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NYT Articles on Food, Drink, Cooking, and Culinary Culture (2005–2011)

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Indeed, that is the point: is it really that simple?

Judging by your and your wife's comments it sounds like it has been much longer than three years since you were last in Paris...

Hi Ptipois,

That is very depressing news. I find this very shocking because there were thousands of plesant little bistros all over Paris. I am devistated to hear they are all aspiring wannabes. I hope you can still eat well at the Louvre bistros. Do butchers still roast chickens? I guess we can always have a picnic in the park with the pigeons! Tell me, has there been an explosion of fast food places to off-set this fine-food blitz?

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I think that average people in France earn about what average people in the United States earn - give or take a few euros or dollars - and the average American cannot afford to spend $11 for lunch every day at work...

In Zurich I would be hapy to get an omelette for $11. Prices here are very high and modestly priced food is often depressing. I had understood from Ptipois that the problem was the traditional food is gone. Expensive food is everywhere in Europe now. Prices in Italy have more than doubled since the Euro came to town and it is very difficult for the locals to eat out.

It sounds like the US may be the best place to dine out, from a value perspective.

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That is very depressing news. I find this very shocking because there were thousands of plesant little bistros all over Paris. I am devistated to hear they are all aspiring wannabes. I hope you can still eat well at the Louvre bistros. Do butchers still roast chickens? I guess we can always have a picnic in the park with the pigeons! Tell me, has there been an explosion of fast food places to off-set this fine-food blitz?

The situation has been degrading steadily since the mid-1980s (roughly) but I'd say the replacement of the Franc with the Euro, which made prices rocket, had been the real turning point. Other more technical or cultural reasons have been helping but I think the main problem lies in 1) quality-price ratio and 2) the way bistrots and restaurants are now managed, how much of the classic bistrot savoir-faire they still hold and are able to get through. Bistrot fare in the 70s and bistrot fare in the 00s are totally different foods, in the same way as what is called "baguette de tradition" has nothing to do with traditional baguette.

While that process was going on, "ethnic" restaurants have been improving in number and, for some, in quality, at least in consistency - most of them remaining reasonably cheap.

It's not that the modern bistrots are "aspiring wannabees", it is just that times have changed and the priorities put forward in today's society are not what they still were 25 years ago. Giving simple good-quality food to the largest number of people is no longer part of the culture. While a good street corner couscous restaurant will not be concerned by the zeitgeist and will hold on to its natural function, which is to cook decent couscous and not charge an arm and a leg, continuing to play the social role that Parisian bistrots and troquets used to play.

To answer your other questions in order:

- What are those Louvre bistrots you're referring to?

- Yes, butchers still roast chickens, especially on markets, but volailliers have almost disappeared.

- Okay for having a picnic in the park, but not with the pigeons please.

- There has not been an explosion of fast-food places, at least not much more than 10 years ago. Fast food in France is a long story, the first "Wimpy" dating back to the early 70s. If fast-food has a responsibility in the current situation I think it is limited, and not the main factor, but anyone holding more precise data on that may prove me wrong because I am only speaking from what I see.

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The situation has been degrading steadily since the mid-1980s

Thank you for this and I truely hope for all of us that the current situation will change. As John pointed out in another thread, the current economic times may slow down this trend. I hope so anyway.

Ptipois what do you know about the regions outside of Paris? Is it the same situation? I have checked some of the restaurants we used to frequent in Burgundy and at least on the web pages they don't look noticeably different from when we were there. Will I be in for a surprise there too?

The place we always ate in the Louvre was just a large cafeteria on the first floor (underground) where you grab a fiberglass tray and plow your way through lots of fun traditional food. It was always a good bang for the buck. Simple and lacking in charm but it served it's purpose. We also used to eat very well in Versailles, especially at the La Flottille, but I notice their menu is 26 euros now! I think it was about half of that 5 years ago, hopefully the food is still good. I'm sorry I can't remember the names of most of these places, I could take you to them from memory but I don't think we ever bothered to jot down the names.

