Navigating the Restaurant Menu

by Nancy McKeown-Conn

Without a doubt, sitting in a café or restaurant, lingering over a cup of coffee after a delicious French meal is one of the pleasures of living in France.  But, if you’ve ordered daube thinking you were getting fish and were served a rich beef stew instead, you might be somewhat disappointed in your dining experience.

People seem to learn restaurant French pretty quickly, but some ingredients and preparations remain elusive.  For instance, while you might want to avoid eating horsemeat (cheval), you might actually enjoy a hamburger à cheval (served with a fried egg on top).   Caouanne is turtle, but so is tortue.   On the other hand, tourteau is a large crab but tourteau fromage is a kind of cheesecake.   You probably already know to order your steak à point (medium/medium rare), but fruit and cheese may also be à point, that is, perfectly ripe.  Riz is rice, veau is veal and ris de veau are sweetbreads – be careful.  Of course you know that escargots are snails, but so are bulots, cagouilles and petit-gris. Pâte is pastry dough or batter, which is not to be confused with pâtes (pasta), which is certainly not pâté, which is, well, pâté.

You’ll see many dishes prepared à la something, which means in the manner or style of someplace or someone.  Here are some definitions.

If it says à la (in the manner of): The translation is: It means:
Lyonnaise Lyons Served with onions
Meunière “in the manner of the Miller’s wife” Usually refers to fish dusted in flour, sautéed in butter and served with browned butter, lemon juice and parsley.
Grand-mère Grandmother style Prepared with onions, mushrooms, potatoes and bacon
Florentine Florence Served with spinach and mornay sauce
Diable Devil’s style Dishes served or prepared with a sauce of mustard, vinegar and/or other pepper flavorings
Dijonnaise Dijon Served with a mustard sauce
Bourguignonne Burgundy Prepared with red wine, mushrooms, bacon and small onions
Bretonne Brittany Can be a sauce of white wine, carrots, leeks and celery or a dish served with white beans
Bordelaise Bordeaux Prepared or served with a brown sauce of red or white wine, shallots and bone marrow
Arlésienne Arles Prepared with tomatoes, onions, eggplant, potatoes, rice and sometimes olives
Anglaise English style Prepared with little embellishment – can also refer to food dipped in bread crumbs and fried
Ancienne Old style Most often used to describe braised beef and fricassees
Milanaise Milan Describes food that is dipped in egg, then a mixture of bread crumbs and cheese and then fried
Provençale Provence Prepared or served with tomatoes, garlic and sometimes olives, eggplant and anchovies
Parisienne Paris Usually, fish or chicken garnished with mushrooms, asparagus, truffles and a white wine sauce
Alsacienne Alsace Usually garnished with sausage and sauerkraut
Américaine America White wine sauce usually with brandy, shallots, tomatoes and garlic

2 responses to “Navigating the Restaurant Menu

  1. It can be fun to order something when you have no clue of what it may be…..or a disaster. My very first dining experience in Paris, I learned to make sure when ordering fish, that the menu should indicate ‘filet’. Although, I’ve had a whole fish dinner, and once you figure out how to cut it, it’s quite delicious.

  2. What a nice selection of the French sauces with “à la…”, very well resumed! I think you won’t have problem with the French gastronomy any more after having reading it !

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