Lunchtime poll – the shock of the new
January 4th, 2011
01:00 PM ET
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An interview with food writing legend Mimi Sheraton caused a bit of a ripple through the online food community today. She spoke with Zachary Woolfe of Capital New York about her 1975 to 1983 tenure as restaurant critic for the New York Times, and in addition to taking current reviewer Sam Sifton's pop-punched, imperative writing style to task, spent a goodly bit of time pining for the Francophile stylings of New York chefs of yore and blasting the chefs and media coverage she sees as too trend-centric.

We respect the absolute heck out of what Sheraton has contributed to the food writing profession and appreciate her experience and wealth of knowledge. Still, the one time we dined at the now-shuttered La Caravelle, a flagship for the sort of white linen, Dover sole and Grand Marnier souffle service about which she waxes rhapsodic, it was technically excellent, but felt akin to dining in a glass-walled exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.

Evolution and reverence for the past are, to us equally important but here's the thing - whose past?

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Filed under: Best in Life • Buzz • Critics • Lunchtime Poll • Restaurant News

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soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Navi

    I work in a casual french restaurant with a reputable wine list. Maybe someone has heard of Brasserie Pavil in good ol' San Antonio Texas. We recently hired a French Master Chef, Rene Bajeux. Our menu consists of flavorful, inexpensive and well portioned meals that would keep you coming back just to try another appetizer or Plat du Jour (one for everyday of the week). Anyway, after pluging my restaurant for the masses, I would definately eat here more often if I didn't work here. I find that a good menu change (one for every season) keeps people interested and trying new things. Especially here in San Antonio where mostly what's cheap is enchiladas, tacos and fast food joints. Of course we could all try to cook more at home (me included). You won't be dissapointed with this place visiting or not.

    January 5, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  2. alexandria

    Le Bergerie in Old Town, Alexandria, VA. Laurent is in charge and their menu is fantastic. Their wine list is never ending and it's a great atmosphere.

    January 5, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  3. SlightlyPeeved

    Since I live in France, the high-end restaurant we eat at once or twice a year is not in the US. When we eat out, which is
    rare, we eat out in bistros or similar types of restaurants. But in our high-end (and not all that expensive) restaurant, I've
    never found the chef and staff to be pompous (as JHaas has where he has eaten). Can't say the same about some of the wait staff in ordinary restaurants here however. That's where I've run into the rude, incompetent, snooty staff.

    January 5, 2011 at 6:32 am |
  4. JHaas

    I am French and wasn't into fine dining before I lived in the US. After a few months there my wife started to miss French cuisine so we dined at a new French restaurant in Orlando. It was called La Grille. What blew us away was the Chef's attitude: he was American and a really passionate individual. Some of the waiters were French but had been converted to the American standards of service. We used to dine there 4 times a week on average, and loved to entertain friends and family there.

    We also tried other French restaurants but they were all unnecessarily pretentious, and the food wasn't so mindblowing so we rarely returned. Then when we returned to France I remembered why I wasn't into French cuisine originally.

    So yeah, French dining is fine, but only when the chef and staff aren't pompous French/Europeans who believe they're God's gift to the world whose mission on earth is to educate the poor souls who pay their bills.

    January 5, 2011 at 4:53 am |
  5. Wolf'sComing!

    My wife and I have dined at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia. It is outrageously expensive – expect to drop 350 to 400 for 2 people with one beverage. However, it was, hands down the best meal I've ever had in my life. The attention to detail and the absolute excellence is something to be experienced. We skipped dining out at our normal Fridays/ Applebees date night for months and saved that 40 dollars until we could splurge on one special evening. Well worth it, that dessert cart was unbelievable. The crab cake was phenomenal. I tracked down his recipe book and have made that at home – it is excellent. No breadcrumbs in crab cake, rather ground up shrimp and cream as a binder. Sadly, the place is closing down this year as the owner has decided he would rather close than compromise the quality.

    January 5, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  6. Brittany

    Le Central in Denver is exquisite.

