Torchon? Mi-cuit? Here's the low-down on the fatty lobe that's featured on so many holiday tables.
France generally doesn’t tend to fall in for fad diets. The Atkins craze that swept the States in the early 2000s barely made a blip in the Hexagon. The past two years, however, have seen a noticeable rise in restaurants and bakeries that are actively marketing their food as sans gluten, or gluten-free.
More than 100 years ago, a tire company named Michelin began telling people about their best options for eating while motoring around the country. Travelers wanted to know what was worth a detour or a special journey, and that’s still the case today. The question I’m most frequently asked by our readers is where to go for a special blow-out meal. You want to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a victory. You want to seal a deal, whether business or pleasure. You’re willing to drop some cash, but you don’t want to feel like a fool.
Until now, I’ve had a hard time answering this question. I know well the landscape of the city’s classic bistros, modern French restaurants, and food-loving wine bars, but this class of two- and three-star tables is a different terrain entirely. There’s an obvious barrier to understanding these restaurants: the staggering, outrageous, almost immoral price of a meal. Prior to this project, in which I anonymously tested every three-star restaurant in Paris over a period of twelve weeks, I had only visited a handful.
In Paris, it’s possible to do a Tour de France without a bicycle, since one of the most unique layers of the city’s food chain is its many French regional tables. Indeed the cooking of almost every corner of France is available in Paris, although some regions, notably the Auvergne and Alsace, are better represented than others, like the north of France, which has just a single address, Le Graindorge, vaunting such Flemish favorites as waterzooï (chicken and vegetables stewed in cream enriched bouillon) or carbonade, beef cooked in a sauce of beer.
So picture this: you’re walking down the street in Paris on a cold night, and you’re hungry. All of a sudden something smells so damned good, so rich winey earthy and rutting, that you absolutely have to hunt it down. You work out that this irresistible olfactory lure is emanating from a ramshackle looking little place on the corner. You step inside, and one of the most power sentimental semaphores ever created—the red-and-white checked table cloth, tells you that yes, you’re in the right place, this is a real Paris bistro.
After a recent morning spent playing restaurant ping-pong via email with my friend Dorie, it dawned on me. We were trying to create an eating itinerary of traditional French bistros for a pair of retired chefs visiting from Oklahoma, and it proved to be a daunting task. Why? These men were coming to France to eat epic Gallic grub—you know, blanquette de veau, boeuf bourguignon, and coq au vin—and even with the difficulty of summer opening hours notwithstanding, it startled me to realize there’s just not a lot of that on offer in Paris anymore.