A Parisian restaurant or bistro often gets its charm and ambience thanks to its waiters. They are the ones that control the scene, passing out espressos and early afternoon beers. If you speak a little French, they’re easy to schmooze. They’ll encourage you to get the carafe of house red with lunch and they’ll probably convince you to get dessert as well.
This photo by Flickr user jrodmanjr – aptly titled “Master of his Domain” – captures the essence of a Parisian waiter, the master of a culinary scene that is so iconic in the City of Light.
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Several weeks ago, we were invited to Marriott‘s Bethesda, Maryland headquarters to meet with hotel executives and experience the “belly of the beast,” so to speak – the Marriott Test Kitchen, where dishes for the chains’ more than 1,000 restaurants are created, tested and perfected.
For this experience, we, along with several other food and travel bloggers, offered our opinions on dishes for the chain’s new “Eat. Drink. Connect.” Bistro concept, which was first unveiled 2007 and is expected to be implemented across all U.S. Courtyard hotels by 2012. At present, more than 338 hotels have the Bistro concept in place.
Current travelers are embracing the “grab n’ go,” quick casual model made popular like chains like Panera, Atlanta Bread Company and even Starbucks rather than taking time out of their everyday routine to enjoy a full meal. In addition, executives noted, hotel guests wanted customizable options, healthy choices, media integration and the ability to take their orders on the go if necessary. To meet 24/7 connectivity needs, the Bistro features recharging stations, free Wi-Fi, casual table settings and media “pods,” geared towards on-the-go business travelers who need a quick yet quiet space for an impromptu meeting.
The concept evolved from the brand’s original lobby design, which featured a large breakfast buffet setup that remained in place at any hour of the day. The new design will feature a central counter-style ordering system and a order and pickup setup, including hot and cold choices for breakfast and dinner daily, plus separate “shared plates” and cocktails in the evening hours. Five pricing tiers, maxing out generally at no more than $12-$15 per entree, ensure affordablity. Seasonal promotions keep things fresh and allow frequent travelers variety, while brand ties with names like Starbucks, Sam Adams and Stella Artois keep travelers feeling as if their money is spent on name-brand goods.
The goal? To keep travelers in the hotel at mealtimes, incorporating fast and fresh dishes that suit both their lifestyle and budget.
While visiting the test kitchen, we had a chance to sample a variety of dishes across the menu, including breakfast, appetizer, dinner and dessert options. Our biggest delight? Most dishes, even those that tasted custom-made, like a turkey burger and French Dip sandwich, can be prepared in under five minutes. Salads were made-to-order, meaning that sides like nuts, cheeses or dressings could easily be eliminated if necessary, and each segment of menu items included healthy items that still felt hearty – including an egg white breakfast sandwich, hearty salad with chicken, and falafel wrap for the evening.
While we weren’t wowed by every dish on the menu – the Turkey burger had nearly as many calories as its beef counterpart and lacked flavor; one potential salad addition had a cloyingly sweet dressing – the overall presentation, quality and flavors of the food were surprisingly good. In fact, the menus had more variety and generally much better dishes than their quick casual counterparts, adapting to a variety of palate preferences and health preferences.
Design briefs (including the video below) show an infinitely friendlier space, one where we’d feel comfortable spreading out and working during the day. Overall, however, we’re intrigued by the concept. While our actual dining experience took place in the completely controlled conditions of the test kitchen, the preparation and serving methods, which include quick-cooking ovens and mostly pre-prepped meals, seem to leave little to chance. Were we traveling in this quality of hotels, a bistro option such as this, with the addition of amenities like free Wi-Fi, may sway us to book a reservation here versus a hotel that didn’t have easily accessible on-site meal options.
Marriott provided transportation reimbursement for this experience, but this writer’s opinions are solely her own.
Since 2005, a Philadelphia based cheese-steak bistro owner has been defending a signpost in his shop that said: “This is America, please order in English.” Not surprisingly, he was taken to court on grounds of discrimination, equating it to derogatory signs like “Whites Only”. No ruling has been given yet.
I wrote a post earlier about how surprising I found it that people barely speak English in a big, cosmopolitan capital city like Madrid. It triggered a debate over whether it’s necessary for big cities (where English isn’t the first language) to have basic knowledge of English, or not.
I think it is relative. In non-English speaking metropolises, as long as the tourists put in some effort, lack of basic English may not be an important day-to-day communication hindrance, but it is definitely a disadvantage in the larger scope of things. For example: Madrid is bidding to host the 2016 Olympics — surely the knowledge of English would play an important role there. How is China tackling that issue for next year’s games? Anyway, I digress.
What do you do in an English-speaking country when your customers don’t speak English? Do you put up a sign like our friend did? Hmmm, I don’t think so — it’s quite an insult. The sign reminded me of when the English ruled India and the “No Indians or Dogs” sign was not uncommon. Couldn’t they just be offered picture menus where they could point out what they wanted? Or what about bilingual menus?
There is an online poll on the article asking whether people approve this sign post. At this moment, of the 115,732 people who voted, 92% of them approve. Call me overly sensitive but I’m kinda shocked to see the response.
What do you think? Are signs like that acceptable?
It is going to sound real sad when I make this confession, but I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a French restaurant up until now. Gasp! I know. Surely I’ve had French fries, French breads, and oh, French toast and crepes, but nothing real fancy if you catch my drift. Can’t quite explain why I’d never tried more of it before, but I’ll make a guess in that I was probably too busy eating Thai, Indian or other super spicy cuisines. However, that is not the point right now. The point is I ate fancy French food at Bistro Cassis out in Long Island, NY and dug it!
My companion for the evening had her mind wrapped around eating steak tartar and as fond of red meat as I may be, I left her to eat the whole serving on her own. She did share the escargot, which was absolutely delish! It was my first time sampling the edible snail and I’ll be taste-testing this item more often in future French dining destinations. While it’s slipped my mind what she ended up eating for the main course, I remember very well what I devoured: Black fish (which is actually a white fish) with an assortment of vegetables. The vegetables included pieces of sunflower stem if I’m not mistaken. In summary the food was scrumptious and I would certainly visit again.
In regards to the atmosphere, the restaurant is medium in size and fairly intimate. The only thing that bothered both me and my companion was the first server, who just seemed a bit over-the-top in telling us the specials for the evening. He came off a bit creepy, but nice otherwise.
Bistro Cassis is located at 55 B Wall Street, Huntington, NY 11748. Ph. 631.421.4122.