    January 5, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  7. Sam Meyer

    What in the world is the "haute-frat-boy cooking" that Zachary Woolfe speaks of? And what exactly of David Chang's Korean/French/Vietnamese fare qualifies?

    January 5, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  8. jdoe

    Not sure why French restaurants are so expensive in America and why Americans like Italian food so much. French food has a lot more variety to it. Italian food, at least in America, is basically various combinations of pasta, tomatoes, various (rather bland) cheeses, and meat, with bits of a few spices thrown in. The ingredients themselves cost next to nothing, yet some restaurants charge an arm and a leg. I guess people want to pay for the decor and the service.

    January 5, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  9. Peter Churchyard

    I have not eaten at high end french resturants in the USA but I have in London and Cannes when I lived in Europe. By high end I assume the article means expensive rather than high quality. It always amazes me how often people equate expensive with good. High quality French cuisine does not have to be expensive.

    January 4, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  10. Melissa

    As far as I've gone with French cuisine is Les Chefs de France, in Epcot at Disney World. They waited on us hand and foot, and they gave us our space at the same time. It was romantic, and pleasant. The food was nothing special. Though I will never forget, my entree had sweet bread. "Hmm" I thought. It looked like brains, I tried it and sure enough, IT WAS SHEEP BRAINS!!! I was 7 months pregnant, and have to say very proud that I took it down like a champ! :)

    January 4, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  11. Krull

    I would give my left arm to have my high end dining involve food cooked by a grown man who is paid enough to support a family and doesn't smoke cigarettes. Vancouver has good dining, but it's relative to preference.

    January 4, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  12. Sporky

    I've had several French dining experiences on cruise ships- brilliant food! I love the atmosphere and getting 5-7 tiny plates of food: It keeps the palate interested.

    January 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  13. Gareth Harris

    My favorite restaurant in the world is L'Epicurien in Grenoble – not pompous or ostentatious, just outstanding food and people. You don't have to be showy when you are the best.

    January 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  14. TDC 'Tucky

    Only time I did a "High End" French Restaurant was in 1971 when I was in Paris touring with the SCSC Choir as a Tenor soloist. I was not impressed, and have never gone "French" again (and I am of French ancestry)

    January 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  15. North Country Rambler

    Yes, BUT
    I much prefer a more casual bistro atmosphere. In NY – Gascogne, Mediteranee, LaMirabelle, Demarchelier. Wonderful French food without the pomp, or the expense.

    January 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  16. Jeff

    I ate at a high quality resturaunt in Lyon,France. Worst food EVER. Bland no taste. When in France I stick with Italian and Macdonalds much to the shame of my french friends.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  17. The_Mick

    I've eaten in medium high-quality restaurants down to Brasseries in France and expect to try one out that's opened in Annapolis, MD. The brasseries in France feature a three-course meal with just a few choices for each course and the quality and price is usually excellent. If you're a red wine drinker, simply ask for the house red in France and you'll get wine that's better than the "good" quality in American restaurants.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  18. Fred

    Found two very nice bistros in Detroit that serve crepes at very reasonable prices. They are The Petite Zinc and Good Girls go to Paris.

    January 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  19. Panda1895

    I was taken to a local French restaurant on a date several years back, and I must say that was one of my favorite dates. The food was absolutely excellent, and it felt nice to be able to dress up and go somewhere worth dressing up. (I live in Austin, TX and "dressing up" to most is sparkly flip flops and the non-torn jeans) I would totally go again, if I had the money to do so.

    January 4, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  20. Mildred

    If you can get there, go to the Escoffier in Hyde Park, NY. It's the classic French restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. It's a great way to get the high-end all-out French dining experience with great food and an elegant atmosphere at a fraction of the cost of doing it in NYC.

    Yes, it's all staffed by students and instructors, but I've had better meals at the different CIA restaurants then in a lot of the places I've been to. And the most polite and attentive service ever (e.g. when at the Escoffier for my birthday, and not having mentioned it to anyone there, the waiters picked up enough from the conversation I had with my fiance to have the kitchen make a phenomenal banana foster that much more special and add a chocolate birthday note to my plate).

