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Death of shared cheese at Sardi's in NY; why can't US serve shared terrine's, Amuse Buche items like the French?

My last dinner at Le Regelade St. Honore branch, started as it always does, with the lovely house course terrine of Pate and bread brought out to us to enjoy while we decided on our meal....
The terrine had about 1/2 it's contents in it, and of course it had visited another table before us (we assumed, please correct me if this is not so - it was 1/2 the terrine, and looked like it had been cooked in said vessel). We ate about 1/2 what was there, and I would think it would move on to another diner's table following us.

This is SO not possible to do in the United States, and I Think it is a shame... what a lovely example of welcoming hospitality that just sets the mood for the dinner your going to have.

I am hoping to open a resto in the next couple of years, and this is exactly the sort of thing I would love to offer.

HOW does the French food inspection system, and the proprietor's of establishments keep items non-contaminated (or at least within reason, as I am sure French germs can't be all that different than my American ones). Is it expectation of table ettiquette? An assumption on the part of health dept. in France this is a non- issue? How?

The Riz-de-Lait at several venerable chowhound Paris destinations is the same, served in a generous bowl ( and I am sure they don't throw out all the leftovers that come back from a table, but put it back into the pot to be shared out again?) or various other entree's I have experienced in France...

Read this sad current article on Sardi's shared cheddar cheese bowls having gone by the wayside to see the state of things in NY as an example of American 'health' principles: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/nyr....

Why is there such a difference in attitudes, and how could the US learn from France practices to be more frlendly to this type of service? Could it ever fly in the US?

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  1. Different country different laws. Different country different attitude to enforcement. I am afraid once the "health & safety" genie is out of the bottle it is different to put it back in. There I also probably a difference in litigation culture, the US is highly litigious whilst I think in France it is far more difficult to personally litigate and the the awards are more measured i.e. you don't have the cases in France like the women in the US who sued because she burned herself on hot coffee and it was the restaurants fault because they didn't warn her. So from little I know I suspect it would be far too risky to attempt in th US.

    2 Replies
    1. re: PhilD

      My Australian friends were shocked on their first visit to the US to see doggie bags.They said it would be illegal in Australia for health reasons. Turns out they were wrong, although many Ozzies and Australian restaurants insist it is the law, not just custom.

      In France, shaking hands, making change, and packaging food, all without washing hands, is commonplace. Most of us who shop regularly have seen the butcher with bloody hands wipe them on a dirty towel, make change, cut our requested piece of meat, and repeat the cycle. This happens even in upscale boucheries.

      On the other hand, while the US has many rules that are inconvenient, we have long dropped real food safety in favor of deregulation, which we call "self inspection." I am talking about big processing plants, where the level of bacteria tolerated may be incredibly high. Result, restaurant warnings about undercooked food. We can't even trust eggs any more not to have serious bacterial problems.

      Incidentally, the original hot coffee story was taken out of context as propaganda to support Ronald Reagan's attempt to limit legal recoveries for personal injury on behalf of insurance industry supporters. The particular McDonalds (I think) was located near a retirement home and had a high proportion of elderly customers. They served particularly hot coffee and there had been prior complaints and burnings. All these facts went before the jury and figured in the decision.

      1. re: RandyB

        If you look in to the MdDonald's case, and the facts of the matter, the coffee was excessively hot, and the poor woman suffered 3rd degree burns on 6 percent of her body and 1st and 2nd degree burns over another 16 percent of her body when she spilled it. She needed skin grafts and required 2 years of treatment. She was 79 years old. She originally sued for medical costs (spent and anticipated), for a total of $20K (pretty moderate), and McD's offered her $800. Through various negotiations, McD's consistently refused to settle and decided to take it to trial. During the trial it was established that McD's had settled over 700 reports of similar coffee issues and that coffee was served at 180F to 190F temperatures, which can cause deep tissue damage inside of 10 seconds if spilled. Lady was awarded compensation which was in line with what was recommended by a pre-trial arbitrator as fair, and punitive damages of a HUGE amount, which was reduced on appeal, and eventually settled upon out of court for a significantly smaller amount.
        Just info about the coffee case! :)

    2. On a similar note, go to a restaurant in Paris whose portions are Brobdingnagian to say the least. A dish is served where regardless of how much you eat, you cannot make a dent in the amount served. Wondered last night whether the remains are put back in the pot or chucked, we hoped they were returned to the pot. As to the post and Sardi's, NY seems to becoming Big Brothered on so many items. Local government is intruding in the city that due to the tightness of living, you used to be left alone, now being hassled for a lot.

