The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2018

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36  /  the tasting panel  /  july 2018 WHAT WE'RE T here was a time when those of us who eat for a living were confidently reporting that French cooking was as dead in the culinary centers of America as Napoleon's horse. Sushi was everywhere, regional American cooking was the culinary wave of the future, and Italian had kicked French out of the top spot when it comes to special-occasion dining. But, as ever, the wheel spun around, and the classic bistro roared back to draw crowds who act as if they've never seen steak frites before. And honestly, they've been missed. Welcome back, beef tartare—where you been all this time? Restaurateur Stephen Starr's Le Diplomate in Washington, D.C., may well be the most bistro-ish restaurant this side of Chez L'Ami Louis in Paris. When you enter, the first thing you see is a large table covered with bread, behind which a fellow spends the entire evening slicing the selections and placing them in baskets. The menu is a compendium of French Bistro Greatest Hits, with cassoulet on Wednesdays and bouillabaisse on Fridays (naturally, there's also escargots à la Bourguignonne, onion soup gratinée, moules-frites, and skate Grenobloise). You can sit inside or stretch outside along the sidewalk where buskers perform; the Eiffel Tower may not be in sight, but the Washington Monument is near. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, where French cuisine had presumably faded into distant memory, chefs Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook, and Vinny Dotolo have been swimming against the current: first with their tiny, prix-fixe storefront Trois Mec and now with Petit Trois, their full-service bistro in the San Fernando Valley (it follows a much-smaller Hollywood location of the same name). Breakfast diners can begin their day with a "Mec Muffin" of Parisian ham and American cheese, salmon rillette on a baguette, or a confit chicken leg under a mountain of frisée. As the day goes along, there's a Big Mec double cheeseburger, and for those living large, there's Brittany wild sole meunière with rice pilaf and lemon brown butter for $89. It takes 30 min- utes to prepare, allowing you to work your way through a half-liter carafe of blanc, rose, or rouge before your food arrives. Finally, Michael Mina's Margeaux Brasserie can be found in the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, which means you don't have to venture far off the map. Indeed, the décor is pretty darned elegant for a brasserie, which is traditionally more a place to go for drinks than for food. But Chicago isn't Paris, in either actuality or appetite, so this brasserie serves a full selection of dishes in Midwestern-sized portions. There's a côte de boeuf with shallot confit and roasted garlic served for two (though it will probably feed four), and the steaks run from filet mignon, to coulotte and New York strip. Dover sole meunière is served whole and roasted, while dry-aged Rohan duck breast (bred by D'Artagnan) is given a multinational touch with both French chanterelles and Michigan cherries. And on the cheese front, there's a baguette appetizer slathered with truffle butter, garlic confit, and melted camembert. I love cheese enough to consider ordering the dish for dessert: It would look great with a maraschino cherry on top. THE RETURN OF THE CLASSIC FRENCH BISTRO IN AMERICAN DINING by Merrill Shindler Vive la France PHOTO COURTESY OF MARGEAUX BRASSERIE The Mec Muffin with Parisian ham and American cheese at the new Petit Trois in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. PHOTO: KRISSY LEFEBVRE Steak is the star of the show at Michael Mina's Margeaux Brasserie in the Waldorf Astoria Chicago.

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