One begins to intimately understand the fancies and foibles of friends, Gentle Reader, when one is engaged in this foodie blogging thing. Some like it hot, some like it slow, others prefer gentle, and still others look for urbanity and sophistication. While there's no accounting for it, people's tastes really are quite varied. And in the humble opinion of this Casual Observer, there is not much profit in trying to satisfy all.
We ventured as 16 brave souls of the Tokyo Darkside recently to Bistro Bonne Femme in Tameike [Map]. It had come strongly recommended by none other than Gourmand Eric Dahler [Eric's Wine Prosperite] as a venue particularly suited to our formidable gathering of illuminati, and we were all looking forward to re-visiting this bastion of diplomatic dining located as it is so conveniently to the Embassy quarter.
Your Humble Correspondent was very pleasantly surprised by the technique and flair demonstrated by the kitchen at Bonne Femme. It is no mean feat to serve cuisine classique to 16 diners simultaneously. The five courses (Amuse, two entree, a main course, and dessert) served to the Darkside were all turned out neatly with the highest standard of presentation. The sauces were a feature of the meal (note this point for later reference). The ingredients were excellent, definitely not like the variety served below stairs that one would expect at the price (Y5,000).
The house wines which we enjoyed in considerable volume are also exceedingly well-priced (Y3,500) given the above-average quality. Combined with friendly and accommodating service, this makes Bonne Femme a good choice for events between 12-16 ne'er-do-wells as well as an appealing venue for quieter tetes-a-tete.
So you can imagine my surprise, Gentle Reader, when I received a post-dated comment from someone we shall just call 'Joe' to preserve anonymity: Chef could "do just as well cooking in a Massachusetts roadside diner ...", and calling for a chef whose "idea of French Food isn't sauce, sauce, sauce.....". A quick survey of other attendees indicates that 'Joe' is rather in the minority on this, and that many Massachusetts roadside diners could definitely benefit from this sort of improvement.
Oh, and cuisine classique is my favorite style of French, based on the work of Escoffier and made famous in the legendary restaurants of Europe like the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo and the Savoy in London. We have it on good authority, Gentle Reader, that Escoffier never visited Massachusetts. Unless it was Massachusetts, Monaco.
This revolution in the kitchen with the introduction of chef de cuisine brought about the replacement of service à la française (serving all dishes at once) with service à la russe (serving meals in courses), as well as the formalization of the preparation of both sauces (Bigod! Fancy that ...) and complex dishes based on Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire.
For your Humble Correspondent it defines the pinnacle of haute cuisine: sinfully and delightfully distinct from cuisine bourgeoise, the quick and working-class cuisine of bistros [the word bistro likely comes from the Russian быстро bystro meaning "quickly"], and the (blessedly!) bafflingly delicious array of French provincial cuisines.
Cuisine classique has been criticized for heavy sauces, silly names for dishes, and very involved preparation. Yet cuisine as an art form needs a formal component, and a chef who has mastered the disciplines of cuisine classique is better equipped thereby to venture other pathways.
Sadly, more restaurants today focus on nouvelle cuisine and cuisine du terroir which offer better margin performance for the wretchedly money-minded restaurateur. Suitable perhaps for San Francisco, which is not in Monte Carlo either. Mind you, neither is Tameike come to think of it but it is close to a palace.
But cuisine classique is - well - classic. And therefore suited to fat boys, and unrepentant followers of la belle epoch. Just the thing for the more saucy among us. Like moi... but not 'Joe'.
Bonne Femme [Map]: Akasaka 1-3-13, Tameike Suzuki Bldg. 1F. t: 03-3582-0200
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Sauciness: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10.