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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.

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          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.