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I think there is a big problem in France, as has been pointed out in detail by many others, so I won't go into it here, but when you see the best of the bistronomics, offering menus at 30€-40€ and then you see what passes off as good food elsewhere, I can't see why people are coming down on France. Plus, you should all google the author and see his past articles..he seems , well, to like debunking things..


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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I think that average people in France earn about what average people in the United States earn - give or take a few euros or dollars - and the average American cannot afford to spend $11 for lunch every day at work...

In Zurich I would be hapy to get an omelette for $11. Prices here are very high and modestly priced food is often depressing. I had understood from Ptipois that the problem was the traditional food is gone. Expensive food is everywhere in Europe now. Prices in Italy have more than doubled since the Euro came to town and it is very difficult for the locals to eat out.

It sounds like the US may be the best place to dine out, from a value perspective.

I can't say that the United States is the best value in the world - because I have only seen a small part of the world :smile: . But it is in general good value - except perhaps for a handful of the best (or at least the best known) restaurants in the country. And the good value extends far beyond restaurants in most of the country (to things like housing and clothing and gasoline - etc. - etc.). Apart from getting some "sticker shock" when I visit other countries - I wonder how average people live (I usually meet people when I travel - and I usually find the answer is not as well as they would like)? To give you an example - we met a cab driver in London a few years ago. He has 3 kids - and every year he takes them to Disneyworld (in Orlando Florida) and buys all of their clothes for the year at Walmart. He said he saves enough on the clothes to more than pay for the trip. Robyn

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I think there is a big problem in France, as has been pointed out in detail by many others, so I won't go into it here, but when you see the best of the bistronomics, offering menus at 30€-40€ and then you see what passes off as good food elsewhere, I can't see why people are coming down on France. Plus, you should all google the author and see his past articles..he seems , well, to like debunking things..

For what it's worth - I don't think this is a problem that is unique to France. I have also seen it in varying degrees in Canada - the UK - Japan and Germany (the only other countries where I have traveled in the last 4 years or so) - and - of course - in various parts of the US (where I live and travel frequently - in cities as diverse as Chicago and Miami). So I - unlike the author of the article - would not have picked on France in particular.

I have to say - I thought we had pretty good eating in general in Paris. Then again - I spent hours going over restaurants - and didn't pay much attention to prices. I know from experience that I do not in general like "this week's restaurant of the year" - so I tried to avoid those places. Which I don't always do in the United States (since I travel more often here than out of the country). I have however pretty much given up writing negative reviews of places like this in the US - because I get too much flak from "friends of the restaurant" when I do so.

And to Swiss Chef - we took a look at the cafeteria at the Pompidou - and what it was serving looked really awful (little sandwiches wrapped in plastic - etc.). Robyn

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I think that average people in France earn about what average people in the United States earn - give or take a few euros or dollars - and the average American cannot afford to spend $11 for lunch every day at work...

In Zurich I would be hapy to get an omelette for $11. Prices here are very high and modestly priced food is often depressing. I had understood from Ptipois that the problem was the traditional food is gone. Expensive food is everywhere in Europe now. Prices in Italy have more than doubled since the Euro came to town and it is very difficult for the locals to eat out.

It sounds like the US may be the best place to dine out, from a value perspective.

I live in one of the most expensive towns in Italy with regard to real estate. The very good trattorie within a 30 km. radius are still reasonably priced and have certainly not doubled in price (real terms) since the Euro replaced the lira.

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I live in one of the most expensive towns in Italy with regard to real estate. The very good trattorie within a 30 km. radius are still reasonably priced and have certainly not doubled in price (real terms) since the Euro replaced the lira.

Hmm, this is what all my Italian friends are telling me over and over again about our area of the Piemonte. (we have only been in the region for 3 years) In the last year alone we have seen some big jumps of 10-20% in prices. Perhaps we are unique.

