Does a true authentic French bistrot really exist tucked away on the trendy streets of the West Village?
*Hint: Pictures of Secret Delicious Bistrot are shown throughout this post… Follow to read revealed location of deliciousness…..
To christen our blog we’re going to introduce you to step#1 of French food-ism. Welcome to Dining Culture 101.
Lesson #1: The confounding terminology and expectations in French Dining Culture.
In France, they’ve seriously made the practice of eating into a culture by categorizing dining experiences into levels of formal eating. You’ve got Le Restaurant, Le Bistrot, La Brasserie, Le Bar à Vin, and finally Le Café (we’re not even including the new fad of Neo-Bistrot or Gastrotèque, but please indulge the Google if you’d like).
A Restaurant is really a tricky one because this is a generic term used for any business establishment where meals are served in exchange for payment. Le Bistrot, is generally a small, family-owned restaurant that is a bit more informal, but no less delicious and serves only during traditional mealtimes. La Brasserie, originally referred to Alsatian beer breweries, although today, the term applies to restaurants larger than bistros, with a menu that doesn’t serve food just during mealtimes and offers a wider range of options (that handy 24 hour dining clock is purely an American invention!).
Le Café, is all about the social discours of the drinking (and smoking mostly) business, but smaller eating options are usually available too like a casual morning croissants or a nice midday croque monsieur. And finally, le Bar à Vin is pretty self-explanatory, just get ready to sip some vin in a nice cozy cave and splurging on large godly platters of fromage, pain, et charcuterie.
While we’re still on the topic of tricky terminology, lets try and decode the always daunting task of ordering off that untranslated menu for all non-seasoned French speakers….
There’s “A la carte” (individual dishes off a menu and sometimes a pricey choice), or the “Formule” (a daily pre-fixed menu that although not up to individual decision is often reduced in price and guarantees at least two or three courses). Ordering is also going to get a little bit tricker as your options are expanded in courses to the apéritif, entrée (American appetizer), plat (main dish), fromage (cheese courses traditionally served before or as a dessert option), dessert, and finally café (not including the bible of Wines that usually accompanies this ensemble and you will certainly need some deciphering help on this).
Quick side note on drinks: Shoot for “carafes” to avoid pricey by-the-glass or bottle options when ordering wine. In regards to table manners, make life easy and keep the fork in your right, and knife with the left to facilitate elegant, yet a casual manner of eating. This is crucial because French meals are a time meant to provoke le discours, and amongst the debate and occasional dramatic hand gesturing, you’re not going to have time to be carefully placing that fork and knife up and down.
And lastly, make sure you arrive hungry and pre-caffeinated because this might take a few hours….
Isn’t lunch a huge deal in France? Don’t kids come home from school for it even? What’s the obsession with a sit down meal?
A family sitting together for an hour, enjoying a nice (or not, depends on the family) meal together is not a cliché: French people actually do this in most cases for dinner (lunch does not play such a major role in family life, we have things to do and places to be as well during the day unfortunately). So yes, the rule is, you must be home by around 7.30 to 8.30, or duly notify your parents if you’re not going to make it.
If you want to meet with your friends to get some food – same ritual here, you are going to sit down (sitting down is a KEY concept when it comes to meals in France) and probably end up spending more than an hour eating and talking (the length of a meal tends to increase if you’re having a good time and/or are really close to the people you’re sharing a meal with).
Sharing a meal with someone in France is a commitment because in most cases it’s going to be long: a 45 minute dinner during the week can become a 3 to 4 hour (true story) dinner on a saturday or a sunday if your parents are having friends over.
Lesson #2: ALWAYS look for places with daily menus and handwritten chalkboards to ensure the food is Fresh + Seasonal.
AND, even if it goes without saying, if you see pictures of the dishes, just run away…. And Ambiance? Why does it seem like food tastes so much better when I’m eating off rustic wooden tables, Woody Allen-esque quirky decor surrounds me, and that lighting is just right by candlelight?
JEANNE MOMENT: This is actually a thing that I really don’t like in New York, that rule according to which, the trendier your restaurant is, the less you can see and hear because trendiness goes with loudness and darkness. Why is that so? (Dear Native New Yorkers, if you have an answer, please comment back).
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have arrived to the point of this posting. Nous vous présentons: Le Bistrot Authentique, Buvette (à NYC!).
Buvette, 42 Grove St. West Village, NYC
Buvette “Gastrothèque,” 28 Rue Henry Monnier 75009, PARIS!!!
