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French food guides


Bux
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I subscribe to US Saveurs as well. I read L'Hotellerie, for which there is a French website, the French websites for Bottin Gourmand and Gault Millau, the magazine Gault Millau, the French language magazine Thuleries (or something like that), Figaro weekend editions, Where Magazines (free from hotels when I am in Paris), Elle A Table, four different London weekend papers (for their food sections) and various other magazines. I find that Saveurs French provides very good coverage, and Gault Millau magazine is competent. Where Magazine provides surprisingly adequate coverage of Paris. On restaurant guides, I rely on Michelin, but have almost every available French guide (e.g., Champerand, sic, Pudlowski, Lebey).

This was in another thread, but it's a subject that's been on my mind since I've taken a real interest in the restaurants of France. What guidebooks do people rely on when making an itinerary for travel around France or just for picking restaurants in Paris? Clearly the Michelin Guide Rouge is the number one on most everyone's list. It appears that most Americans who are serious about food also consider the GaultMillau annual guidebook.

Over the years I've noticed those plaques and decals that decorate the entrances of many inns and restaurants around France. They are meant to connote approval by the various guides and organizations that issue the plaques and most have a year sticker on them. One that has always caught my attention is the Bottin which is quite prevalent, at least in the worthwhile places and it's appearance in front of an unknown restaurant has always made me more comfortable about entering, but I've never bought or used their book. Thanks for letting me know there is a Bottin web site. Bottin rates restaurants form 0 to 4 stars. Along with the address, pnone number, prices, closing days and ratings for food and ambience, (stars and hearts) there's a blurb about the restaurant and a short list of specialties as well as the pertinent info about. The ratings do not necessarily agree with either Michelin or GM. Does anyone have comments on their reliability? I should note that Amat who's been fired from his own restaurant across the river from Bordeaux for not getting back his second Michelin star, has a rating of three stars and three hearts on the Bottin web site and an 18/20 in the GM guide. Michelin is the gold standard and considered the most reliable of all the guides by most gourmets, but this has been only one of what I've seen as an injustice.

By the way, it's Thuries, an exceptionally glossy (great photographs, some might say food porn, but I prefer to think of it as eroticism) that seems aimed at the professional sector. Preparation and plating are of the highest quality and intensity. Have you been drawn to any particular chef or restaurant as a result of a featured article or recipe in Thuries?

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.

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At some time or another I have bought every French restaurant guiebook. At the end of the day, it's only the Michelin and Gault-Millau that I put in the car, along with the regional Guide Gantie, which covers the territory roughly from Avignon to Menton. So much of the wine and restaurant information you get in France is corrupted and self-serving, so you really have to be careful. I will look at other guidebooks just to see if it includes an address that other books have omitted (often for good reason). I will always take away one of these "Association" directories ("Cuisiniers of So-and-So"; Chateaux Hotels,etc.) for addresses. But the rest is just what Cabrales does; using the web, buying the English-language press, the food magazines. However, you need to reside long-term in France or GB to accumulate the stuff.

In general, I think the Italians do a bit better job. They have their Michelin and Gault-Milau equivalent ( La Guida d'Italia) along with Gambero Rosso, Veranelli, and  one or two others, especially the annual "Osteria" guide from Slow Food which fills a lot of gaps for less-expensive places serving the local cuisine. Every one of the above is in Italian, however.

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What guidebooks do people rely on when making an itinerary for travel around France or just for picking restaurants in Paris? Clearly the Michelin Guide Rouge is the number one on most everyone's list. It appears that most Americans who are serious about food also consider the GaultMillau annual guidebook.

Over the years I've noticed those plaques and decals that decorate the entrances of many inns and restaurants around France. . . . Does anyone have comments on [bottin Gourmand's] reliability?  . . .

Have you been drawn to any particular chef or restaurant as a result of a featured article or recipe in Thuries?

Bux -- I do rely heavily on Michelin. Its lack of description (limited to 2-3 lines, heavy on comments about the decor) is not a problem for me because I will engage in additional research, as necessary, after having pinpointed a restaurant from Michelin. For new restaurants after the Red Guide has been released, I usually rely on French newspaper and magazine articles and Where Magazine (only for Paris; possibly other large cities?) My belief in Michelin means that, very generally, I am tempted not to eat at a Michelin one- or two-star if there is an available three-star in town or close by and I have not visited the latter. Of course, that balancing would change if I had already visited the latter.