One thing is for sure, the locals can't afford the more expensive restaurants and except for Sundays it can get pretty quiet in any place charging more than 20 euros a plate. Pizza and Chinese restaurants are doing well because the offer the best value for money.

On a positive note, we ate a great 5 euro lunch at the restaurant over the Bar Ligure in Asti (one large plate of tortellini with prosciutto and cream). This was not possible two years ago, so perhaps the current economic situation is beginning to soak in.

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I agree with you John.  In NYC, certainly, it's very difficult (especially if one is drinking French wines  :smile: ).  Places like Redhead, Back Forty, 'inoteca and the like all offer good price/value...but there's no way they're offering the inventiveness of a place like Eugene.  As good as the fried chicken is at Redhear, it's fried chicken.  And Ssam Bar, where a good meal can be put together and come in under the limit, offers even less in the way of service and comfort...but it is where one will find the most thrilling combos.

Well, based on this somewhat offhand comment, we were looking for a casual place to have dinner last night after a movie in New York. So we tried The Redhead, which except for downtown and east village denizens, is pretty below the radar on the New York dining scene. We had a fantastic fried chicken dinner. Was it inventive? Probably not, but great food at reasonable prices in a very friendly bar atmosphere. $96 (about 77 euro) for two including a cocktail for each of us and one glass of wine and the tip.

Would I seek out a restaurant like this on my yearly trip to paris for only a few days. Absolutely, not. You can find good tasty food at $100 for two in NYC but never with the ingenutity that you can find in Paris if you look hard enough and are willing to travel to some far off arrondissment that no one (except John) even knew was in Paris.


Edited by hughw (log)

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I realize fried chicken is perhaps a novelty in New York City - but - living in the south - where it is more or less a staple - the idea of spending $96 for a fried chicken dinner for 2 is somewhat laughable. Even with cocktails and a couple of glasses of wine (unless the cocktails were George V quality - and cost the 24 euros that they cost at the George V). FWIW - we get really good fried chicken dinners here for less than 10 bucks a head (sometimes less than 5 bucks a head). Although we don't eat fried chicken that often (it tastes great - but is far from the healthiest food in the world). Robyn

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I realize fried chicken is perhaps a novelty in New York City - but - living in the south - where it is more or less a staple - the idea of spending $96 for a fried chicken dinner for 2 is somewhat laughable.  Even with cocktails and a couple of glasses of wine (unless the cocktails were George V quality - and cost the 24 euros that they cost at the George V).  FWIW - we get really good fried chicken dinners here for less than 10 bucks a head (sometimes less than 5 bucks a head).  Although we don't eat fried chicken that often (it tastes great - but is far from the healthiest food in the world).  Robyn

You're right of course Roybn. But that's NYC. A cocktail or glass of wine at your neighborhood bar bistro (or even diner type place) will be about $12 after 9% tax and 17% tip. I hate to tell you that when we go out to our local "pub" for a hamburger & fries with a drink each and sharing a starter, we're looking at a $70 bill. On the otherhand, we can go to Eleven Madison and get out for $300 for two and have a meal with a modest wine that we would be hardpressed to match in Paris for anything close to it in cost.


Edited by hughw (log)

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To get this topic back on the topic of French food by French chefs, I'll note that Saturday in Le Figaro the "Personnages" section quoted Christian Millau, "critic of the century," disagreeing with the Michel Johnson piece, saying (my trans): he read ".....[that] the best chances of getting a good French meal were abroad. I'm going to send him a list of addresses that will surprise him."


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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[. On the otherhand, we can go to Eleven Madison and get out for $300 for two and have a meal with a modest wine that we would be hardpressed to match in Paris for anything close to it in cost.

I have eaten twice at Madison eleven .I found the food uneven,however some dishes such as the duck were excellent.However at the cost of $300 for two ,which equals 240 euros one can have better choices in Paris.

There is no comparison .

