It’s a fortunate coincidence that both America and France celebrate their independence in July. Quite different in style, both occasions revolve around food. While grilled dogs and burgers washed down with cold beer define our tradition, the French (as you would expect in a nation famous for its food) aim for a higher, if no less relaxed, level of cuisine.
Bastille Day, July 14, is the national day of France, marking the storming of the infamous Bastille fortress to liberate the political prisoners held there. Like our holiday celebrating independence from royal tyranny, Bastille Day commemorates the end of the French monarchy and a turning point in the French revolution.
The day is filled with parades, fireworks, and parties, along with lots of food and drink — just like here. Reporting on the 1879 festivities, the newspaper Le Figaro wrote, “people feasted much, to honour the storming of the Bastille.” It hasn’t changed a lot since then.
French restaurants in our area maintain the Bastille Day tradition with special menus and events, so we can celebrate along with them.
Ridgefield has long been a formidable enclave of French dining covering a full range of styles. Bernards offers classic white-table-cloth dining along with the more casual Sarah’s Wine Bar; Luc’s Cafe is a beloved and authentic bistro; and Sucré Salé serves up a full range of buckwheat crêpes, quiche, and French favorites. All are hosting Bastille Day celebrations.
Bernards famous Bastille Day dinner is on Sunday July 18 this year. It’s an extravagant sit down dinner and wine tasting in the best French tradition. Francophiles have gathered at Bernard’s for the past twenty-two years for the occasion. “It’s lots of fun,” co-owner Sarah Bouissou told me. “Some of the guests come every year.” The party also marks Bernard and Sarah’s July 14th wedding anniversary.
The menu includes patés, terrines, rillettes, and Bernard’s famous cassoulet plus live gypsy jazz. There is the very-French cheese course, and then dessert. Excellent wines with each course are included for $125 per person. Reservations are essential. (Call 203-438-8282.)
In true bistro style, Luc’s Cafe will offer a modified menu served all day on Wednesday July 14, games of Pétanque on their boules court, and live music. No reservations are taken. Get there early.
At Sucré Salé Chef/owner Frank Bonnaudet has been enthusiastically celebrating Bastille Day since 2015. “People love it,” he told me. “It’s a chance for the many fans of French life and culture to gather.” This year the holiday falls on a Wednesday, mussel night at the restaurant. For $28 you get a glass of wine and unlimited moules prepared either marinières, à la moutarde, orientales, or guinguette, all accompanied by live music. Reservations are suggested.
Bruxelles in SoNo is not strictly a French restaurant, but it’s French enough to have some Bastille Day festivities. Chef Roland Olah’s menu of specials will start on Friday, July 9 and run through the July 14 holiday for an extended celebration. In addition to regular menu items like escargot, beef bourguignon, niçoise salad, and croque monsieur the Bastille Day menu will include French onion soup, mussels Provençal, bouillabaisse, and a French apple tart for dessert. A signature “Gin Bowl” cocktail made with Nouaison French gin and flavored with ginger, mint, and lemon is just the thing.
If you want to celebrate at home, go see Ken Skovron at Darien Cheese. He’s been helping the local chapter of the Chevalier du Tastevin with the menu for their big Bastille Day affair for years. The club honors the great wine and traditional food of Burgundy by drinking and eating at elaborate banquets and intimate dinners.
For Bastille Day Ken says, “You can’t go wrong with a traditional onion soup topped with a crouton and melted Comté cheese.” A spread of artisanal cheese, paté, and cornichons accompanied by crusty bread and a fine wine completes the menu. “Bastille Day is a festive excuse to enjoy the best foods and wine,” according to Ken.
Skovron recommends a range of cheeses for the feast. After all, France is a country with hundreds of beloved varieties. His Comté from the Jura comes to the shop after eighteen months and then rests for another six, perfect for the onion soup. On the cheese platter, he’d like to see a mild washed rind cheese like Affidelice that is washed with Chablis, a rich, buttery Beaufort Alpage gruyère made from summer milk into a 90 pound wheel, and a cinder-coated Chèvre. He’s always eager to talk cheese and recommend what’s best in the shop for any occasion.
Bastille Day is a national holiday in France, but for us it’s an opportunity to indulge in French food and wine while raising a glass to our fellow revolutionaries.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.