Michelin has a series of maps near the front of the book, showing what the maximum number of stars of any restaurant in a given town is. This is very helpful in planning itineraries. When I am plotting routes and determining the proximity of restaurants to one another, I also use the Relais Gourmand website (which contains maps, with little boxes for restaurants and also indicates, for each restaurant, the proximity to key adjacent cities with public transportation). At this stage, I also use the SNCF (the French train system) website, to determine whether a train is a possible means of transportation (important as driving after having taken int the alcohol I do is an impediment). The Michelin website's "driving distances/routes" feature is also very helpful.

I usually look to G-M, eGullet, L'Hotellierie and other Web-based sites (not food discussion groups, more articles) to find out more about a given restaurant's cuisine. This post-identification stage would also be where I might consult other Guides (e.g., G-M, which contains more information about specific dishes; Pudlowski, whom I believe is a fairly good critic; even Patricia Wells, whom I do not find has a palate particularly in tune with my own). There are also regional guidebooks (e.g., Provence, Lyons). I also tap out-of-print French language books on French restaurants, to the extent the restaurant has a history in which I am interested.

I also get interested in ingredients (e.g., Aubrac beef, sea urchins from certain French coastal areas, Menton lemons, Roquefort cheese), and will seek out restaurants that specialize in the preparation of those ingredients.

For new restaurants, I look to where the chef might have been a sous-chef. For one or two restaurants I really like, I would already know what had happened to their sous-chefs and, of course, visit the spin-off restaurant. The same principle applies in reverse -- a new restaurant along the lines of Ducasse's cuisine is probably not going to become a high priority to-do item on my list.

I have a very good sense of what French cuisine I like, and a review of sample menus on Websites or a bit of research helps me to further hone in on restaurants that are likely to be well-suited to me. I also have great curiosity about restaurants in France in general, and would want to visit most known places at least once at some point or another. :raz:

Thuries is very expensive --- it is between 7 and 10 euros. The descriptions of the 3-4 chefs are quite detailed, however. I have generally not been tempted by Thuries articles. It's not a publication with which I have been particularly happy.

On Bottin Gourmand, it's neither here nor there. I read it, but I agree that Michelin and G-M are better.

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We've used Michelin and the Veranelli in Italy (Esilda can read, if not speak Italian rather fluently). What I loved most about it was that it gave a separate rating to the coffee served. It gave a few other individual ratings to other aspects of dining in a reastaurant, but the coffee rating was as good an indication of the importance Italians place on espresso. Not only would a restaurant that cared, serve good coffee, but a good espresso was a good reason to choose one restaurant over another and a bad one a reason to have coffee elsewhere.

Those "guides" that appear on the tables and front desks are all self serving publicity, but not without some benefit to the traveler. The better associations of hotels, inns and restaurants provide a reliability from one place to another and are not slow to eliminate those who do not adhere to the standards set. I don't know if they still publish the Jeunes Restaurateurs de France. It was hardly a last word on new chefs, but it gave some pointers. Neither can I conisder Le Guide - Maîtres Cuisiniers de France anything like definitive. It may list Bocuse, Westermann and Nicole Fagegaltier, a personal favorite, as well as many French chefs with American restaurants such as Richard, Perrier, Delouvrier and Boulud, but Bras, Roellinger and Veyrat among others, are not members. Local guides such as Tables et Saveurs de Bretagne tend to list the usual suspects, but I always grab one and peruse it when I can.

More than anything I suppose I rely on word of mouth and rumor to support my Michelin choices. Some mouths are more influential than others, naturally. It appears that eGullet.com will play an increasingly larger role in that regard as well, not that there's an eGullet.com voice. We will all find ourselves influnenced by particular members and I'll probably be more influended by positive comments rather than negative ones and more by what's said than by mere approval.

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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Cabrales, we all rely heavily on Michelin. That's what makes it a shame when it fails us--we've contributed to the power it has to make a chef whose food we may love, lose his job or his restaurant. Nevertheless, French cooks I know in NY, seem to hold the Michelin in higher regard than they do other guides as much as we do.