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I am only tentatively sticking my 2 Euro into this thread. I have eaten at 3 star restaurants only twice, and neither was a recent visit. So I can`t compete with the commentary on the high end. On the other hand, I have been taken out to some quite expensive NY restaurants where I have been very disappointed.

My bias is that if you spend over $50 per person for food, or 50 € including tax & service, it should be consistently excellent and wonderful. Otherwise, it`s just a ripoff. Unfortunately, that happens too often in France and the US. There are times when I`d rather have a good pizza than risk a big tab at an unknown place.

I do think Robyn made a telling comment regarding creativity replacing simple cooking of wonderful ingredients. In the Pacific Northwest, where I spend more time than anywhere else, there are some lovely restaurants taking the simplicity approach. But they often find it hard to compete with the flashier places.

As for French cooking in general, I do think it has become much harder to find a good, reasonably-priced meal, and easier to find a bad one, in recent years. This is a reversal of what it was 20 years ago. There`s also a decline in consistency, the hallmark of a great chef. You can see this in so many threads, where one writer has a wonderful meal, and a few weeks later another is seriously disappointed.

On the other hand, sometimes the surprises are so wonderful that they do blow me away. A few years ago I was staying by chance in La Rochelle at la Corderie Royale. I knew nothing about the hotel restaurant, but it was convenient as I was without a car.

This was one of the best meals I`ve had in years, and the prix fixe for entrée, plat, fromage, and dessert was 36 €. I described it here.

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Randy B - I agree with your point about being ripped off - but I think $50 for food is low - especially in cities like New York and Paris (it's even somewhat low for the Jacksonville Florida area where I live - at least in the higher end restaurants). I'd bump the number up - perhaps $75-125 or more for food in higher priced areas - something between $50 and $75 in lower priced areas.

I am not sure the chefs who do a mediocre or worse job of cooking "creatively" could do any better cooking simply with great ingredients. There's a lot of work that goes into sourcing great ingredients - although it's easier in some places than others. E.g., it's easy to get great cheese in France - easy to get great vegetables in California - and hard to get great anything where I live :sad: . Of course - the greatest chefs are those who combine great ingredients with great technique and imagination. And - contrary to what the person in the NYT wrote - they still exist in France IMO. Robyn

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Randy B - I agree with your point about being ripped off - but I think $50 for food is low - especially in cities like New York and Paris (it's even somewhat low for the Jacksonville Florida area where I live - at least in the higher end restaurants).  I'd bump the number up - perhaps $75-125 or more for food in higher priced areas - something between $50 and $75 in lower priced areas.

I am not sure the chefs who do a mediocre or worse job of cooking "creatively" could do any better cooking simply with great ingredients.  There's a lot of work that goes into sourcing great ingredients - although it's easier in some places than others.  E.g., it's easy to get great cheese in France - easy to get great vegetables in California - and hard to get great anything where I live  :sad: .  Of course - the greatest chefs are those who combine great ingredients with great technique and imagination.  And - contrary to what the person in the NYT wrote - they still exist in France IMO.  Robyn

Robyn, I think you and Randy are not so far apart. He said 50 euro, not 50 dollars, which translates to about $63 with tax and tip. The way I see this in New York that will buy you $50 of food without tax and tip. That might be a $12 starter, a $28 main, and a $10 dessert. Sure there are plenty of places in the city that are a lot higher than that with most mains in the thirty dollar range. But still, even in this day and age, it should be possible to get a wonderful meal for $130 for two, which with drinks and/or wine will certainly end up at around $200.

Do I feel "ripped off" if its more than that? Certainly not, if one, I know going in what the price level of the restaurant is, and two, they deliver on quality and service. Geez, I can feel ripped off if I pay a lot less, and it;s not up to snuff.

