How to eat in a French restaurant - A Point Of Awareness
- Preciosa S. Soliven () - March 9, 2000 - 12:00am

not_entLaunched this March, until the whole two months of summer, is the "French Cuisine Festival of Nostalgia," at Ristorante La Dolce Fontana in Annapolis, Greenhills, featuring the much-awaited Nora Daza's famous Au Bon Vivant French specialties. Last night the French Ambassador, His Excellency Gilles Chouraqui, officially opened the food festival.

Madame Nora Daza prepared a special set menu which included Prosciutto et Bresaola Salami with Melon, Bouillabaisse with Aioli Sauce, Salad Nicoise, Orange Givre's or orange sherbet in its fruit shell, Café Demitasse and Liqueurs. O.B. Montessori culinary college students will serve cocktails of Bellini, sparkling wine with Sol D'Pesca (peach liqueur). These are from her specialties at her popular Au Bon Vivant restaurant which started at Ermita then branched out to Makati and Quezon City from 1965 to 1986.

The other nostalgia dishes from her repertoire include the La Soupe a l'Oignon, Canard a l'Orange, Quiche Lorraine, Le Steak au Poivre, Chateaubriand with Sauce Bernaise, Crepes, Chesse Souffle and Les Tournedos. While running the best French restaurant in Manila, she was also introducing Philippine food in Paris at Aux Isles Philippines, her own restaurant. Today, she is the consultant of the Ristorante La Dolce Fontana.

Haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine

In 1825, Brillat Savarin, a well-known gastronomic writer, declared that "cookery is the oldest form of art." Just like haute couture in high fashion the French refer to the gastronomic haute cuisine in the culinary art. The more casual home cooking is known as cuisine provencale.

In the '70s the nouvelle cuisine became the fad. The large and rich portions of roast lamb, grilled steak or salmon fillet were reduced to unrecognizable medallion-size cuts with artistic vegetable decors highlighted by colored sauces. During this time, coronary heart problems were increasing so fat-free or low calorie meals became necessary.

The French and Italian way of eating

Both the Italians and French use a five-course meal. For appetizers, Italians refer to antipasto while the French, hors d'oeuvre. The Italians have a choice of pastas or lasagna for the primo and often do not take the antipasto except in the north like in Milan, Turin, Bologna, Venice, etc. The French often have starters and would even use for hors d'oeuvre the Vietnamese fried lumpia, cha gio or the Filipino rellenong alimasag (stuffed crabs) when eating in Oriental restaurants. After this the entree or main dish is ordered. Parisiennes like fresh beef steak sliced just a centimeter thick, six inches wide covered with lots of pommes frit or french fries. A carafe of house wine is usually good enough specially if you are alone or with a companion. Otherwise you must try a whole bottle of the local wine.

Nowadays the figure-conscious Italians, specially the young ladies order either the secondo (chicken, beef or seafood) or only "un mezzo" or half-order of a pasta. The contorno is fresh salad or boiled vegetable eaten together with the main dish.

The meal is usually concluded with either cheeses or fruits of the season in both Italy and France. The French who have more fresh and soft cheese offer a variety of cheeses for dessert.

Ordering in a French restaurant

Most French restaurants display a menu outside complete with prices. Tourists look for the cheaper fixed-price menu of the day, while the French usually order a la carte since they take more leisure time when they eat out. A beautiful restaurant ambience is an add on cost. Meals often run to three courses, with or without wine. Words like maison or du chef next to a dish listed on the menu are clues that the dish is a specialty of the restaurant. Below are some useful French phrases used when eating out in Paris:

Reservations are necessary. Most restaurants are small and intimate. A day or half a day earlier one telephones "Je voudrals reserver une table pour 4 personnes Nous viendrona a 13 heures. Pouvons-nous avoir une table dans un endroit pour non-fumeurs?" (I'd like to reserve for four. We'll come at 1 past noon. Could we have a table in a non-smoking area?)

"Garcon/Mademoiselle! Puis-je avoir la carte? Avez-vous des specialties locales?" (Waiter/Waitress! May I have the menu please? Do you have local dishes?)

Je voudrals un hors-d'oeuvre. Que nous/me recommandez-vous? (I'd like an appetizer. What do you recommend for me/us?). Quelles salads servez-vouz? (What salads to you have?). Quel genre de fruits de mer servez/vouz? (What kind of seafood do you have?)

Je prendrai un dessert. quelque chose de leger. Une petite portion, s'il vous plait. (I'd like dessert. Something light. Just a small portion, please.)

What are hors-d'oeuvres?

The most common starters are the following:

The pate is an exquisite liver puree which may be blended with other meat like a pate de campagne; pate de fois gras indicates a fine paste of duck or goose liver (from birds gorged with special food that enlarges their liver) pate en croute would be enveloped in a pastry crust. The terrine is flavored meat loaf molded in traditional earthenware pot "terrine."

The souffles are among the most dramatic dishes in the French culinary repertoire. Only experienced cooks can do it although the recipe is simple. A puffy, brown dish served in a small porcelain bowl. It is made of egg whites, delicately flavored with cheese, vegetables or seafood.

The quiche is a flan or open-faced tart with a rich, creamy filling of cheese, vegetables, meat or seafood. Quiche Lorraine, the best known of the quiches, is garnished with bacon.

Assorted appetizers are known as assiette anglaise and the assiete de charcuterie which is assorted cold cuts and pork products.

The potages et soups list

Any of this type of soup can be found in a French menu. Bisque is a creamy shell-fish based soup somewhat like a seafood stew or chowder. The bouillabaisse, a Marseilles specialty is a fish and seafood stew usually a meal by itself. A bouillon is a clear soup. The consomme can either be served with raw egg or with port wine. Commonly served cream soups are the creme d'asperges (asparagus), creme de bolets (mushroom) and creme de volaille (chicken).

There is also the potage a l'ail (garlic), au cresson (watercress), bonne femme (potato, leek and sometimes bacon), conde (mashed red bean), julienne (shredded vegetable) or parmentier (potato).

The list of entree's

The poissons et fruits de mer or seafood like fish is as expensive as the meat dish. Fish is often served de-boned. We, Filipinos may miss the fish head or skin which intensifies the flavor. Most commonly baked or poached until just done, the fish is dressed with a delicate sauce. Other cooking methods for seafoods are au four (baked), frit (fried), grille (grilled), marine (marinated), poche (poached), saute, fume (smoked), or cuit a la vapeur (steamed).

Usually an appetizer, the coquilles St. Jacques are scallops served in a creamy sauce on the half shell. The homard a l americaine is a very heavy and expensive dish. It is made of sauteed diced lobster, flamed in cognac and then simmered in wine, aromatic vegetables, herbs and tomatoes.

Meat is cut differently in France. The following are the names of some commonly seen cuts of beef: chateaubriand (double fillet steak), cote de boeuf (loin strip steak), entrecote (rib-eye steak), tournedos (tenderloin steak). Usually meat is dressed with some sort of creamy sauce or gravy -- sometimes prepared at your table. There are also low-calorie nouvelle cuisine sauces to go with the dish.

The gibier et volailles or chicken, duck and turkey can be found at any time of the year on a French menu. However, the hunting season in autumn, between September to October is a unique period in which to sample wild boar, venison or pheasant. Some game is roasted and braised with fruits and vegetables while other game is jugged and stewed. Civet -- as in civet de lievre (rabbit) will tell you that the preparation has been jugged. Like our galantina or chicken relleno the terrines are often made of game or fowl. The best known of the French duck recipes is the canard a l orange. It is braised with oranges and orange liqueur.

In contrast to the Italians who eat salad with their meal, the French usually eat salade after the main course. The salade nicoise, is a Riviera combination salad which includes tuna, anchovies, olives and vegetables. Other salads are salade verte (green salad), salade de thon (tuna salad) or salade russe (diced vegetable salad).

Sauces et preparations is the heart of French cooking

Classic French cuisine relies heavily on the use of basic stocks and sauces for flavoring and seasoning dishes. What would French cuisine be without its infinite variety of sauces, dressings and gravies? Some of them are creamy and velvety with the delicate taste of herbs, wine and other flavorings. Others are tangy and spicy. Below are a few common names of sauces and garnishes with a hint as to what they are made of:

Aioli -- garlic mayonnaise; Bechamel -- white sauce; Chaud-froid -- dressing containing gelatine; Fines herbes -- with herbs; Florentine -- with spinach; Hollandaise -- egg yolks, butter, vinegar; Mariniere -- white wine, mussel broth thickened with egg yolks; Mournay -- cheese sauce; Veloutee -- thickened chicken broth; Verte -- mayonnaise with spinach, watercress and or herbs.

C'est si bon

C'est si bon, lovers and gourmets say this expression in France. Just as it takes time to find one's true love it is necessary to eat French food in the right way and often enough to be an authentic gourmet. The extra ceremonies of wine drinking must accompany the experience. Then these exotic dishes will thrill one whether it is escargot (snails), the beef tournedos, ratatouille vegetable stew or the crepes suzette.

Learn it from Madame Nora Daza herself at the Ristorante La Dolce Fontana!

(For more information please e-mail at

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