The lack of information in Michelin is not a problem in regard to multistarred restaurants as so much else appears in print and online about them. That's why I often find it more interesting to report on a good one star provincial restaurant, but of course it's hard to choose a one star in a small town that has a two or three star restaurant. I don't even have to be hungry to crave the experience of the really great restaurant.

I doubt I'll buy the Botttin, but it's nice to have access to the web version.

The Michelin web site's ability to produce a set if driving instructions is quite incredible. My wife gave it a real test this past trip and we were loaded with alternate routes to consult at various points.

The proximity of a restaurant to a rail station is interesting. As we generally travel by car, the one thing that really annoys me is a great restaurant without rooms that's not in an urban center. There were a number of them on our itinerary not long ago. While we used them for lunch and I carefully restricted my drinking, the food alone made driving afterwards quite difficult. Shortly after a very heavy meal at the Auberge de la Galoupe, we felt the need for me to pull over at a rest stop and take a good nap.

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 took the liberty of sending an e-mail to Derek Brown, editorial director of the Michelin Guides. I alerted him to eGullet and to consider my posts about restaurants in the countries the Guide devotes editions as if they were sent to Michelin. I think if others wrote similar letters, it would encourage him and his staff to bundle the relevant posts with what Michelin readers e-mail and send in the mail. You can do this on the viaMichelin site.

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Thank you Robert. That's an excellent suggestion. A few years ago we sent a report of our trip to Michelin and got back a nice note and special envelope with which to send in our next report. Contacting them by e-mail might be even better and of course, eGullet.com wouldn't mind the exposure. I'll look forward to the day I send a comment by email and get back the reply that they already know us and check the site regualrly.

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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Since the title is French Food Guides, I'll add the following:

I love Patricia Wells books, more for there information on where to shop for food than for restaurants.  Nonetheless, I take her thoughts into account after using Michelin as a first cut.

For me, so much of the pleasure is visiting the shops, and it makes Patricia Wells invaluable.

beachfan

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I would like to put in a plug for my in-laws' book:  A Guide to Paris Bistros, by Robert and Barbara Hamburger, published in 2001 by Harper Collins.  This is the third and jupdated edition. It is an asiduously researched. carefully edited and very accurate guide to the bistros of Paris.  Having helped with some of the research, I can attest to the seriousness with which the Hamburgers (no puns please, they've heard them all) approach the subject.  I'm curious how many eGulletiers have read or used this book.  It is available at Amazon andf B&N as well as elsewhere.

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One of the important things about any guide is how often it's updated. This is particularly true about restaurant guides. Patricia Wells' guide to Paris has been periodically revised but still generally more useful for food shops than restaurants which undergo change much faster. Addresses in her guide to the rest of France are growing stale and there seem to be no plans for a revision. The general information is still good and it's a useful book to have at hand, but too much is out of date to buy it, it it's still in print.

Jaybee, do you know how often the Hamburger guide to bistros is revised?

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 don't think anyone mentioned one of my favorite guides Le Guide Leby and their bistro guide called Le Petit Leby. I have been buying them for at least five years. One of my favorite features is that they list the menu of the last meal eaten at the restaurant including the wine. Things like the quality of the bread and coffee are described as well. They also have an index in the back that lists places by dish. Like a list of places with cassoulet that are worthy of dining at. Le Petiti Leby is a pocket sized book and their "Bistro of the Year" feature is very worthwhile.

Jaybee-I've been buying your in-laws book since the first edition. I have to say that I don't use it much as I think there are more complete resources out there. It's been a one-time read for me and I might have a quick refresher read before I go on a trip to France. I knew a Hamburger from public school days in Bayside. Howard Hamburger. Any relation?

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One guide that hasn't been mentioned is the Guide Hubert. I haven't seen one in a French Librare for a couple of years, but amazon.fr list it. The edition I've seen is in thick glossy magazine format and covers the departments in the southern half of France plus Paris.

They use a rating system (one to five) of plates or, where the cusine is true to the local terrior, marmite pots. There are also crowns for degree of luxury in the surroindings plus a Gault-Millau length description. An interesting addition to Michelin/GM as it's reasonably light and relatively inexpensive (€ 15).

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Jaybee, do you know how often the Hamburger guide to bistros is revised?

Bux, the guide has been renewed three times since it first appeared in 1995.  The current edition was published last spring based on research that was conducted into early 2001, so it is fairly current.  It is not a "yearly" though.  I used it last fall in Paris and found it to be accurate.