      1. LeCaveau over on Place Dauphine has the shared terrine as well...and you're right--it is a pretty nice practice. As an American I've never been put off by that. Over here, we just have different laws and I'll bet it is partially because in this country there is a sue-happy component of people and ambulance-chasing attorneys looking for a buck.

        1. For those of us who haven't experienced it, can you explain the appeal of the shared terrine? Is it the sort of thing where you eat as much as you want and are charged accordingly, so the appeal is in the all you can eat aspect? I'm having a hard time seeing more 'welcoming hospitality' in passing a terrine table to table rather than slicing and serving in a nice presentation. Do the French not double-dip? Or maybe we are more individualist, not just more squeamish, and want our own plate so we feel special. Some people don't even like to share cuisines traditionally served family-style, like Chinese.

          OTOH, the communal table with passed around platters has been on the rise in the US for the last several years. There have been at least a few threads on communal dining, and it is definitely not for everyone.

          10 Replies
          1. re: babette feasts

            Babette, I hope your Tday feast was a wonderful one.

            Thank you for your take on the question....

            As for when dining in France, I find that certain/multiple resto's, bistro-type places mostly in my (humble) experience, can offer either starters 'on the house' Amuse Buche type items, or some courses come in the form of a large container - pls forgive this limited expression of vessel - it depends on the type of food ordered as to how it comes to you - arrive in a way that you would - if you had a 'famlly meal' style situation, you would pass the terrine, platter, bowl, etc., around the table for all to share. However, in this case, you are in a bistro-type situation, where you dining companions may have chosen another entree, or dessert. Therein, your having ordered something that comes to the table as a substantial, lovely shar-ing type menu item, is just something you take as much as you like, as if you were at the proverbial 'family table passing the platter', and eat as much as you will. In effect, the 'family' is the resto, as your dining partner has a different item they have for that course. Their's may come in similar style, but often as not, theirs is plate- arranged, and yours just comes like that.

            So, do you share your 'unlimited starter/dessert/(whatever course), with said dining partner, or do you keep it to yourself?

            Then -as to my orginal question, does the rest go back to the kitchen to be spread around?
            How come this works SO WELL in France, and not at all in US.

            Now, Babette, brings up a righteous and well said idea of - how can a resto in the states do dinners where 'family style, group seating', get away with shared platters, but someone - like me- who if I open a resto, can't send around shared pate to diners?
            Is it that they have to agree ahead to be 'in it together' in the States? who defines that? I dare the Health dept. to sort that out....

            In France, I guess I do agree to be 'in it together' sharing items with others. Is it just perception?

            Well, messing with my pate recipe tomorrow, and figuring out how I do this with my future guests.... your thoughts are appreciated.

            (where I find these most common in french dining, excepting the house gratis amuse buche, which mostly is not a shared item, but, as in my original post - was. Whew! Not trying to exaust you.... read on).

            1. re: gingershelley

              So by sharing a serving dish with total strangers at different tables over the course of the night you feel....what? Like you're part of one big dinner party? Some sort of camaraderie or sense of intimacy? What is gained? Do you strike up a conversation with the last person across the room who took from that dish and compare how you liked it?

              I don't know that the health department is necessarily against shared serving dishes, but I can imagine a lot of people being turned off by the idea of being served a 'used' dish of food. I could see the French practice as quaint and fairly harmless, but I feel like I'm missing something as to why it would be desirable.

