What does "brasserie" mean in the Bay Area?
- Robert Lauriston Jan 4, 2014 01:33 PM
My notion of what a brasserie is comes from Paris, and we have nothing very much like one of those here. What do people here mean when they use the word?
Michael Bauer calls Box and Bells "a new-age American brasserie" in his review and I have no idea why he chose that word. He seems to use it interchangeably with "bistro."
"In France and the Francophone world, a brasserie (French pronunciation: [bʁas.ʁi]) is a type of French restaurant with a relaxed setting, which serves single dishes and other meals. A brasserie can be expected to have professional service, printed menus, and, traditionally, white linen—unlike a bistro which may have none of these. Typically, a brasserie is open every day of the week and serves the same menu all day."
Box and Bells calls itself a gastropub. What a great excuse to start another Michael Bauer dump.
Following up from wolfe's definition via wiki: "The word brasserie is also French for "brewery" and, by extension, "the brewing business..The origin of the word probably stems from the fact that beer was brewed on the premises rather than brought in: thus an inn would brew its own beer as well as supply food and invariably accommodation too...In 1901 Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language defined "brasserie" as "in France, any beer-garden or saloon".
When I asked my french language teacher what was the distinction between bistro and brasserie (with France, not SF in mind) she felt that a brasserie traditionally has bar/bar-orientation (as well as the the simple menu as per above) whereas a bistro might not. She was from Northern France and it looks like they are having a brasserie revival, as per wiki:
I think SF has a few places that like to think of themselves as "brasseries" including Cafe des Amis, Absinthe, Bluestem, Grand Cafe, Chaya, and S&P. How well they resemble a traditional Parisian brasserie is a different matter. Even though Chaya's sushi menu says "CHAYA BRASSERIE" it doesn't come across as very Parisian in the traditional sense when it comes to the food.
On the other hand, as a concept, you could very much argue that Chaya is more like a "brasserie" than a "bistro".
I went to a dinner at the California Culinary Academy in 1984, and the student server, discussing various recent developments at the school, said to us, "We've just recently opened a little brassière upstairs!". I kept a straight face and nodded in appreciation, but it was not easy.
To dyslexics like me, it means a woman's undergarment.
Actually, thanks to my high school French I associate brasseries with breweries. My platonic ideal is 3 Brasseurs in Montreal (outlet of a French chain I'd welcome here) which not only has tasty house-brewed beers but signature dishes like flammekueche (tarte flambée) and choucroute saucisses de gibier (choucroute with wild game sausages).
It's a loose distinction for sure—that Bauer thing stood out for me, too, but I think I know what he means. I use brasserie to describe a place with a broader spectrum of choices than a bistro has: Stop in for drinks and a small bite, or sit down for a more formal meal. Obviously, especially with the dominance of cocktail programs and the casual feel of contemporary restaurants, it's harder than ever to make the distinction (is Nopa a bistro or a brasserie?), but I think the design and feel of a place is everything (bustling, open to rambling, like Penrose: brasserie; primarily a sit-down sort of place, like Nopa: bistro). Is the distinction ever really necessary, expecially if it's confusing? Perhaps not, except to make a case about restaurant trends.