At Le Pigeon in Portland, OR, the profiteroles come with foie gras and the duck is served “moo shoo” style, with plum chutney and mushrooms. These once-unthinkable deviations from French tradition are the creations of chef Gabriel Rucker, who has won over critics and diners alike.
Le Pigeon is part of a national shift in the definition of what makes a great French restaurant. Yes, thick sauces still exist (thank goodness), as do venerated haute cuisine kitchens like those of chef Joël Robuchon. But French cuisine has also become more accessible, and increased access to exceptional local product means that bistros like Maison Giraud in Los Angeles and brasseries like Niche in St. Louis dish out high-quality French fare in more down-to-earth environs.
“French gastronomy is based on the ingredients themselves and on detailed, careful preparation of the food,” says Robuchon. “I truly believe, as is exemplified in my restaurants around the world, that the simpler the food, the harder it is to prepare it well. You want to truly taste what it is you’re eating, and that goes back to the trend of fine ingredients.”
Technique still counts, of course, and many American chefs have spent time in France learning to flambé, sauté, and julienne, as well as about sauce preparation and a structured kitchen system in which every person plays a crucial role.
The results are on display at the best French restaurants across the U.S., from Les Nomades, in a romantic Chicago brownstone, to the outdoor patio of Anis Café & Bistro in Atlanta.