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The Rest of Us, Paris edition

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I can't believe that the Francophone African restaurants (Senegal, Cote Ivoire, whatever else France laid its grubby hands on) in Paris aren't better than the ones in New York.

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German food is a bit more diverse than most of you are giving it credit for, TBH. Consider Germany shares borders with 9 different countries, and regions as diverse as the Wadden Sea and the Alps. 

That said, I just came back from a late lunch at Burrito Company, because Takumi still had a 20 person queue outside at 3:30 in the afternoon. 

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1. The U.S. is an exceptionally large country. In Europe, New York wouldn't be in the same country as Charleston or New Orleans or the Texas Hill Country. So in New York, barbecue and Cajun/Creole restaurants are effectively as foreign as an Italian restaurant is in Paris. Even with the all the improvement in New York 'cue over the last several years, would anyone claim that the best NYC barbecue places approach even modest places in barbecue's home states? That New York Cajun/Creole can even be mentioned in the same breath as the food in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana?

 

2. We have access to a lot of foreign cuisines in New York. But just going by the one I know best, would anyone say that the best Mexican in New York approaches even modest places in Mexico? Los Cucuyos is a taco stand in Mexico City. Would anyone claim that any Mexican food of any kind in New York is a tenth as good (and I'm not only talking about Cosme-type places; I mean the places on Roosevelt Avenue, too)?

 

3. What of our local cuisine? Well, what is our local cuisine? The closest thing that NYC and the rest of the Mid-Atlantic have to a local cuisine is based on German, and I think all of us (even Behemoth) will agree with Wilf about German food. And we don't even have as much of a cuisine as that.

 

5. I love Katz's. But is Katz's anywhere near as good as Los Cocuyos (let alone a solid Parisian bistro)? Is there anything at all in New York as good as Los Cocuyos at an equivalent price point (I mean equivalent, not the same: I get that Mexico City is cheaper in general than New York)? Really, is there anything at a higher price point?

 

6. By coincidence, a few weeks ago I was having this same argument with a Chowhound-leaning friend. I said that New York was good in the middle and poor at the top -- with the problem that, except for immigrant spots (which aren't really in the middle anyway), the middle is priced like it should be the top. He said, "you took me to Frenchette a few months ago. THAT'S a great top restaurant." Of course you already know my response: "No no no. I agree Frenchette is great, but it's a great mid-level restaurant. It's only PRICED like a high-end place. It's stupid to have to pay $150 for that kind of dinner. In Paris, there is at least one of those in most neighborhoods, and they don't charge anywhere near that." (And what's the "local cuisine" equivalent of Frenchette here?) (To anyone who'll say something like Red Hook Tavern: YOU'VE PROVED MY POINT.)

 

ETA -- This was cross-posted with Steve, FWIW. I'm not trying to stir any pots.

 

Well, your local cuisine is either (i) old school New York chophouse cooking, (ii) post-Savoy Blue Hill/Gramercy/NBC New American Cuisine, (iii) post-Momofuku pan-Asian-American New America Cuisine, which has kind of morphed into a more San Pelligrino thing. Part of my long term argument here has been that there are a lot of complaints about (ii) and (iii) (boring beet salads and pork chops, goofy tweezed small plates), but that those styles represent somewhat of an indigenous style, or the promise of an indigenous style, and that's it's wrong to lament that those restaurants don't deliver what 200+ years of long established Parisian restaurant cooking deliver. Or, at least, not to mock it on one hand and praise Passard (who is equally mockable) on the other, or to mock it and then praise the New Southern Cooking revival. At least, this was a reasonable argument in 2012, when the post-crash economics of major North American cities didn't butcher much of it. 

 

That said, while the soft-facism of belligerently traditional cooking makes for great food in cities with long established traditions, there is something to be said about the spectacular variety of good, varied cooking in New York, LA, Singapore (which straddles the two), Toronto, and all the rest.  I love Montreal, but Fishman Lobster House (which is a shadow of Hong Kong or Shanghai, I am sure) or a small, excellent, fried soup-dumpling or Hong Kong style dessert place in a recently developed, wealthy, Asian-immigrant neighbourhood is just not possible there. Which is very possible to admit while saying that our best French restaurant wouldn't crack Montreal's top 25/

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And my guess is that with an extended stay in Paris, one would eventually find good Chinese food, good African food (which is kind of weird to say, because there are over 50 countries in Africa), and even a decent hamburger.  But maybe not a proper all'Amatriciana (which is only possible here in my kitchen).

If these are ever your serious goals, just ask Ptipois.    She'll nail them for you.

  

I can't believe that the Francophone African restaurants (Senegal, Cote Ivoire, whatever else France laid its grubby hands on) in Paris aren't better than the ones in New York.

