For me, one of the most endearing qualities of the French is their willingness to be contrarian. This same trait has infuriated successive American governments, and is often used by crack-pot Stateside radio commentators to whip up anti-French feeling, but I think it’s very useful. France is often the only country that doesn’t bleatingly go along with American wishes, and this tendency to ride the brake is useful, because it allows for some reflection. Further, the only way to be sure that you’re right is to listen carefully and seriously to an opposing point of view.
Sometimes this contrarian pose is just cantankerousness for pleasure of being contrary, however, which is what I’ve witnessed in Paris during the last week or so as several usually very reliable French food critics have not only rallied to the defense of the new Costes brothers restaurant La Societe in Saint Germain des Pres, but claim they actually like it. Maybe they do, but from the perch of someone who not only passionately loves good food but also has a huge respect for the back-breaking work of running a small independent restaurant, I’d only say that it couldn’t be for the food. Let’s be clear. The Costes brothers run a chain of some two dozen fashion driven restaurants with identikit menus that have made it acceptable to go to a restaurant for reasons that have nothing to do with eating good food. Instead you go to Costes restaurants because Paris nightlife is so wilted and because you like to eat in pretty surroundings served by pretty people. You also go to Costes restaurants as an act of conspicuous consumption, because they’re expensive relative to the quality and effort involved in creating what they serve. You go to Costes restaurants because you’re more interested in “fashion” than you are in food. But you don’t go to to them to have a good or interesting meal.