    January 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Caroline

      Mildred speaks the truth! I have been to Escoffier, and had a really good experience at a fraction of the price. Same thing with the French Culinary Institute in NYC. They have a very nice resturant that is fully staffed by students, and the food is great. I love the high end experience, but really can't afford it all that often.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Truth@Mildred

      Mildred, I went to college in New Paltz, so I know exactly where you are talking about. My guess is that we used to be neighbors...

      January 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        And I got my MFA at New Paltz. Lived on Springtown Road. You?

        January 5, 2011 at 1:20 am |
      • Mildred

        I lived in Poughkeepsie for a few years while I worked for... IBM.

        January 5, 2011 at 10:52 am |
      • Truth@Kat, Mildred

        @Kat – Another New Paltz alum! Explains a lot about my politics. What year did you graduate? I did my BS in Education in 1988. Lived in Gage Hall before moving to Bouton.

        And Mildred, I did five years with IBM. Worked in Somers, Southbury, Armonk, Tarrytown and 44 South Broadway. My sister is still there doing the WAH thing.

        Embarrasingly small world sometimes...

        January 5, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  21. Kathleen

    Too often I find French food to be elaborate and quite creative methods of cooking offal. They are quite good at it and I respect the technical expertise, but I prefer muscle cuts.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  22. Lost

    What exactly do we have in mind as a "French Dining Experience"?

    January 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  23. jillmarie

    I love high end dining for a special occasion. Unfortunatly, it's not in my budget right now, but hopefully soon!

    January 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  24. Krazy Cook

    I live near a very high end French restaurant and over the years I have entertained many clients there – many of whom have educated palets. I must say that on almost all occasions the expectations we had were not met – but their reputation caused folks to give them another chance – if nothing else for the theater surrounding the meal. Grossly over priced for what we got – and I was on an unlimited expensive accountant. The wine prices were obscene. Many of the meals for six were well over $1,200 with the wine – not including tax and gratuity.
    More focus on the presentation and the ambiance – the food is nothing that could not be done at home. Portions that were insulting. Oddly this is MN and is owned by a Frenchmen. Turn and Burn as they expect very little repeat business. Give me one of the local German restaurants any day.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  25. Valerie

    I do not like ANY restaurant where there are 5 or 6 people "hovering" over me....I really do not like it. My husband and I rarely eat out anyway, as cooking together is relaxing and enjoyable to us, but to each their own of course.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  26. RichardHead

    I go at least twice a week. Le Jacques N. Zee Box. Excellent food!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • amayda

      Hee hee good one!

      January 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Truth@RichHead

      Ask for The Royale with cheese...

      January 4, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
      • Jesse

        I suppose you have it with the Franco Fries and Le Grande Drink.

        January 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • JimS

      Or as I call it, Le Cage aux Jacques.

      January 5, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  27. Amanda

    On occasion. I prefer what I consider high-end casual dining, but every once in a while I feel the need to put on my big girl heels and go to a high-end French restaurant. Dying breed, not so many in my area. But there is no way my stomach could take eating like that all of the time, or my waiste line....

    January 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  28. Evil Grin

    I'm not sure my area has a high-end French restaurant, but I've occassionally been to cities that do. Unfortunately, they're usually out of budget for me.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  29. patriot

    I love high-end French restaurants, but as an occasional thing. I couldn't imagine dining like that all the time.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Anon_e_mouse

      Ditto. Back BC (before children) my wife and I did, but when we were raising our children we couldn't even think about it and now that we're grandparents (and, like so many folks our age, helping to raise our grandchildren as well) we'll never be able to afford it again.

      January 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  30. Truth

    Le Chambertin in Manhattan.
    Hey Kat, is that place still around? Also, is The Playwrite Tavern and Iroha Japanese restaurants still open? I miss all three of those places A LOT!

    January 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
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