Coming back to Paris, I think things are not all that different. You can go to a neighborhood place and have a decent 20 euro menu; you can go to a place like La Regalade and have a wonderful 32-40 euro meal; or you can go to a "temple" and pay stratospheric prices for what will hopefully be a transcendent experience. I think food (and wine) are sometimes like automobiles. For $20K you can buy a great little Honda; for $40K a really nice Saab or BMW, and for $100K+ a fantastic Mercedes. Is the Mercedes a rip off? Is it 5 times better than the Honda? Will it last 5 times as long? Will it go 5 times as fast or get 5 times the gas mileage? The answer of course to all of these is "no" but some people can afford (and desire) to pay 5x as much for what is essentially the same amount of food, or same amount of car, to experience and enjoy an experience beyond the ordinary.

For that matter, why do I spend a lot of dollars to come to Paris to get what I can probably also get in New York? (And if you think about it, I probably could go to Per Se several times instead of going to Paris and still have saved money) I go to Paris to be in Paris: Paris walks, Paris shops; Paris museums; Paris Food. And when I leave (poorer in dollars for having come), I leave with richness in my heart for once again being privledged to partake in the greatest buffet of life in the western world.

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Nice to see a little spotlight on Vancouver food on the cover of the new york times.

If Meals Won Medals

Yay food!


"There are two things every chef needs in the kitchen: fish sauce and duck fat" - Tony Minichiello

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Yay Vancouver!

Although I selfishly don't want Chen's Shanghai mentioned and keep it a hidden treasure. :wink:

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I see it is the 4th most e-mailed article in the NYT today.


Cheers,

Anne

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Sam Sifton's piece was awesome (and not just because I happened to agree with most of his picks). He brought an intelligence and real first hand experiences that are sometimes painfully missing from other 'out of town diner' write ups.

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I just had lunch today at Chen's and I will say that it is quite good and a tad cheaper than Shanghai Wonderful. The XLBs are a totally different flavour and texture to Shanghai Wonderful so I'm going to treat the two restaurant's XLBs are separate products. The actual fried buns at Chen's were, however, phenomenal. Really really juicy inside and packed with porky goodness.

I will make the note that the sign on their door was rather surprising: Closed Feb 11th to March 1st. Looks like the family has decided to take an Olympic Break despite the favourable writeup by Sam Sifton. So if you are planning on going during the Olympic period, sorry, they are closed!


"There are two things every chef needs in the kitchen: fish sauce and duck fat" - Tony Minichiello

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The hype must have spooked them!


fmed

de gustibus non est disputandum

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The hype must have spooked them!

Quite unlike other Chinese restaurants, which often work their staff to death, Chen's Shanghai has always closed for about a month to give its workers their annual leave.

That Olympics happen to be concurrent with the Chinese New Year may, however, be a factor behind their taking the annual leave at this time of the year.

The actual fried buns at Chen's were, however, phenomenal. Really really juicy inside and packed with porky goodness.

I started eating at Chen's since they were on No. 3 Road (at the location that would be taken up by Shanghai Wind) and still consider it one of the better Shanghai dim sum and noodle shops. However, the way they do the fried buns (生煎包) makes me scratch my head. I've never seen fried buns being fried on the top, where the seams are, and I find this to be a detriment rather than an improvement. The beauty of fried buns is in the contrast of a thin layer of caramelized crust and a thicker layer of fluffy dough. If the proportion is reversed, as Chen's way of doing tends to yield, one might as well be eating gyoza or fried dumplings (鍋貼).

Has anyone had fried buns done this way aside at Chen's?

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I just realized that point nondual1. Chinese new year coincides with valentines this year so it does happen to fall into the Olympic period.

I actually find biting into the soft "bottom" of the bun an easy way to get the juice out. They are, indeed, quite like gyoza in that sense but the thicker fluffy dough really makes them their own thing.

I know at Sha-Lin and at Peaceful both on Broadway, they are fried top and bottom (unless I'm confusing these buns for different ones)


"There are two things every chef needs in the kitchen: fish sauce and duck fat" - Tony Minichiello

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