The English language, according to ‘Global Language Monitor’, has over 1 million words. And yet we need to borrow words from French, and sometimes change their meaning in the process.
One example: in France an ‘entree‘ is a first course of a meal. In the US, it refers to the main course. And we use the term ‘menu’ for the printed list of choices at a restaurant. In France this is called a ‘carte‘. Menu means something much different. On the carte at most French restaurants, you will find a fixed price meal that is called a menu. This consists of a first course (entree), a main course (plat) and dessert (dessert). There are usually choices for each course, and the price is the same regardless of what you select. Some restaurants have 2, or sometimes even 3, different menus at different prices.
Here is an example: A 25 Euro menu might offer 3 entree choices: goat cheese salad, escargot, or pate. The main course choices could be duck breast, chicken in wine sauce, or grilled salmon. And dessert might offer a tart, a cake, ice cream, chocolate mousse, or a fruit plate. Dinner is usually three courses, sometimes 4 with the addition of a cheese course after the plat. Coffee usually is ordered after the dessert course, not with it. If 25 Euros ($29) seems pricey, remember that prices on the carte in France include tax and tip.
Ordering a menu from the carte is usually a good value, and the multiple courses insure a relaxed pace to the meal. Coming from the US we might call this ‘slow service’ and get irritated that dinner is taking 90 minutes or more. But in France slow paced meals are the norm, and once one gets used to the tempo it is delightful. You learn to sip wine and eat slowly and savor. With luck you have some amiable companions to chat with or a lovely Stoker to stare at, or both.
After climbing the giant Col du Galibier via the not insignificant Col de Telegraphe, our hungry tour group descended to the Col du Lautaret for lunch. The restaurant there is patronized by many cyclists, so much so that the carte features a menu cycliste! This was a two course affair; the entree was an excellent tomato soup, and the plat was a huge portion of spaghetti bolognese. So huge that only one of the five of us who ordered it could finish the pasta completely. Talk about carbo loading! Dessert wasn’t part of the menu cycliste but could be ordered a la carte, which none of us did since the pasta had more than refueled us.
If spaghetti bolognese seems to be strange fare for a French cafe, bear in mind that we were only a couple of clicks away from Italy: we actually rode our bikes across the border twice the previous day. No passport control necessary.
Menus and entrees and plats and even desserts (which I very rarely consume at home) are a delightful part of cycling in France. I’m not sure if I enjoy the cycling or the eating more, and I’m glad I get to do both. Pretty much guilt free too: climbing those big Cols really burns the off the menu.