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Sick Of Bistronomic- How About The Culinary Cocoon Of Tradition

Unfortunately, I only get to Paris once a year. With the proliferation of this "bistronomic" movement, young & gifted chefs are creating unique combinations that are often fascinating to eat. However, this innovative cooking is the vogue all over the world. Enhanced by shows like "Top Chef" and "Master Chef," I am concerned that the culinary world may lose its appreciation of traditional cooking. When I land in Paris, I begin salivating for the classics: Coq au Vin, Calves Liver, Cassoulet, Duck Confit etc. all of which are disappearing from restaurant menus in the States. I know I may come across a regressive and old fashioned, but I am being honest and I need the "salve" of French culinary tradition. With this in mind, I want to eat at places in Paris that still prepare the classics. I rather not spend a ton of money, or feel the need to "dress to the nines.". Where do you masters of Parisian food suggest I go? I have your bistronomic and creative suggestions. Do you have classic suggestions, without the minimalism of Asian or modern influences? Thanks much.

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  1. OK: so in the last few days, there's been the horse meat and frites at Lazare, thick foie de veau at Au Bon Coin and Ris de veau at Pirouette - how's that for new-old?

    1. Excellent point. I am not a fan of Ferran Adria, Greg Aschatz and the like with their laboratory like foods. I prefer the old school comfort foods more myself and follow Jamie Oliver, Tom Kettridge (both from the UK) and others of their ilk. I saw an article about David Chang's new food lab in upstate New York and how he thinks science should be incorporated more into restaurant foods. Not clear on the details of that idea and can't remember where I saw it, but I think it's the next big trend in the US, like the seed tinkerers/restauranteurs covered in the NY Times the other day. As for me, they can have it. Give me a great beef bourguignon or Coq au Vin any day.

      8 Replies
      1. re: sandiasingh

        It's "Grant Achatz", not Greg Aschatz...

        And am I right to assume that you never ate at El Bulli nor Alinea ? It's easy to discard things you have no knowledge about.

        Science has always been a part of food whether you like it or not, and just because the "industry" has used it to create cheap sugar-salt-fat-filled food doesn't mean that good chefs can't use it to create precise, delicate, complex food.

        I'll take a beef bourguignon or coq au vin myself ! But can I have the tender flavorful and rich boeuf bourguignon by the chef who understands what is going on in his pot and how to cook his meat perfectly, or do I have to stick with the one with tough meat half the time because he is just following "tradition" without having a clue ?

        1. re: Rio Yeti

          I have eaten at both El Bulli and Alinea and that has nothing to do with Sandlasingh's point. She/He does not enjoy the type of cooking that comes out of kitchens like WD 50, Atelier Crenn, Moto, etc. That is her right and what her palate tells her. She/He is not espousing the use of tough meat obviously. There is a condescension to your tone that is completely unnecessary. To favor traditional or classical cooking does not dismiss molecular gastronomy or innovative culinary skills. It is just declaring a preference. That is anyone's right in our world of enjoying food and wine.

          1. re: enofile

            You are absolutely right. And I am sorry if my tone was condescending.

            What I merely tried to express, clumsily if you will, is that there is no opposition between traditional cooking and science. Both can greatly benefit from each other.
            Today without scientific experiments, we wouldn't know that "grilling a steak does not seal in the juices" contrary to popular belief. This news is of use for molecular chefs as well as traditional chefs.

            Systematically wanting to pinpoint chefs using science as making show-off magic weird food is just wrong. Science helps better understand what goes on while cooking, and this knowledge can be used by chefs with all kinds of type of food.

            1. re: enofile

              And as an aside note, "bistronomic" doesn't mean "modernified" (and even less-so "molecular"), but simply traditional food made with "haute cuisine" skills.

              1. re: Rio Yeti

                However, whether or not that is the true meaning of the term, both media and the chefs themselves are using this term to describe a kind of casual restaurant where the cooking deconstructs the traditions with a more "modern" touch. I just don't see calves liver, roast chicken, cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, bouillabaisse, etc. on their menus.

                I do appreciate your apology as I'm sure Sandiasingh does if she/he ever reads it. That's what makes Forums difficult. Without verbal discourse, a tone can be misconstrued.

                1. re: enofile

                  Whatever media, and some chefs, and their brothers say, I did give the original meaning of the term "bistronomie", verified by the very person who coined the term in 2003, and I could also list the handful of chefs that represented the trend at its early stages if that were not a boring detail. But just think Yves Camdeborde and Nicolas Magie, and you've got it. It is an item in the history of French cooking that is perfectly identifiable, so let's make the most of that.

                  There never was a hint of deconstruction in the definition of bistronomie and there still isn't. Deconstruction is related to the molecular/modernist/techno-emotional style, quite different from bistronomie, and is roughly dated from the late 90s to the mid-00s.

                  Now chefs can combine influences according to their fancy, that's what cooking is about, and that's fine. But it is important to use words for what they actually mean.

                  1. re: enofile

                    Yes, Rio Yetl was a bit harsh (and thanks enofile) , but I'm not a wilting violet. Country style cooking is simply my preference. Being in the marketing/PR music business for years, I know BS when I see it and much of the hype around the "molecular" style chefs is simply that. Celebrity chefs (and aspiring ones) have to constantly reinvent themselves and their food, just like musicians have to constantly create new music for their audiences to stay on the playing field. Got to get rear-ends in those seats, whether it's a concert or a restaurant. As for substance, I don't see it.

                    1. re: sandiasingh

                      You are right to say that "much of the hype...", but not all of it.

                      You have the right to prefer country style cooking, but dismissing the work of someone like David Chang who is studying with Harvard the significance of "microbial terroir", in other words : "Why does the exact same traditional, country, salami recipe, tastes so differently in Oregon than it does in Texas ? Even with the exact same meat and produces. Could it be because of the different microbes and bacterias ?"... dismissing this kind of work, or the precise cooking of sous-vide, or the understanding of the different temperatures and textures that an egg yolk or an egg white can create... etc. etc... is in my view a retrograde view of things.
                      Of course you could laugh at the spherifications, the foams, the gels... but underneath all of that there are people truly interested in advancing the search for the future of food. Just like the first pressure cooker, the first oven, the fork, the first recipes, etc...

                      Am I saying that one should embrace all of molecular cuisine ? Of course not, I'm not denying that once someone is launching a trend, there are always untalented followers right around the corner. But you didn't talk about those, you talked about Adria, Achatz and Chang... so I would adjust those BS glasses you're wearing if I were you, because you might miss some really interesting things that are going on.

          2. I like you like to mix it up, Paris is such a perfect city to get a good range of experiences. That said I think its getting a little more tricky.

            On our last trip my old stand-by of Le Comptoir was definitely off its game, and CLJ IMO has moved on from many of the traditional dishes to be far more Bistronomic (I know it was in the vanguard but its moved on). However Dernier Metro was wonderful simple and classic and La Saotico was a really good and old school and I would recommend it without hesitation.

            Obviously place like Josephine "Chez Dumonet" can still deliver (although it sounds like its been "found"), and whilst I didn't eat there Rubis is still the same and I expect lunch in their "secret" upstairs room is still as traditional as it gets.

            I disagree about Pirouette, its great but not really traditional, although it has a few traditional dishes. Many of the on-trend bistro's are still rooted in the traditions of French food so nothing too radical and most have some fairly traditional dishes (albeit slightly enhanced) on their menu's. Semilla is a good example - my ris de veau was perfect and quite classic.

            1. Here's another one that could go here, or on the threads about:
              Non-trendy....
              Nothing fancy....5th
              Whatever happened....
              Where Paris locals.... etc
              Christophe, 8 Rue Descartes in the 5th; we had brains, foie gras, boudin, sweetbreads and veal and choc mousse for 114.50 E a couple with a bottle of very pricey wine (holding that down would come in at below 100 E a couple).

              6 Replies
              1. re: John Talbott

                Thanks John,
                Not to be repetitive, but your reviews force me to miss Paris too much. I don't know where you get the energy to dine out, write reviews that almost seem up to the minute, and advise and council on Chowhound. I am envious of your stamina.
                Tourists obsessions with where to dine in Paris is a product of having such a short time to experience what you guys have outside your door every day. One mistake of choice seems catastrophic, because you are in a time crunch to enjoy what is unattainable back home. I apologize for all of us who must appear "wacked" to you Parisians. Just know we all wish we could trade places..........

                I am still looking for a traditional or classic place within walking distance of the apartment I am renting at 72 rue d'Assas in the upper 6th. I am considering La Cuisine de Philippe, Florimond, Grande Ourse, Cobea, Epicuriste, Kigawa, Le Cornichon, L'Auberge du 15, and Oudino.

                My established "tables" are arranged as such:
                Les Tablettes
                Auxuria
                Le Regelade St. Honore
                Premices
                Takao Takano in Lyon
                Spring

                These are all just for dinner as lunches I have reserved for either spontaneity or giving our abdomens a rest.

                The afternoon of Premices we will be stuffing ourselves with fromage courtesy of the inimitable Cheesemonger. Thanks to all of you for your help.

                1. re: enofile

                  As for my "stamina" I figure once past 75 one is running on empty;
                  But to your local issue - Parnassien comes with a built in GPS, me not so modern but I like La Grande Ourse, Cobea, l'Epicuriste, Le Cornichon and L'Auberge du 15. better than anything else nearby.
                  A place which always delivered but which I've not been at/to for a year is La Maison Du Jardin, 27, Rue de Vaugirard, 75006. Tel:01.45.48.22.31. Open: Monday - Friday
                  BTW I like that you think out of the box and envy those of us who sacrifice our bodies/stomaches/arteries for y'all.

                  1. re: enofile

                    John is most admirable in many ways. I have a friend about the same age with the same kind of "running on empty" stamina, in a different field.

                    I do like old standards - and in many ways cuisine in Québec where I live is rather too traditional - but I can't really stomach overly heavy, meat-centric food (I'm not vegetarian, just need a lot of vegetables, and France produces admirable produce!)

