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McDonald’s heir beaten by French

Toledo, McDonald's 1967Definitive proof that the French hate freedom:

via Gawker:

A pack of robbers armed with baseball bats beat and robbed 60-year-old Geoffrey McDonald) and his wife in their villa in the south of France.

McDonald’s is in Eygalières, a village in Provence where Brangelina recently purchased a $15 million mansion. The thugs stole $360,000 in cash, jewelery, and passports from the “severely shocked” couple. France is too dangerous, Geoffrey—come home to America, where we will revere you as a demigod and protect you and your loved ones with our lives.

Why does French espresso suck?

Coffee, Cup and BeansIt is no secret why French coffee sucks.  It is because instead of brewing it properly they use the instant variety. But if you ask a Frenchmen about this, he will most likely reply that real French don’t drink “weak American-style coffee,” they drink espresso. The Nescafe Instant Coffee in every store, he’ll say, is just there so tourists have something to drink.

This is a lie, Europeans are second only to Asians in consuming instant coffee. But even if it were true, it does not explain why France, the cafe capitol of the world, has such horrible Espresso.

The New York Times steps in to answer the question.

I want to put it in stronger terms, but I’ll leave it to Duane Sorensen of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, who once asked me: “Why does the coffee in Paris suck so bad?”

Why, indeed?

Maybe it’s because Paris cafes do all the little things wrong: old beans, over-roasted beans, second-rate machines. Coffee is ground in batches, not to order. Order a café crème or noisette and out comes a box of U.H.T. milk, a shelf-stable dairy product. Even the venerable Cafés Verlet (256 rue Saint-Honoré, 011-33-01-42-606-739) ignores a basic rule and keeps roasted beans in open barrels.

The composition of most espresso blends doesn’t help things. James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee often points out that the French have a taste for robusta, a low-cost, low-quality bean that gives good crema but can taste thin and harsh. Or, to paraphrase a conversation I had with Corby Kummer, drinking robusta is like putting balsa wood in your mouth.

So there you have it. Not only do the French drink loads of low-quality instant coffee, they also cut corners when brewing their espresso. If you want a quality cup of coffee next time you’re traveling in Paris, you best bet it to find the nearest McDonald’s or Starbucks.  Thankfully they’ve just opened up a new McDonald’s in the Louvre.

(Hat tip: Joey)

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

McDonald’s: 1, France: 0 [we’re winning]

McDonald's FranceFor the last 30 years, McDonald’s has been in France, serving up Le Big Macs and giving comfort and sanctuary to weary American tourists.

Today, McDonald’s is on the verge of opening its 1,142 location there.

But that growth there did not come easy. Initially the French were hostile to McDonald’s. They saw it as cheap, mass produced and disgustingly American. It was the antithesis of French Cuisine.  They editorialized against McDonald’s, boycotted it and, in 1999, one of their presidential candidates even vandalized a McDonald’s restaurant.

Despite their bluster and outrage, the French resistance to McDonald’s wasn’t much more spirited than the fight they put up during World War II. Block by block, restaurant by restaurant, McDonald’s slowly conquered Gaul.

Today, France is McDonald’s biggest market outside of the United States.

McDonald’s will celebrate its 30th anniversary in France with a stunning coup de grâce. The fast food giant will open its 1,142 French location in heart of the nation, the Holy of Holies of French art, the new Bastille of French culture: the Louvre.

That’s right. A McDonald’s in the Louvre.

Next time you have to see the Mona Lisa, make sure to order some fries and a coke on the way in.

God Bless America!

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

McDonald’s in America [progress]

Chain restaurants in NYC: Saturation point or starting point?

5 Things about New York City that make America Great (and 4 that remind me of Europe)

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A street vendor hawking umbrellas near Union Square.

In some ways, New York is the most American of cities. Its energy, drive and optimism are emblematic of the American spirit. It is also the birthplace of many great American institutions that have yet to disseminate across much of the rest of the country, like taxi cabs that take credit cards. But with its high density, multitude of languages and pedestrian culture, New York is also the most European place in America.

Below is my list of the top 5 things that make New York (and America) great, and the top 4 things about New York that suck (and remind me of Europe).

