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on eating in restos a lot, or is it eating a lot in restos

O my, I must have been hungry? Did I eat, really eat, all that food? O my, my my. Did it all go down the hatch, do some good,and make me happy?

All dishes shown here were eaten at regular restaurants; that is, no Michelin starred restaurants are represented, except for one meal, and that meal is represented with three dishes, the entrée, the main dish, and the dessert. That restaurant was Figuier de Saint-Esprit in Antibes.

I am keeping those dishes a secret, and suggesting, dear reader, that you guess which ones appeared on their menu.

Several of the dishes come from restaurants that are sometimes called the ‘restaurant familial,’ a family-like restaurant with dishes that mother and grandmother would make at home.

These restaurants are some of my favorite places to eat. I will mention Le Brebant near the train station in Juan-les-Pins. Le Pin Parasol near the bus station in Antibes, Le Lisbonne, also in Antibes, and Cafe du Tailleur in Marseille. Oh, I did not mention Le Bistrot du Coin in Antibes, too.

Hmm. Maybe I should mention Lou Pistou and Chez Palmyre and let’s not forget La Merenda, all in Vieux Nice. Oh, I forgot to mention La Storia and La Pergola in Antibes.

These restaurants remind me, in part, of the kind of dishes that the President of the Republique wanted when he hired a personal chef in the film Les Saveurs du Palais, or Haute-Cusine, the English title. He did not want fancy dishes, those elaborate plates with little personality, the decorations and fancy sauces that obscured the natural flavors of the meats, fishes, and vegetables. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The President told Hortense Laborie, the chef recommended to him by Joël Robuchon, that he longed for his mother and grandmother’s cooking. He wanted the plat familial. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

In the animation film Ratatouille, the critic Anton Ego revisited the restaurant Gusteau’s, once the most famous restaurant in Paris until it fell on hard times after the chef died, when he had heard that the kitchen had turned itself around. He ordered, “Perspective!” and he commanded, ‘Give me your best shot!” When he tasted the ‘simple’ ratatouille, it transported him back, in a flashback, to his days as a young boy being served the same dish by his mother.

And, let’s not forget the Proustian moment with the madeleine, the simple, small sponge cakes with a shell-like shape, that inspired the multi-volume novel À la recherche du temps perdu. The main character, the narrator, recounts a moment when, eating a madeleine, he is transported back to the years with his mother and the love he felt for her.

Mention “La Mère Brazier” to a French person who is interested in French cuisine. They will tell you she is the mother, and grandmother, of French cooking. “Brazier followed the traditions of Lyon’s famous female cooks – the Mères lyonnaises – in avoiding over-elaborate dishes, preferring to offer fairly simple food of the highest quality. She influenced subsequent generations of French cooks, including Paul Bocuse and Bernard Pacaud, whom she trained at her restaurant.” (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Many of the dishes shown here might will be familiar to many French. They might not have been served in their present form by their mothers, but they will recognize the dishes and their ingredients.

Recently, in a conversation with my French tutor Françoise, I mentioned that I had eaten lunch the day before at Côté Terroir, a restaurant in Antibes. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

« Qu’est-ce que tu as mangé ? »
« J’ai pris la choucroute. »
« Ah, j’adore. C’est un plat préféré. »
[“What did you eat?” “I ordered the sauerkraut dish.” “Ah, it is a favorite dish.”]

Then, Françoise described precisely the dish that I had ordered, naming the three sausages, the ham, and the potato that appeared on the plate along with the sauerkraut, cooked with white wine.

When I eat lunch in France, and it is always lunch and not dinner, and why is another story, indeed, I go usually to the restaurants with menus and formules. The formules are meals with specific dishes at a set price with an entrée and plat or a plat and dessert. Sometimes I will take all three dishes, and that will be offered for a special discounted price. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Ordering from the à la carte menu is always more expensive. So is ordering the suggestion du jour, a special dish that is offered that day.

The entrée is a smaller dish, less copious, than the main dish. It will be a taste of something to enjoy while the main dish is being prepared. I like to order a soup or vegatable dish, if possible. I keep in mind what I will eat for the main course when I order the entrée. For example, I might stay with a fish theme and request scallops, for example, if I am eating a cod in the main dish. Maybe I will eat a terrine (meat) or a pate (meat) for an an entrée, if I have chose beef or lamb for the main course. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The main dish is where the meal starts for me. When I am asked, “What did you eat today?” I will respond be saying it was fish or lamb or beef or pasta, and I will be more specific and name the dish the chef had used. “It was a parmentier de joue de boeuf’ or “I ate the tournedos de saumon farci maison aux herbes, crême coco perles de hareng fumé et riz noir de Camargue.”

The French love their desserts and so do I. I wonder sometimes if they order more desserts than they do the entrée. One must make way for the dessert, and that means making a considered calculation: Will the entrée be too large and will I be too full to order the dessert after I eat the entrée and the main dish? Maybe I should order the main dish and then see whether I have enough room for the dessert?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jim O'Connell #

    All of the entrees, main dishes, and desserts look fabulous and delicious! I agree…why does one need a Michelin star eatery when such wonderful food exists in a small family cafe!!! Bon appetite!!!

  2. oh my goodness, Mr. Groves. that all looks fantastically decadent. Lovely to see you enjoying life.

    • Thanks you. A meal here and then one there and suddenly you see a nourished life. thanks.


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