                    I'd also suggest looking at John's own blog, by clicking on his name. Lots of great suggestions, as classic (and otherwise) as you'd want!

                  2. re: John Talbott

                    Also lovable about Christophe : open on weekends and Mondays - in fact we walked in without reservations to ample open tables on a recent Saturday evening when stranded in this part of town at dinner time - and the fighting words on their website 'if you don't love butter, fat or under-cooked fish and meat ... for your own pleasure, go elsewhere !'

                    I can also speak for the lamb confit - fork tender, rosy, deeply savoury, great product treated well.

                    But you need to be eating with folks who are prepared for all meat, very old-school presentation (no greens spotted at our or any other table), no ambiance unless you enjoy the clatter of young drinkers from the neighbouring pubs, and the service constraints imposed by a single chef and a single waiter for the whole restaurant.

                    1. re: shakti2

                      "Christophe.....we walked in without reservations"
                      I'd caution against this; Sunday every seat was occupied.

                      1. re: shakti2

                        "...all meat...(no greens spotted at our or any other table)..."

                        Thanks for this.

                    2. Not willing to split hairs (but doing so, I admit), bistronomy and tradition are not and never were mutually exclusive. In a way, bistronomie reconnected French restaurant food with tradition. Bistronomic as an adjective should not be supposed to mean "innovative and creative". It was based on reuniting creativity and tradition.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Ptipois

                        Thank you, I was about to write the same thing.

                        May I also remind the OP that the term "bistronomic" was coined to describe chefs with haute-cuisine background starting their own bistrots in order to cook "traditional" food ?

                        Restaurants like Septime, Spring, Frenchie, and all the usual "modern french" restos mentionned around here are NOT bistronomic.

                        La Régalade is, Chez l'Ami Jean was (?), and a bunch of places mentioned in this thread are.

                        1. re: Rio Yeti

                          "the term "bistronomic" was coined"
                          Before we start to bite our tails, I think it is only fair to let the inventor (Sebastien Demorand of the late lameted Zurban) of the word bistronomie define it (as he huddling with a few others, did after la Semaine du Fooding in 2003) as "une expression pour décrire un restaurant qui alliait la convivialité et la décontraction d'un bistrot et le côté grand restaurant de la cuisine."

                          1. re: John Talbott

                            Well then I guess that I was wrong and restaurants like Septime fall into the "bistronomie" definition... I just always saw it used to describe more "rustic" food that was given a finesse and haute-cuisine flair, but never used to describe more creative restaurants which I would simply call "modern french".

                            My apologies.

                          2. re: Rio Yeti

                            It was indeed coined by Sébastien Demorand to describe a certain school of chefs (the "Constant school", as it is sometimes named), with haute-cuisine background starting their own bistrots in order to cook... well... "their" food. That is, a mix of haute cuisine and traditional preparations (it could be jellied consommé of oysters, seaweed and ginger, country rabbit terrine AND roasted woodcock with sautéed cèpes at the same meal) without the Michelin pomp, fuss and nonessential details.

                            I would differ from you in the fact that, in my opinion, new bistrots serving "modern" cooking like Septime, Spring and the like are not exactly bistronomic in the historic sense of the term but they are the direct offspring of bistronomie in their approach of food, its service and its setting. If you study them closely, you see that the very same principles are at work there. Including the interest for traditional French cuisine, which is particularly true of Spring and Septime (I would also add Pierre-Sang Boyer and many others).

                            I do believe that bistronomie, though rather discrete and progressive, is far more a revolution than the so-called "Nouvelle Cuisine" was in the 70s, because it really "happened" before being put into a theory. Actually it never was that much of a theory, it was named rather than it was theorified (contrary to Nouvelle Cuisine). And that it still is the force that underlies most of the food creativity in France today.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              Your explanations definitely sound closer to what I thought.

                              I think although the definition of the "creator" of the word is pretty wide, in reality what he was describing (the Constant school) is more precise.

                            2. re: Rio Yeti

                              Rio - but hasn't the terminology moved on? I appreciate the history of the term and the value the bistronomique movement bought to the Parisian food scene. But is there a name for the new wave of restaurants like Pirouette, Youpi et Voula, Au Passage etc etc.

                              I see these restaurants as quite different from the new Spring (but the old Spring was one) or Saturne or any of the other new/modern restaurants. I think the new wave of bistros still stay with the original bistro (as opposed to restaurant) ethos. That is they are casual, relatively inexpensive dining, with the chef/owner in the kitchen, dishes with their roots in tradition but with an eye to innovation. Are these not the inheritors of the term bistronomique?

                              1. re: PhilD

                                PhilD - Yes you are right, a new generation came and embraced the same name while continuing to digress from traditional bistrot food but without compromising the essence of the significance of "bistronomie" (woof... that was a long sentence...).

                                But to go back to my (actually Ptipois') original statement, it was simply to emphasize the fact that "bistronomic" is not meant to be "extravagantly creative", or "auteur cooking", or "modern cuisine", even though it can also be all of these things, it can also be a really good boeuf bourguignon made by a talented chef who used to work in a 3 star place.