I did discover one significant chink in the French culinary armor when I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago. I mean, I've been raving about the quality and deliciousness of French food so much in this space that I suspect some readers wish I'd just put a sock in it. I'll continue to rave until they prove me wrong, or until someone fills my pie hole with a very large napoleon pastry. But in the mean time, I've found one thing that the French can't do.
They can't figure out how to cook your meat. Or rather, how to ask how you want your meat prepared. I suspect that French chefs already have a pretty strong opinion of the way their meat should be served, and this asking business is as newfangled as l' internet.
This was apparent at quite a lovely dinner that I enjoyed at Maison Blanche, a fine-dining place above the Theater Champs Elysees, with nice views of the river. When the tuxedoed waiter took my order for filet mignon, he offered three options. The first was saignant, which sounds like "sigh not" and almost literally means bleeding, or rare. The second was a pointe, or something approaching medium. And the third and final choice was bien cuit, which comes out as "well cooked," or well done in any language.
Was there anything in between the three parameters? The waiter shrugged his no. I wanted to pull out my big Texan hat and say, in Lubbock-accented French, "Now son, let me tell you a thing or two about cooking meat." But my French is bad enough as it is. I'm a medium-rare guy from day one, so I took my chances on a pointe, and found it a little too cooked for my liking.
It almost made me cry in my flourless, molten chocolate dessert with bitter-almond ice-cream (which you've GOT to try … sweet at first, then bitter on the back of the tongue). Almost, but not quite. The man or woman who invents French words for medium-rare and medium-well will be a great humanitarian.