Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

French Restaurants Wane but Influence Still Strong 5 Closed in Region in Less Than Decade

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

French Restaurants Wane but Influence Still Strong 5 Closed in Region in Less Than Decade

Article excerpt

French restaurants and chefs were the stars of the American fine dining scene for decades-- until suddenly they weren't. Much was made of the fact that the United States dominated the recently released World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards, with eight spots, but it's not the first time it's happened.

It is one more reminder, though, that French cuisine no longer holds the dominant role in Western culinary culture.

That's particularly true in the Pittsburgh region, which in less than a decade has seen five of its fine French restaurants close -- the latest Le Pommier on the South Side in January 2011. And in Philadelphia, one of this country's most acclaimed French restaurants, Le Bec Fin, closed in March after 42 years.

Some place the blame for the decline squarely on Mother France, whose traditional food culture has proven vulnerable to the modern forces of McDonald's, two-career households and a shortened work week in that country for restaurant professionals.

In his 2009 book, "Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France," author Michael Steinberger describes how these and other forces have diminished France's own restaurants, as well as the reputation of French cuisine around the world.

But the shifting fortunes of French restaurants in America have just as much to do with the enhanced reputation of other cuisines, particularly our own.

"When I grew up in France, no one knew how to roll a sushi roll, but now everybody does. The borders have kind of vanished when it comes to food," said Yves Carreau, who was born and raised in Lyon, France, but now owns the Sonoma Grill, Seviche and NOLA on the Square, all Downtown and none of them French.

Thirty years ago, when the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., opened American Bounty Restaurant, featuring the cuisine of the Americas, "It was controversial," said Douglass Miller, assistant professor of the institute's Hospitality and Service Management. "People said there is no American cuisine."

But American cooking enjoys a much better reputation today. "In the States, we're developing a generation of chefs that have their own identity," said Mr. Carreau. "American cooking has evolved in a way that has surpassed in popularity French cooking and maybe even Italian cooking in the United States."

As French restaurants have closed, they have been replaced by more diverse offerings. In addition to Le Pommier, the greater Pittsburgh region has lost Laforet in Highland Park, Chez Gerard in Hopwood in Fayette County, Ma Provence in Squirrel Hill and Palate Bistro, Downtown. Meanwhile, just two small French restaurants have opened: Paris 66 in East Liberty and Brasserie 33 in Shadyside.

At the same time, upscale restaurant openings have been dominated by contemporary American restaurants, along with more examples of Latin American, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and Italian. …

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