Edit ModuleShow Tags

From the Archives: 'Scuse Our French

San Diego's French cuisine was more classy than casual in 1976


“That photo of the lobster and the wine and the cheese feels, in current context, almost like a cartoon. But back then it was very serious and very au courant.” —Troy Johnson

It wasn’t so long ago that French cuisine was considered the raison d’être. In our November 1976 issue, restaurant critic Tom Gable rated 13 local French restaurants. “The basic premise here is that a French restaurant or bistro is built around the food, firstly,” he wrote, “but it should also be a total artistic experience, complete with color, composition, sensitivity, warmth, the basic strokes of good preparation plus enough genius to sometimes make it meaningful and great.”

None of the places reviewed exist today. In the place of Chez Francoise in Bird Rock now stands Beaumont’s. La Chaumine is PB Cantina. La Maison des Pescadoux on Bacon Street is now The 3rd Corner Wineshop and Bistro (so, a little French).

Le Pavillon, which was in Town and Country Hotel in Mission Valley, has given way to Charlie’s, which serves Texas-style barbecue. “Le Fontainebleu” (sic—we left out an a) at The Westgate Hotel is the closest match—the restaurant on property now is The Westgate Room, where Sunday brunch is held. Executive Chef Fabrice Hardel, who was born in Normandy, keeps some traditionally French items on the menu, like steak frites and crème brûlée.

“French dining was the flashlight that led cities like San Diego out of the undelicious dark,” says our present-day food critic, Troy Johnson, looking over the vintage article. “To the French, fine cuisine is oxygen. No one wanted to mess up an homage to the French. So as you can see by the tuxedos and the Dover sole and the bone-white china and the use of words like ‘elegant’ and ‘masterpieces,’ we took the flattery of imitation to extremes.”

So, what changed? “We were a little precious back then, and that self-seriousness, while well intended, was a barrier for a lot of people. Many of us didn’t have the manners or loftiness to sit at that table. That’s why I love what the French bistro scene has become: more relaxed, casual, and approachable, without losing that diligent approach to the craft of food and drink and service. Places like Cafe Chloe and Bistro du Marché and Bleu Bohème and Au Revoir have taken the craft of the past with the comfort of the now.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

From the Archives: San Diego Desserts from Decades Past

In the '70s and '80s, this magazine considered devouring sweets an X-rated sin

From the Archives: The First Issue of 'San Diego Magazine'

As a nod to our 70th anniversary, we dissect the makings of our first-ever issue

From the Archives: A Working Woman in 1950

More than 50 years ago, being a "career woman" meant jobs in art and modeling and an income for clothes and dinner parties
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. San Diego Magazine's Travel Awards 2019
    Cast your vote now for your favorite hotels, travel companies, and attractions
  2. Best Restaurants in San Diego: 2018
    San Diego's top restaurant owners, chefs, and bartenders name their favorite San Diego restaurants of 2018.
  3. Winter is Waiting in Montana’s Yellowstone Country
    Win a trip for two that includes roundtrip airfare from Long Beach and a stay at the Element by Westin in Bozeman, Montana
  4. Behind the Brands 2019
  5. First Look: Realm of 52 Remedies
    Wildly imaginative speakeasy cements the arrival of design to San Diego’s Asian food haven
  6. The Women Who Revolutionized San Diego's Food Scene
    A discussion with six iconic San Diego chefs and restauranteurs who helped make our culinary landscape what it is today
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles

October is Rideshare Month

Join the Rideshare 2015 Challenge and get there together
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags


9 Questions Answered about Botox

Avalon Laser demystifies Botox myths and explains procedures

Win Tickets to the 41st Annual SDCCU Holiday Bowl

This year’s Utah vs. Northwestern match-up marks the Holiday Bowl’s second straight paring of teams that are ranked nationally in the top 25
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags