16 April 2007

Ville de Tours: restaurant menus

Yesterday I posted a picture of a ceramic rooster dressed in a cowboy get-up. A cousin of mine from North Carolina sent me an e-mail and said she had seen similar ceramic roosters in the U.S., and she thought the one I photographed must have been made by the same company as one she has at home. It's a global world, isn't it? I was glad to hear from her — it had been years.

Asides aside, I wanted to point out that Tours is about a 45-minute drive from Saint-Aignan, or a 45-minute train ride. It's a big city, but not anything like Paris. Compared to the Seine, the Loire River is very wide at Tours, and there are just four bridges — and two of those are autoroute crossings, not old stone bridges like the city's main bridge, le pont Wilson.

French cities are very compact compared to American cities, which sprawl on for miles. That said, Tours has newer, suburban-style shopping zones to the north and to the south, outside of the old town. Sometimes we go over there just to shop in the suburbs, without ever going "downtown" or into the city center.

The streets of Tours late on a Sunday afternoon.

Here are some pictures of menus. I always seem to end up examining menus closely whenever I am walking around in a French city. In France, restaurants are required to post the menu outside on the sidewalk so that potential customers can make an informed decision about their lunch or dinner. The menu also shows you the prices you can expect to pay.

The classic steak-frites

Because menus change frequently, they are often hand-written on a chalkboard, like the one above. It's a pretty simple one: you can choose from (a) steak, or (b) steak! Both steaks are served with home-made French fries (frites maison) and green salad (salade verte). The meat is from cattle raised in France (viandes françaises) . Bon appétit !

The two steaks you can choose from are: a rib-eye (entrecôte) with béarnaise (sauce), which is a mayonnaise-type sauce made using shallots and tarragon cooked in vinegar; or a sort of skirt steak (onglet) served with a sauce made of shallots that are stewed slowly in butter or vegetable oil. Entrecôte béarnaise is shorthand in French; everybody knows that béarnaise is a sauce and not something else like a kind of steak or a way of cooking it. The Béarn is an old province down in the Pyrénées Mountains where the sauce was supposedly invented.

I have to check this place out more closely the next time
I'm in Tours to see what the menu looks like. The name
means "Eat Me" and that doesn't give you a clue.

Green salad is a standard item in France. No, it's not elegant, and I know people who think salads with just lettuce in them are really boring. But a good helping of fresh greens is an important dietary component that balances out a meal, and fresh greens are delicious and refreshing when dressed with a good vinaigrette (which they always are in France). Sometimes you get a mixture of different kinds of greens, but often it's just green leaf lettuce or what we would call Boston lettuce. It's never iceberg.

You won't find American-style salads made of half-a-dozen ingredients (lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, green peppers, croutons, onions, and on an on) with sweet or creamy dressings. That's seen, I think, as too complicated and too rich to be included as just one part of a meal. In France, the standard salad that accompanies a meal is made of lettuce and vinaigrette, and vinaigrette is made of a little Dijon mustard, a little vinegar, and some vegetable oil, all whipped together.

Another very simple menu written directly on the glass doors of a
restaurant in Tours. It features what is called a pièce du boucher
the "butcher's cut" — which is... guess what? Steak! And it's served with
French fries and a green salad. You can order a sauce of your choice
with the steak, all for €6.90. It's typical lunchtime food. There's also
a seafood au gratin dish (Cassolette Océane) and beef burgundy
(Boeuf bourguignon) if you want something other than beefsteak.

What you do find is cafés and restaurants that serve salades-repas — salads that constitute a whole meal. One such salad is a salade niçoise — greens, steamed green beans, tomato wedges, cold boiled potatoes, olives, and tuna, with vinaigrette. Other lunch or dinner salads can include ham, lardons, hard-boiled eggs, different cheeses like blue or Swiss or goat, artichoke hearts, corn, and so on. But they are dinner salads, and only become part of a meal when smaller versions of them are served as starter courses.

Another good starter featuring vegetables is a salade de crudités [kroo-dee-TAY], which is sliced tomatoes, diced beets, grated carrots, shredded cabbage, diced boiled potatoes, and maybe a sliced hard-boiled egg, served as separate little salads on a plate and dressed with vinaigrette. It's a salad but not a tossed salad.

In France, salade verte, the simple tossed green salad, is usually eaten after the main course, not before. Or with the main course when you're having a simple, quick meal like a steak and fries or a pizza. These days, you don't always get salad as part of a meal in a restaurant.

And by the way, the entrée in a French meal is the starter or appetizer course, not the main course. I don't know how we ever ended up using the word "entree" in America to mean "main course," when it so obviously means the "entry" into the meal, the starter.

Another very confusing difference between French and American usage has to do with the word "menu." In France, what we call the menu is called the carte — that's why you order à la carte when you want to pick and choose your food from different offerings rather than order a set-price meal.

A menu in French is a full meal made up of several courses at a set price. You can't normally do substitutions. Often you get a choice of entrées (the French meaning), a choice of main courses, and a choice of desserts. Sometimes there will be a salad course before dessert, and sometimes there will be a cheese course, either before dessert or in its place.

A much more elaborate menu (in the French meaning)

My interpretation of the last menu pictured is that you can order a combination that costs €9.90 or a combination that costs €11.40. For the lower price you probably can have either a starter + a main dish, or a main dish + a dessert. For the higher price, you get all three courses.

And there are six or seven choices for each course. The name of the restaurant is Le Picrocole. Here's a loose translation of that menu.
  • Warm country-style salad
    (probably with lardons or ham, maybe potatoes)
  • The chef's special pâté, with prunes in it
  • Fricassee of duck with garlic and parsley
    (served cold? I wonder...)
  • French onion soup (with melted cheese on top)
  • Salad with Touraine Galipettes
    (?? — you got me on that one)
  • Touraine-style salad with potted pork
    (pork rillettes are a Touraine specialty)
  • Eggs baked in a chive-cream sauce
  • Touraine boiled dinner (probably pork,
    sausages, or chicken with vegetables)
  • Stuffed vegetables (a house specialty)
  • Skirt steak with stewed shallots
  • Chicken leg with olives and lemon
  • Fish en papillotte (a foil or paper pouch) with fresh herbs
  • Pork cheeks cooked in a cream sauce
  • Tripe "the way we make it"
  • French toast
  • Caramel custard (like a Mexican flan)
  • Rice pudding flavored with vanilla
  • Pear poached in Earl Grey tea
  • Fromage blanc (like yogurt) with apricot puree
  • Clafoutis with prunes (a kind of pudding cake)
  • A salad of caramelized oranges


  1. Loved your photos of restaurant menus, Ken. I ate many a lunch out in downtown Tours when I was working there! I remember one I especially loved called "Le Petit Patrimoine" -- I wonder if it's still around.

  2. Salade verte is my favorite- but I do love chevre chaud also and nicoise...

    Thanks for the tour of Tours--sign me up for one.

    Alton Brown has a big white chicken with a thin neck like some of those you saw window shopping. It's usually perched somewhere in his kitchen like a mascot.

    Those chickens are reallly popular now. A friend bought a blue one in Arles back in 2000 (I think it was made in France)- somehow the Chinese picked up on the idea and now we can all have one no matter where we live.

    See what's free at http://www.aol.com.

  3. Looks good to me. I've not been to Tours, but am wishing more and more that I had...preferably at meal time!!

    Meilleurs voeux!!

  4. A great post! I love photographing menus too.

  5. I have GOT to STOP reading these posts in the morning. I'm so hungry now I could eat a, well, steak!

  6. Steak and eggs for breakfast -- sounds good to me! Bon appétit!


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