Food reviews are always subjective so should be taken with a grain of salt but while reminiscing about Paris today I checked the Yelp reviews of one of my favorite bistros in the 15th arrondissement. The reason I liked it is because they had not one but two excellent duck dishes on the menu. The first was Magret de Canard in an orange honey sauce and roasted potatoes. The second being duck pieces shaped in a cylinder over sweet potatoes. Both were wonderful. Anyone that knows duck will agree that you can't cook it to medium or it will best be used as a football. The best Magret is served pink (really red) all the way through and it's the best thing ever. If you look to the photo on the right of the very Magret de Canard that I speak of you'll notice the the meat is very pink ringed by the wonderful duck fat cap. THIS is how it should be cooked. I apologize for the photo but I took this when I didn't know anything about taking food photos. I also took a friend to this restaurant who said she couldn't stand duck so she ordered linguine. I gave her one bite of my Magret and she exclaimed "That's not duck, that's a steak". Au contraire, it's better than a steak....Which brings me to a Yelp review of said bistro where an Irish couple gave it one star. <bolding is mine>
"..Irish Tourist Here... This is a place to be definitely avoided if you wish to get value for money!!!! .. Asked for Duck and Steak to be cooked well done. Both orders were cooked close to rare. Spuds were coldish. When asking for a glass of water we got landed a 2 ltr bottle of water on the table and 2 glasses.. When dishes were sent back. Duck was re cooked in juices of the steak so duck tasted like steak. Also we were rudely told we are big eaters sending food back!!!. When questioning why our food was not cooked correctly, standing beside the kitchen I seen why its horrible and messy!! Plus service was extremely rude. I refused to pay and asked for a reduction in the bill due to the rudeness and lack of respect to paying tourists. I was told that's the way we do food over here. Sorry... Now please pay your bill... So if you would like some nice food and manners go to Place Cambronne. Or a lovely side street pizza shop.."
What's to be said about this? I've bolded quite a lot because there's a lot wrong here. First of all I won't make any cracks about Irish cuisine because anything I'd say could also be said of American cuisine and I'm American. I also don't think it needs to be said so I'll just say this, the French are really good at some things that the folks living in the Mayonnaise belt (former British colonies) just don't understand. So to start they asked for both their Duck and Steak to be cooked well done. You probably couldn't eat a duck well done without a chain saw and I can only imagine the French chef in the kitchen not even comprehending that someone has CHOSEN to make their food inedible so he cooked it the best he could and sent it out. They also asked for what sounds like tap water. If you ask for water in France you'll get a choice of still bottled water or sparkling (with gas) bottled water. I'm not sure what they ended up with but it was in fact a bottle of water. The secret phrase in France is "une carafe d'eau s'il vous plaît!" which will get you a carafe of chilled tap water. Whenever I ask for my carafe I get a surprised look from the waiter followed by a look of respect, like I was just let into the back room of a secret clubhouse.
The last point I'd like to make is that these folks believed they had some sort of buying power because they were tourists with money. They very clearly don't understand the French. You could walk into a French bank with a million dollars in cash and they'd want references before they'd let you open an account. Money talks in America but only whispers in France.
So here's a couple of thoughts and lessons to take away.
- Don't go to another country to which you know nothing of their culture and tell their chefs how to cook their dishes. Especially don't go to France and tell French chefs how to cook French food. If you like your food having the flavor and texture of a football you will probably have to go back home to get it.
- Don't assume that people in France will bow down to your almighty dollar and want to serve you anymore than if you walked into someone else's house with money in your wallet.
- Treat France like you're visiting a friend with an exquisite house and you'll be fine. This means you will be treated with politeness and respect as long as you keep your feet off the coffee table.
I actually experienced this very same situation in this very same restaurant. An American family sat down at a table, spoke perfect American English to the French staff and expected them to understand everything they said (even though French, not English is the language of the land) and when they didn't bring what the American family had ordered they man became enraged and demanded they take it back. His exact words to his wife were "They had BETTER make us what we ordered!". I felt ashamed and the manager treated them so much better than they deserved. Had it been me I would have thrown them out.
So the moral of the story is that we should exert at least a little bit of effort to understand the culture and customs of the country that we're in so we don't make total asses of ourselves and in addition we may very well enjoy our stay more. Huh, there's a thought.