St. Supéry Life

Navigating a French Menu

Whether you are traveling to France, Montreal or just presented with a French menu anywhere, here is a basic guide to reading it and ordering like a continental local. The word menu is a French word but it does not mean the same thing in French than it does in English.

For example, When asking to see a menu you will ask “la carte s’il vous plait”. The menu in French is called La Carte. Now that you have La Carte in hand you will often find 2 different offerings .

A La Carte, a list of different dishes often put together in groups based on the main ingredients. This is ordering “a la carte”
So, important words to know in French would be :
Entrées =Appetizers (funny that in English it means main course! I still wonder how that happened)
Potage = Soups
Poissons = Fish
Viandes = Meat
Fromages = Cheeses
Garnitures = Accompaniments
Desserts = Desserts
Froid = Cold
Chaud = Hot

Le Menu which is a menu put together with the appetizer, main course, cheese course and dessert, known in English as the “prix fixe menu” or “chef’s choice” or “tasting menu”…
Often you will have multiple choice for the Entrées (appetizers) and Plat de Résistance (entrees) to choose from each will be separated by the word ou (or)

Based on the restaurant, you will find either the two type of offerings from above or only one of the two. It is often more economical to order the menu than la carte and you still have a lot of choices.Some restaurants offer two or three different menus at different prices noted on the bottom. Menu Enfants means a menu for children.

Les entrées: French for Appetizers

  • Escargots de Bourgogne : Snails often served in their shell with garlic, butter and parsley
  • Plateau de Fruits de mer: A platter of crustacians for one or to share
  • Moules Marinières: Mussels cooked in a light brothv
  • Pied de cochon: Pig’s feet salad with vinaigrette
  • Soupe à l’oignon gratinée: Onion soup with melted cheese

Les Viandes / Meat

  • Filet de boeuf or entrecote de boeuf: Beef steak
  • Steak Tartare: Raw grounded beef
  • Magret de canard : Duck breast
  • Rognon de veau : Veal kidney
  • Escalope de veau : Veal scallop
  • Côtes de porc: Pork chop
  • Civet deLapin: Rabbit stew
  • Coq au vin: Chicken stew cooked in a wine sauce
  • Boeuf Bourguignon: Beef stew in a wine sauce

Les Poissons / Fish

  • Huîtres: Oysters
  • Coquille St. Jacques : Scallops in a white sauce served in its shell (generally)
  • Saumon Grillé : Grilled Salmon
  • Homard: Lobster
  • Lotte à l’Americaine : Monkfish American style (cooked in a lobster sauce)

Les Dessert / Desserts:

  • Plateau de fromages: Cheese assortment platter
  • Crème Brulée: Vanilla custard with caramelized sugar crust
  • Profitéroles: Puff pastry filled with vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup on top
  • Oeuf à la neige: sweet fluffy egg white floating on crème anglaise

Now, if you go in a Brasserie or a Bistro which is more like a bar/café that serves sandwiches, salads and warm dishes:
Some of the common items are:

  • Croque Monsieur: Grilled cheese and ham sandwich
  • Croque Madame: Same as Croque Monsieur but with a over easy egg on top
  • Filet de Hareng: Cold marinated herring with warm potato salad
  • Salade de cruditées: Mixed vegetable salad
  • Soupe à l’oignon: Onion soup
  • Steak frite: Steak with French fries
  • Poulet frite: roasted chicken with French fries

Because in the U.S we recognize wine by the varietal and in France the wine is known by the appellation it comes from, the wine lists in French restaurants are designed differently than U.S. restaurants.

Of course there are no standards that all restaurants go by but here are examples that you will find more often.

Les Aperitifs: Usually listed first (see previous article on Aperitifs) - be aware that French aperitifs are often on the sweet side, however there are also some dry ones too.

Les Rouges: The Reds The names of the “chateau” or “Domaine” (the winery name) will be listed as well as the appellation . Of course you will see more wine from the region you are in – why not try these?

Les Blancs: The Whites Same as for the reds. Les Rosés: The “Pinks” These Rosés are dry wines, not sweet. The most famous ones are from the Provence region.

Les Carafes: Carafes are usually less expensive wines which does not mean less delicious at all, it often comes from a local small winery from whom the restaurant bought a whole barrel. They usually come in 3 different sizes:

  • 25cl = 2 glasses
  • 50cl = 4 glasses
  • 100cl = 8 glasses (more than a full bottle)

The listing below is a brief guide to the main varietals found in their respective regions/appellations:

White: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion
Red: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec

White: Pinot Blanc,Gewurtztraminer
Red: Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir

White: Chardonnay
Red: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

White: Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc
Red: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinseault, Merlot, Mourvedre, Syrah

Loire Valley
White: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc
Red: Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Pinot Noir

Rhône Valley
White: Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette
Red: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinseault