when ordering fish....
When one order's fish in the U.S. 95% of the time it is brought out as a fillet. In Paris this wasn't the case for me, in fact each time I've had the pleasure to be there, my fish always arrives with head, tail, and everything in between. Is filleting fish just not a common practice in restaurants? I realize that it is a way of displaying the freshness of the fish to the customer but how does one ask to have their fish filleted or should I not ask because is it just bad manners? !
I'll apologize in advance for sounding naive.
This is an interesting question. Taking the example of a sole, if I want a filet, I would ask for "filets de sole" , normally served masked with a sauce, and normally not that fresh... If I ask for a "sole" I expect to receive the whole fish, and either filet it myself (we learn to do this early in France) or have it fileted for me at table and served on a hot plate, in good restaurants. Now, filetting a fish is actually quite easy providing you are given the right tools (a fish knife and fork, and a side plate to put the bones on. I dispare, a soup spoon can replace the fish knife). Practice makes perfect!
Most of the time, it depends on what type of fish one orders. If the fish serves one such sole or rouget, it will usually arives with head, bones and tail. There are varieties of fish that can be ordered for two such as St. Pierre, dorade, bar then it will usually arrives whole but fileted and plated tableside. The larger fish such as tuna, swordfish, cod will always arrive as a filet without head or bones but usually with skin on.
I would also add that fish cooked whole has more flavour, and filleting it for the customer when it's cooked just means that it will be cold by the time you get it - or at least by the time you're half way through it. Keeping it whole helps kep it warm.
If you're squeamish about looking a fish in the eye, you could ask them to take the head off for you...
Just ask. "pourriez-vous le préparer pour moi, s'il vous plait -- merci, Monsieur/Madame". Of course that's not gonna fly in a small bistrot. The reason they bring you the whole fish is not, in general, to display freshness: it's just that it's less work.
Filleting is the norm in upscale restaurants, that said.