Steve, I'd be interested in what you find lacking in the book as regards the survey of good bistros and wine bars.  Is it that you want a wider survey of restaurants beyond bistros?  Or do you feel the information provided about the listed bistros is not complete?

I've found the listings very helpful in selecting places and in deciding what to order.  I've used it to pick places based on a specific dish I've wanted, and to pick places in specific areas.

nb> Robert Hamburger is a Bronx and Manhattanite.  No relation, as far as I know to Howard in Bayside.

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Jaybee-No their book is fine. It's just not something I would carry to France with me for a number of reasons. First, by the time it comes out I already know about almost every place in it. Second, it's a larger book than I want to carry.  Le Guide Leby or Le Petit Leby are the perfect things to carry because they are small, lightweight and have loads of listings and all the same information the Hamburger's book has. What the Hamburger's book has that is good is an extensive list of dishes served. But that's for slow reading in advance of my trip.

Actually I have stopped bringing books with me completely. One, I am usually in the market for a new release of a guide when I'm there so I have access to more current information. Second, since I got a European cellphone that gives me France Telecom service when I'm there, if I want a phone number of a restaurant I just dial 12 and ask them to connect me.

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When I have taken trips in France involving considerable driving, I usually bring along the heavy Michelin guide and specific directions from the Michelin site to get from place to place. I generally have every destination planned out even in these situations.

When I have targeted limited, specific restaurants or am in Paris, I do bring the guide. I have an Excel spreadsheet that tracks reservations and contains restaurants' addresses, phone numbers and the date (if indicated by the restaurant) for confirmation (otherwise, several days in advance). I usually print out this spreadsheet.

I tend to have a lightweight laptop with me on all trips, for work considerations. Thus, I can usually access information that way at the last minute. Also, all hotels have the Red Guide and sometimes other guides.  :wink:

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robert brown -- Yes, because I collect certain Guide Rouges (to see, among other things, what dishes are listed from year to year), I am often tempted to offer to exchange a new Guide Rouge (if I have one handy) for old ones that I do not have. I have never actually done so, though.

No, the spreadsheet does not contain any information on past meals. The ways I document past meals are (1) tasting notes written fairly shortly after the meal (initially in notebooks, but now increasingly on my laptop, to facilitate posting) -- these are really enjoyable to read for me, (2) sets of photographs of dishes (I began doing this about a year ago) in albums that are dedicated to food (I have separate photo albums for other personal photos), (3) menus which I fairly proactively request, (4) sometimes, matchboxes, (5) a single presentation plate or other available plate, when available from restaurants -- I like plates that are actually utilized in the restaurant, and (6) other souvenirs I purchase from French restaurants' boutiques, for restaurants outside of Paris (e.g., aprons with logos, marked wine glasses, egg cups, napkins).  :wink: Sometimes, I receive these items from the restaurant/hotel as gifts from the chef/maitre d'.

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The ways I document past meals are ... (6) other souvenirs I purchase from French restaurants' boutiques, for restaurants outside of Paris (e.g., aprons with logos, marked wine glasses, egg cups, napkins).  :wink: Sometimes, I receive these items from the restaurant/hotel as gifts from the chef/maitre d'.

I've been at several gift shops, usually in R&C-Relais Gourmand establishements that have offered ties for sale. As my lifestyle rarely requires me to wear a tie except at weddings, funerals and fine meals, I've thought it would be neat to have a collection of ties associated with fine restaurants. Fortunately my sensible side kicks in pretty quickly and I have successfully fought the urge and been pleased with myself for that fact.

Years ago I watched a Japanese gentleman enter the dining room at Geroges Blanc wearing one his ties obviously purchased that afternoon in the giftshop across the square. In my opinion this ties with gallic roosters are actually quite handsome, though I didn't bite. Anyway, shortly after he realized that all the waiters were wearing the same time, he excused himself from his table and returned a few minutes later witout his tie.

:wink:

We have limited ourselves to edible goodies such as jams and pates in jars. I feel that most of these items are a bit over priced for the label, but they make wonderful souvenirs for those that couldn't be with us at the table. In fact when we return from France, our bags are mostly filled with what I think of as grocery items although they are usually purchased from artisanal producers, or specialty shops. This would make a a good thread of it's own. Should anyone care to respond on what food stuffs they bring from France before I do, please start a new topic.

