simon hunters, Metro yesterday published an article with some identifying info on this elusive, opaquely-tongued but imaginative critic who proportedly has never been photographed. He dresses like a "dandy," rides a bicycle, stands 1.72 meters tall and weighs 68 kilos (5 feet 6 inches & 150 pounds). NB: he has some harsh things to say about those who do not review anonymously, take free meals, etc. saying that they get the red carpet treatment and cannot report unbiasedly. He also says he gets the French equivalent of hate mail, esp from those (eg, Guy Martin of Le Grand Vefour) he's criticized.

John Talbott

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Thanks so much for the article.

By the way, I would like to know your thoughts on the following:

when dining at a fine restaurant (i.e., starred),

what's wrong with asking to meet the chef in person after the meal-especially to know exactly who did the cooking and to offer praise or criticism?

Is it really absurd to think that say- Jacques Cagna is not working on a night when he said he would be in?



Edited by getxo (log)
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I can confirm that FS does indeed ride a bicycle, but he doesn't dress in any particular way - certainly not like a 'dandy'. Maybe he's never been photographed, but neither does he take any particular steps to disguise himself. Restaurant critics in France seem neither to be as vilified nor as elevated as they are in the US or UK. Although FS has carved a niche for himself, the comments of a paper's restaurant critic don't seem, by and large, to be taken as seriously by readers in France as they might be elsewhere. Maybe this is because, as FS asserts, most of his contemporaries are well-known suck-ups and actively seek to be friendly with the chefs they review, so anonymity is really irrelevant - they don't even pretend to be impartial. As he says he doesn't do either of these things, perhaps that's possibly why he's not recognised and why he gets hate mail.

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Restaurant critics in France seem neither to be as vilified nor as elevated as they are in the US or UK.

This could be a whole new thread. In NY if the NYT favorably or even mildly-favorably reviews a place - faggedaboudit for a year. Here, I routinely go the day of a great review in le Figaro, no problem.

John Talbott

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Yes - a whole new thread. Gross generalisation, but part of the issue is - whether accurate or not - 'foodie-ism' is a new phenomenon in the US and UK, people feel they need experts to guide them in the right direction or discourage them from making an error. Same with wine. For some reason, the food and drink choices one makes carry a lot of "baggage" in the US and UK In France, good food has always played a huge role in the national consciouness - indeed, the national sense of worth and self. And the French have always been as happy to drink crappy wine as they have been to drink wonderful wine - it's just part of life, some of it's good, some of it's bad, they don't particularly need someone to tell them which one it is. So the concepts of food and wine "criticism" per se - in the sense of someone reviewing and telling you what *they* think, with the idea that you may follow their advice, is not nearly as "evolved" as it is in the US and the UK.

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