French cooking, whether haute or country, feels about as trendy as parachute pants. Italian, Spanish, Indian, and Chinese cuisines all generate much more buzz with contemporary diners, who seem to view the Gallic, butter-intensive approach to cooking as barbaric as Hummers in Berkeley. It’s a sorry state of affairs for French food, which has been relegated, I think, to a sort of comfort category. I know I find solace in the long, luxurious lunch at Bistro Francais, where you can get an appetizer, entree, dessert, and even a glass of house wine for $19.95.
Maybe it’s the kind of midday repast that only a JFK-era Boomer can appreciate — you know a diner who doesn’t have an iPhone glued to his hand and maybe has an extra-marital liaison on the afternoon schedule — but I like to think otherwise. The first and last courses of this lunch are often just passable, an acceptable beet salad with creamy dressing, for instance, or an apple tart in which the featured fruit may be a shade past its prime. But the entrees always remind me why French cooking once hogged the gastronomic spotlight, like William Shatner on a community playhouse stage.
My most recent main course was a chopped steak forestiere, which is essentially the French version of the hamburger, sans bun. This generous patty of chopped beef was well seasoned, cooked to a pink shade of medium-rare, and served with a rich, savory Madeira sauce. If you put this thing between a bun, it’d be considered one of the city’s tastiest burgers.