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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What the Hamburger's book has that is good is an extensive list of dishes served. But that's for slow reading in advance of my trip.

My original question asked what guide books people rely on when planning an itinerary or making reservations. I didn't mean to exclude those books that are most useful as background reading. Of course the bistro guide in question might be used to make reservations in Paris in advance of leaving home and it might be used to prepare a list of addresses worth checking out after arrival, but that sort of book can also be used by first timers to get a feel for the food they will encounter and what to look for and order in France. This discussion should not be limited to books you actually carry in the glove comparment of your car.

The nice thing about traveling early in the year is that you don't have to bring your old guides. It's the chance to pick up the new editions.

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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We have limited ourselves to edible goodies such as jams and pates in jars.

Bux -- I didn't include those because they are gone after consumption.  :wink: I have lugged edible items from R&C places too frequently, including: (1) jams, and armagnac with the M Guerard affiliation from Pres d'Eugenie, (2) Framboise liquer from Alain Chapel, (3) Gentiane or Genipi (it's one of the two after-dinner drinks available at the restaurants) from Auberge de l'Eridan, (4) chicken dishes and pates from Cote d'Or and Georges Blanc (the shop across the square from the gastronomic restaurant even sold uncooked Bresse chickens, and had various saucissons that seemed interesting) (Loiseau's jams are really good), (5) citrus fruit tea and sesame oil from Troisgros, (6) a green tomato item from Le Moulin de Lourmarin, and (7) the sauce used frequently in Bruno's desserts (kind of light syrup/honey, with crushed truffles) from Lorgues.

But what is more burdensome to carry are bottles of old Champagne.   :wink:

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they are gone after consumption.

Ah, the other thing that makes jams preferable to ties as souvenirs as well as onfather's day--they don't hang around forever in your closet reminding you of your lack of judgement.

 :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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Like most people I use the Michelin but take it with a pinch of salt as there are too may reports of it demanding non food related standards. Plus as my favourite restaurant is Maison Bricourt I can't forgive it for not giving Roellinger 3 stars. On the other hand G+M made him chef of the year a few years back and have constantly sung his praises, also it is a good read at least in the french version and their website is not too bad: http://www.gaultmillau.fr

Gav

"A man tired of London..should move to Essex!"

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Michelin is always my starting point. I come up with a list of restaurants that interest me and then the real research begins. I use everything I can get my hands on - if there is a site I will check the menu, Bottin (although not that reliable), Gault-Millau gives much more information and I use it as supporting evidence re Michelin. I check newspaper sites on the web from the NY Times to Figaro. For me, it is a matter of reading as much as I can. To be honest, this is as much fun as the trip itself. The anticipation, the careful plotting of routes, even making the reservations becomes an essential part of the experience.

I also reccommend Graham Tigg - we have found wonderful, out-of-the-way places. Thanks Graham!

Another wonderful source is La Belle France. It is an in depth guide to restaurants and hotels all over France. Most of the time, they have been extremely reliable. Has anyone else heard of it?

There is another way of "discovering" restaurants - we will often start talking "food" with the chef, sommelier, waiter, GM etc in one restaurant and they will inevitably tell you about another restaurant that we must try. This only works if you like the food where you are eating.

When we come back from a trip, some people will ask what museums, churches etc. did we go to.... well, none --- we go from lunch to dinner with a stop at the open-air markets in between.

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Liz, where were you? I have looked at copies of "La Belle France" from time to time. They gave me the impression that the publishers were not paying their own way, although in all fairness I haven't seen an issue in four or five years. Do they ever really trash a place? If not, then you know the reporters are not traveling anonymously and not paying for hotels and meals.

What does Graham do?

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What does Graham do?

He posts here and has his own long standing site devoted to restaurants in France and the UK. Scroll up about halfway to the top to find his post in this thread along with the link to his site. He and I have exchanged messages for quite some time. By sheer coincidence we share a personal favorite restaurant in the Aveyron and missed each other there by two days earlier this month.

my favourite restaurant is Maison Bricourt

Welcome to the club. That's another personal favorite, and one that's been well praised here in these pages by others. Some years back I convinced Steven Shaw to alter his itinerary in France to make a stop here and believe I established my credentials with that single recommendation. Only Amat's single star has seemed a bigger flaw in the ratings.

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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