It is quite rare to find the ideal Bistrot in Paris amongst the hub of tragic tourism. It is also quite rare to find authentic French food in the United States. Buvette, a small Bistrot in the West Village, hailed by French “NYC foodies” and et nous, is super. L’Ambiance ✓ Quality Service (decked out in traditional black and white attire) ✓ Food quality and authenticity to origin? ✓ For all whom declared their hatred for Paris after touring the Louvre behind an Asian school group for three-hours, please take yourself out to Buvette this weekend and renew your faith in France, and the wonder of its food and dining culture. Intimate, well executed, simple, affordable, atmospherically delightful, small but filling proportions, daily menus, loyal customers, and quality ingredients Buvette’s got you handled.
Now that we’ve revealed the restaurant, here are the review of some of their dishes.
Lesson #3: Know your dishes!
French food is reknown for its regional dishes, so even though there are many modern variations on them today, you’ve got to get their origines down before you know what tastes and traditions you should be looking for. One reason why we LOVE BUVETTE is that its got its classics down. Let’s start off with the Brandade, of which although not our favorite on the menu, is still a reason why you’re spending your semester abroad in le Sud.
And now it’s time for you to meet my mum, an incredible cook (and I swear I’m really not saying that because she’s paying for my fabulous year in NYC. I even suspect some of my friends to hang out with me for the sole purpose of eating her food). She comes from Marseille in the South of France, so the only thing she knows, is Provençal food (French Mediterranean). Of course, preparing this column, I called her to get her opinion about the food (yes, she can even review food she didn’t eat).
Brandade comes from Nîmes and can be described as being a mashed salt-cod mixed with olive oil and milk. A good brandade was traditionally crushed by hand. Another tip she shared is that a proper brandade is cooked without mashed potatoes. I discovered that one of her food crusades (she has so many, it’s hard to keep up) was against the fact that in dining halls, they did use mashed potatoes and still called it brandade. What, you don’t find that outrageous? Anyway, what you have to know if you wanna try out a brandade in a restaurant here, the French way to serve it is just some warm (gratin) or cold (with some toasts) brandade with some black olives and croutons.
*Check out that luscious drip- needing a little more salty-cod zing to it, damn can you talk texture or what?
Now unfortunately this dish may not photograph too well, or really translate its proper deliciousness into words gracefully, but I’m going to really recommend it here. Not one of France’s most “prestigious” of recipes, Steak tartare is just what it sounds like, except without the cooking. Finely chopped raw meat with onions, extra little something (ex. capers, raw egg), and a mastery of seasoning. Quality ingredients are a must, or else this gets dangerous with unhappy cows. *Tip: Never order a steak “Bleu” (well done) or else you will be handed an intentionally charred plate of ashes. They know what they’re doing over there and go for the juste à point
Poulet Rôti avec Herbes des Provence et l’aioli
Definitely recommend this odd hybrid, but just for clarification poulet rôti, is simply chicken roasted in Herbes des Provence (Sud), which for all you Diane Keaton (Something’s Gotta Give, btw the restaurant in Paris= actually atrocious food) fans, you’ll automatically worship the dish. However aioli (garlic mayonnaise in essence) although also provençal in its roots, is typically served aside a fish dish. JEANNE: Minor drawback here, from a purist French point of view, you’re not supposed to eat aioli with roasted chicken… But hey, who cares if it was good!
Consensus? Splurge and take yourself (or accompanied lover/paying parent) on a date to Buvette to experience some true authentic deliciousness. And now, I’ll leave you with Jeanne’s final words on her perceptions of what the heck is French food culture and how that might have changed since her arrival ici!
FINAL VERDICT BY JEANNE
All in all, some of the key typical French elements were there: simple French food, good bread (I think I asked the waiter ten times “plus de pain s’il vous plaît !” but hey, I have to stock up here) and French-speaking, slightly disagreeable waiters. I was happy to pay for what I had because the most simple dishes are often the hardest to cook. Their starter, camembert with some honey, was de-li-cious. To put it in a nutshell: if you have something to celebrate (or not), treat yourself and pay a visit to La Buvette, you’ll be able to say, whether you liked it or not, that you experienced some traditional French food. Don‘t be afraid of the cultural shock!
Tips, Tricks, Advice, Recipes suggestions etc: PARIS VS. NEW YORK LES BISTROTS
Favorite Paris Dining Selon Jeanne: Chez Léna et Mimile
Favorite Paris Dining Selon Amelia: Bistrot Paul Bert
Meal Tradition via USA:
French Food Bloggers in NYC: