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Interesting blog post by David Lebovitz

Lebovitz's blog is often deservedly recommended here as a source of recommendations, but this review gets into the much debated questions of "is the availability of English-language menus a sign of a bad restaurant?" and "are only restaurants which appear to have a majority native-born-resident clientele any good?". His opinion is that if either of these rules ever was true in the past, they aren't any more.

Personally I see more and more restaurants are providing English-language menus, thanks to demand and greater language skills. But I agree with the commenter who points out that it's still easy to see an extremely tourist-focussed restaurant, and that such are often poor.

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8889 posts

As some of the comments to this blog post say, just because you see English doesn't mean they are catering for US or British visitors. English is becoming the Lingua Franca of Europe. It is taught in schools throughout Europe, so that if an Italian wants to talk to a Frenchman, or an Estonian to a Belgian, it will be done in school-standard English. And the explosive increase in intra-European travel since the end of the Cold War means that there is no place, no matter how remote, that does not gte some foreign visitors.

Just because you see a menu in English does not mean that the waiter speaks English, maybe just one person in the restauarnt does, or maybe it was translated at the printers. Sometimes you just point, and the waiter writes down the number which he can look up in the menu he understands.

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619 posts

I think there is a difference between a tourist-focussed restaurant, and one which gets sufficient custom from English (and other language) speaking customers to make it helpful to have menus available in different languages. The tourist-focussed is almost certainly going to be right in the centre of the tourist sites, serving the same menu every day, and with prices reflecting the location rather than the quality and variety of the food and drink.

As a British visitor to France (not Paris), I have to say that I have seldom been the only English speaker in a hotel or restaurant, and many of those places have been in small towns and villages. Other customers have often been from other European countries, rather than Americans. Personally, I like a menu that is in both French and English, since that usually provides the clearest indication of what is being served. If it's only in French, then I can usually cope, sometimes with the help of a dictionary.

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16894 posts

I am much more concerned when I see a menu in six languages and laminated in plastic. This is not hard to find in Venice.

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7463 posts

If there's photos of the food for the menu, avoid the place!

You usually can tell who are Americans in the restaurants, so we try to select a place later in the evening where more locals are seated.

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2261 posts

"Personally I see more and more restaurants are providing English-language menus, thanks to demand and greater language skills"

I would agree, it's not the red-flag that it used to be. We saw a few restaurants with English menus, here's the board at Bistro Paul Bert, a well regarded and Lebovitz recommended spot in Paris. They did not have photos of the food outside ;-).

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11613 posts

I agree with Jean. I've been to many good restaurants with menus in more than one language, but no restaurant with big photos of the dishes posted outside has been good. Most of that stuff is pre-packed and microwaved before service.

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2587 posts

Not trying to start a kerfuffle, but if it's becoming the case that having an English version of the menu is not necessarily a red flag,
I do still think that having a German version of the menu is very much a red flag, at least in southern Europe or South America.
Italian or French or Argentine restaurants that attract sufficient German custom to warrant a German menu should be given a wide berth, imho.

The area I live and dine in is littered with Chez Panisse alumni like Lebovitz, and they feel the need to out-do each other's contrary-ness, zigging when someone expects a zag.

How do you deal with a B-list or C-list town, something like Cleveland, maybe? If you ask what the best places in town to dine are, the answers may well be the places that visitors go to. And local restaurants will also feel the need to offer someone's notion of gourmet choices on the menu -- moussaka in an Atlanta diner, or a fancy salad anywhere in the MidWest. Is it wise to order the thing that the kitchen finds a stretch?

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10358 posts

Your BASC is showing, Avirosemail, says this former Berkeleyite, when classifying towns as B-list and C-list. You need to get out of the Bay Area more, not just flying over on your way to another country, to see that culinary life does exist beyond Berkeley. This bay area superiority complex, including the sneer at the midwest, had some validity in the 1980s, but if you check the James Beard nominees for this year, you'll see that people are able to eat and drink well and locally east of Walnut Creek, too.

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2587 posts

Yes, Bets, I am surprised when there's decent dining to be had in flyover states. Pleasantly so.
But geography and character are, as somebody says, destiny.

I was in Denver for a conference, and went a bit out of the way -- eager to get away from the convention area, as always --
to what the reviewers called the best French bistro in the Rockies.
The food prep and ingredient sourcing was impeccable. There were a choice of several pastis! Impressive.
Servers knew of whence they spoke.
But the volume of conversation in the room and the pace at which service was served and the sizes of the place settings and the quantities of the servings were Denver, Denver, and Denver through and through.
I'll admit to a certain amount of compensatory gloating to deal with the cognitive dissonance of how much it costs to live in the Bay Area, but even taking that into account, I still see the BASC as mostly justifiable.

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1971 posts


That's right. We were at Bistrot Paul Bert early this month and one blackboard menu was in Francais, the other English. No problem--they would drag whichever one around and prop it near your table & off you went.

At Philou in the 11th, strictly French on one of those portable blackboards. However, the waiter made sure to say that he would, at the right time, explain every appetizer and entrée, of which there were five of each. Helped a lot.