I'd Steak My Life On It: the Original Entrecôte Cafe de Paris

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GENEVA--Six years ago, in Bordeaux, the cost of dinner at the (upstart rival) L'Entrecôte was 16 euros, maybe 20 bucks, for a six-ounce steak with Café de Paris butter. I wrote about it admiringly, and still remember it fondly. But my love for this particular dish dates back several decades to my childhood in Geneva and special meals on the rue du Mont Blanc at a place that was actually named the Café de Paris.

As it happens it was founded in the 1930s by a gent called Boubier, whose son-in-law, Freddy Dumont concocted a complex compound butter for the café's menu of grilled meats. As immovable as the Matterhorn, as iconic as Geneva's lakefront jet d'eau (a 450-foot column of water that sprays almost as high as the Space Needle), the Café de Paris has spawned a couple of licensed imitators (the Entrecôte and Relais de l'Entrecôte chains) and ubiquitous knock-offs (almost every steak frites joint you've ever been to with a "butter" sauce), And several places around the world called Café de Paris, of course, because you can't trademark Paris, can you?

Here in Geneva, international and sophisticated, the streets are lined with shops selling Rolex watches and diamond jewelry, and the restaurants follow suit. A Big Mac runs about $7. Beef is expensive, very expensive: the Swiss government needs farmers for all those verdant mountainside pastures, so they place high tariffs on imported beef. If you live in Geneva, you can cross the border and buy a kilo of beef a day in France and bring it home duty-free, but restaurants have to pay full price. So the same (more or less) cut of meat on the menu for 20 bucks at the Entrecôte in Toulouse or Lyon will run a stiff 45 euros in Geneva. We've got it too lucky in the US; the beef lobby is driving down the cost of meat.

Cafe de Paris.jpgEntrecôte, as the name suggests, is the thin, boneless cut "between the ribs." It is exquisitely tender. It's served here with a whipped butter sauce that melts over the meat after it's placed on a warming trivet at the table. The recipe is secret, although anchovies play a central role. The current proprietor is François Vouillamoz, who bought the cafe 35 years ago from his aunt (who had bought it decades earlier it from the childless Dumont), Next year, he told me, he will open the safe in the office, and formally hand over the recipe and the restaurant to his 32-year-old son.

But then, it's not just about the tariffs, or the details of how the butter is prepared. It's the tradition, it's flavor of comfort food. I'm just glad it's still here, decades and decades later.

Note & disclosure: I flew to Geneva courtesy of the folks at Evian mineral water, who invited me to attend the ribbon-cutting of a new bottling plant. More on that in my next post.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on September 10, 2017 11:18 PM.

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