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Has Parisian dining jumped the shark?

Au BougnatGuardian writer Michael Tomasky recently got back from a trip to Paris and he is not happy with the restaurant scene in the self-proclaimed “food capital of the world.”

In fact we ate a lot of mediocre meals, and one outright awful one, at a brasserie in St. Germain that was close to disgusting. I have two main complaints.

First, the menus are really limited. There’s a steak, a piece of veal, a chicken, maybe a cut of lamb. Two fishes. That’s it. I’m aware that this is the tradition. But some traditions are bad. It’s not too much to ask that there be several choices on a menu.

Second, they don’t bring you vegetables. In America, at any good restaurant, your main course will come with a starch and a vegetable. There are exceptions, like steak houses, where everything is a la carte (or, come to think of it, at places that affect to be haute French). But basically, in the US, if you order a pork tenderloin, you’ll get a few potatoes and a respectable little clump of spinach or Swiss chard, something like that. I eat badly in some ways, but I love my greens, and a meal feels really incomplete without them.

Like Matt Yglesias, I am going to disagree with Tomasky’s critique of the short menu. The expansive menu found at the typical American diner is great and all, but only because we all know what is on it (breakfast, sandwiches, burgers, cheap meat). But at a new restaurant a long menu can be daunting. And as an American who has trouble making choices, I appreciate when places severely limit my options (this is why Chipotle is excellent–you can get whatever you want, but only 2 things are on the menu).

But his second critique is right on the money. Restaurants shouldn’t try to nickel and dime you. God knows the French do enough of that with their pay toilets, credit card minimums and lack of free refills.

Dinner should come with fixin’s–and plenty of them. Thankfully in America, it does.*

*Except in trendy NYC restaurants

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