–Things that make New York (and America) great:

1: 24-HOUR SUBWAY

The London Underground closes at 11 PM. The Paris Metro stops service at 1AM. And thanks to shoddy maintenance, Berlin’s S-Bahn doesn’t run much at all these days. But while European countries are content to shutdown their subways every evening, New York is the city that never sleeps. Thankfully, neither does its subway system. If you either work the graveyard shift or are just part of the bar-and-club crowd, the world’s only 24-hour subway means you’ll never have to pay price cab fares or wait hours for the morning’s first train.

2: ENTERPRIZING STREET VENDORS

Every major city has street vendors selling “Gucci” bags and shoddy watches, but New York has vendors that sell things you actually need. Take umbrellas for example; no matter where you are in Manhattan, the second a raindrop hits the ground vendors appear on every corner selling umbrellas for only $5. Then there are the fruit and vegetable carts located all over town. I’m not sure about the rest of the city, but the one at my corner is open 24/7, rain or shine. Some might call it crazy or suspicious, but I like to think of it as an example of the American entrepreneurial spirit. One thing is certain: you could never buy a tomato at 3:30 AM in France.

3: FREE DELIVERY, EVEN FROM MCDONALDS

You can get any food you can imagine in New York, often at any hour of the day. And because of the high density and cut-throat competition, restaurants have to deliver—for free. This is even true for McDonalds! I’ll have a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, please—delivered.

4: TAXIS TAKE CREDIT CARDS

Chalk this one up to Mayor Bloomberg. As of 2007, taxi cabs in New York come equipped with interactive terminals featuring GPS, video programming and credit card machines. Now you never need to worry about having enough cash before hailing a cab: just swipe and ride. If only other cities were so civilized.

5: BARS OPEN UNTIL 4 AM (sometimes)

While not unique to New York strictly speaking, 4 AM bar closing times are nevertheless a great institution. Back in my home state of Michigan, the neo-prohibitionists in the state legislature force bars to shut their doors at 2 AM—which means last call comes at 1:30. In New York, 1:30 is nothing more than the half-way point in a good night out. Unfortunately, increasing neighborhood activism means that precious few new 4 AM liquor licenses are issued by the city. The new norm is trending towards earlier closing times. Damn neighborhood associations!

–Things about NYC that suck (and remind me of Europe):

1: CREDIT CARD MINIMUMS

You would think that a city built on banking and finance—where even taxi cabs and street merchants accept plastic—would be paradise for credit card users. But alas, this is not the case. At restaurants and bars across the city, European-style credit card minimums are the norm. I don’t understand why the New York banks that earn a percentage of every credit card transaction allow their rules to be flouted in their own back yard. This is the birthplace of American Express for crying out loud!

2: LACK OF TOILETS

A city that houses 8.3 million residents, 2 million daily commuters and tens of thousands of tourists produces—to put it bluntly—a lot of shit. Early on, the massive market of human needs was exploited by pay toilet operators, like they have in Europe. But this inhumane practice was banned in the 1970s, thanks to the efforts of the Committee To End Pay Toilets In America. Unfortunately, many merchants in New York today do not live up to the promise of free toilets. They build small restrooms and keep them poorly signed and dirty to discourage use.  The net result is that New York City suffers from a chronic restroom shortage. Often the only place to pee is Starbucks, and the lines for their bathrooms are killer.

3: RESTRICTIVE LIQUOR LAWS

New York City might be home to the Godless East Coast Elite, but that hasn’t stopped the city from embracing puritanical liquor laws straight out of the Bible Belt. Liquor cannot be sold in grocery stores, or any store that also sells beer. The few stores that do sell spirits cannot open before noon on Sundays, and often close by 8 or 9 PM in the evening!

4: HORIBLE SERVICE

There are two kinds of waiters in New York City, the ones who are bad because they are overly smug—typically found at your pricey 3-star restaurants, and the ones who are bad because they are perennially out-of-work actors—who are found everywhere else. The horrible European-style service found across New York City is a real stroke against New York’s otherwise unparalleled restaurant scene. Instead of being a gastronomical nirvana, it is more like the snooty restaurant scene in Paris, but with hotdog carts.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#6. Chargebacks and Credit Cards

€1. Pay toilets

The American Dream is alive and well

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