Be assured that my opinion was somewhat based on actually looking at the neighborhood offerings & talking with folks about these offerings. Ptipois, in fact, is exactly one of those I spent time talking with on this topic &, in fact, we went to 2 dinners at African restaurants with her and spent time there & over lunch at Amarante talking about various cuisines available in Paris. She’s as well versed on this topic as anyone I’ve met and that includes Dave Cook (who I had lunch with last week) here in the NYC area. For my part, I introduced her to eattheworld.com & eatingintranslation.com. Without writing a treatise on a topic I’m only marginally educated on, I’ll stick to my opinion that Paris is not magnitudes better in food of all kinds. However, what it is better at may well be enough for me to not feel deprived for a long time if I lived there (if at all). That’s why it was a minor quibble.

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The upscale Chinese story is happening in Madrid because passports are for sale, although it is not an obvious locale where the roast suckling pig of others is needed. 

 

https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/1923034061147184/don-lay-restaurante/

 

 

That said, while the soft-facism of belligerently traditional cooking makes for great food in cities with long established traditions, there is something to be said about the spectacular variety of good, varied cooking in New York, LA, Singapore (which straddles the two), Toronto, and all the rest.  I love Montreal, but Fishman Lobster House (which is a shadow of Hong Kong or Shanghai, I am sure) or a small, excellent, fried soup-dumpling or Hong Kong style dessert place in a recently developed, wealthy, Asian-immigrant neighbourhood is just not possible there. Which is very possible to admit while saying that our best French restaurant wouldn't crack Montreal's top 25/

 

 

 

I think we agree then. 

 

Also the existence of a cuisine (even if it really just outlines a framework, as in French and Japanese) and the chauvinistic pride guarantee the existence of ingredients to support that cuisine, which isn't necessarily the case in the cities you mention. Who'd imagine Parisian markets closing for business five months of the year, or only having fish that make you want to cry (even if French fish cookery is traditionally abominable, they still want to be able to show they've got the goods)

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Another way of putting it is that if you have deeply ingrained food culture, that extends to ingredient quality (and resistance to Big Agri) as well.

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Another way of putting it is that if you have deeply ingrained food culture, that extends to ingredient quality (and resistance to Big Agri) as well.

 

Yes. Which was a lot of the reasons why I was resistant to the criticisms of twee Brooklyn menus listing provenance or the fine dining excesses of carrots on sticks. Absolutely, it was ridiculous and in some cases fraudulent, but the idea that restaurant patrons walk into a restaurant knowing about Anson Mills or Bentons, and begin to see and care about the difference, is a good thing. 

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But that's the problem.  It's one thing to have an actual existing food culture that works that way.  It's another thing to have boutique ingredients as an upper-middle-class aspirational bauble.  To me, that's evidence of a sick food culture, not a healthy one.

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But that's the problem.  It's one thing to have an actual existing food culture that works that way.  It's another thing to have boutique ingredients as an upper-middle-class aspirational bauble.  To me, that's evidence of a sick food culture, not a healthy one.

 

That's a critique. But the upper-middle-class aspirational bubble has created a media and restaurant culture that has given recognition to a large number of unappreciated vernacular American restaurants.  Yes, many of those places are not ingredient temples, but you are delusional if you think that there is not plenty of large-scale industrial pork in Mexico City that is being used in restaurants that serve better Mexican food than the best of New York. 

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Yes, many of those places are not ingredient temples, but you are delusional if you think that there is not plenty of large-scale industrial pork in Mexico City that is being used in restaurants that serve better Mexican food than the best of New York. 

 

 

That's a really interesting point. On top of ingredient availability I would add an apprenticeship system that supports a high level of technical competence. Any butcher -- even in a regular supermarket -- in Germany would be able to give detailed cooking instructions for whatever you buy. 

 

That's rather the exception in the US, at least as I've experienced it. 

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Sorting travel memorabilia, I came across this menu from our first visit to L'Astrance, March 2001, a couple of months after it opened.    Simpler times, simpler menu and certainly simpler prices, shown in francs when $1 = 7 francs. 

 

49720443268_5ee38123cb_b.jpg

 

49720981221_93fc0b634d_b.jpg

 

I remember the now famous crab and the celery dessert, nothing about a main.   And of course the then mysterious burnt bread soup amuse.

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I amused myself today by looking at notes from a trip to Paris and Alsace, including meals eaten, with prices.  The dollar was at its strongest (or the franc was especially weak that year -- 10 francs to the dollar.  We feasted for practically nothing.

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Interesting, indeed.    We spent time in France after the 2008 stock crash.   High end tourism was so affected that we were presented with foie gras at every turn and every price point.    I overdosed to the point of never regaining an appreciation for it.   

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