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French Restaurants for the Masses


ol_ironstomach
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Besides La Madeleine, there is really no equivalent to, say, the Olive Garden for French food.

A situation for which I, for one, am very thankful. Making diverse cuisines more accessible is admirable. Dumbing it down to the IQ level of a pithed frog in order to do so, is evil.

Say "no" to pithed corporate food before it pollutes, then ultimately defines the public's idea of authentic.

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A situation for which I, for one, am very thankful. Making diverse cuisines more accessible is admirable. Dumbing it down to the IQ level of a pithed frog in order to do so, is evil.

Say "no" to pithed corporate food before it pollutes, then ultimately defines the public's idea of authentic.

I hear you, friend, but, believe me, we here are a really tiny slice of the dining public. Olive Garden/Red Lobster (same company, you know) is/are adored by many people. Go figure.

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Not that I'm advocating for Olive Garden-type French...just more accessible French for the general public. Reasonable prices, good selection, which stays true to the cuisine.

Bistro du Coin? Bistro Francais? What more could you want?

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Bistro du Coin? Bistro Francais? What more could you want?
For those of us here in DC, those places are fine--more than fine. We are truly lucky. But what about nationwide? Do not our friends in the hinterlands deserve a reasonably priced French meal? All I'm saying is that the somebody out there could make a killing if they opened up a high quality chain. I'm not saying that we need such a chain here in DC, and if one ever moved in, I would probably make a point not to go (my recent trip to Mon Ami Gabi not withstanding). Mon Ami Gabi and Les Halles are already out there...it won't be long until somebody takes the concept a step further.
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But what about nationwide? Do not our friends in the hinterlands deserve a reasonably priced French meal?

My guess is that there is not much of a demand. And anyway the idea that any nationwide chain producing respectable food is amusing.

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My guess is that there is not much of a demand. And anyway the idea that any nationwide chain producing respectable food is amusing.

Unless your definition of "respectable food" is extraordinarily stringent, of course it is possible for a nationwide chain to produce it. (E.g., Capital Grille; Oceanaire; Morton's; Legal Sea Foods; McCormick & Schmick's; Chick-fil-A (oh yeah!).)

I'm not saying any of those restaurants are the best purveyors of their chosen genre, and I'm not saying they aren't vastly outnumbered by chains that do not produce respectable food. But I don't think the hypothetical French restaurant at issue here would be expected to be among the finest French restaurants. Just respectable.

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Don't say it can't happen. Look at Taco Bell!

Not talking fast food, not to mention not authentic...

Unless your definition of "respectable food" is extraordinarily stringent, of course it is possible for a nationwide chain to produce it. (E.g., Capital Grille; Oceanaire; Morton's; Legal Sea Foods; McCormick & Schmick's; Chick-fil-A (oh yeah!).)

I'm not saying any of those restaurants are the best purveyors of their chosen genre, and I'm not saying they aren't vastly outnumbered by chains that do not produce respectable food. But I don't think the hypothetical French restaurant at issue here would be expected to be among the finest French restaurants. Just respectable.

Ok, I will amend to respectable French bistro food that is not dumbed down for the masses. While some of those chains mentioned above serve "respectable" food I don't think that they do it well enough to provide a good resemblance of any specific type of cuisine.

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My theory is this: even to cook low-end French bistro fare, you have to actually be able to cook a little bit (you also have to be able to cook to cook good Italian fare, so back off AB ;) ). Low-end crap like Olive Garden puts out, on the other hand, can be centrally managed by Corporate and cooked by trained monkies. Same logic applies to chain steakhouses.

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(Does anyone besides me think this is funny?)
It took me a while, but yes I do!
trained monkies
Are these like novices or monklets? [sorry, I couldn't resist ;) ]

So what would you be looking for in a mass-marketed French place? Sit down dining with indifferent service? A menu like Bouchon, but at half the price? Au Bon Pain certainly doesn't cut it and we've established that La Madeleine doesn't either. Seems that much of what makes some of the places mentioned before (BDC, par exemple) unique could never be translated on a large scale. Maybe the food's not that great, but the ambience is a large part of the experience and it is specific to a place or people. Mon Ami Gabi might have the menu (not saying the food is that great) but the soul is lacking.

Are there any [successful] examples that exist for other cuisines? Wagamama comes to mind, but my experience with that chain is fairly limited.

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My theory is this: even to cook low-end French bistro fare, you have to actually be able to cook a little bit (you also have to be able to cook to cook good Italian fare, so back off AB ;) ).
I will face the wrath and for the sake of starting something, be the snob that says that cooking many of the French bistro specialties takes more skill than cooking good Italian. :P
Are there any [successful] examples that exist for other cuisines?
There is no such thing as corporate cuisine with soul. Only "concept dining."
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There is no such thing as corporate cuisine with soul. Only "concept dining."
I think you're right Heather. Everywhere I can think of that would be my ideal French joint is a one-off, local place that would never be the same it if was duplicated.

(right about now I'm even MORE envious of MBK over in Paris... ;) )

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So what would you be looking for in a mass-marketed French place? Sit down dining with indifferent service? A menu like Bouchon, but at half the price? Au Bon Pain certainly doesn't cut it and we've established that La Madeleine doesn't either. Seems that much of what makes some of the places mentioned before (BDC, par exemple) unique could never be translated on a large scale. Maybe the food's not that great, but the ambience is a large part of the experience and it is specific to a place or people. Mon Ami Gabi might have the menu (not saying the food is that great) but the soul is lacking.

Are there any [successful] examples that exist for other cuisines? Wagamama comes to mind, but my experience with that chain is fairly limited.

Looks like La Madeleine is getting even more soul-less with this robotic prototype:

La Madeleine has done away with its cafeteria-like ordering line and replaced it with six flat-screen menu boards and an ordering and payment point at the entrance, rather than at the end of a short ordering line as in the past.

“We set out to enrich the ordering process by eliminating the confusion factor while placing the spotlight squarely on the artisan nature of our food, and we’ve done just that,” said Phil Costner, chief operating officer of the 60-unit La Madeleine.

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=380144

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You know what? La Madeleine, circa 1999, actually used to be really good.

I went several times to the Georgetown location (and once to Tyson's) and found it passable but far from "really good."

Maybe I was just put off by the decor..

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