              In the case of the cheese at Sardi's it appeared the health department was more concerned with the holding temperature of the cheese. Well, and potential contamination, which is why buffets and salad bars have sneeze guards. You couldn't have people digging their hands into a bowl of peanuts on the bar, there would have to be a spoon and individual dishes. The general public can be....gross, and we don't have comprehensive health care like the french do, so we can't take chances ; ). But at a place like the Corson Building, where they do communal dinners more often than not, guests know what they are signing up for and implicitly consent to share with their fellow diners. As long as the food is properly cooked and held, and served by someone with a valid food workers' permit, I don't think the health department cares what happens after the serving dish hits the table.

              1. re: babette feasts

                Babette I had to think a bit about the benefits. I suspect it is simply tradition and as such people enjoy the link to the past. The dishes that are shared in this way tend to be served in the dish they are made in like the terrine of pâté where you simply help ourself to either a large or small portion. Other common shared dishes include baskets of Charcuterie where you hack off a piece of sausage, or a cheese board left at your table for you to help yourself. In many ways is is no different to the Italian anti-pasto tables or, and these are now rare, the French horsdeauve tables. Here you help yourself from shared plates.

                The other commonly shared "plate" in France is the bread basket and here is where the difference may lie. The French learn at an early age how to eat in restaurants including rules like you take a piece of bread from the basket and put it beside your plate, you don't tear a piece and leave the remains in the basket. If you only want half a slice you leave the unbeaten half by your plate, you never return it to the basket as this bread goes on to other tables when it is returned to the bread station. Likewise people don't double dip as they know to use the serving utensils that come with the dsh. They even know how to cut cheese correctly - you only see a massacred cheese board after a tourist has hacked it up.

                1. re: PhilD

                  In addition to your 'other shared plates' desserts can be added. For example when you order the grand dessert' at Le Quincy in Paris, the table gets a bowl of all the desserts, about 10 of them, and sorts through them , then they are off to another table, works great. After reading your post you mentioned the common basket of charcuterie that is passed, l realized how much l like this, as yesterday ordered charcuterie in a restaurant and received sliced everything. No good for me as l might like one thing sliced thickly and one very thin, gives me more options.
                  BF-Cheese used at Sardi's was a Wispride type and with all the chemicals and stabilizers in it doubt if it even has a half-life. l very much miss peanut bowls as all bars have in Thailand and other Asian countries. Used them for many, many years, no issues. Actually detest sneeze guards as well, just me as l bang my head when leaning forward. <}8)

                2. re: babette feasts

                  My only experience with the health department is in the state of Washington. I've taken the food handler's course twice. There has never been a mention of sharing food as an issue. But maybe that's in an advanced class, if there were one.

                  Holding and storning temperatures are key, as well as how quickly cooked foods are chilled to safe temps. But that shouldn't be such an issue with cheese.

                  I regularly read our local heath dept citation reports. I'd say 95+% have to do with cleanliness. What I remember from days living in NYC was the citations of Chinese restaurants for serving dog and cat.

                  1. re: RandyB

                    Yeah, I'm in WA too, the test in King County is all meat temps, cooling & thawing, wash your hands, & no bare hand contact w/ ready to eat food ad nauseam. I'm sure most cheese still needs to be held below 40, but there are exceptions for low moisture cheeses. I see aged goudas and parmesans at room temp at the grocery store sometimes. Obviously fresh mozz isn't going to last for days sitting out. But restaurants who care about cheese do their best to serve it room temp anyway.

                    Phil, I bet a lot of people would be more comfortable with an antipasti buffet that is out in the open where they can see it rather than something passed around who knows where. It's really not so different in practice, but I'd think most Americans are familiar with a buffet, while being handed a half full-serving bowl in a restaurant is not part of our culture.

                    1. re: babette feasts

                      I do agree with the cultural difference and from what I see of tourists in Paris resturants thy often don't have a clue and double dip etc. I always wonder if restaurants with a high tourist count do bin the remains.

                      I am always amused by the comments on the French board from the tourist (often from the US) who thinks the communal dish is simply a generous portion and t hen proceeds to try and finish it (and sometimes they do). Not certain if that says more about lack of culturally sensitivity or the super large portions a lot of US restaurants serve as their normal portion size. I wonder if anyone ever asked for a "doggie bag" to take home the unfinished portion of the dish.... ;-)

                  2. re: babette feasts

                    It's called camaraderie, an important factor of which is trust.

                    Just as serving a dish 'family' style to one table can give you a sense of connection and camaraderie I guess the feeling of friendliness, openness, and warmth does indeed pass from table to table, though you are unlikely to converse with the other people. It is an informality, and you gain whatever benefits you think you might gain. If you are put off by it, you don't gain any benefits. If you think this informality breaks down barriers, then you do gain a benefit.

                    The first time I took my wife to France, our very first meal was in a 'bar' where there was no menu, and as we entered we were simply asked if we wanted their lunch of the day. We were immediately passed an enormous bowl of tomato salad to serve ourselves, and from that point proceeded platters of other delights.

                    1. re: babette feasts

                      babette, i agree that the general public can be gross. i'm really sure that i would NOT want anything half eaten from another table before me. what if they double-dipped, or put used utensils back in the dish? it's just a little bit too much sharing for my tastes.

                    2. re: gingershelley

                      Isn't this sort of like the nuts and fruit after dinner at El Gaucho? They bring a big tray of nuts and fruit that has made the rounds to all the other tables as well and you can take what you want. What about Joule's Urban BBQ series? It's AYCE shared side dishes and you go and get what you want from communal buffet table with no sneeze guards.

                      Given how many people don't like the idea buffets for cleanliness reasons, I can't imagine the shared terrine going over particularly well in the states. And of course, it's not like the French are generally held up as stellar examples of hygiene. Babette feasts has a good point - why not just slice the terrine? Or you could bring the whole terrine to the table and tell them that they are free to have as much as they like, as you scoop a nice amount on a plate for the table.

                  3. Can't get a cheese plate served room temperature or escargot in the shell either. That's the way it is.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Chinon00

                      where do you live? in boston i can get both of those things, easily.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        Please name the restaurants serving cheese that is not refrigerated and/or escargot in the shell.

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          most recently, i've had properly tempered cheese at clio, rendez-vous, troquet and the blue room. escargot in shell at pigalle.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            "Properly tempered" is different from walking into a restaurant and seeing the cheeses under a glass dome. I believe that is illegal in the United States. As for the snails I'll have to check it out.

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia uses an 'Iron Lung' for their cheese cart.

                              1. re: Chinon00

                                i'll add erbaluce, eastern standard, bin 26 and bina osteria to this hasty list.

                                clio has a rolling cart with a glass cover, out for service all night long.

                                if the cheese is properly tempered, i'm not sure what your issue is? i've had refrigerator cold cheese plates too and they suck.

                                1. re: Chinon00

                                  Providence in Los angeles, my current bfavorite cheese cart ever, is not under glass but on a huge rolling table, served to you by waitstaff.

                        2. The scale of the U.S. market, 17 times larger in population than France, may make even the most basic of regulations pertaining to this practice impossible to monitor.

                          The revolting messes in back of the house revealed on a show like Kitchen Nightmares show existing standards are not meaningfully enforced, and corners are cut and the diner is the recipient of who-knows-what.

                          1. What is interesting is that the highly regulated countries, such as France, have significantly lower rates of food poisoning. Its in the self-regulated/self-inspection countries such as the USA that have enormous rates of food poisoning. It isn't in the shared terrine, yo, its in the un/self regulated USA manufacturers that the bulk of the problem lies, IMHO...

                            1 Reply
                            1. I suspect the Sardi's decision was a cost cutting measure and the health inspector's observation was just an opportunity to implement it with minimal fallout. Health department rules vary, but here in Alberta there are no rules against setting out perishable food without sneeze guards for a few hours if the uneaten food is thrown out. Buffet restaurants use sneeze guards so they can save the leftover food.

                              I have to admit I would find a communal bowl of terrine going from table to table unattended to be a little disconcerting, not knowing how it was handled at a particular table before mine. On a bar people would just take a scoop with the serving knife and walk away, presumably the bartender could keep an eye on it.

                              1. Americans, even those who possess a refined palate, inordinately seek value when dining out. What you describe as a communal experience, many diners will regard as an all-you-can-eat opportunity. If you are going to open a restaurant, this is an important consideration indeed.

                                From my understanding, health regulators have a difficult time adapting existing rules to new concepts. The existing rules may be confounding, but likely would not inhibit this particular ambition on your part.

                                Some dude downing $40 worth of some high end ingredient in 20 seconds will be rather more inhibiting.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: kevin47

                                  Going back to the OP's question, she asked "why can't US serve shared " It's really an unanswerable question. There are no federal restaurant regs that would apply. There are only state and local regs, plus the views and whims of individual inspectors. There are towns, or individual, historic restaurants, where family / communal sharing is a locally accepted tradition. The next town or county over may strictly forbid it.

                                  Gingershelley needs to do a bit more research on local rules. Maybe she can find a place hospitable to her goals. Then she'll just have to deal with the dude who gobbles it all up.

                                  1. re: RandyB


                                    Here is the predicate to my posting, again; http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/nyr....

                                    In the article, it comments repeatedly that yes, the US Health Dept. reg's were the reason this 'shared dish' went away. I am sure there are no FEDERAL rest. reg's that make this so, but local and state regulations, which usually are the ones dealing with restaurants, do have provisions that stop shared platters, starters, amuse buche, etc.

                                    This thread was not intended to speak to the WHOLE us chain of regulation; I know we have ecoli outbreaks, etc, and much of that is from national producer's on the wholesale level.

                                    I was simply trying to have a conversation with fellow Chowhounds about how different it is in the US, versus our experiences in places like France, where people's expectations and experiences are so markedly different than here.

                                    Here in Seattle, we have a wonderful restaurant called The Corson Building. They serve meals 'family style', on platters, and are passed around the table for all to share on the nights they are doing dinner that way.
                                    Just saying, we must have a willingness for this type of thing somewhere in our collective heritage - after all, it is what most of us did at Thankgving! And I am sure some of us shared the table with people who's hygiene habits and table manners we don't know much about, much like a restaurant.

                                    Just trying to have a lovely conversation about a differently -percieved dining custom from country to country. Thanks for participating, all you chowhounders:)

                                    1. re: gingershelley

                                      the owner blames the local health department, but that department repeatedly denies the claim. sounds like a cost cutting measure to me, with a scapegoat.

                                      1. re: gingershelley

                                        From my perspective, I don't have an overall problem with "shared" dishes but I measure the risk based on the situation.

                                        If I am sharing Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family, we are already staying in the same house for a few days & the increased risk to me from each person serving him/herself from a passed meal is trivial.

                                        In other circumstances, I'm fine with food served from a common dish with "serving" utensils used. If I'm in a culture that uses personal utensils to collect food from a shared serving dish and there are well understood traditions about how to do that without contaminating other food in the dish, no problem. (for example, using chopsticks to get one piece from a platter).

                                        Now if it involves shared saliva - that's a whole different ballgame. (double dipping, using personal utensils to dip into a shared dish to get seconds, people sneezing over the buffet line, .....)

                                        In my mind, that's the line. I have to give serious thought to shared saliva or dishes that have had stranger's hands all over "my" food. Not saying I wouldn't do it (bar peanuts or that shared tea in a culturally appropriate situation might be exceptions). If your proposed restaurant depended on this type of scenario (hands/saliva in dishes), I'm pretty sure it would have a tough time being commercially successful in the US regardless of whether it could pass local heath codes.... Whether a terrine passed from table to table would fly at a restaurant in the US would probably depend on the impression given whether it falls into the first risk category (serving utensils used, no sneezing over the dish) or the second risk category (shared saliva from personal utensils, etc.)

                                  2. In his autobiography, Langston Hughes writes about his experiences in Uzbekistan where a tea cup is passed around from person to person, and he was expected to drink from the same cup.

                                    Just thought I 'd mention that for the folks who are grossed out about the shared terrine. :-)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Don't Bogart that tea, my friend....